American Football: Buffalo charge over the 49ers

ONLY ONE team in the history of the sport has ever managed to avoid defeat throughout an entire season, and the unique achievements of the 1972 Miami Dolphins is unlikely to be challenged in 1998.

Just five weeks into the 16-game campaign, and already only three of the NFL's 30 franchises boast an unbeaten record. Of those, only the Denver Broncos, stunning so far in the defence of their Super Bowl title, have looked capable of sustaining their assault.

The San Francisco 49ers had looked worthy contenders before Sunday night's trip to Buffalo, but they contrived to beat themselves, a catalogue of errors, penalties and turnovers leading to an unexpected 26-21 triumph for the previously winless Bills.

The free-scoring Californians were restricted to just 105 yards of offense in the first half, and they set an unwanted team record in drawing 22 penalties for 178 yards.

The Bills took full advantage, building a 23-0 lead on Antowain Smith's six-yard run, Rob Johnson's touchdown pass to Quinn Burley and three Steve Christie field goals.

The 49ers managed a late rally, the quarterback Steve Young throwing touchdown passes to Mark Edwards, Irv Smith and JJ Stokes, but the Bills held on for the surprise result of the season so far.

"I can barely believe it," Young said. "Three turnovers in the first half and all those penalties. That first half is almost like you want to go back and do it over."

The Miami Dolphins would probably like to do it over, after losing their unbeaten record in a far from inspiring contest against New York Jets. Defenses dominated, the normally productive Miami quarter- back, Dan Marino, restricted to 121 passing yards by an aggressive Jets defense. The New Yorkers owed their 20-9 win to the efforts of the running back Curtis Martin, who gained 108 yards on the ground, scoring what proved to be the crucial touchdown in the second half.

The bubble finally burst for the enigmatic New Orleans Saints, who had surprised everyone by winning their first three games.

However, there was no disgrace in defeat against the New England Patriots and the manner of the 30-27 defeat suggests that the Saints may continue to confound the form book. Despite trailing by 10 points in the fourth quarter, the Saints, inspired by their quarterback, Danny Wuerffel, managed to draw level in the closing stages.

The game looked destined for over-time until New England's Adam Vinatieri broke Saint's hearts by kicking a game-winning 27-yard field goal as time expired.

With unbeaten records tumbling, the Broncos restored normal service by pounding the hapless Philadelphia Eagles for 28 points in the first quarter alone. It was ugly stuff, and the Broncos could have won by a far wider margin than the 41-16 scoreline had they not relaxed in the second half. The Eagles have yet to win five outings, and there are calls for the resignation of their head coach, Ray Rhodes.

Those calls are echoed in the nation's capital where coach Norv Turner has presided over a disastrous start by his Washington Redskins who, like their neighbours in Philadelphia, are still in search of victory. The 31-10 home loss to rivals Dallas Cowboys, has fuelled demands for Turner's impeachment.

In the battle of the young prospects, the Indianapolis Colts quarterback, Peyton Manning, prevailed over his rivals, Ryan Leaf of the San Diego Chargers. The 17-12 scoreline gave the Colts their first win of the year but both rookies still look a long way short of the finished product.

Results and standings, Digest, page 27

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