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What was happening? For one thing, the Oilers needed their cornerbacks, Gray and Cris Dishman, to assume more responsibility for stopping Reed, but they didn't. McDowell said that Dishman went to defensive coordinator Jim Eddy at about this point in the game and asked to be moved inside to cover Reed on more plays. According to McDowell, Eddy said no. "What makes me mad is we didn't correct what was happening," said McDowell. In addition, Houston's pass rush wasn't doing a good job of pressuring Reich into making the mistakes typical of a quarterback who was starting his seventh pro game. Remarkably, just one week after Houston had intimidated and battered the Bills, the same Oilers looked like lost sheep.
Reich, meanwhile, had overcome his fear of the aggressive coverage by Gray and Dishman, and now he was not afraid to challenge them if he had to. On defense Buffalo had abandoned its dime package, which was meant to thwart Moon but obviously hadn't fazed him, and returned to its standard 3-4 alignment, replacing two defensive backs with linebackers Marvcus Patton and Carlton Bailey. "We were playing timidly in the first half," Bill defensive coordinator Walt Corey said. "If we were going to go down, I wanted to go down with our biggest and best people on the field."
By the time Reed had scored, Buffalo linebacker Darryl Talley had whipped his teammates into a frenzy, walking along the bench, slapping guys and yelling, "Believe!" They did. Two plays into Houston's next series, a Moon pass deflected off the hands of wideout Webster Slaughter and fell into the arms of Bill safety Henry Jones, who returned it 15 yards to the Houston 23. Four plays later, on fourth-and-five, Levy passed up a 35-yard field goal attempt because with three points his team still would have needed at least two scores in the fourth quarter—when they would have the wind in their faces. But Buffalo went after more than a first down. Reich spotted safety Mike Dumas trailing Reed in coverage, and he zipped a pass to Reed at the goal line. Oilers 35-31, with 2:00 left in the third.
After an exchange of punts, Moon used up 7½ minutes in the fourth quarter driving Houston 76 yards. "Finally we had the wind," he said. And for one brief moment he had luck back on his side. On third-and-16 at the Buffalo 46, Moon double-pumped and threw a pass that Bailey intercepted. But wait. Smith, frustrated by Moon's ability to get rid of the ball quickly (only one of his 54 pass drops was a classic NFL seven steps; the rest were three- and five-step drops), had hit Moon for the first time all day, hog-tying him after the pass and flinging him to the turf. A flag flew. Late hit. The Oilers had a first down at the Buffalo 31. Smith was enraged, and he was still so upset after the game that he went to the Houston locker room to tell Moon, "That was no late hit. What a cheap call."
"It might have been cheap," Moon said, "but we needed it."
Moon motored the Oilers to the 14, where the drive stalled with seven minutes remaining. Al Del Greco came on for a 31-yard attempt with the wind at his back. "Exactly then," said Houston punter and holder Greg Montgomery, "it started raining. I mean, exactly then. We're lining up for the kick, and the ref hasn't wiped the ball off. That's pretty standard procedure. So I yell to the ref, 'Hey, wipe it, ref!' And he says, 'Play ball!' So we had to play. Then, and I don't make excuses, then...."
"Then," Montgomery said, "the snap's coming back to me—a little high—and a gust of wind blows it out of my hands."
Del Greco fell on the ball back at the Buffalo 26, and the Bills took over. Instead of Houston being up 38-31 with 6:53 to play, the Oilers' leaking, tiring defense had to protect a four-point advantage. Houston immediately forced Buffalo into a third-and-four, but when a pass play was sent in, Reich called time.
"I wanted to know whether we were going to go for it on fourth down if we didn't make it," Reich said. "Marv said we probably would. So I said, if we're going to go for it, why not try to run for it? They won't be expecting it."