Moon-less sky awaits Oilers, good Buddy

January 18, 1994|By Bill Plaschke | Bill Plaschke,Los Angeles Times

HOUSTON -- Having disposed of the 1993 season in their traditional messy manner, the National Football League's masters of rudeness looked toward the future yesterday.

For once, the Houston Oilers cowered.

They saw a future with Buddy Ryan, and without Warren Moon.

They saw a future with more craziness, and without the veterans who gave that craziness some texture.

"Kind of scary," said safety Bubba McDowell, one of two Oilers who signed long-term deals this winter. "I'm sure next summer, me being human, I'll wonder, 'What did I do?' "

Perhaps he should ask himself sooner. Like now.

Watching the Oilers react to their 28-20 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday in the American Football Conference semifinals, the question of how they lost was pushed aside for a larger issue: How were they able to spend three hours together on the same sideline?

Ryan threw a final subtle jab at offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride.

Players threw not-so-subtle jabs at Ryan.

Players criticized teammates for lack of intensity.

All this, even though they won't play another game for seven months.

Through it all, the ever-composed Moon wondered, what did he do so wrong?

He has led the Oilers to the playoffs in seven consecutive seasons but it appears that he will be blamed for the seven consecutive times they have failed to reach the conference championship game.

Indications are that Oilers management, unwilling to pay a combined $6.25 million to Moon and backup Cody Carlson next year, will trade Moon and his $3.25 million salary.

"I would not be surprised if that happens," McDowell said. "That is what everybody has been talking about.

"Warren is getting older and Cody is coming into his prime, ready to take the controls."

The move would make particular sense if the Oilers, as expected, change their offense to a condensed version of the run-and-shoot. Carlson, who has led the Oilers to a 10-4 record as a starter, is better suited to a more traditional attack.

"I would love to be back here . . . but I'm not really sure of my future," said Moon, 37, who is signed through 1995. "Everybody is asking questions, even my kids."

Only on the Oilers would their leading citizen be shown the door while their combative defensive coordinator is embraced.

Ryan certainly is not getting fired, at least if you believe owner Bud Adams.

"We've got a great defensive staff, and a great offensive staff," Adams said after Sunday's game. "We got through all those distractions, didn't we? I don't see anything wrong with what we're doing on the field."

And Ryan apparently does not see anything wrong with keeping alive his feud with Gilbride, whom Ryan punched during a sideline fight at the end of the season.

"I can only speak for my side of the ball," Ryan said just before leaving the Oilers complex. "But we had a Super Bowl defense."

Carlson, already sounding like the new team leader, said he could only speak for his side of the ball.

But he wished certain arrogant members of the staff would keep their mouths shut.

"Everybody on the team was disappointed with the way the [coaching dispute] was handled this year," he said. "People around here have to start bending a little. People have to start thinking of something other than themselves."

Spencer Tillman, veteran running back, said egos interfered with defensive play calling in the second half Sunday, when Joe Montana led the Chiefs to 28 points in overcoming a 10-0 halftime deficit.

"It's fine that Buddy has confidence in his defense, but we have to be cognizant of our opponents' strengths, and recognize them, and deal with them," Tillman said.

He said that while Montana and the Chiefs made adjustments, the Oilers did not, thinking that a 10-0 lead would be safe.

In the locker room at halftime, defensive end Sean Jones actually screamed at his teammates to wake up and realize that 10 points is nothing to Montana.

"But we never did," Tillman said. "We never understood what we were dealing with here. We never realized that if you let a West Coast offense stay close, it will get you in the end. Our emotions were lacking."

McDowell agreed. "Something was wrong. The intensity wasn't there."

As usual, Ryan showed no remorse. He said the Oilers would have won except for two unusual passes by Montana -- the 18-yard touchdown pass behind Willie Davis' back and the lob that became a 41-yard pass to Keith Cash, setting up the final touchdown.

"You got a helicopter pass and a pass that I have no idea how he threw it," Ryan said. "We're the hottest defense in the NFL, and yesterday doesn't change that."

This spring should change that. There are 28 potential unrestricted free agents, including 10 starters.

The speech given to the team by Adams at the start of training camp -- he said they had better win because many would be gone in 1994 -- still holds true.

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