ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Two breathtaking plays -- one brilliant and the other boneheaded -- framed the Philadelphia Eagles' 30-23 loss yesterday to the inspired Buffalo Bills.
The first was a 95-yard touchdown pass by Randall Cunningham that put the Eagles back into the game. The second was a botched lateral by linebacker Seth Joyner that took away commanding field position for the Eagles in the final quarter and sealed the defeat.
"Everybody wants to gripe about that," Eagles coach Buddy Ryan said after the game, "but that's the way we play football. We're not going to take those wins back that we won by lateraling that ball on defense; we're going to keep doing it."
More on the two plays later. They were just the high and low moments in a wild afternoon of football that saw the Bills stampede the Eagles in the first quarter, scoring 24 unanswered points on their first four possessions. Then the amazing Cunningham struck back, running and passing the Eagles to within one point, only to be left pacing along the sideline as Philadelphia's defense time and again found ways to let the Bills hang onto the ball and the victory.
"There's no question, the first quarter just killed us," said Ryan, for once contemplating a game lost almost exclusively by his normally punishing defense. "We came back in the second half, but we couldn't get our offense back on the field."
The Eagles' loss ended their five-game winning streak, the longest in Ryan's five-year tenure, and brought their record to 7-5.
Cunningham had another astonishing afternoon. He gained 71 yards rushing to move his season total to 678 -- 54 more than his previous season high -- and he passed for 231 yards. But it wasn't enough.
Buffalo quarterback Jim Kelly opened up on the Eagles as if they were a scrub unit invited to play the varsity. On his team's second play from scrimmage, he found James Lofton two steps ahead of rookie cornerback Ben Smith on a slant pattern across the middle. Lofton ran away from Smith and safety Wes Hopkins for a 63-yard score. A 20-yard strike to Lofton on the next possession set up a field goal.
Kelly was just getting started. He completed his first seven passes for three touchdowns and 225 yards.
The second quarter was Cunningham's, including a 51-yard -- up the middle and a 95-yard scoring play with rookie receiver Fred Barnett off a scramble.
The astonishing touchdown silenced the excited Buffalo crowd and pulled the Eagles to within eight points at halftime.
When the Eagles stalled at midfield with nearly nine minutes left in the game, down 30-23, the offense trotted off expecting at least two more chances to catch up.
But the Bills blocked Jeff Feagles' punt, took over at the Eagles' 49-yard line and held onto the ball until there were only 13 seconds left as Joyner lost his interception -- and position at midfield -- on the lateral fumble.