Chiefs know ball control is Bills control How to stop Kelly? Make him watch

January 05, 1992|By T.J. Simers | T.J. Simers,Los Angeles Times

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills have the home-field advantage and the league's most potent offense, but all the Kansas Chiefs want is the ball in today's AFC semifinal game at Rich Stadium.

The Chiefs stunned the then-undefeated Bills, 33-6, on Oct. 7 with a ball-hogging offense, which included 100-yard-plus rushing performances by Christian Okoye and Harvey Williams.

The Chiefs (11-6) took advantage of five Buffalo fumbles and amassed 397 yards in offense, including 247 yards in 54 rushing attempts, to run 44 minutes, 6 seconds off the clock.

"I expect them to execute much better on defense," said running back Barry Word, who is expected to start in place of Okoye and Williams. "It was just one of those games that every team plays now and then, when everything went well for the opponent."

The Bills (13-3), the defending AFC champions, rank 24th on rushing defense in the NFL. However, they played much of the season without defensive end Bruce Smith, who had a knee injury, and opened the seasons without nose tackle Jeff Wright, who also injured a knee.

Both players missed the first game with the Chiefs, but are fit.

"You take a player [Smith] of that quality out of the lineup, it's going to have a material effect on your ability to do what you're trying to accomplish," Kansas City coach Marty Schottenheimer said. "And you can't overlook the importance of the return of Wright. We'll be looking at a different defense."

Okoye, who gained 130 yards and scored two touchdowns against the Bills, has been bothered by a sore knee but is expected to be ready to relieve Word, who rushed for 130 yards in 33 carries during the Chiefs' 10-6 wild-card victory over the Los Angeles Raiders last week.

Williams, a change-of-pace speedster who contrasts Okoye's and Word's pounding, ran for 103 yards in the previous meeting. He missed the regular-season finale but has recovered from an eye injury.

"We didn't dwell on that loss, but it's like [then-Michigan State coach] Duffy Daugherty used to say: 'If you don't learn anything from losing, there's no sense losing," Buffalo coach Marv Levy said. "I think we're stronger defensively now than we were. We're playing better, but we're still not dominating."

The Bills, however, remain overpowering on offense. They lead the league in rushing with an average of 148.8 yards and rank fourth in passing with a 241.9-yard average.

Quarterback Jim Kelly directs the no-huddle offense, and he has completed 64 percent of his passes while throwing for a club-record 33 touchdowns with 17 interceptions.

Wide receiver James Lofton, who went over the 1,000-yard mark this season, has been bothered by an ankle injury. But Andre Reed, Kelly's favorite target, will be available to challenge the Chiefs' highly regarded secondary.

RF "I think we've perked up on offense this season, and I think we're

focused going into the playoffs," said Kelly, who has not played since Dec. 15. "I feel pretty good. My arm feels a lot stronger and it has more life in it. The layoff has been a big plus for me."

The Chiefs will be without cornerback Albert Lewis, their best pass defender, who has a knee injury, but Derrick Thomas feels just fine.

Thomas sacked Kelly four times in the previous meeting, and in that game, Kelly went down a total of six times. He fumbled on three occasions.

"You have to know where Thomas is," Kelly said. "He likes to come from behind and slap the ball out of your hands."

The New York Giants, like the Chiefs earlier this season, kept the ball out of Kelly's hands while pulling off a 20-19 victory in Super Bowl XXV.

The Giants controlled the ball for 40:33 and forced Kelly to press when given the chance to play.

"I made that mistake in the Super Bowl and I've learned from it," Kelly said. "I don't want to go out there thinking I have to hurry up and score. I have to trust that our defense will get them off RTC the field, and I have to stick to what we have planned."

Much of the Bills' game plan revolves around versatile running back Thurman Thomas, who also sat out the final regular-season game.

Thomas, one of 21 backs in NFL history to have three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, piled up 1,407 yards on the ground and an additional 631 on pass receptions this season.

"Everybody knows what to expect against them," said Kansas City quarterback Steve DeBerg, who has struggled down the stretch. "They're definitely going to score a lot of points."

The Bills have averaged 28 points a game. The Chiefs scored more than 28 points only twice this season.

"We're defending champs," Buffalo cornerback Nate Odomes said. "I think the teams in the playoffs are after us, they're chasing us. We're going to do what we do best. It's going to be up to the other teams to stop that."

The defensive-minded Chiefs, who rely heavily on kicker Nick Lowery, have tried to prepare him for game-deciding distractions that he might encounter in Buffalo. In the Bills' final regular-season game, the fans pelted Detroit kicker Eddie Murray with snowballs when he attempted to kick a field goal.

The Chiefs' equipment personnel have been rolling up socks and throwing them at Lowery during practice.

Snow or no snow, there will be 80,000 fans at Rich Stadium. The Bills have won 32 of their past 35 games at home. Before resting several of their key players in their loss to Detroit, they averaged 35 points in seven games at home and outscored their opponents by 108 points.

Now they are 10-point favorites to defeat the Chiefs.

"Who isn't saying that?" Kansas City safety Lloyd Burruss said. "The only people who seem to think we have a chance is us, and our fans."

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