Buffalo -- The biggest peril facing the Buffalo Bills yesterday wasn't the snow that blew into Ralph Wilson Stadium at kickoff. It wasn't rookie quarterback Luke McCown or anything about the putrid Cleveland Browns offence.
No, the biggest worry was that the Bills would play down to their competition and end what in all likelihood will be a fun yet futile late-season run.
Try as the offence did during a sloppy first quarter to make the crowd of 72,330 restless, the Bills couldn't lower themselves to such depths.
Not with a defence bent on first punishing, then humiliating its opponent.
The 37-7 final score may smell of offence, but this was D-day as the Browns were held to just 17 yards, the lowest total the Bills have ever allowed in a game.
A fourth consecutive victory moved Buffalo to 7-6, the first time they've had a winning record this late in the December since the 2000 season.
"We just took advantage of everything that was given to us out there today," Bills linebacker Takeo Spikes said. "(Like) coach Marv Levy used to say, 'play at a level they are unwilling to match.' "
Whether unwilling or incapable, the Browns were not up to the physical battle. At one point early in the fourth quarter, the Cleveland offence had produced a total of minus-two yards. With no line to protect him, no running game to move the ball and no receivers capable of getting open, McCown was sacked seven times for losses of 74 yards and picked off twice.
Buffalo safety Troy Vincent, who was making his return after an eight-week absence because of a knee injury, had a hat trick -- an interception, sack and fumble recovery.
"We have the ingredients to be dominant," the former Philadelphia Eagles star said. "They don't come often -- 17 yards. I'm sure they thought they were looking at 12 or 13 blue shirts out there and there was only 11 of us on the field."
McCown couldn't elude the rush from the start, but interim coach Terry Robiskie waited until late in the third quarter to let former CFL star Jeff Garcia off the bench. In his lone series, Garcia took over on his own three-yard line, suffered a sack and a fumble and had to leave the game with an injured right knee.
The Browns were harassed from the opening play when Vincent was sent blitzing and dinged McCown for an 11-yard loss.
"If you saw it, you knew how bad it was," McCown said. "We went and got ourselves in a fight and got whipped. It looked as bad as it was."
Perhaps even worse. The 17 yards allowed were the fifth fewest a team has given up in NFL history and set a 43-year-old Buffalo team record for defensive dominance.
The Bills D compensated nicely for an offence that was struggling with the conditions. In the first quarter alone, quarterback Drew Bledsoe had an interception, running back Willis McGahee had a fumble and Nate Clements had coughed up the ball on a kickoff return. Three times, receiver Eric Moulds had his hand on the ball in the end zone but couldn't haul it in.
But McGahee did enough when it mattered, rushing for 105 yards on 27 attempts and two touchdowns. It allowed Bledsoe to survive an off night and see an opposing quarterback take the type of beating he did earlier in the season.
"I just can't say enough about our (defence)," Bledsoe said. The only time you ever see a game like that is in college."
Or as Browns coach Robiskie admitted: "It was men against boys."