THEY'RE STILL moaning in Miami. Don Shula confirmed the extent of the whipping the Dolphins absorbed from Washington Sunday, which must have just about gagged him.
On the same afternoon on which Miami's confidence was stripped away piece by piece, the Bills beat the hottest team in the league, the Philadelphia Eagles. Is there a lesson here?
Sure. It teaches us that Buffalo is the AFC team best equipped to end NFC dominance in the Super Bowl. At least that is the conclusion drawn from all available evidence.
The Eagles came to Rich Stadium as the most truculent, arrogant, full-of-themselves team in football.
They openly deprecated Buffalo's 9-2 won-lost record. "They have to play NFC football now," said someone very close to coach Buddy Ryan.
The Bills played NFC football and played it well. Had Don Beebe not short-armed what should have been a 70-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter, the score would have jumped to 31-6 and the game almost surely would have been a blowout.
As it turned out, the Eagles' comeback gave the Bills an opportunity to win with a display of machismo in the last quarter.
Dominance of conferences is supposed to run in cycles, but the NFC has been a unicycle. It won the last six Super Bowls, all but one of them skunkings.
In the '80s, the NFC won most of the big games during the regular season. Last year there were eight NFC teams with winning records. Green Bay was the only one with a losing record in games with the AFC.
Consider the record of the better AFC teams against NFC opposition this year:
Of Miami's three losses, two were to strong NFC teams. Before Washington cuffed around the Dolphins, the Giants strangled them, 20-3.
The Raiders beat Chicago in the first month of the season, but later lost to Green Bay.
Cincinnati has been an embarrassment, losing to Atlanta, 38-17, and to New Orleans, 21-7. Houston, strong at home but a pigeon on the road, was drubbed by Atlanta, 47-27, and lost to a bad Rams team, 14-13. At a time Pittsburgh was rolling, the Steelers went to San Francisco and were buried, 27-7.
Kansas City, better equipped to play NFC-brand football, is 3-0 against that conference, but the opposition wasn't that formidable. The Chiefs beat Minnesota when the Vikings were playing like dead men; Green Bay when it was without Don Majkowski; and Detroit.
Buffalo's victory over the Eagles was the most impressive accomplishment by an AFC team, by far.
There remains evidence to be gathered, however. Two of Buffalo's four remaining games are on the road against formidable NFC opposition, the Giants and Washington.
Since Miami, the Bills' pursuer for the championship of the AFC East, plays the same NFC schedule, Buffalo may have to win one of those games.
Judging from the performance against Philly, the Bills now have the stuff to do it.
There are major differences between this Buffalo team and the one that went 1-3 against the NFC a year ago. One difference is a more mature, experienced Jim Kelly. Kelly's reading of Philadelphia blitzes was essential to the Bills' building their 24-0 lead.
The biggest difference in beating the NFC at its own game may be in the remodeling of the offensive line.
When offensive line coach Tom Bresnahan took over the task a year ago, his idea was to replace finesse with mass. The remodeling has been accomplished faster and more effectively than was expected. The line is now one of the Bills' major assets.