ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Gary Kubiak, heading into retirement after a nine-year career as backup quarterback to John Elway in Denver, gave the Broncos something to remember him by yesterday.
He gave the Broncos' offense some life when Elway was benched in the fourth quarter of the AFC championship game, and he gave them a late touchdown, but he couldn't deliver a comeback victory.
"I'm going to look for a job, I guess, in the next few weeks," Kubiak said after his relief bid to get the Broncos to their fifth Super Bowl fell short in a 10-7 loss to the Buffalo Bills at Rich Stadium.
"It's been a thrill of a lifetime," he said. "It's almost like the man upstairs gave me one more chance to feel that feeling today. I had disk surgery last year, and a lot of guys come back from it. But it's been a struggle for me."
Kubiak, 30, completed 11 of 12 passes for 136 yards and scored the Broncos' only touchdown on a 3-yard run after replacing Elway. But with Denver moving into position for a tying field goal or go-ahead touchdown, running back Steve Sewell fumbled after catching a pass from Kubiak on the Buffalo 44 with 1 minute, 28 seconds left.
Denver coach Dan Reeves pulled Elway with 12:40 left after Elway continued to struggle with a right thigh bruise he had suffered on the second play of the second half.
"He felt his thigh was bothering him some, but he wanted to keep trying," Reeves said of Elway. "He's such a competitive person, I really felt like that was the way to go. But it got to the point where it was hurting him too bad, and he couldn't move around and maneuver."
Elway, losing for the first time in an AFC championship game after three victories, was 11-for-21 for 121 yards and one interception. The interception was returned by linebacker Carlton Bailey for an 11-yard touchdown, the Bills' only touchdown of the day.
The Broncos' season ended in a jumble of squandered opportunities. They had moved into Buffalo territory on six first-half possessions, getting as close as the 11- and 20-yard lines. But they failed to capitalize, as place-kicker David Treadwell missed three field-goal tries.
On consecutive series in the first half, Treadwell missed from 47, 42 and 37 yards. The last two kicks ricocheted off the right upright.
"I think there was a sniper up there and he shot it and it just moved," said Treadwell, who kicked the winning field goal against the Houston Oilers a week ago. "I feel like I hit the ball well. It's very frustrating."
Elway said the crowd noise at Rich Stadium made line calls almost impossible.
"The crowd noise was definitely a big factor," he said. "You can't make your line calls and a lot of things are done on the move. So a lot of times we got caught in bad plays because of their schemes and the crowd noise."
Elway, who had to be helped up to and down from the speaker's platform in the interview room, then excused himself from post-game interviews, saying he felt lightheaded.
NOTES: The Bills became the 12th team to make the Super Bowl for a second consecutive season. Only 1 team, Miami, made it to the title game 3 straight years (1972-74). . . . Of the 13 teams that lost in their first Super Bowl appearance, 9 returned to the title game later. Those teams went 6-3 the second time around. . . . Bills RB Thurman Thomas rushed for 72 yards on 26 carries, ending his streak of consecutive 100-yard games at 4. . . . Bills QB Jim Kelly completed a career-playoff-low 13 passes for 117 yards. In his 8 playoff games, Kelly has a career record of 5-3. He is 2-1 when he throws no touchdowns, as he did yesterday. He is 151-for-259 for 2,053 yards, 13 TDs and 13 INTs in the postseason.
How low can you go?
The lowest-scoring AFC title games (before 1970, AFL title games):
Season.. Score.. .. .. .. .. .. .. Tot.
1961. .. Oilers 10, Chargers 3. .. 13
.. Dolphins 14, Jets 0 .. .. 14
1991. .. Bills 10, Broncos 7 .. .. 17
1971. .. Dolphins 21, Colts 0.. .. 21
.. Bills 23, Chargers 0.. .. 23