LOS ANGELES -- Boomer Esiason started feeling lousy about 4 p.m. Saturday afternoon.
"I don't know if it was the flu," the Cincinnati Bengals quarterback said. "It could have been some kind of food poisoning or something. I ate something yesterday on the plane that didn't seem to taste right and I ended up handing it back. That could have been it."
Whatever it was, Esiason went to bed Saturday afternoon and didn't get up until about 8:40 a.m. Los Angeles time yesterday, which was the equivalent of sleeping until almost noon Cincinnati time.
But Esiason still came close to leading the Bengals to an upset of the Los Angeles Raiders in an American Football Conference divisional playoff game. They tied the game 10-10 in the fourth quarter on a touchdown pass by Esiason before losing, 20-10.
"I'm not feeling too great right now," the former Maryland quarterback said after the game. "I'm a little weak right now. I didn't feel the effects of it until maybe late in the fourth quarter of the game."
Although coach Sam Wyche called him one of the toughest quarterbacks in the game, Esiason took playing for granted.
"JB [James Brooks] was out there with a busted thumb. We had other guys hurt. Hey, that's just a part of playing. You play with injuries and you play with illness," he said.
Esiason wasn't surprised the Bengals almost pulled off an upset.
"We came in here and nobody game us a chance," he said. "Everybody thought this was going to be the wipeout game of the playoffs. We kind of chuckled at that because we knew our team was playing pretty well the last couple of weeks. We knew we had every opportunity to win it and we didn't win it."
Esiason agreed with Wyche that the game came down to two plays -- Jay Schroeder's 26-yard completion to Tim Brown in the fourth period and Greg Townsend's sack of Esiason on the next drive for a 15- yard loss.
Esiason had faked out Townsend to throw an 8-yard touchdown pass to Stanford Jennings earlier in the third quarter, but Townsend wasn't fooled the second time when he faked a handoff to Brooks before trying to roll to his left. Townsend was waiting for him.
"Fool me once," Esiason said. "I fooled him once. It was hard to fool him twice."
Townsend said: "Boomer's really good at faking the play action. I saw the whole thing when he pulled the ball out. I was able to get right in his face."
Townsend said it was "degrading" when Esiason fooled him the first time. "He juked me out of my socks," he said.
Wide receiver Rodney Holman was wide open on the play for a big gain if Townsend hadn't made the sack on the second play.
* Running back Bo Jackson strained a hip early in the third quarter and left the game. The Raiders say it's uncertain whether Jackson will play next week against the Buffalo Bills. For all his other talents, playing hurt isn't one he's noted for.
* Ethan Horton, who caught the winning touchdown pass, was one of the projects of Al Davis, the Raiders owner. Horton flopped as a first- round pick of the Kansas City Chiefs in 1985. He'd been out of football two years before Davis signed him and turned him into a tight end a year ago.
The Raiders called the play because the Bengals were covering him with a linebacker, Leon White.
"I'm glad for him," Schroeder said. "He gets to have his shining moment. That's just great."
Horton said he was an academic counselor at the University of North Carolina when Davis called with the idea of trying him at tight end.
"When Mr. Davis says you can do it, that was enough for me," he said.
When Horton was asked what went wrong in Kansas City, he said, "Things didn't materialize. I'm here."
* Although much was made of the Raiders' signing guard Max Montoya of the Bengals as a Plan B free agent, Esiason brushed it off.
"Max is a great player and we had some players who can play his position. Offensive guards are great players, but it's usually running backs or wide receivers or outside linebackers that really can change the flow of a game, maybe not an offensive guard," he said.
* With both teams featuring the run, the game lasted only 2 hours, 35 minutes. The start was delayed for about 10 minutes by a news conference by President Bush that was shown on the wide screen in the Los Angeles Coliseum.