ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- They specialize in unlikely comebacks, Arctic conditions and Super Bowl defeats.
The Buffalo Bills, one of the best teams of their time, are an enigma in shoulder pads. Just when you're ready to count them out, they show remarkable resilience. Just when you think they can't lose, they get blown out in a Super Bowl.
The more things change, the more they stay the same in Buffalo. That meant severe and brutally cold weather yesterday. It meant another imposing deficit. And it meant one more AFC playoff victory at Rich Stadium in a streak that now stands at seven.
On a day that made Anchorage look balmy, the Bills gave the Los Angeles Raiders the big chill, 29-23, and advanced to their fifth AFC championship game in six years.
Next Sunday, they play host to the winner of today's AFC divisional game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Houston Oilers. Don't look now, but the Bills (13-4) are one frostbitten win away from an unprecedented fourth straight Super Bowl appearance.
Yesterday, they spotted the Raiders 11 points, then turned the game over to their defense and passing game.
Quarterback Jim Kelly, defying the elements, struck for 287 passing yards and two touchdowns, and the defense held the Raiders (11-7) to one first down in the second half. So much for the marvelous game plan the Raiders had drawn up.
"I know the heartbreak of losing a game like that," coach Marv Levy said after the Bills wiped out Raiders leads of 17-6 and 23-22.
On the other hand, winning produced a warm glow on the coldest of days.
"It was a great day to play football," said Bills center Kent Hull.
A great day? The temperature at kickoff was zero, the wind chill a bitter minus 32. At halftime, the temperature was minus 1, the wind chill minus 26. Winds gusted from 12 to 16 mph. A crowd of 61,923 was dutifully warned of the hazards.
"Well, maybe it wasn't that great a day," Hull said.
It started off like the end of an era. Napoleon McCallum, a former Navy star, ran the Raiders into that 17-6 lead in the first half, scoring twice from 1 yard out. Jeff Jaeger broke the ice, figuratively speaking, with a 30-yard field goal.
But when Kelly took the Bills on a 76-yard touchdown drive at the end of the half that consumed four plays and 67 seconds on the clock, Buffalo was up to its comeback tricks. A year ago, the Bills erased a 35-3 deficit to beat the Houston Oilers, 41-38, in the playoffs here.
This time, Kelly threw three straight completions for 31 yards, got a 37-yard pass interference penalty against the Raiders' Torin Dorn, and let Thurman Thomas run the last 8 yards to the end zone.
"That was probably the most important drive of the game," said defensive end Bruce Smith. "There's a tremendous difference between being down four points and 11."
The Bills trailed 17-13 when defensive coordinator Walt Corey went to an eight-man front that he seldom uses and had just updated Friday. But he needed to contain quarterback Jeff Hostetler's ad-lib runs, and the power blasts of McCallum.
Except for an 86-yard touchdown pass from Hostetler to Tim Brown, the Raiders were hardly heard from in the second half.
"It wasn't a gamble at all," Corey said of the improvisation. "I felt if other things weren't working like I felt they should, I had no recourse except to do it.
"The eight-man front gave us enough people on both sides of the ball. No matter which side they ran, we were able to balance it off, and still play our regular coverages."
It was probably fitting, then, that Kelly went to his newest big-play receiver to get the second-half lead. Twice he found former Indianapolis Colt Bill Brooks for touchdowns, covering 25 and 22 yards, to wipe out Raiders leads.
Kelly's second touchdown pass came with 12 minutes left in the game and overturned a 23-22 deficit.
"Jim had an outstanding game and a championship performance," Levy said. "He was the catalyst today."
The Bills produced just 75 yards rushing, which made Kelly's effort altogether necessary on the slippery carpet.
"We knew going into the game if we were going to win, we were going to win with the pass," said Kelly, who completed 27 of 37 throws.
"During the week, I was telling the guys up front the key would be pass protection. Every day we stressed it. This was one of the toughest [pass rushes] we faced this year. Our offensive line was the key today on both touchdown passes. I needed that extra two seconds to throw and they gave it to me."
Kelly hit Brooks on a hook-and-go to beat Dorn in the third quarter. Then he found Brooks in an opening in the Raiders' zone defense in the fourth quarter.
Although Kelly had trouble keeping his hands warm in the second half, he minimized the weather.
"Overall, I don't think the weather was that much of a factor," he said.
Catching the ball was no easy feat, though. "It was difficult," said Brooks, who joined the Bills as a free agent in the off-season. "On the sidelines, I'd go to the heater and try to keep as much feeling in my hands as I could. The ball was slick as well as very hard."
After Brooks' second touchdown, the Raiders failed to move the ball on two more possessions.
"They got on a roll and we couldn't keep up with them," said Hostetler, who completed 14 of 20 for 230 yards. "But I think we killed ourselves."
NFL SCORES, SCHEDULE
Buffalo 29, L.A. Raiders 23
San Francisco 44, N.Y. Giants 3
12:30 p.m. Green Bay at Dallas, chs. 11, 9
8, 4 p.m. Kansas City at Houston, chs. 2, 4
12:30 p.m. Kansas City-Houston winner at Buffalo, chs. 2, 4
L 4 p.m. San Francisco vs. Green Bay-Dallas winner, chs. 11, 9
Super Bowl XXVIII
, 6 p.m. at Atlanta, chs. 2, 4