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It's like this, Jim Kelly was telling the media amassed outside the Buffalo Bills' locker room at the Los Angeles Coliseum on Sunday, it's what NFL football is all about. Down by seven to the Raiders, third-and-20 near midfield, the game in its dying moments, 85,000-plus fans trying to drown out your signals. It's something special, see. "I was tired of off-tackle here, off-tackle there," he said. "It was time to go with Jim Kelly, time to let it all hangout."
A little checkoff pass to running back Thurman Thomas picked up 19 yards. A shot to wideout Andre Reed on a crossing route gained 20 more. Two throws later and the Bills were in the end zone, the payoff coming on a nine-yarder to wide receiver James Lofton, and now the game would go to overtime, tied at 27.
One pass was all Kelly needed in the extra period, and it was his best of the day. He hung in the pocket and took a full shot from 245-pound linebacker Winston Moss, who had come in clean on a blitz, but just before going down, Kelly laid the ball in to Reed 31 yards downfield. Three runs for nine yards positioned the Bills for a 42-yard field goal try by Scott Norwood, who had missed all three of his earlier attempts and an extra-point try—plus he had almost botched two other PATs. But this time Norwood's kick was true, and Buffalo had a 30-27 victory.
Now Kelly was talking about how Los Angeles safety Ronnie Lott had tried before the teams were set to psych out Norwood—to break his concentration—by walking in front of holder Frank Reich. "I made my point to Ronnie after the game," said Kelly. "I mean, he's a great player and I have a lot of respect for him, but I told him what he did was a bunch of crap. He said that's what he always does."
Kelly shrugged. He smiled. He stepped off the makeshift platform and walked to the team bus. He's 31 and at the top of his game, and yes, this is what NFL football is all about. The Bills had clinched their fourth-straight AFC East title a week earlier, and after defeating the Raiders, they were 12-2 and closing in on the home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. "I can't remember a year that's been as much fun as this one," said Kelly, the conference's highest-rated passer. "It really has. I'm enjoying every minute of it. It's what everyone dreams of."
Across the hall, in the Raider locker room, another story was being told, but this one had no happy ending, no joy. Jay Schroeder had blown the game. His last two passes were intercepted, one in the final 30 seconds of regulation time, after Lofton had scored, and one in overtime that had set up Buffalo's winning field goal. Two long heaves, neither of which had a chance, both into double coverage.
"The one in regulation time, the one Nate Odomes intercepted," said Bills free safety Mark Kelso, "I don't know why Schroeder threw it. I was leaning hard into the receiver, Willie Gault, and Nate had him underneath. The thing you certainly don't want to do at that point is to underthrow it." Odomes returned the interception to the Los Angeles 12, setting up...Norwood's third missed field goal, from 36 yards with 11 seconds remaining in regulation.
Kelso picked off the interception in overtime, at the Buffalo 36. "That one was like a gift," he said. The ball came right to Kelso, instead of to Raider wideout Tim Brown.
"It's got to be a tough locker room over there," said Bills general manager Bill Polian. "I mean the stares across the room. It's got to be tough for Schroeder."
Whatever misery Schroeder was feeling wasn't showing. He's 30, and he's struggling. Why, Schroeder was asked, did you put up those two balls like that? "The second one was like a punt; it didn't hurt us that bad," he said matter-of-factly. "The first one? It never should have been thrown. I don't know—you try to make a big play."