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PUTTING THE CLAMPS ON
Ralph Wiley
January 09, 1989
Buffalo shut down the Houston Oilers' attack as the Bills advanced to the AFC title game
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January 09, 1989

Putting The Clamps On

Buffalo shut down the Houston Oilers' attack as the Bills advanced to the AFC title game

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On a nice call by defensive coordinator Walt Corey in the second quarter. Smith lined up over center, blew past Oiler center Jay Pennison and tossed fullback Alonzo Highsmith aside like a rag doll before sacking Moon for a 13-yard loss on Buffalo's 47. The play moved Houston out of field goal range. "He never even saw me," said Smith, speaking of Pennison.

Smith lined up everywhere but opposite right guard, in a variety of two-and three-point stances. "He was around," said Moon with more than a touch of understatement.

Ralph Wilson, the Buffalo owner, takes credit for the decision to draft Smith out of Virginia Tech with the first pick of the 1985 draft. "He reminded me of Joe Greene with his size and speed." says Wilson.

"You know, he's told me that story before," says Smith. " Joe Greene was my boyhood idol."

In that draft, the Bills selected Smith over Ray Childress of Texas A & M. Childress, now a fine defensive end for the Oilers, sacked Kelly once, but he also was hit with a roughing-the-passer penalty, which Kelly drew with a tumbling twist—give it a 9.9—after a Childress shove. Kelly laughed after he got up. Childress had said he would test Kelly's heart. He found it pumping vigorously. Childress played well enough, but not as well as Smith.

For his part, Bennett ranged from sideline to sideline to flush Moon from the pocket, forcing him to hurry his throws on seven plays. In the second quarter, Bennett tackled Moon after a short gain, tenderizing the ruptured bursa on Moon's throwing elbow, and blocked a 38-yard Tony Zendejas field goal try. He recovered the ball for good measure. In the final quarter Bennett stripped wideout Haywood Jeffires of the ball after an 11-yard completion at the Houston 23. Cornerback Derrick Burroughs recovered the fumble.

"I knew blocking [ Bennett] would be an all-day job," said Steinkuhler. "We all knew how tough he was. Cornelius can only get better, and he's already a great player. They've got the right scheme and they play the right fronts."

Said Bennett, "I got a chance to pass rush today."

Moon eluded the rush often enough to complete 17 of 33 throws for 240 yards, and he had a pass dropped in the end zone by Drew Hill just before the half. Hill sprained his neck when he slid into the goalpost on the play and returned for only one more series. "I read Drew better than most of the receivers," said Moon. "That hurt."

On what would be the Oilers' last series of the game, Moon moved them 80 yards in nine plays, with running back Mike Rozier scoring from a yard out. After Kelly guided the Bills to the Houston 45, the Houston defense forced Buffalo to punt, but Steve Tasker hit return man Curtis Duncan, who fumbled. Ray Bentley recovered for the Bills on the Houston 18 with 1:45 left to play.

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