Did somebody say destiny? Did somebody say Super Bills?
Nothing Sunday would bump the Buffalo Bills off the road to Tampa and Super Bowl XXV.
Stunning even the most confident of their fans, the Bills finally made it to pro football's Big Dance on their third try, by slicing and dicing the Los Angeles Raiders, 51-3, before a flag-waving crowd of 80,324, a Rich Stadium record.
"Our goal is to win it, not just to show up," Jim Kelly said of the Super Bowl meeting with the New York Giants.
Kelly quarterbacked a Buffalo offense that could be described only as awesome. Operating out of the shotgun formation for most of the first three quarters, the Bills ran for 202 yards and compiled 502 yards total offense.
Zipping up and down the field in their no-huddle offense and forcing seven turnovers, the Bills dominated the Raiders like no Raider team ever had been dominated in a playoff game.
"Fifty-one points. I wouldn't have even dreamed that in a fantasy," said Bills center Kent Hull.
Bills coach Marv Levy tried to downplay the outburst.
"I don't think you're going to beat anybody in this league very often, 51-3, particularly a very good team like the Raiders," Levy said. "Things started to go well for us. We got some big breaks . . ."
Are Kelly and the Bills' offense unstoppable?
"I don't know about that, but I think they are going to represent the AFC quite well," said Raiders coach Art Shell.
Kelly, who started off brilliantly, hitting his first six passes, pitched two TD passes to James Lofton, and Thurman Thomas ran for 138 yards and caught five passes for 61 more.
With Kelly, Thomas, Lofton and Andre Reed carving up the Raiders one play after another, the Bills scored on their first two series to take a 14-3 lead. After that, they methodically devoured the Raiders and their so-called Raider mystique.
If veteran linebacker Darryl Talley's 27-yard interception return to put Buffalo up, 21-3, didn't blow it open, then it was Kenneth Davis' 1-yard run on a fourth-down gamble in the second quarter that made it 27-3. Davis ran for three touchdowns in the game.
The Raiders, who have been moaning for the last three months about losing here, 38-24, in October, had nothing to cry about Sunday.
A defense Shell often has called the best in Raider history was no match for Kelly and the Buffalo offense. And, defensively, the Bills allowed a 41-yard field goal on the Raiders' first possession and nothing after that. They intercepted Los Angeles quarterback Jay Schroeder five times and his replacement, Vince Evans, once.
It was the worst playoff loss ever for the Raiders and the worst loss of any kind for the Silver and Black since a 55-0 defeat at Houston Sept. 9, 1961. The Raiders also gave up 55 points in a 34-point loss at San Diego Nov. 22, 1981.
Amazingly, in 37 minutes, 31 seconds of football, the Bills outscored the Raiders, 65-3. That includes the final 8:37 of the Oct. 7 game here and the first 28:54 of Sunday's game.
Kelly set an AFC Championship Game record for passing efficiency as he completed 17 of 23 (74 per cent) for an even 300 yards. He was never sacked and the only interception he threw was a ball that rookie cornerback Garry Lewis wrestled away from Thomas.
The Raiders called heads and lost the pregame coin toss.
It was over right there as it turned out. It put Kelly and the Buffalo offense out on the field first, and it was 7-0 before the game was 3 1/2 minutes old.
"The only thing that's scary about the no-huddle is we score so quick we leave a lot of time on the clock," said Thomas.
The touchdown came on a busted play when Kelly dropped the shotgun snap, picked it up instead of falling on it, circled out of the pocket and flipped a short pass to Lofton, who took it in for the score.
"All the defensive backs were coming up at the same time and they kind of bumped into each other," said Lofton, who had five catches for 113 yards.
The Raiders came right back even more quickly, scoring in 2:10. Schroeder completed passes to Mervyn Fernandez and Willie Gault to get to the Bills' 29 in two plays, but Talley tipped a pass away from tight end Ethan Horton on first down and on third-and-five Fernandez couldn't handle a low throw from Schroeder. Jeff Jaeger came on to kick a 41-yard field goal.
Who was to know it would be the Raiders' last gasp?
The Bills came right back and scored in four plays, with Thomas slanting off the right side and avoiding tackles by Lewis and Elvis Patterson to score. The big play in the drive was a 41-yard bomb to Lofton, who beat Lionel Washington on the play.
The Raiders needed something to settle them down and seemingly got it with Lewis' interception on the next series. However, on third down at the Los Angeles 24, the Bills sent Leonard Smith on a safety blitz. The Raiders picked it up but it allowed Bruce Smith to beat one-on-one blocking on the other side. Schroeder hurried his pass and threw it right into the hands of Talley, who scored easily.
"The other team begins to press when that happens," Levy said. "Our guys stayed very focused and they didn't get giddy on the sidelines. They were able to continue to allow the score to mount."
Buffalo's strategy was to use its regular offensive mix when the Raiders had four or five defensive backs on the field, but if Los Angeles went to a dime defense, the Bills would run.
"We felt if they were going to bring in all those DBs, we're going to run the football," Kelly said. "And that's exactly what we did."
On their next series, Thomas and Davis ran nine times, mostly on handoffs out of the shotgun. Now it was fourth-and-goal at the Raider 1 and Levy decided to go for it rather than kick a short field goal that would have put Buffalo up by 21 points.
It might have been a fateful decision had they missed, and there was a lot of second-guessing the call. Not to worry.
"Give me the rock and I'll go," Davis told Kelly. Go, he did. He sliced through the left side and scored easily. "It was just our regular 19 inside."
Davis scored again on a 3-yard run and after Nate Odomes picked off a Schroeder overthrow for Gault, Kelly hit Lofton for an 8-yard pass with 1:06 left in the half to send the Bills into halftime with a 41-3 lead.
After that, it was a matter of eating up the clock and frustrating the Raiders.
Interceptions ended the Raiders' first three possessions in the second half. Finally, with no hope of a miracle left, the Raiders lifted Schroeder in favor of Evans. Besides Talley and Odomes, Leonard Smith, Mark Kelso and Ray Bentley had interceptions for the Bills.
Davis got his third touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter to make it 48-3, and Scott Norwood hit a 39-yard field goal after Talley's second interception of the game and his 31-yard return put the ball at the Raider 27.
By then, Kelly and Thomas were out of the game, saved for next Sunday's meeting with the New York Giants.
Kelly, perhaps, sized it up best in describing how the Bills kept the Raiders' defense completely off-balance almost the entire game.
"We were always one step ahead of them," he said.
Make that 48 steps.