"A week, maybe two, I don't know," he said. "The Miami game is always a big one for us, but this time, well, the intensity just wasn't there during the week. I'm not talking about today. There was plenty of hitting out there. But even myself, I just wasn't up for Miami the way I usually am. I found myself thinking about whether the players would ratify the contract instead of thinking about Miami."
The caliber of play was deep freeze. Both offenses played it close to the vest, running the ball decently at times, throwing mostly safe, short passes and completing few of them. There were only two sacks in the game, one on each side.
"We didn't get to the quarterback because they were throwing one-and two-second patterns," said Buffalo Middle Guard Fred Smerlas. "As soon as they got the ball, whoosh, it was gone."
A two-time Pro Bowler, Smerlas had no tackles and no assists, which he blamed on a lack of timing, not fatigue. "I'd be thinking through a move rather than doing it," he said, "thinking instead of reacting, getting myself in bad position and getting blocked."
Miami Coach Don Shula said he saw some "great defense out there." He said he replaced Quarterback David Woodley with Don Strock at halftime because Strock had more experience, would handle the lousy weather and the overall strangeness of the game better. He said it was a "big win for us" and "puts us in great shape because all three wins were in the conference." He said all this with a straight face, and because he is Don Shula no one burst out laughing. All the victory meant was that the Dolphins are a cinch to reach the playoffs. And all the loss meant was that the Bills probably have to win three of their next—and last—six games to qualify themselves.
"It's like the NHL," said Buffalo Guard Reggie McKenzie. "If you can't make the playoffs in this setup, you have a major rebuilding job ahead of you. You have to evaluate your entire program."
It was a game to get through with as few injuries as possible. On Saturday Buffalo Coach Chuck Knox was asked if it might make sense to rest the varsity for a quarter or so. "I'll be watching for signs of fatigue very closely," he said. "If anyone shows them, I'll get him out of there." What he didn't say was that the Bills are in the business of selling tickets on a game-to-game basis, and what's good for the health of the squad might not be good for the box office.
While Shula kept rotating his backs and receivers, Knox stuck more with his regulars. The sad result was that he lost his two starting wide receivers to injuries as a result of the herky-jerk nature of the offense. Jerry Butler pulled a thigh muscle in the third quarter, stretching for an overthrown pass, and Frank Lewis sprained a knee on the slippery turf when he tried to come back for an under-thrown one in the final period. The Bills' injury roster also listed Defensive End Ken Johnson (sprained knee) and Inside Linebacker Jim Haslett (pulled hamstring), while the Dolphins lost their left defensive end, Doug Betters, with a broken thumb. It was a normal quota of casualties for an NFL game.
Haslett was one of the few players on either team who would admit he was tired—that's right, tired—from being out of football eight weeks and in it for only five days, including one game. The rest of the locker room quotes were like something out of The Manchurian Candidate, everyone saying the same thing the same way: "Tired? Why no, I didn't feel tired." But Haslett broke the streak. "Let's face it," he said. "I'm beat."
So were the Bills. And the fans.