Bills earn 3rd straight AFC title THEY'RE BACK AFC CHAMPIONSHIP -- Bills 29, Dolphins 10

January 18, 1993|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Staff Writer

MIAMI -- Compared with the firestorm of controversy that swirled around him all week in Buffalo, this was a lark for the Bills' Jim Kelly.

A quarterback scorned, Kelly answered his critics back home as well as the Miami Dolphins' trash-talking defense with a resounding 29-10 victory in the AFC championship game at Joe Robbie Stadium yesterday.

The Bills (13-5) became the first team in 20 years to reach the Super Bowl three consecutive seasons, matching the Dolphins' three-year AFC domination from 1971 through 1973.

Buffalo also became only the fourth wild-card team to make it, and the first since the 1985 New England Patriots.

After losing their two previous Super Bowl appearances, they'll face the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl XXVII in Pasadena on Jan. 31. The Cowboys beat the San Francisco 49ers, 30-20, in the NFC championship game.

"We don't have any fear just because we lost two Super Bowls," coach Marv Levy said after the Bills systematically took apart the Dolphins (12-6).

No one appreciated the victory more than Kelly. Since being reinstated as the team's starting quarterback ahead of backup Frank Reich last week, Kelly endured a round of public second-guessing in Buffalo. He had missed the Bills' first two playoff games with a sprained right knee, but was pronounced healthy last Monday.

It did not take long for Buffalo to wonder at the wisdom of Levy's decision. In one newspaper poll, Reich supporters outnumbered Kelly supporters, 12,000-to-200.

"This probably was the sweetest victory I was ever associated with," said Kelly, who quarterbacked both of Buffalo's previous AFC championship game victories. "Early in the week, I was almost apologizing for feeling good."

Levy said he was "revolted" over the issue of who should start.

"Going in, I said the quarterback alone doesn't win the game or lose the game," Levy said. "But I can not think of a time when a quarterback entered a game under more pressure than Jim Kelly did.

"He was unjustly criticized in many areas. I said this on television, and I will say it to you: Ernest Hemingway once defined character as grace under pressure. Jim Kelly showed that today."

Kelly completed 17 of 24 passes for 177 yards and one touchdown. In fact, he was not so much a surgeon with the Bills' passing game as he was a choreographer. Using a screen pass the Bills took from the Houston Oilers, Kelly dumped the ball off short and let his backs, Thurman Thomas and Kenneth Davis, run through Miami's sluggish defense.

Thomas had five catches for 70 yards to go with 96 rushing yards. Davis had four catches for 52 yards, and rushed for 61.

When Kelly tried to throw deep, he got in trouble. He was intercepted twice inside the Miami 5 in the first half, or the 19-point margin of victory would have been greater.

"The only pass I'd like to have back was the long one down the right side to [Don] Beebe," Kelly said of a second-quarter interception by Miami safety Louis Oliver.

Kelly's longest completion of the day was a 30-yard gain on a screen to Davis in the third quarter.

It was a pass play the Bills put in their offense after watching the Oilers use it against Miami.

"We never ran that screen before," said center Kent Hull. "We thought that was a play we'd go to a couple of times a game. But it worked so well, we used it numerous times. Only once did they stop it."

It worked so well on a third-and-five call in the second quarter that Thomas scampered 17 yards for a touchdown. Linebacker Bryan Cox and Oliver, two Dolphins who had been critical of Kelly before the game, were sealed off inside as Thomas went down the sideline.

That gave the Bills a 10-3 lead, which they increased to 13-3 at halftime with one of Steve Christie's five field goals.

It was a game you would expect to see in an August exhibition, not the January playoffs. The Dolphins committed five turnovers and the Bills converted three of them into 13 points. Quarterback Dan Marino threw two interceptions and lost one fumble to lead the giveaway.

When Miami's Mike Williams fumbled the second-half kickoff and the Bills' Carwell Gardner recovered, the Dolphins were in serious retreat. When Davis bounced outside a pile and beat David Griggs to the corner of the end zone for a 2-yard touchdown run, the Bills cruised to 20-3.

The Bills out-rushed the Dolphins, 182-33, and converted 11 of 19 third downs. The Dolphins' old problems with the running game came back to haunt coach Don Shula, who is now 6-2 in AFC championship games. Bobby Humphrey was the team's leading rusher with 22 yards on eight carries.

"The big difference I feel is that we weren't able to run with it," Shula said. "We struggled every time we tried to run and we couldn't stop the run. They were able to keep the good balance and although we had two take-aways, we just couldn't stop them."

In the end, Kelly's play and Buffalo's victory silenced his Miami detractors.

"What happened was, we showed class," he said. "We showed what maturity means. We've all been through it so many times . . . They're young. They'll learn."

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