ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- It was Saturday afternoon, and much of the country was tuned in to the Denver-Houston playoff game. Jim Kelly was in his study, with the Kansas City Chiefs blipping across his VCR-controlled screen.
He had caught part of the first quarter of the Broncos-Oilers game on the TV in his living room, and a little of the second, and he really wanted to watch the whole game. First, though, there was work to be done.
"I figured to get a chance to beat those guys, I had to be able to beat the Chiefs first," Kelly said, "and we didn't do so well against them last time."
So instead of watching the other AFC divisional playoff game, the Buffalo Bills quarterback viewed Chiefs tapes, analyzed coverages, looked for weaknesses, dissected the mistakes he had made when Kansas City beat the Bills, 33-6, in a Monday night game on Oct. 7.
And when he stepped to the line of scrimmage early in the second quarter yesterday, having just called for a running play, all his work paid off. He looked at the coverage, audibled for a particular Andre Reed pass route, and ended up hitting a wide-open Reed in the middle of the field for a 53-yard touchdown for the second of three Kelly touchdown passes.
The Bills went on to a 37-14 win over the Chiefs and will defend their AFC title Sunday when the Denver Broncos come to Rich Stadium.
"It was absolutely the right play at the right time," said Reed, who caught four passes for 100 yards and two touchdowns. "It was a running play and he [Kelly] seemed to look out there and know what they were doing. The play called was perfect . . . [Chiefs safety Deron] Cherry vacated the middle and all I had to do was beat my man."
The Bills' preparation for this game was staggering, even by playoff standards, and coach Marv Levy thanked his assistant coaches for the countless hours they spent last week on the team's game plan. The defense performed about 300 percent better than it had in its earlier game with Kansas City, and the best it has played all season. And the running game outclassed the much-hyped Chiefs backs.
"We worked hard," Levy said. "I think there was a higher degree of preparation and awareness because it is the playoffs, because they knew how good Kansas City is, because of what happened last time."
Kansas City, which in the October game ran for 239 yards to Buffalo's 65, Sunday was held to 71 yards of total offense in the first half, and 213 yards (77 rushing) for the game. The Bills had 448 total yards, 180 on the ground.
"I think one thing that was overlooked is how good our rushing game is," said Levy, who, after all, has running back Thurman Thomas, the best all-purpose player and No. 3 rusher in the league.
It was Kelly and the passing game, though, that broke this game open. With wideout Don Beebe back from a collarbone injury, Kelly had three dangerous receivers -- Reed, Beebe and James Lofton -- and he utilized all of them in his 23-for-35, 273-yard game.
It's those moments when Reed is left to go one-on-one that he loves best about playing football. And the Chiefs gave him that opportunity twice.
There was that 53-yard touchdown pass, and, in the first quarter, a 25-yard reception for the Bills' first touchdown. On that play, Reed whizzed right past Chiefs cornerback Jayice Pearson in the right flat to meet the ball in the corner of the end zone.
"We respect the defensive backs for Kansas City," Kelly said, "but I had confidence, with the receivers I have, that we could go deep."
Kelly is the king of confidence, a man who continues to throw long and often, even after getting intercepted, as he was three times yesterday.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs were having their problems at quarterback. Starter Steve DeBerg was the filling for a Cornelius Bennett-Jeff Wright sandwich midway through the second quarter and left the game with 22 passing yards and a sprained right thumb. His replacement, Mark Vlasic, was intercepted four times, twice by cornerback Kirby Jackson in the third quarter alone.
Vlasic did hit Fred Jones with a 20-yard touchdown pass with 2 minutes, 7 seconds remaining, but by that point, Scott Norwood had kicked two more field goals and Kenneth Davis had rushed for a touchdown to give the Bills a 37-7 lead.
"We never put pressure on Buffalo," Chiefs coach Marty Schottenheimer said. "They never had to do something they didn't want to do."
In truth, any illusion that this playoff matchup would be close faded as early as the second quarter -- specifically, when Chiefs cornerback Kevin Ross dropped what looked like a sure interception. The Bills retained possession and marched 27 yards further upfield to put Norwood in position for a 33-yard field goal that gave Buffalo a 17-0 lead with six seconds to go in the half. You could almost hear the television sets clicking off throughout the land.
"I don't think Buffalo was extremely awesome today," Chiefs running back Barry Word said. "We just didn't show up. We didn't seem ready for the game."