First they drove 80 yards to score a touchdown, and on the next series, the defense, led by inside linebackers Mark Maddox and Marvcus Patton, stuffed New England on downs. Thomas lost a fumble with 4:17 to go, but the defense held once more, forcing the Pats to punt from midfield. Only 64 seconds remained. Kelly hooked up with wideout Billy Brooks for 22 yards and rookie wideout Russell Copeland for 56. Four plays later Steve Christie kicked a 27-yard field goal to send the game into overtime.
New England had the first shot and made a first down, and then the Buffalo D stiffened. On third-and-one at the Bill 48, tailback Leonard Russell tried the right side, and nosetackle Jeff Wright hammered him for no gain. Russell tried again, and Patton and left end Phil Hansen stopped him cold. On Buffalo's possession Kelly completed a pass to tight end Pete Metzelaars, who was stripped of the ball at the Patriot 25. But the Bill defense forced a punt, and on first down Kelly threw a 46-yard completion to Andre Reed that put Buffalo on the New England 19.
Thomas, gasping because of his painful ribs, crashed the line for two yards, then for three. He left the field, doubled over after his 30-carry, 111-yard day, and Christie booted the winning field goal from 32 yards away.
Amid the postgame euphoria Kelly would brook no suggestion that the Bill offense was lacking. "I have zero concern about the offense," he said. But all season the attack has sputtered. Since their season-opening 38-14 rout of New England, the Bills have scored only 12 offensive touchdowns in 28 quarters. Still, Buffalo sits alone atop the AFC. "What helps us, in a game like this and coming off the Super Bowl disappointments, is the kind of guys we have in this locker room," said Maddox.
Indeed, the character of the players Buffalo drafts has a lot to do with the team's ability to come back. Most teams interview prospects, and some administer a personality test. The Bills do both. Their 120-question exam attempts to ascertain qualities of competitiveness and resilience. Says Wright, "We've got a bunch of guys who can come back from devastating losses, guys whom you never have to tell to lift weights or work out."
The Bills used the test to build the guts of their resurgent defense. "Maddox and Patton both scored superbly on the test," says general manager John Butler. Both were undersized college linebackers—the Bills drafted Patton out of UCLA at 218 pounds, Maddox out of Northern Michigan at 213—who were anything but prime prospects. In the off-season, when free-agent inside linebackers Shane Conlan and Carlton Bailey left for the Rams and the Giants, respectively, Buffalo wasn't concerned. Patton, who's second on the team in tackles, and Maddox added sideline-to-sideline speed to a solid front seven. The defense just might carry the Bills to Atlanta on the last Sunday in January. Yes, the Bills. Yes, again.
DON'T DO IT, BARRY
The Lions have a bye this week, and the persistent rumor around Detroit is that Barry Sanders may stage a job action by not showing up for a couple of light practices. You can't win this one, Barry. The Lions already ripped up one of your contracts to improve it a couple of years ago, and they've offered you more than either Emmitt Smith or Thurman Thomas makes. Walking out on your team would be inexcusable.
You may have seen the replays of Pittsburgh cornerback Rod Woodson trying to gel at Cincinnati wide receiver Carl Pickens late in Sunday's game. According to two of Woodson's teammates, he was enraged over a remark Pickens had made. The two Steelers say they heard Pickens shout "Jungle fever!" at Woodson. That slang term for interracial romance was especially stinging for Woodson, the son of a white mother and a black father, who is married to a white woman.
Of Pickens, who is black. Woodson would say only that he "went over the line." Woodson's teammates, however, were not as reticent. "If you want to talk basic football [trash] the whole game, fine," said cornerback D.J. Johnson. "That personal stuff is uncalled for, and it's rare."