MINNEAPOLIS -- Score one for football etiquette. Score one for the lunch-pail bunch. Score one for the coaches who always find a way.
The Washington Redskins kept their date with destiny last night. The Buffalo Bills kept theirs with infamy.
Score it Redskins 37, Bills 24, and look who's talking now.
"I think if you asked them to a player before the game, they thought they were going to win this game and win it easily," Redskins veteran center Jeff Bostic was saying about those trash-talking Bills.
"Fortunately, the players on our team aren't constantly bickering between one another in the newspapers, trying to decide who is going to be the MVP in a game before it's played."
That was a thinly-veiled reference to Thurman Thomas, the Buffalo running back who rumbled through Super Bowl week in search of headlines. Last night in Metrodome, the rumbling stopped.
Thomas gained a paltry 13 rushing yards, added 27 on four catches, and the Bills' vaunted no-huddle offense came apart at the seams.
The only wonder about Super Bowl XXVI is that Richie Petitbon is still employed by the Redskins today. In a month when eight head coaching vacancies were filled, the wonder is that nobody thought to take a look at the Redskins' assistant head coach in charge of defense.
It was Petitbon's masterful scheme of inside blitzes that turned the no-huddle into no-offense. The blitzes not only stuffed the Bills' running game, they helped transform a potential shootout into a virtual wipeout.
"We always have a lot of blitzes in our game plan, and sometimes you do more than the ordinary," Petitbon said. "We wanted to blitz early to stop the running game, and as things progressed, it worked pretty well against the pass also."
The Bills, the No. 1 rushing team in the NFL, gained only 43 yards on the ground against the Redskins. When quarterback Jim Kelly dropped into the pocket, he had a lot of company. The Redskins sacked him five times, intercepted him four times. He wound up with a Super Bowl-record 58 passes, of which he completed only 28, for 275 yards. But much of that yardage came after the game had already been decided.
"We had a good mixture [in the defensive game plan]," said Redskins cornerback Darrell Green. "We dogged a little bit more than we have throughout the year. They weren't all-out dogs, but we had a good variety of things in our game plan. In my opinion, we had everything you could think of in it.
"It was like a pizza with olives, and onions and green peppers and everything you can think of. We dished it out with everything we had. We had a good scheme and the players did the work."
Green had one of the four interceptions, and he tipped a pass that produced another. The Redskins cashed in five turnovers for 20 points.
Perhaps the biggest turnover of the game, though, came on the first play of the second half. With outside linebacker Andre Collins blitzing up the middle, Kelly threw a poor pass that was intercepted by middle linebacker Kurt Gouveia deep in Buffalo territory.
Gouveia returned the ball 23 yards to the Bills' 2. From there, Gerald Riggs punched over his second touchdown of the game and the Redskins were cruising 24-0.
It took a 30-yard touchdown pass from Super Bowl MVP Mark Rypien to Gary Clark late in the third quarter to finish off the late-charging Bills. But Washington's defensive effort was clearly critical element in the game.
Petitbon lost two cornerbacks for varying periods, including his best cover man. Green, who is headed to the Pro Bowl, missed most of the third quarter with a calf problem. And A.J. Johnson went out in the first half with a sprained knee, not to return.
It was a night when some unlikely heroes surfaced. Free safety Brad Edwards, who had played with the Minnesota Vikings three years ago, intercepted two passes. And reserve defensive back Alvoid Mays came up with a big third-quarter sack and fumble that never should have happened.
Mays stormed in from the left side of the defense, blindsided Kelly and knocked the ball loose. Defensive end Fred Stokes recovered, and six seconds into the fourth quarter Chip Lohmiller kicked his second of three field goals.
"That was a blown blitz," Petitbon said. "He [Mays] shouldn't have dogged on that one. He got confused with the packages, and he was supposed to stay back on that one."
The Redskins were so well prepared for the no-huddle they had no problems making defensive substitutions. They just didn't make as many of them.
"We ran a bit of no-huddle ourselves, the no-huddle defense," said defensive end Charles Mann. "We had scripted some plays so that we wouldn't have to rush people in. We knew what the play was before the next play even came, so there wasn't a lot of confusion."
The Redskins shut out the Bills in the first half, but injuries and the heat of the Metrodome eventually took their toll. Although the Bills scored 24 points in the second half, the closest they got was two touchdowns at 24-10.
In the end, a defense that includes five starters from Plan B free agency had finally come to be recognized.
"I think we're a very underrated defense," Petitbon said. "And you kind of like to keep it that way until it's over. But this is a pretty good defensive football team."