Raiders Get Derailed in Overtime : AFC: After missing three field goals during the second half, Norwood makes 42-yarder to give Buffalo a 30-27 victory. But Raiders still clinch a playoff berth.
Raider vindication became a concern late in the third quarter and turned to all-out panic in the fourth, when a sleeping giant arose from the Coliseum deck to knock down another would-be AFC contender.
The Buffalo Bills started slowly Sunday, like a train, but by game’s end had sped to a break-neck pace and relentless momentum that would only be stopped by one of their own, Scott Norwood.
Given enough chances, the kicker of Super Bowl infamy at last came through, right around sunset, with a 42-yard field to lift the Bills to a 30-27 overtime victory over the Raiders before 85,081 at the Coliseum.
Norwood missed three field goals and an extra point during the second half before making the winner with 12:26 remaining in overtime.
That was the bad news. Later, the Raiders (9-5) would learn they had somehow clinched at least a wild-card playoff berth because of the New York Jets’ loss to Detroit.
So where were the party streamers?
Walking through the Coliseum tunnel, Bill tailback Thurman Thomas said he personally would have dropped Norwood from the plane somewhere over North Dakota had he missed another kick.
The Raiders, who played from their heels in the second half after dominating the first, were spared defeat four times because of Norwood, but not a fifth.
“A team like that, you give them one chance, and that’s too many,” Raider defensive end Scott Davis said.
In the end, stopping the Bills was like trying to stop a flood.
Ask Raider corner Lionel Washington, who held receiver James Lofton catchless until the end of the third quarter with brilliant coverage, then watched Lofton run his legs off during the fourth.
Lofton finished with five catches for 72 yards. The most painful reception was Lofton’s nine-yarder with one minute remaining to tie the score at 27 in regulation.
Washington, his legs cramping, had tight coverage on Lofton, but couldn’t defend a perfect pass from quarterback Jim Kelly.
“If it would have been a bad pass, I could have knocked it down or intercepted,” Washington said later. “I played my best, it was tough at the end of the game. Lofton was running from side to side, I was running all over the field trying to cover him.”
For three quarters, the Raiders controlled the game, except for a few glitches. They dominated the first half but held only a six-point lead because of two special-team breakdowns, a 91-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Al Edwards and a 59-yard punt return by Clifford Hicks that set up a nine-yard scoring pass from Kelly to tight end Keith McKeller.
The Raiders kept the Bills’ potent offense off the field with time-consuming drives. The pattern continued into the third quarter, when the Raiders increased their lead to 27-14 on a one-yard run by Marcus Allen on a 75-yard drive that lasted six minutes.
“I would have loved for it to have been a three-quarter game,” Raider nose tackle Bob Golic said. “Unfortunately, that’s not the way things go.”
The way they went was like this: The Bills, no matter the setbacks, kept hammering at the Raiders, who seemed to withdraw into a protective shell late in the third quarter.
Buffalo didn’t seem to mind that Norwood was foiling their best plans.
The Bills just kept charging. Late in the third quarter, they drove to the Raider 31, but Norwood left a 49-yard attempt wide right, almost a replay of the 47-yarder he missed that would have won Super Bowl XXV.
Early in the fourth, a 32-yard Norwood attempt hit the right upright. He was getting closer.
When Buffalo scored with 4:06 remaining on a one-yard run by Kenneth Davis, Norwood overcompensated and hooked the extra point left. “I don’t what his problem was,” Buffalo Coach Marv Levy said later. “I didn’t even talk to him. Once I asked him if he was trying to compensate because he was off to the right a couple of times. He said no.”
Norwood kept getting chances because the Raiders kept giving them to him. The Raiders controlled the clock masterfully in the first half, rushing for 113 yards. The Raiders gained just 23 rushing yards in the second half, but it didn’t stop them from trying.
The Bills, no dummies, eventually sensed the Raiders were going to run and soon linebacker Cornelius Bennett and safety Leonard Smith were greeting fullback Nick Bell in the Raider backfield.
Raider Coach Art Shell said his team didn’t freeze up in the clutch.
“We just did not do a good enough job in our blocking schemes,” he said. It didn’t help that the Raiders’ best lineman, left guard Steve Wisniewski, was knocked out of the game with a bruised right knee.
“They adjusted their defense,” right guard Max Montoya said. “They were running backers through the line every now and then.”
More now than then. The question was whether there was enough time left for Buffalo and enough heart left in Norwood.
After three Bell runs led to another Raider punt, the Bills took over at their own 36 with 2:36 left. Turns out they had too much time.
Kelly raced his team downfield in a matter of seconds. Then, on one of the game’s key plays, a fourth and one at the Raider 29, Kelly threw short over the middle to Andre Reed, who turned it into a 20-yard gain to the nine.
After an incompletion, Kelly hit Lofton with a scoring pass. A minute remained. Would the Raiders gamble with a Schroeder pass or settle for overtime?
The Raiders gambled and paid the price. A deep and desperate pass intended for Willie Gault was intercepted and returned 48 yards by Nate Odomes to the Raider 17 with 15 seconds left.
The game was there for the Bills to steal, but Norwood lurked. The Raiders tried to unsettle the kicker by calling a timeout, as if the lump in Norwood’s throat wasn’t big enough.
Sure enough, his 36-yard attempt sailed wide right, if only barely, and it was on to overtime.
The Bills lost the toss, but things couldn’t have turned out better.
On second and 17 at his own 13, Schroeder lofted another deep plum down the left side. This one was intercepted by Mark Kelso as he slid out of bounds at the Buffalo 36.
Kelly, by this time, was too hot to touch. The second half was his. As he did in the Bills’ 51-3 victory over the Raiders in the AFC title game, Kelly picked the Raiders apart with short passes over the middle.
“I got tired of going with the same old off-tackle right and off-tackle left,” Kelly said of the running game. “I said ‘hell, I’m going with the Jim Kelly offense.’ ”
On first down from the 36, he looped a soft pass to Reed, who made a great catch despite tight coverage by Raider cornerback Terry McDaniel. The play gained 31 yards to the Raider 33.
Three runs by Thomas pushed the ball to the Raider 25, and out trotted Norwood.
The Raiders tried to freeze him again with a timeout. Raider Greg Townsend taunted Norwood as he waited. But the Raiders were out of miracles.
Their only hope now is another playoff rematch with Buffalo.
“I’ve got that gut feeling that we’re going to see them again,” Lionel Washington said. “Maybe in the AFC title game.”
Is this a good thing?
Guard Steve Wisniewski will undergo a magnetic resonance imaging test today to determine the severity of his right knee injury. Safety Eddie Anderson pulled a hamstring on the game’s second play, but played on. . . . Magic Johnson attended Sunday’s game. . . . Jay Schroeder completed 11 of 21 passes for 252 yards, but only two of four passes in the second half. . . . Buffalo quarterback Jim Kelly completed 33 of 52 passes for 347 yards.
* ON TOP OF IT: After he keeps his head down, things look up for Scott Norwood. C6
* BOB OATES’ COLUMN: Teams that let down against Jim Kelly usually suffer. C6