New York, New York: It sounds Super Thomas, Kelly propel Bills over Raiders, 51-3

January 21, 1991|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,Sun Staff Correspondent

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Where do we begin? With the Buffalo Bills' Thurman Thomas rushing for 138 yards? Or Jim Kelly passing for 300 yards? How about wide receiver James Lofton catching five passes for 113 yards?

Or maybe Buffalo's defense, which intercepted six passes? Or how about the secondary, which held Los Angeles Raiders receivers Willie Gault and Mervyn Fernandez to a combined six receptions?

The Bills, after two frustrating years in the playoffs, turned in a memorable postseason performance yesterday, defeating the Los Angeles Raiders, 51-3, yesterday at Rich Stadium before 80,324 in the American Football Conference title game.

Buffalo will play the New York Giants on Sunday in Super Bowl XXV at Tampa Stadium. The Giants were a 15-13 winner over the San Francisco 49ers in the National Football Conference championship game.

Yesterday's win erased painful memories for the Bills, whose internal strife contributed to a loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in the 1988 season's conference title game and a divisional loss to the Cleveland Browns last season in the playoffs.

But, yesterday, Buffalo was anything but the "Bickering Bills." This team was totally in sync on the field.

No trash was talked yesterday.

"I've been here five years and had some frustrations, particularly in 1989," Bills center Kent Hull said. "But there are fans in the stands that have been here 30 years, and it was gratifying to see their smiles as we walked off the field. Actually, all of this has not sunken in yet."

Bills defensive lineman Bruce Smith said: "We have to be humble. This was a great win for the organization, but now we have a great opportunity. We've got to remain focused. Our goal was not to get to the Super Bowl, but we want to win it."

The Bills' chances seemed pretty good after yesterday's performance. This is a team that scored 44 points in last week's playoff opener against the Miami Dolphins and a National Football League playoff record of 41 in one half yesterday.

By the time Buffalo was finished yesterday, some of the Raiders were calling Buffalo's no-huddle, one-back set the offense of the 1990s. Raiders coach Art Shell wasn't that complimentary, but he agreed the Bills did a number on his team.

"They came out and did the same thing they've done the last few weeks," Shell said. "They took that no-huddle offense and put it on the field, and they had a lot of big plays. It snowballed, and we couldn't stop them."

The Raiders never came close to stopping Kelly. He completed 17 of 23 passes, including two for touchdowns to Lofton, one of 13 yards on the Bills' first possession and an 8-yarder in the second quarter with a little over a minute remaining, as the Bills took a 41-3 halftime lead.

"I had all day back there," said Kelly, pointing out the dominating play of Hull, guards Jim Ritcher, John Davis and tackles Will Wolford and Howard Ballard.

They dominated one of the league's best defensive lines. Kelly and receivers Lofton, Andre Reed and Keith McKeller used the time to complete a number of clearing-out, delay and pick patterns underneath.

With the passing game working, Kelly kept the Raiders off balance with Thomas, who rushed for 138 yards and one touchdown on 25 carries. When the Raiders brought in one or more extra defensive backs to stop the pass, Thomas ran straight at them. When the Raiders stacked the line of scrimmage to stop Thomas, Kelly started passing again.

"I don't think I have seen us play any better," Buffalo coach Marv Levy said.

By gaining a 21-3 lead at the end of the first quarter, Buffalo was able to get Los Angeles out of its game plan of running the football.

Halfback Bo Jackson, the Raiders' leading rusher, did not play because of a hip injury. Jackson's absence put extra pressure on quarterback Jay Schroeder, who completed only 13 of 31 passes for 150 yards. Five of his passes were intercepted.

Buffalo limited the Raiders to 320 yards of total offense, only 151 rushing. The Bills finished with 502 yards of total offense.

Schroeder said: "They had a good pass rush, good coverage in the secondary, and I made some bad throws. It was a lot of things which resulted in my performance. It was frustrating standing on the sidelines watching the Bills go up and down the field doing whatever they wanted to do."

Smith said: "Because Los Angeles loves to run the ball down your face, you know that your chances are pretty good if you get up on them. I thought our preparation for the Raiders were excellent.

"This is all kind of still sinking in. It probably won't hit us until we get off the plane in Tampa and say, 'Hey, we're here. This is 'The Show.' "

Super Bowl XXV

SUNDAY Teams: Bills vs. Giants TV: Channels 13, 7

Kickoff: 6:18 p.m.

Odds: Bills by 5

Biggest margins

The largest victory margins in NFL postseason games:

73: Chicago 73, Washington 0, 1940, NFL championship

49: Oakland 56, Houston 7, 1969, AFL divisional playoff

48: Buffalo 51, L.A. Raiders 3, 1991, AFC championship

46: Cleveland 56, Detroit 10, 1954, NFL championship

46: N.Y. Giants 49, San Francisco 3, 1986, NFC Divisional Playoff

45: San Francisco 55, Denver 10, 1990, Super Bowl

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