ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Frank Reich didn't want to be a
hero. He didn't have fantasies about throwing five touchdown passes and leading the Buffalo Bills to a huge AFC East-winning victory over the Miami Dolphins. He didn't want to make the fans filing out of Rich Stadium yesterday forget that Jim Kelly exists.
He wanted what most backup quarterbacks want when they are called upon to start in a big game.
He wanted to avoid screwing up.
"I told Jim Kelly before the game that I'm not trying to be the hero of this game," Reich said. "I'm just trying to go out and get this thing back in your hands."
Reich did exactly that. Kelly, who injured his knee Dec. 16 against the New York Giants, is expected to be back in game shape by the second weekend in January. With their 24-14 victory over the Dolphins yesterday, the Bills (13-2) clinched the AFC East title and a bye for the first round of the playoffs -- which means Kelly should be back when the serious work starts.
"I just wanted to get the guys through this thing," said Reich, a University of Maryland graduate who completed 15 of 21 passes for 234 yards and two touchdowns. "Whenever I felt the pressure, whenever I started to get nervous [this week], I would read the Bible, and that helped me get through."
Reich spent a lot of time after the game thanking the Lord for giving him strength -- and thanking an offensive line that gave him plenty of time to get off his passes.
"He says, 'Ask and you shall receive,' " Reich said. "So I asked."
On his first touchdown pass, a 7-yarder to James Lofton in the second quarter, Reich had time to pump the ball three times before making the pass. Andre Reed was the intended receiver, but when the Dolphins' defense swarmed Reed as he cut across, Reich had to look for another option. But he had plenty of time.
"There were times that he had all day to throw the football," Miami coach Don Shula said. "Sometimes it was a three-man rush, and other times it was four. A couple of times late when we were blitzing he was able to pick up the blitz and make the right call."
All Reich can say is thank you, Kent Hull, John Davis, Howard Ballard . . . his list went on and on.
"I was fortunate . . . A couple of times I had all day to throw the ball," he said.
He was also lucky that a first-quarter mistake didn't cost the Bills more than a little extra padding in the score. Reich drove the ball to the Miami 26, then fumbled it away.
"I stepped up in the pocket and got careless with the ball," he said. "I didn't put two hands on it like the coaches tell us to. I was still looking downfield."
After that, his nightmares about screwing up returned.
"It was a little frustrating at first, because we were moving the ball and we weren't putting points on the board," he said.
Helping to move the ball was Thurman Thomas, who ran for 154 yards and a score.
When the Bills' offense wasn't on the field, Buffalo's defense was limiting Miami (11-4) to 35 rushing yards and controlling Dan Marino, sacking him three times and forcing two turnovers. Marino completed 24 of 43 passes for 286 yards.
Miami's Mark Clayton, out six games with a knee injury, caught eight passes for 108 yards, including an 11-yard TD pass with one minute left.
But still the Dolphins were no match for the Bills, who ran the
no-huddle offense -- Kelly's specialty -- for much of the game.
"We didn't want to change things for me," Reich said. "I was just filling in."
Said Bills coach Marv Levy: "He did a great job, was very poised, made good decisions."
And now his job is finished. Sure, there's next week -- a meaningless (for the Bills) contest at Washington -- but Reich's big moment has come and gone. After yesterday's game, he bubbled over with enthusiasm for the playoffs and spoke reverently of his Super Bowl dreams. He also turned to Kelly, got a hug and told him the rest was up to him.
"I'm not disappointed," Reich said. "I'm sure there are a lot of starters in the league who would give up a year of starting for a Super Bowl ring."