American Football: Blistering Buffalo on rampage

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The Independent Online
AS THEIR team trooped disconsolately out of the Minneapolis Metrodome last January, having been outclassed by the Washington Redskins, the fans of the Buffalo Bills could be forgiven a tinge of apprehension about the 1992 season. The Bills had now lost successive Super Bowls and, given a reputation for internal strife that matches any political party, grief appeared on the cards.

It hasn't happened. The team that once fully earned the soubriquet 'the Bickering Bills' pulled together, and four games into this year's campaign once again look the class of the AFC.

New England were this week's victims, dispatched 41-7 in front of their own fans. Buffalo have now scored 153 points, at the remarkable average of 38 per game.

The Bills took a while to get into their stride (it was only 6-0 at half-time) but then simply got better and better. Indeed, just about the only unconvincing aspect of their performance was the post- match assertion of their head coach, Marv Levy: 'It wasn't that easy. They were very tough.'

Of course everyone beats the Patriots but with the twin offensive threats of Jim Kelly (three touchdown passes) and Thurman Thomas (120 yards rushing and a touchdown) in excellent working order, and the defense buttressed by the return to form and fitness of Bruce Smith, the rest of the conference will regard the Bills as the team to beat. Even the NFC must respect them after winning in San Francisco a fortnight ago.

On Sunday the Bills entertain their divisional rivals from Miami, who maintained their unbeaten record with a 19-17 victory in the Seattle Kingdome, thanks to a remarkable recovery from quarterback Dan Marino. With the Dolphins trailing in the fourth quarter, Marino was knocked out by a hit from Seattle's Rufus Porter. The inspirational No 13 returned to the sidelines in a daze, his game apparently over. 'He wasn't sure where he was,' Miami's head coach, Don Shula, said.

Marino remembered who he was, though. The game's highest- paid player missed just one play, returned to the drive, and quickly threw the game-winning touchdown to Fred Banks.

Denver and Houston, two of the AFC's alternative contenders, won again, though with varying degrees of conviction. The Oilers appear to have recovered from their shock defeat by Pittsburgh on opening day and hammered San Diego 27-0. Denver were less impressive in their 12-0 defeat of Cleveland, John Elway's offense failing to score a touchdown for the second successive week.

Pittsburgh lost for the first time under their new head coach, Bill Cowher, going down 17-3 in Green Bay. Brett Favre, the Packers quarterback, threw touchdown passes to Sterling Sharpe and Robert Brooks, both exposing the Steelers' normally excellent cornerback, Rod Woodson.

The Eastern Division took the week off in the National Conference, so attention focused on the West, and San Francisco's trip to New Orleans. A game described by the 49er head coach, George Seifert, as 'about as exciting as I've ever been involved with,' remained close throughout but was finally settled by an interception from 49er Eric Davis with 10 seconds left, leaving the score 16-10 to the visitors.

In the NFC Central, Chicago will be relieved by their win over Atlanta after successive losses, and the Vikings are showing signs of real promise under new head man Denny Green. This week's laurels, however, go to another new man on the sidelines, Sam Wyche, whose Tampa Bay side defied the odds to win in Detroit. Their 27-23 victory was their first on the road in 15 attempts, and Detroit's first defeat in 11 at the Silverdome.

A rousing fourth-quarter revival was completed with a game- winning play which the Bucks call the 'Mr C Special'. After the start that Wyche has forged at this formerly moribund franchise, perhaps they should rename it the 'Mr W Special'.

NFL: Chicago 41 Atlanta 31; Buffalo 41 New England 7; Denver 12 Cleveland 0; Minnesota 42 Cincinnati 7; Houston 27 San Diego 0; Tampa Bay 27 Detroit 23; Miami 19 Seattle 17; LA Rams 18 NY Jets 10; Green Bay 17 Pittsburgh 3; San Francisco 16 New Orleans 10. Did not play this week: Dallas, Indianapolis, NY Giants, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Washington.