Raiders latest to find closing minutes are just that for Buffalo

October 08, 1990|By Chris Dufresne | Chris Dufresne,Los Angeles Times

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Los Angeles Raiders were 10 minutes from 5-0 for the first time ever. Ten minutes and a 10-point lead. Al Davis was scripting the speech, something to do with greatness and the Raiders' organization.

Then came the ambush. If you blinked you missed it. The Buffalo Bills, who scored three touchdowns in 77 seconds to win last week, scored 24 unanswered points in a span of 6:03 in the fourth quarter last night to beat the Raiders, 38-24, before 80,076 at Rich Stadium.

Either Bills coach Marv Levy is Knute Rockne or something strange is going on here.

"It's usually my halftime speech that does it," Levy said afterward.

He was joking, but the Bills weren't.

They sputtered for three quarters, fell behind, and looked quite ordinary. The Raiders had Bills' fans sitting on their hands with a ball-control attack and the pretty passing of quarterback Jay Schroeder. The Raiders' line pushed defenders Bruce Smith and Cornelius Bennett aside as if they were nuisances instead of All-Pros.

Then, the Raiders dropped their guard for a second and the game was over. Momentum changed in a flash. There was no stopping it.

"I've seen it before," Raiders nose tackle Bob Golic said. "But I never want to see it again."

It began with an ex-Raider, receiver James Lofton, who burned past corner Lionel Washington on a 42-yard scoring pass from quarterback Jim Kelly, cutting the Raiders' lead to 24-21 with 8:37 left. The crowd went nuts. The Raiders went cold.

Their next drive stalled in three plays, forcing punter Jeff Gossett into a kick that never left his foot. Something went wrong when no one touched Steve Tasker, who charged from the left side and smothered Gossett's attempt. Steve Smith was in the same area code, but his assignment was Leonard Smith, he said.

Rookie James Williams scooped up the ball and ran 38 yards for the go-ahead touchdown with 6:52 left. The Raiders' lead, so hard-earned and treasured, was lost. The game would soon follow.

Buffalo linebacker Bennett, kept quiet for the most part, decided to condense his highlight tape into one play on the next possession, when he sacked Schroeder for a 10-yard loss, knocked the ball from his hand, and recovered it himself with 5:23 left.

All in a play's work. Bennett's bombshell led to a 23-yard Scott Norwood field goal and a 31-24 Buffalo lead with 4:07 left.

It was last week all over again for the Bills, who used a fourth-quarter blitz to beat Denver.

"It's pretty amazing to see them do the exact same thing," Raiders receiver Mervyn Fernandez said. "Everyone feeds off emotion. They had some inspirational plays and they just started flying."

The Bills weren't through.

Desperate to regain composure, the Raiders mounted a counter-attack. Schroeder threw a sideline pass to Willie Gault, who caught the ball and tried to get out of bounds. While Gault was looking for the markers, corner Nate Odomes raked the ball out of his hands and ran 49 yards for the final touchdown. They were calling it a fumble, but the ball never touched the ground, kind of like the Bills' cleats in the final quarter.

"When it gets to the fourth quarter, everyone just starts looking each other in the eyes and you can just feel that intensity," Odomes said.

Look out if the Bills ever get that look before halftime.

So what happened here? Take away six minutes and the Raiders win going away. They pretty much controlled the first half, though they could boast only a 10-7 lead. The Raiders took a 17-7 lead in the third quarter on a 1-yard Marcus Allen run and went up 24-14 with 10:35 left on a 4-yard scoring pass from Schroeder to fullback Smith.

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