EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It might be the Buffalo Bills' perfect formula for success, but it isn't doing wonders for the health of their owner.
For the fourth time this season, the Bills won a game by the margin of a Steve Christie field goal. Twice this year, Christie has provided the game-winner in overtime. On Sunday, he hit a 47-yarder with 10 seconds left in regulation to cap a team-record six field goals and give the Bills a 25-22 victory over the New York Jets.
"Last week, I made Bruce Smith's number," said Ralph Wilson, who celebrated his 78th birthday last Thursday. "Now I'm working on Ruben Brown's number. But I don't know . . . it's a little touch and go."
Touch and go has been the story of the 1996 Bills. Nothing comes easy for them. Not even beating the Jets, who have several key players nursing injuries and the NFL's worst record at 0-8.
The Bills' offense continued to struggle, producing only one touchdown for the second week in a row and the third time in the last four games even though eight of their 13 drives started at their own 40 or better. They needed Jet turnovers to set up the TD, a 1-yard run by Darick Holmes, as well as Christie's fifth field goal.
And their defense was pushed to the limit by former Buffalo backup quarterback Frank Reich, who was making his second start for the Jets in place of injured Neil O'Donnell. After a 33-yard Christie field goal gave the Bills a 22-15 lead with three minutes left, Reich calmly marched the Jets 80 yards in nine plays to the tying touchdown, which came on his 21-yard dart over the middle to wide receiver Wayne Chrebet. Reich, who threw three touchdown passes, completed 5 of 9 throws for 65 yards on the drive.
That left the Bills -- and quarterback Jim Kelly, who entered the game in the worst slump of his career -- with 1:37 to pull out a win.
Showing far better poise than in last week's disastrous outing against Miami, Kelly led the Bills from their own 20 to the Jets' 29 to set up Christie's winning points. He completed three of five passes for 37 yards, including 17- and 14-yarders to rookie Eric Moulds. Running back Thurman Thomas, who broke O.J. Simpson's team career rushing record in gaining 97 yards, fought his way to an 8-yard carry to the 29.
"I said to Jim on that last drive, 'You're back, thank you,' " center Kent Hull said. "He was under total control, calling his own plays. It was just a warm feeling. You can see the confidence in him and it kind of spills over to the rest of us, and we know we're going to get it done."
Christie's kick finished the job, giving the Bills their ninth victory over the Jets in their last 10 visits to Giants Stadium. His kick curved from right to left and was just inside the left upright.
"In terms of a pressure kicker, he's got to be as good as there's ever been," Bills special teams coach Bruce DeHaven said. "The more the kick means, the better he kicks. He makes us all look good."
"I'm glad the team has confidence in me," said Christie, who was wide left on a 36-yard try just before halftime. "If it comes down to it, they know I'm going to do the best I can. Sometimes I'll make them, sometimes I'll miss them. But, lately, I've been fortunate enough to make them."
For the Jets, it was perhaps their most frustrating loss of the season.
"It felt like someone stuck their hand down my throat and snatched my heart out," defensive lineman Mark Gunn said.
The Bills' good fortune Sunday actually began even before their opening kickoff. With Indianapolis losing to New England and Miami falling to Philadelphia in earlier games, the stage was set for the Bills to bounce back into first place in the AFC East with a 5-2 record.
The other positive development for the Bills was the restoration of Kelly's confidence. The quarterback wasn't spectacular. However, in completing 19 of 36 passes for 221 yards, without throwing an interception, he did show marked improvement over last Sunday's four-turnover performance against the Dolphins.
"I think the big thing was that he didn't do anything that killed us today," Hull said.
What killed the Bills more than anything were five dropped passes in the first half.
That was the primary reason the Jets were able to hold a 7-6 lead through halftime, after a 16-yard touchdown pass from Reich to rookie Keyshawn Johnson -- who returned to action after missing two games with a knee injury -- and Christie field goals of 48 and 32 yards.
"We had to make sure we got the momentum back if we could," Kelly said. "We knew the Jets weren't going to roll over, and they knew they were in the game. So the one thing we wanted to do was go out and set the tempo after that, and pretty much control the clock."
On their first possession of the second half, the Bills -- with great field position from a 40-yard kickoff return by Moulds -- drove 31 yards to a 47-yard Christie field goal to take a 9-7 lead.
However, late in the third quarter, Kelly fumbled while being sacked by Gunn. Defensive end Bobby Hamilton recovered at the Buffalo 9 and, on the next play, Reich lofted his second TD pass of the day to Johnson to put the Jets in front, 15-9.
The Bills made it 15-12 on a 23-yarder by Christie early in the fourth when, after reaching the Jets' 5-yard line, they failed on four tries to get into the end zone.
On the next series, a fumbled snap by Reich recovered at the Jets' 5 by cornerback Jeff Burris set up Holmes' scoring run on a counter to the right side. It followed two unsuccessful attempts by fullback Tim Tindale to run it in straight ahead.
"I just knew I had to get in there and score because we needed a touchdown," Holmes said. "It was frustrating because we felt that we should have scored a couple of more times because our defense was doing such a great job. But at that point, we were determined to get up in there and we just had to fight for it."
The Jets turned it over again on their next series when Burris intercepted a Reich pass intended for Johnson down the right sideline. Burris' 22-yard return set up Christie's 33-yard field goal to give the Bills a 22-15 advantage.
"I expected it would be an extremely tough game," coach Marv Levy said. "And I wasn't disappointed in that respect.
"I feel we have to play better. You can't live on the edge forever. We have to get better."