Four heaven's sake . . . they're back!
The Buffalo Bills made history Sunday by becoming the only team ever to reach four consecutive Super Bowls.
And they made it look easy, pounding the Kansas City Chiefs, 30-13, in the cold, drizzle and snow at Rich Stadium to win the AFC championship and advance to Super Bowl XXVIII next Sunday at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
Now, of course, the Bills must try to avoid becoming the only team ever to lose four Super Bowls in a row when they face Dallas in a rematch of Super Bowl XXVII, in which they were humiliated by the Cowboys, 52-17. It marks the first time the same teams have met in the Super Bowl two straight years. Oddsmakers favor Dallas by 8 1/2 points.
Buffalo defeated the Cowboys, 13-10, in the second week of this season, but the Bills know that redemption won't come unless they win next Sunday.
"This is our fourth straight AFC championship, but the job is not over yet," said running back Thurman Thomas, who set a Bills postseason record with 186 rushing yards and ran for three touchdowns. "We are 0-3 in Super Bowls, and we definitely have to get that monkey off our back. We don't want to be 0-4, but if we play like we played today, I think we've got a great chance to win in Atlanta."
By beating the Chiefs, the Bills did what many observers thought was impossible after they trudged off the field in the Rose Bowl after their last appearance in the Big Dance.
This was the year it was all supposed to come crashing down on the Bills . . . after the firing of general manager Bill Polian four days after Super Bowl XXVII . . . and the loss of six veterans to free agency . . . and an offense that didn't have the scoring punch of the previous few years . . . and a defense that gave up way too many yards . . . and losing three of four games in the third quarter of the season.
"This is the toughest-minded football team that's ever played the game, in my opinion," Bills coach Marv Levy said. "They are tough-minded, and they've shown it over and over. We fought our way back in."
"If we didn't gain any respect today, we shut a lot of people up," said defensive end Bruce Smith. "And that's really what we wanted to do."
The other thing the Bills wanted -- and needed -- to do was stop Joe Montana, the Chiefs' 37-year-old quarterback.
Not only did the Bills stop him, they knocked him out of the game. When Montana left the field for good early in the third quarter with a mild concussion, he had only nine completions in 23 attempts for 125 yards, and an interception.
Montana might have dominated the pregame hype because of his four Super Bowl rings and comeback after two years of inactivity.
But the quarterbacking star of the game was Jim Kelly. His numbers weren't staggering -- 17 of 27 for 160 yards -- but he was extremely efficient and did an outstanding job of changing plays at the line and using his cadence to get the Chiefs' highly regarded defensive linemen to jump offside.
The Bills' offensive line also was at the very top of its game, keeping Kelly from being sacked and opening the holes through which Buffalo rushed for a team playoff record 229 yards. During their 23-7 loss to Kansas City on Nov. 28 at Arrowhead Stadium, the Bills rushed for a mere 43 yards, 25 by Thomas.
"During the course of the week, I think they (the Bills' offensive linemen) heard all the stuff about how good the Chiefs were and we knew they were," Kelly said. "We knew what happened the last time we faced them -- they stopped our running game. Today, we were determined to try to run on them, and the offensive line did one hell of a job."
Through the first half of Sunday's game, the Chiefs used a scheme that consisted of four defensive linemen, two linebackers, and five defensive backs. The two linebackers were Lonnie Marts, and converted strong safety and ex-Bill Martin Bayless.
"They were playing a defense that, I think, was designed to stop the pass," center Kent Hull said. "When we played them in Kansas City, against the same defense, we were unable to audible because of the crowd, which caused us to make some bad plays. I think the defense was vulnerable to the run, and with our audible system today, I think we were able to exploit it.
"We were asked basically just to get Thurman into the secondary. They were playing with one (true) linebacker (Martz) for the most part, and if we could get Thurman past him, Thurman's on his own."
Thomas, who had struggled for much of the second half of the season, ran like a man possessed.
