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AFC East officially up for grabs

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Posted: Thursday December 03, 1998 09:59 AM


There are more than 100 plays in a football game. On each, the refs have to make decisions on all 22 players on the field, discipline coaches and players on the sideline. They check uniforms, check for blood, even metal plates under those forearm pads. They make sure the crowd noise doesn't inhibit the visiting team. They keep track of time, time outs and downs.

And of course, they handle the coin toss.

I talked to a coach in Buffalo Monday after their loss to the Patriots. He felt like the blown call at the end of the game would cost the Bills a chance to win the division outright.

Be that as it may, there are three things that you just don't do at the end of a game. When up by two points, you don't foul the three-point shooter. You don't walk in the winning run in the bottom of the ninth with two outs, no matter how small the strike zone is. And you don't commit pass interference on a game-ending Hail Mary. You try to knock the ball down, not the man.

Yes, Bills strong safety Henry Jones did interfere with Terry Glenn. Jones put his hands on Glenn just as Glenn started to go up for the ball. Jones rode Glenn about two feet off course. The ball hit Glenn in the chest and the ball bounced to the turf, followed by the referee's flag. Good call.

Don't give me that nonsense about it should have been an NBA non-call. Pass interference is pass interference on the game's first play and the game's last play. The coach I spoke with acknowledged as much.

What had the Bills steamed was the fourth-down catch by Shawn Jefferson on the play before. Drew Bledsoe was trying to pull off his second fourth-quarter miracle in less that seven days when he hit Jefferson on fourth-and-nine. Jefferson caught the ball while laying out in front of the Bills bench. In college football, you need one foot in bounds (instead of two) for possession. This catch wouldn't even have been good in college. Replays showed Jefferson did not make the catch in bounds. Maybe if the grass in Foxboro is allowed to grow a couple of feet after the teams moves to Hartford then Jefferson's toes would skim the top of the grass.

What does all this mean? Four teams are within a game of the AFC East lead. The Jets at 8-4 (4-1 in the AFC East) and Miami (8-4, 4-3) with the Pats (7-5, 4-3) and the Bills (7-5, 4-3) will take this race down to the final week of the regular season.

The Jets control their own destiny with their last three games at Miami no December 12, at Buffalo on December 19 and close out at home vs New England Dec 27.

Using the NFL injury format here's handicapping the AFC East race. Indianapolis is out. Buffalo would be doubtful (25 percent). New England and Miami are questionable (50 percent) and the Jets are probable (75 percent).

A 10-6 record could win the division, but you'd gamble on the list of tiebreakers (i.e. best cheerleaders, most concession beverages, etc.) So 11-5 looks like a better number. While 12-4 locks you in, that would be either Miami (who would have to ruin Denver's perfect season to do so) or the Jets. So 12-4 is not very likely.

The most likely scenario is the two maybe three of the teams end the season with identical records. Then you know we'd head to the coin toss. Would that be "headails" or "taileds"?

James Lofton, one of 76 nominees this year for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, is an NFL analyst for CNN/SI. His weekly column appears every Thursday exclusively on

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