Raiders are no match for no huddle

January 21, 1991|By Mark Whicker | Mark Whicker,Orange County Register

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Many Americans didn't think football should be played yesterday. The Los Angeles Raiders agreed.

Instead, they observed three hours of silence, finally getting their wish in the middle of another dank Buffalo afternoon, when the Bills finally quit scoring. Fifty-one to three was quite enough.

Maybe the Raiders should go back to snarling, to fighting. Maybe to spying. The Buffalo no-huddle offense that had terrorized Miami last week fell on them from above, undetected, in the AFC championship game.

"It was depressing, embarrassing; the whole world was watching," linebacker Jerry Robinson said in the Raiders' sanctum. "Next year, we have to do anything we can to get home field."

The turning point, quite literally, was the coin toss. Buffalo received, and the Raiders were sent into the most disorganized retreat since Bull Run I.

Running back Thurman Thomas for 12 yards, quarterback Jim Kelly to Thomas for 13. Kelly to wide receiver Andre Reed for 16. Thomas for 5, Kelly to Thomas for 9.

At that point, the Raiders did a basketball thing. They called timeout. Not for strategy or injury, but to rearrange their heads. You could hear Dick Vitale in the background: "Hey, Artie Shell, gotta get a T-O, baby!"

The Raiders resumed play, gave up 3 to Thomas, a touchdown to Reed that came back for a holding penalty, and a 13-yard touchdown to receiver James Lofton that counted. Next Buffalo drive took four plays to go 68 yards. And on and on.

"They were on a roll," defensive end Howie Long said. "They kept rolling. I don't know what happened."

By the time Buffalo slowed the projector and clicked off a 13-play, 57-yard touchdown drive that overcame a Raiders' goal-line stand, it was 27-3 with 9:02 left in the half. It was 41-3 at the intermission, and Buffalo had 387 yards.

"Were there any adjustments by the defense?" someone asked Robinson, who rolled his eyes.

"What was the score?" he asked back.

Not a bad question, though. With its defense shredded by the first drive, L.A. jerked defensive end Scott Davis and put in linebacker Aaron Wallace up front. Then it added two defensive backs and moved into a 4-1-6.

"When that happened," center Kent Hull said, "that gave Thurman room to run. Jim would just come to the line of scrimmage and say to himself, 'Well, it's Thurman over right tackle.' "

"We didn't adjust very well," said linebacker Riki Ellison, who quickly wearied of chasing Thomas in pass patterns.

Buffalo came to the no-huddle for many reasons. Its two-minute drill, with Kelly, was so potent that coach Marv Levy and his offensive coach, Ted Marchibroda, wondered why it wouldn't work all game. Kelly proved his ability to call plays, like all quarterbacks once did.

And, let's face it, the Bills haven't always liked each other. The no-huddle meant they would spend less time together.

More to the point, their full refrigerator of talent affects the game more at high speed.

"The weapons are just there," Hull said. "We can run on your pass defense and pass on your base defense without having to substitute. When the Raiders put in their passing defense, we had three linemen and a tight end lined up against two linemen and a defensive back on one side. It's not complicated."

It didn't look it, but Bills owner Ralph Wilson, 72, worried nevertheless. He has missed out on the 24 previous Super Bowls, and hadn't won a title since 1965.

"I was nervous yesterday, nervous today," Wilson said in the locker room. "Yesterday I went to the health club, rode the bike for 25 minutes, worked out on StairMaster for 45 minutes. Then I played tennis for an hour and 45 minutes."

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