"He had a glaze over his eyes," offensive guard John Davis said. "It's hard to explain, but he went out there and did everything we asked him."
Meanwhile, the Chiefs rushed for only 52 yards Sunday, nine through the final three quarters.
After the teams each traded punts twice, the Bills finally got on the board midway through the first quarter with Thomas' 12-yard touchdown up the middle. Kelly audibled to the play after correctly anticipating a blitz, and Hull and offensive guards Glenn Parker and Davis did an impressive job of sealing off the Chiefs' defenders to create a massive hole for Thomas.
"It was very surprising, because when you watched them on film, when they got down into their 'red' area, they didn't blitz a lot," Thomas said. "So it was very surprising to us that they did blitz. The offensive line did a great job of plugging up the holes. (Tight ends) Pete Metzelaars and Keith McKeller also did a great job."
Montana then led the Chiefs on a 10-play, 51-yard drive all the way to the Buffalo 13. But after Smith and nose tackle Jeff Wright helped pressure him into failing to connect on a third-down throw for the end zone, the Chiefs had to settle for a 31-yard field goal by Nick Lowery with 2:14 left in the first quarter.
On the ensuing kickoff, Bills rookie return man Russell Copeland fumbled after a hard hit by Bennie Thompson. Fred Jones recovered at the Bills' 24. However, once again, the Chiefs were unable to drive beyond the 13, and settled for another 31-yard Lowery field goal to cut the margin to 7-6.
"That could have been a very crucial play," Hull said of Copeland's fumble. "If they go in for a touchdown there, there's no telling what happens. But our defense came up big."
The Bills took a 14-6 lead 2:58 into the second quarter on Thomas' second scoring run, from 3 yards. Once again, Buffalo beat a blitz, and with the Chiefs' defenders bunched in the middle of the line, Thomas simply jogged around the right side into the end zone.
"They had about five or six guys coming straight up, right in front of Kent Hull, John Davis, and Glenn Parker," Thomas explained. "When you see that -- and I've been carrying the ball all my life -- you pretty much know where to go."
Steve Christie field goals of 23 and 25 yards increased the Bills' lead to 20-6 with 2:01 remaining in the second quarter.
The closest thing that the game had to a turning point came with 21 seconds left in the half when a 5-yard Montana pass bounced off the hands of fullback Kimble Anders in the end zone and was intercepted by strong safety Henry Jones.
"We had an all-out blitz, and I had coverage on (tight end Keith) Cash," Jones said. "When Cash hooked up, I turned around, looked up and he (Montana) was throwing the ball. I was trying to break on it and make a hit on Anders at the goal line, and the ball came off his hands, right in my face.
"That was a tremendously big play going into halftime. That, along with the stop we made after Russell fumbled, were very, very big keys to the game."
Another big key came early in the third quarter when, after completing a 17-yard pass to Cash on third-and-14 from the Kansas City 12, Montana was hit by Wright, and left the game with a concussion.
"He was going down, and I hit him up top," Wright said. "When he came forward, he whiplashed his head on the ground. It wasn't a pretty sight. Immediately, I knew he was hurt. He let out a groan. I've never heard that."
Dave Krieg took over at quarterback for Kansas City, and on the Chiefs' next possession, he engineered a 14-play, 90-yard drive to a 1-yard touchdown run by Marcus Allen to cut the Bills' lead to 20-13 with 3:06 left in the third quarter.
But Krieg couldn't get them any closer. And the Bills put the game out of reach in the fourth quarter on an 18-yard Christie field goal and another 3-yard scoring run by Thomas.
"I think this (conference title) is the most satisfying one because nobody gave us a chance and nobody wants us there (the Super Bowl)," linebacker Darryl Talley said. "But what you want is not always what you get in this world."
Most of the nation's media and fans might not want it, but they've got the Bills in the Super Bowl -- for the fourth year in a row.