Jim Kelly was deep into one of the worst games of his pro football life.
And yet the Buffalo Bills still had a chance Sunday.
Trailing by a touchdown, Kelly moved the Comeback Kids from their own 48-yard line to the doorstep of the Miami Dolphins' end zone with 1:55 left on the clock.
Then came The Call.
First-and-goal from the 2. Simple handoff to Thurman Thomas, who walks in for a touchdown that forces overtime for the second week in a row, right? Wrong.
The Bills went with a play-action pass. Kelly rolled right, out of the pocket, looking for one of his tight ends, Tony Cline or Lonnie Johnson. Neither was open. Then he rolled left, back into the pocket, and threw into the end zone without a receiver even remotely close to the ball.
Intentional-grounding penalty. Ten yards. Loss of down.
After another incomplete pass and a 2-yard run by Thomas, one of the worst days of Kelly's pro football life sank even lower. He telegraphed an outside pass to Andre Reed. Cornerback Terrell Buckley intercepted and ran 91 yards down the sideline for a touchdown that sealed Buffalo's 21-7 loss and left the Bills and a sellout crowd of 79,642 cursing one of the more galling losses in recent memory.
"It's got to be in the top five, since I've been here, in terms of disappointing losses," said 12th-year veteran Reed, whose 49-yard reception put the Bills at the Miami 2. "Things weren't going well for us early. We battled back, and we were in position to tie it up and go into overtime.
"And that happens."
That was The Call. And that was the subject of considerable discussion in the Buffalo dressing room and throughout Western New York. Why throw on first-and-goal from the 2? What were the Bills thinking?
"I was the one that called the play," coach Marv Levy said. "The pass is less likely to be expected on first down, compared to a later down. If it does not work, you should have run a different play."
Cline, who was the primary receiver, was lined up to the right of center and ran into the right flat. But he was well covered by defensive end Trace Armstrong. Johnson, the secondary receiver, was lined up to the left and was supposed to run right across the back of the end zone. But he said he was held at the line by defensive end Danny Stubbs.
Kelly then decided to simply throw the ball away. But because he did so from inside the pocket, referee Bernie Kukar flagged him for intentional grounding.
"I felt that even on the little roll that I was outside the pocket, and I just threw it away to avoid the sack," Kelly said. "Then everyone knows what happened. It seems that everything I tried to do today went the wrong way."
An understatement if there ever was one.
Kelly -- returning to action after missing the last two games with a hamstring injury -- was intercepted three times, the first on the Bills' opening play of the game. He was sacked seven times, equaling his career high set in the season-opener against the Giants. He lost a fumble. And he was booed.
For the season, Kelly has 11 interceptions to two touchdown passes. In the four games he has played, the Bills have 13 turnovers. He is responsible for 12.
And -- although he wasn't alone in making mistakes -- he took full responsibility for Sunday's offensive ineptitude.
"I'm the quarterback and I'm supposed to make it happen, and I didn't get it done," Kelly said, looking and sounding more despondent than at any time in his 11 seasons with the Bills. "I was supposed to get these guys in the end zone, and I didn't do it."
The loss was difficult to swallow for a number of reasons. The Dolphins were on a two-game losing streak and without their best player, quarterback Dan Marino, who missed his second game with a broken ankle. Miami also had six rookie starters, including four on defense. And the coach, Jimmy Johnson, is the man who led the Dallas Cowboys to back-to-back Super Bowl victories over the Bills.
With a 4-2 record, Buffalo is now tied with Miami for second in the AFC East, a game behind Indianapolis.
The defeat also left the Bills' defense with nothing to show for another strong performance. There was a blown coverage by cornerback Jeff Burris that resulted in a 61-yard pass from Craig Erickson to Randal Hill to set up a 1-yard TD run by Irving Spikes late in the third quarter. But other than that, Buffalo's "D" did just about everything it could to win the game.
It held the Dolphins to 63 rushing yards, 37 by featured rookie Karim Abdul-Jabbar, whose 3-yard touchdown run was the lone score of the first half. It limited Erickson to 14 completions in 29 attempts for 192 yards, sacked him three times and pressured him repeatedly. And it gave the offense a chance to tie the game by forcing the Dolphins to punt twice in the final 3:57.
"I felt like they were an average football team," said Thomas, who rushed for 85 yards and produced Buffalo's only score on a 19-yard run in the third quarter. "And the way we played today, they made us look like we're an average football team."
After Kelly, the next-worst showing was by Buffalo's offensive line. Although it was not at fault for all of the sacks, it was clearly outplayed by the Dolphins' front four. Behemoth tackle Tim Bowens, who finished with two sacks, consistently muscled through the middle of the line and opened things up for Armstrong, who had 2 1/2 sacks.
"We made our mistakes," guard Ruben Brown said. "We let Jim get sacked. We were missing blocks. It makes it tough for the offensive coordinator to call plays and for people to complete passes when we're not all on the same page."
The lone bright spot of the offense -- which alternated between huddling and not huddling and between two-tight end and three-receiver sets -- was Reed, who caught a game-high 10 passes for 134 yards.
With 1:55 remaining, Reed looked as if he might be a hero when, on a play drawn up in the huddle, he caught a pass from Kelly at the Miami 30 and ran to the 2, where Buckley brought him down from behind.
"We knew they were in a zone, and he (Kelly) told me just to run a 10-yard out-and-up," Reed said. "But the safety (Shawn Wooden) was squatting right there at 10 yards, and if I did that, I was going to run right into him. So I just ran 6 yards, turned it up and he bit on it. If I didn't have to dodge the safety, I think I would have scored.
"He (Buckley) is fast. I tried to stiff-arm him just to get away from him, and I thought, by stiff-arming him, my momentum would just keep carrying me in. But it didn't."
The Bills would get no closer to the end zone.
"It's always frustrating to lose a ballgame, but it's especially frustrating against the Dolphins," Lonnie Johnson said. "If you lose to them, it digs deep and cuts you right to the heart."