Even Bills can't bicker with Jets rout

September 25, 1990|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Evening Sun Staff

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It's always something with these Buffalo Bills.

One week they quarrel and cuss and count up their fines. The next week they rattle windows in buildings three blocks away, then join hands in a public show of unity.

Team Turmoil put on a united front last night before a national television audience and 69,927 at Giants Stadium. Eight days after the Bills nearly imploded in a huge loss at Miami, they redeemed themselves by throttling the New York Jets, 30-7.

The Bills are the NFL's most curious enigma. Two years ago they went 12-4 and were arguably the best young team in the league. Last year they slipped to 9-7, barely won the weak AFC East, and were almost eaten up with locker room acrimony.

After they were steamrolled 30-7 by the Dolphins in Week 2 this year, the Bills stood at a precarious crossroad.

"If we lost this game, there's no telling what would have happened," said Thurman Thomas, Buffalo's Pro Bowl running back. "We probably would have exploded . . . we would have been bickering after the game."

The "Bickering Bills" label gets a rest this week, thanks in large part to Thomas' fancy footwork. The third-year veteran from Oklahoma State made like he was back in the Big Eight, rushing for a career-high 214 yards, leaving fallen Jets in his wake.

Thomas averaged 11.9 yards a carry, breaking runs of 13, 60, 15, 24, 15 and 39 yards. Much of the damage came off the Buffalo version of Washington's counter trap. The interior of the New York defense hardly laid a hand on Thomas, who, as well as he ran, still didn't come close to O.J. Simpson's club record of 273 yards set in 1976.

"We wanted to spread the defense out," Thomas said.

Toward that end, the Bills reduced their offense to a few basic running plays, but ran them out of different sets. Buffalo spread the defense with its four wide receiver set, confounded the Jets with a two tight end formation and twice went with a no-huddle offense.

"We came out doing several different things they didn't see on film," said tight end Keith McKeller, whose 6-yard touchdown catch finished off the rout in the fourth quarter. "We were switching formations so rapidly on offense, it confused them."

That was the point of a masterful game plan drawn up by offensive coordinator Ted Marchibroda, the former Colts coach.

"Ted did a great job weaving it [the game plan] together with the offensive coaches," said head coach Marv Levy. "But the players are what won the game."

The Bills even introduced the option pitch to their offense, quarterback Jim Kelly tossing to the elusive Thomas. Like everything else, it clicked, too.

"I love it," Kelly said of his newest weapon. "If I faked the pitch to Thomas, I think I could've scored myself. But he's supposed to run the ball."

The Bills rolled up 292 rushing yards, but used the pass in critical situations. After the Jets scored first, Kelly set up the tying touchdown with a 43-yard pass to McKeller as the Jets blew a coverage.

In the second quarter, Kelly finished off a 61-yard, five-play drive with a 2-yard touchdown lob to Butch Rolle, another tight end. Three straight field goals by Scott Norward (48, 42 and 27 yards) widened the gap to 23-7.

It was enough to boost the Bills back into a share of the AFC East lead with Miami at 2-1.

It was enough to breed harmony in the locker room that had been rife with rancor only a week ago.

"We were on a mission tonight," said defensive end Bruce Smith, who was hit with a $500 fine for calling the Bills quitters last week. Last night he had two sacks, forced two fumbles and tipped a pass.

This week, all seemed to be forgiven.

"We had some problems last year," McKeller admitted. "But sometimes it takes bad things to make a team pull together. Maybe this year instead of being the 'Bickering Bills,' we'll be the champion Bills."

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