Quarterback Jim Kelly of the Buffalo Bills was leaving Rich Stadium after the Bills’ 38-24 victory on Oct. 7 when he stopped to chat with several Raiders.
“See you guys in the playoffs,” Kelly said.
Exactly three months and 13 days after the Bills defeated the then-unbeaten Raiders by scoring 24 points in 6 minutes 3 seconds in the fourth quarter to overcome a 10-point deficit, the Raiders will get another shot at Buffalo in Sunday’s AFC championship game at Rich Stadium.
“It’s only poetic justice,” Raider tailback Marcus Allen said.
The Raiders were without two key players in their last visit to Buffalo--defensive end Howie Long, sidelined with a broken foot, and tailback Bo Jackson, who was still playing baseball.
But the weather will be a lot colder than the 71 degrees of the first game.
Coach Art Shell, who predicted that the Raiders would meet the Bills in the playoffs, is eager for the rematch.
“The things we did good, we’ll do again,” Shell said. “The things we didn’t do well, we’ll throw them away.”
The Raiders, who led, 24-14, with 10:35 left, used a ball-control passing attack to outgain the Bills in total yardage, 347-280. The Raiders had the ball almost twice as long as the Bills, 39 minutes 14 seconds to 20:46.
Quarterback Jay Schroeder completed 17 of 29 passes for 244 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception, which came on the Raiders’ final play. Schroeder was well protected until the final quarter, when he was sacked twice by linebacker Cornelius Bennett and fumbled twice. Raider tackle Rory Graves held Buffalo defensive end Bruce Smith without a sack.
The Bills were unable to cover Raider wide receivers Willie Gault and Mervyn Fernandez, who combined for 14 catches. Fernandez had eight receptions for 134 yards, including four catches for 104 yards in the first half, and Gault had six catches for 90 yards, including an 11-yard touchdown.
Allen had 71 yards in 20 carries as the Raiders rushed for 122 yards, but former Bill Greg Bell was held to 19 yards in 10 carries.
The Raiders’ defense limited the Bills to 98 yards on the ground, and safety Eddie Anderson intercepted Kelly twice in the first half.
So what went wrong?
The AFC’s only unbeaten team before the nationally televised Sunday night game, the Raiders made three costly mistakes that resulted in Buffalo touchdowns.
The Raiders’ special teams probably will cover their eyes when viewing the videotape of the last game in Buffalo.
Steve Tasker, captain of the Bills’ special teams, set up two touchdowns, forcing a fumble on a punt return and blocking a punt.
Tasker’s ferocious tackle produced Tim Brown’s fumble of a punt in the first half. Chris Hale recovered at the Raider 15. Then Kelly threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Andre Reed, who went over the shoulder of Raider cornerback Terry McDaniel and wrestled the ball from McDaniel in the end zone with 4:09 left in the half.
Tasker also set up the winning touchdown when he blocked a punt by Jeff Gossett. Rookie J.D. Williams picked up the ball on one bounce and returned it 38 yards for a touchdown with 6:52 left, giving Buffalo its first lead of the game, 28-24, and igniting the crowd of 80,076, second largest in Rich Stadium history.
Trailing, 31-24, after Scott Norwood’s 23-yard field goal with 4:07 left, the Raiders were driving for the tying touchdown when cornerback Nate Odomes wrestled the ball from Gault at the sideline and raced 49 yards for the Bills’ final touchdown with 2:34 left.
The Raiders maintained that the play shouldn’t have counted because Gault was out of bounds when Odomes stole the ball.
“I thought my foot was out of bounds,” Gault said. “I don’t put any pressure on myself saying that I’ve got to make up for that play.”
But the Raiders’ offensive unit and special teams weren’t the only culprits. The defense, which had a league-leading 17 sacks going into the game, failed to sack Kelly, who completed 13 of 21 passes for 182 yards and three touchdowns. Given time to throw, Kelly burned the Raiders in the second half, completing eight of 11 passes for 140 yards and two touchdowns.
With the Bills trailing, 24-14, Kelly triggered the comeback by hitting three consecutive passes in an 80-yard, five-play drive that cut the deficit to three points. Kelly connected with former Raider James Lofton on a 42-yard touchdown pass with 8:37 left.
Buffalo’s defense and special teams then came alive, forcing turnovers on the Raiders’ final four possessions.
When the Raiders failed to move the ball after Lofton’s touchdown catch, Gossett’s punt was blocked. No one blocked Tasker, who got a great jump on the play.
On the Raiders’ next possession, Bennett sacked Schroeder for a 10-yard loss, jarred the ball from his hand and recovered at the 21, setting up Norwood’s field goal.
With the Raiders trying to mount a comeback, Odomes stole the ball from Gault, who was trying to get out of bounds to stop the clock, and raced 49 yards into the end zone.
On the Raiders’ final series, safety Mark Kelso intercepted Schroeder’s pass at the Bills’ 48 with 1:40 left.
Although the Raiders outgained the Bills, 231-78, in the first half, they led only 10-7 on Schroeder’s 11-yard touchdown pass to Gault and Jeff Jaeger’s 19-yard field goal on the final play of the half.
The Raiders drove 47 yards in 11 plays on their first series of the second half to take a 17-7 lead on Allen’s one-yard touchdown run. Kelly, who completed only five of 10 passes for 42 yards in the first half, connected on four of five as the Bills drove 78 yards in seven plays and cut the score to 17-14 on Keith McKeller’s 15-yard touchdown pass.
But the Raiders responded by driving 69 yards in 11 plays to take a 24-14 lead on Schroeder’s four-yard touchdown pass to fullback Steve Smith with 10:35 left in the game.
Gault set up the touchdown by with a 31-yard reception to the Buffalo nine-yard line. But the Raiders got a break after Schroeder failed to connect with Brown on third and goal at the nine when cornerback Kirby Jackson was called for defensive holding, giving the Raiders a first down at the four.
With the Raiders poised to celebrate the first 5-0 start in their history, the momentum changed in a flash.
“I’ve seen it before but I never want to see it again,” Raider nose guard Bob Golic said.