In 1984, Reich put together one of the greatest comebacks in collegiate history, rallying Maryland from a 31-0 halftime deficit against Miami to a 42-40 victory. He threw touchdown passes on six straight possessions. Now the Bills' destiny is in his hands, until Kelly returns.
At least Buffalo's offense is in working order, which isn't the story with the Giants. Bills linebacker Darryl Talley thought that the Buffalo defense had a good read on New York, particularly in short-yardage situations. "The Giants must have sensed that, too," said Talley, "because they were breaking tendencies."
"Oh, yeah, we tried to get away from some tendencies," Erhardt said. "We ran some I formation. We gave the ball to our fullback, Maurice Carthon, instead of our tailback, in short-yardage. But it didn't matter. I just don't get it. One time we could have just walked into the end zone, but a guy missed a block. We've been pathetic. We haven't done anything in the last four, five weeks on short-yardage.
"Third down has been a killer. Every time it seems like a different thing, a guy missing a block or a penalty or whatever. We could change our offense and start doing other things, but you like to be able to run from your strength."
The downside of a grinding ground attack like the Giants' is that a team that uses it can have trouble opening up. The Bills made just such a transformation when they went to the hurry-up, but the Giants, as they piled up their victories and time of possession week after week, didn't have to—until recently. They died on four straight incompletions from the 49er nine-yard line in their 7-3 defeat on Dec. 3, and their last possession on Saturday ended with four consecutive incompletions from the Buffalo 26.
New York has had only one 200-yard passing day in the last nine games. Its two remaining games are against the Phoenix Cardinals and the New England Patriots. Those games might be a good time to experiment with a more wide-open attack, maybe even some hurry-up, to build a file for the playoffs. Trouble is, the Giants wideouts are a faceless band grown rusty from disuse. Every week a different one seems to emerge—only to go back on the shelf. It might be time to get the wide receivers into the heart of the action.
Hostetler, a seven-year vet, is the quarterback now. He's more mobile than Simms but far less competent in running the offense. Hampton, who gained 105 yards on 21 carries against Buffalo, is the new threat out of the backfield. Anderson still gets the call in short-yardage situations. The defense is good enough to hold off anyone, and New York still has the second-best record in the NFC. But the big tournament is right around the corner, and major cracks are showing.