Some think artificial turf may be equalizer for Buffalo vs. Redskins

January 16, 1992|By Fred Mitchell | Fred Mitchell,Chicago Tribune

Until the teams actually butt heads on the field, Super Bowl XXVI is purely a numbers game.

And if the Buffalo Bills are destined to have the Washington Redskins' number Jan. 26 in the Minneapolis Metrodome, there might be an indication in the playoff statistics on both teams.

While the NFC champion Redskins are seven-point favorites, some other odds just may favor Buffalo, which lost 20-19 to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXV. For instance, 13 clubs have been to at least two Super Bowls. Those teams were 10-3 in their second appearances.

"We wanted to get back, but we weren't just looking at the Super Bowl," said Bills linebacker Cornelius Bennett. "We were looking at winning games, winning our division, having the best AFC record, winning the AFC championship, then getting to the Super Bowl."

The Redskins own the best record in the league (16-2), the Bills the second-best (15-3). That makes this the first Super Bowl in eight years that matches the teams with the two best records. The rival quarterbacks -- Mark Rypien and Jim Kelly -- are the Pro Bowl starters.

"I think everybody who covers football or watches football wanted to see this matchup. What more could you ask for?" said Redskins center Jeff Bostic.

"Every time we watched them on TV this year, we were thinking we could play them," said Redskins coach Joe Gibbs. "I remember thinking, well, they're playing good, and I'm sure they were saying, 'Well, the Redskins are playing pretty well.' I think we were both wondering if we'd meet."

Several Buffalo players think the artificial turf will be a great equalizer for the Bills. Washington's running game, with superior size on the offensive line, has flourished this season. But the Redskins haven't played in a dome all year. In their last two indoor contests, they lost to the Colts 35-28 on Dec. 22, 1990, and had to go into overtime to beat the Lions 41-38 on Nov. 4, 1990.

This season, the Redskins outscored their opponents by an average of 30.7 to 10.5 on grass and just 29.4 to 21.8 on turf. Other statistical quirks: The only other time the Redskins were favored to win a Super Bowl -- they're 2-2 in the big game -- they lost 38-9 to the Raiders in XVIII. Their two Super Bowl victories came in strike years.

Gibbs is trying to become the first coach ever to win Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks. He already has done it with Joe Theismann and Doug Williams. And he is 14-4 in playoff games, the best percentage (.778) in NFL history. Only the Miami Dolphins and Dallas Cowboys have appeared in as many Super Bowls (five) as the Redskins.

In eight playoff games, Kelly is 5-3. He's 2-1 when he throws no touchdown passes, as happened last Sunday in the Bills' 10-7 victory over Denver. Kelly has completed 151 of 259 playoff passes for 2,053 yards, 13 TDs and 13 interceptions.

Buffalo's James Lofton has caught 20 playoff passes the last two years, and 18 have been for first downs.

The Bills established new playoff lows for passing first downs (five) and net passing yards (109) against the Broncos. "Denver is a good defensive team," said Bills coach Marv Levy. "Maybe some people want points only, but it was a great, hotly contested game."

Bills kicker Scott Norwood booted a 44-yard field goal against Denver and a 47-yarder the week before against Kansas City, the two longest kicks in Bills playoff history.

Unfortunately, Norwood's legacy is his missed 47-yarder in the final seconds of last year's Super Bowl. He might have a chance to erase that blight this time.

The Bills resumed practicing today, tomorrow and Saturday in their Orchard Park, N.Y. facility. They will rest Sunday and fly to Minneapolis Monday.

The Redskins took today off. They will practice tomorrow, take Saturday off, practice Sunday and fly into Minneapolis on Monday in time for the week's first press conferences.

Gibbs said he and his coaches will prepare a game plan this week but won't give it to the players until next week. Last time he spent two weeks preparing his team, they lost to the Los Angeles Raiders in Super Bowl XVIII.

"I haven't had good results with that approach," he said.

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