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MONDAY BILLBOARD

Big Picture: By winning, the Bills now hold the fifth seed out of six AFC playoff positions. They still can't afford to flinch. It was their ninth victory, meaning they'll have a winning season, their second straight under Wade Phillips.

Play of the Game: Henry Jones recovered the Cards' onside kick after they had cut the Bills' lead to three points in the final two minutes. Not only did he recover, he returned the ball 37 yards for the stake-in-the-heart touchdown.

Play of the Game, Part II: It doesn't seem like much in cold print, but Thurman Thomas made a twisting, churning 9-yard run to ignite a 78-yard drive which used up 7:33 and resulted in Doug Flutie's touchdown pass to Jay Riemersma.

Player of the Game: Jonathan Linton, who was given the opportunity to carry the ball and came through nobly, gaining 52 yards in the third quarter alone and 81 for the game.

Unsung Player: Thomas, who reminded the Bills' deep thinkers that he was back and ready for action, then produced a half-dozen meaningful plays in the second half. Honorable mention to left offensive tackle John Fina, who neutralized Simeon Rice, one of NFL's top sackers.

Hit of the Game: Ted Washington threw down Arizona running back Mario Bates like a dirty shirt in the second quarter.

Playoff Chances: Miami won by the width of Jimmy Johnson's pompadour, but Seattle lost and New England lost. It looks like both the Bills and the Fish will make the playoffs, but neither will get a home game.

Pounding the Ball: It didn't happen until the second half but once it happened it was thunderous. It also helped loosen up the Cardinal pass defense for Flutie late in the game.

Zebra Report: The Bills were called for two pass interference penalties deep in their own territory, helping Arizona to get back into the game after falling behind, 14-0.

Ears Across the Border: The game was broadcast on ESPN radio to a half-dozen South American nations in Spanish and Portuguese. There were three writers from Brazil in the press box.

Best Sign: Bills fans outnumbered Cardinal fans in the homemade sign department, 6-5. That included "Batavia Party Zone."

Game Balls: John Butler, the offensive line and Henry Jones.

Attendance: It was 64,337, about 9,000 under capacity. Most of the noise in Sun Devil Stadium was made by Bills' fans, many of them transplanted Buffalonians. At least half the Cardinal fans are actually Cowboy fans in disguise. Eat your hearts out, the 'Boys lost to Ray Lucas and the Jets.

Quotable: "We really didn't care who won or who didn't. We have to win." -- Bills coach Wade Phillips on AFC teams fighting for playoff positions.

Coming Attractions: On the road again the day after Christmas against the free-falling Patriots followed by what could be a meaningless home finale against the high-flying Colts.

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