- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
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There would be no mess this time. On offense the Raiders would pound and pound, alternating their three runners, occasionally loading up their line with an extra tackle, 295-pound Reggie McElroy, or a second tight end, 240-pound Andrew Glover. Defensively, they would go primarily with man-to-man matchups, with their best cover guy, Terry McDaniel, sticking to Reed, the slot receiver; the taller, rangier Lionel Washington picking up the 6'3" Lofton; and an extra defensive back, Garry Lewis, covering the least dangerous receiver, Al Edwards. The linebackers, Moss and Riki Ellison, would zero in on Thomas and tight end Keith McKeller. Plus, there would be just enough zone mixed in with the man-to-man to screw up Kelly's reads.
And for a half it all worked. The Raiders' hammering attack and a 78-yard Schroeder to Brown TD pass on a crossing pattern put 20 points on the board. The only sour note for Los Angeles was its special teams play. A 91-yard kickoff return for a TD by Edwards and a 59-yard punt return by Clifford Hicks that set up another touchdown kept the Bills in the game at 20-14.
Still, the halftime stats showed that L.A. had run 41 plays to Buffalo's 22 and had outgained the Bills 295 yards to 106. When the Raiders put another seven points on the board on their first possession of the third quarter—a 59-yard Schroeder to Mervyn Fernandez pass on another crossing route set up a one-yard scoring run by Allen—the score was 27-14, and a blowout looked to be in the making. But then the Bills got serious. Kelly took them on a 12-play drive that ended with Norwood missing a 49-yard field goal attempt. Kelly took them on an 11-play march that ended with a 32-yarder by Norwood hitting the right upright—no good. Buffalo was getting no points, but it was wearing down L.A. The Bills would run 50 plays in the second half, most of them from the no-huddle offense, to 24 for the Raiders. "The longer you're on the field, the tireder you are," said L.A. defensive tackle Scott Davis. "That's as simple as it gets."
And there was no relief from Schroeder and the offense, nothing to help cut back on those relentless Buffalo marches. Left guard Steve Wisniewski, the Raiders" best lineman, went down with a sprained knee on the first series of the third quarter. Craig was gone soon after with a bruised hip, and Allen had to miss part of the fourth quarter when his sore right knee stiffened.
Schroeder, who threw only four passes after intermission, threw his last completion of the day at the end of the third quarter. While Kelly was working the game like a magician, hooking up with receivers all over the field, the Raiders' offense had gone into a shell. Los Angeles ran the ball 10 straight plays in the fourth quarter, and the Bills' defense stuffed them. Linebacker Cornelius Bennett was all over the field.
Finally, it all came down to Norwood. He had made nine consecutive field goals coming into the game, but on this afternoon everything had gone blooey. "Worst day of my life," said Norwood, whose previous worst day had come on Jan. 27, when he missed a 47-yard field goal that would have won the Super Bowl. "I told myself on the last one, Keep your head down, be more aggressive."
Levy had toyed with the idea of sending in kickoff specialist Brad Daluiso instead of Norwood, but he changed his mind. After Norwood had misfired on the 36-yarder at the end of regulation time, Kelly told him, "Don't worry, you're going to get another chance." Thomas took a tougher stand, saying, "If he'd have missed that last one, I'd have dropped him out of the plane over Minnesota or North Dakota."
Well, the kick was true, and now the Bills have only to beat the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday or the Detroit Lions a week later to clinch the home field advantage in the AFC. Kelly, who completed 33 of 52 passes for 347 yards, was magnificent—a guy who really enjoys the game and showed it. The Buffalo defense got hammered for a while but pulled itself together. The Bills look very much like the team that came so close to winning Super Bowl XXV. This time? Who knows?