After 3 1/2 hours of unexpected twists and turns, the Buffalo Bills-Denver Broncos game Sunday came to a thoroughly predictable result.
But unless you saw it, you never would have believed how the AFC's best team eked out a 23-20 overtime triumph at Rich Stadium.
How do you figure the following?
Denver star Terrell Davis rushes for 207 yards, but the Broncos, the highest-scor-
ing team in the NFL, manage just one offensive touchdown.
The Bills' offense spends three quarters tripping over itself, then rallies from a 20-0 deficit in the fourth quarter behind backup quarterback Alex Van Pelt to reach overtime.
The Bills turn back the clock one season on their offense and play a three-receiver, no-huddle scheme against the 25th-ranked run defense in the NFL.
Just when the Bills seem like they might grind out a winning drive in overtime, they call a reverse option pass by Andre Reed that falls apart and ultimately sets up Denver's winning field goal.
Yes, a sellout crowd of 78,458 was treated to a wild one.
In the end, the Broncos improved to 7-1 after Jason Elam kicked a 33-yard field goal with 1:56 left in overtime.
The Bills dropped to 4-4 and probably have to win one of their next two games -- at home against Miami and New England -- to maintain realistic playoff hopes.
Davis, the Broncos' third-year running back, was the best player on the field. He carried 42 times, and his 207-yard total was the most ever allowed by the Bills. It also pushed his NFL-leading total to 1,068 yards.
But the frustrating thing for the Bills was they easily could have won despite Davis.
"He's a good back, but I don't think he beat us," linebacker Chris Spielman said. "I think we beat ourselves, to be honest. We can't give them the ball. They had two turnovers inside our 30 and (they) took another for a touchdown. We gotta do better in that area."
"We're not protecting the ball very well," offensive coordinator Dan Henning said.
The Bills made six turnovers to push their season total to 24.
Denver got 13 of its 20 points in regulation off turnovers. One was a badly overthrown pass by Todd Collins that was intercepted and turned into a field goal. One was a fumble by Eric Moulds on the second-half kickoff return that produced a field goal.
The other was an intercepted screen pass that 315-pound defensive tackle Keith Traylor returned 62 yards for a TD and a 20-0 lead with 4:13 left in the third quarter.
That poor throw prompted Bills coach Marv Levy to pull Collins in favor of Van Pelt.
"It definitely wasn't my day," Collins said. "I missed a lot of throws and the few I did make didn't work out, either."
On the play before Traylor's pickoff, Collins hit a wide-open Andre Reed at the Broncos' 5, but Reed dropped the sure TD pass.
Collins was uncomfortable from the start. The Bills used their three-receiver, no-huddle offense, but it produced just three first downs the first half. Collins finished 7 of 18 for 35 yards with two interceptions.
"The reason we came out in the no-huddle was to run away from their safeties," Collins said. "To do that we wanted to change the play at the line of scrimmage. That's the reason I struggled. I didn't handle the no-huddle well at all."
"You try and throw a change-up, and I felt it was time for it," said Levy in explaining the change.
The Bills' defense gave Van Pelt a break with 12:56 left in regulation when Gabe Northern tipped a John Elway pass and Kurt Schulz intercepted at the Denver 29.
Van Pelt hit Reed over the middle for 27 yards and a TD to make it 20-7 with 12:10 left.
On the next drive, Van Pelt marched the Bills 49 yards to a 30-yard Steve Christie field goal with 9:40 left.
Two series later, Van Pelt hit Quinn Early 31 yards down the left sideline for a TD with 2:23 left to make it 20-17.
"Alex gave us a spark," Early said. "He had guys in the right spots and he put the ball where it needed to be. He spread it around well."
The Bills tried an onside kick and Denver recovered. But the Bills' defense forced a punt with a minute remaining.
Van Pelt then marched the Bills from
their 20 to the Denver 37 with 8 seconds left.
Christie, kicking with a 15 mph wind behind him, booted a 55-yard field goal to tie it.
"You can never count us out," Christie said.
Bills fans, no doubt, were thinking this would be another chapter in the team's history of miracle comebacks. It wasn't.
Four minutes into overtime, the Broncos downed a punt at the Bills' 1. Behind the running of Antowain Smith, the Bills pounded the ball out to their 32. They were marching.
On first-and-10 they called a reverse option pass by Reed. The receiver took the handoff and started to throw, but Denver end Alfred Williams had the play smothered and forced a fumble. Van Pelt recovered at the 12.
"We've practiced this play, and if it had worked it could have been a touchdown and a game-winner," Van Pelt said. "When it came in, I thought this is gonna be a good call."
"We weren't going to trick anybody because they were playing deep," Reed said. "I'm not going to say anything. . . . It just wasn't the right play at the right time."
"We thought it was good, but it was not," Levy said. "We were running the ball and we were getting some pursuit (by Denver's defenders)."
After a Chris Mohr punt, Denver took over from its own 42. Nine plays later, Elam kicked the winner.
"A loss is a loss," Spielman said. "It doesn't matter how you lose it. We've got another chance to play better next week and hopefully we will."