Is this it for Jim Kelly? Has he hit the wall? That was the question hanging over a subdued and depressed Buffalo locker room on Sunday after the Miami Dolphins' shocking 21-7 upset of Kelly's Buffalo Bills in windswept Rich Stadium.
"They sacked Jim seven times, and now it's all gonna be on us," one Buffalo offensive lineman said. "But you run your man all the way past him, and he's still standing there, and then the guy comes back to get the sack. What can you do?"
"Bring in a new quarterback" was all you heard on the postgame call-in shows. And it was worse in the stands, where they booed Kelly unmercifully after every stumble, every misfire, every sack. The fans want Todd Collins, the second-year backup from Michigan, who is 2-0 as a starter. Kelly is 2-2 and next to last in the NFL quarterback rankings after his three interceptions on Sunday, the last of which was returned 91 yards by Miami corner-back Terrell Buckley for the touchdown that locked up the game. Kelly had a hard time finding his receivers as the young Miami defenders clamped down on the short stuff and dared him to throw long. He was also immobile in the pocket. On most of his sacks it was the first rusher who got him.
Was it just a bad outing, with many good ones to come? Or, at age 36, is Kelly through? Most depressing of all were Kelly's own postgame remarks. Someone asked him if the team felt a sense of urgency after this defeat. His answer was rather shocking—especially for him. "There's an urgency on myself," he said. "Either I get it done or I get out of there and let Todd get it done. I'm man enough to face up to the fact that when I make mistakes, let someone else do it." Never in his 11-year NFL career has Kelly, one of the fiercest competitors in history, talked like that.
I asked Marv Levy how concerned he was about Kelly, long-term.
"It's too early to have a response to that kind of question," Levy said, looking very tired. "Too early."
He had enough to worry about, particularly criticisms of the call he made at the end of the game, a call he says was his alone. The Dolphins were leading 14-7 with 1:55 left, but the Bills had the ball first-and-goal at the Miami two. The ground game had been one of the few things working for the Bills all day. And Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson had earlier conducted a clinic on how to run a goal line offense: First-and-goal on the three, three straight running plays took it in for Miami's first score. Same thing on the Dolphins' next touchdown, three straight runs, this time from the six. No three wideouts, nothing fancy, just kaboom!
But Levy decided to get tricky on first down at the two. He called a delay pass to one of his two tight ends, Tony Cline, reasoning that if the play didn't work, the Bills could always run it in.
"It's a play our old tight end Butch Rolle scored a million touchdowns on," said offensive coordinator Tom Bresnahan. But this time Miami defensive end Trace Armstrong read pass and grabbed Cline.
"I covered him," Armstrong said.