ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills put the speed back in their passing game and the mayhem back in their defense yesterday.
Buffalo's 37-14 rout of Kansas City at Rich Stadium puts the Bills (14-3) in the AFC championship game here next Sunday against the Denver Broncos. Denver (13-4) advanced with a 26-24 win over the Houston Oilers on Saturday.
The victory was a salve on an old wound inflicted by these Chiefs -- a 33-6 loss to Kansas City in a Monday night game in Week 6. It was a prime-time humiliation for the Bills, and even though they avoided talk of revenge, their performance in the rematch spoke volumes about their memory of the game.
"It always sticks in your gut when you get beat like we did," said Buffalo nose tackle Jeff Wright. "But if you think about revenge, you're not going to do the things you've got to do."
The last time these two teams played, the Chiefs rumbled for 239 rushing yards, recorded six sacks and recovered five Buffalo fumbles.
Yesterday, it was all Buffalo. This was how the Bills responded:
* The Chiefs, with the NFL's third-ranked running game, gained only 77 yards, averaging 3.2 a carry.
* The Chiefs didn't cross the 50-yard line until linebacker Lonnie Marts intercepted Jim Kelly's pass and returned it to the Bills 43 with 5 minutes, 34 seconds left in the third quarter. They were in Buffalo territory just one more time all day.
* The Bills rolled up a whopping edge in total yards, 448-213.
"We weren't 27 points better than Buffalo in Kansas City," said Chiefs coach Marty Schottenheimer. "There's no doubt about that. I'm not sure if we played every day against Buffalo that they're 23 points better than us. But clearly they were today, and my hat's off to them."
The Bills, who ranked 27th in total defense in the NFL this season and 24th against the rush, welcomed back Wright and pass rusher Bruce Smith, two defensive linemen who hadn't played the first time.
On offense, Kelly's passing game was reinforced by the return of injured receivers Don Beebe (broken collarbone) and James Lofton (sprained foot).
The offensive dividends were obvious. Kelly blistered the Chiefs for 278 passing yards and three touchdowns, including a pair to wide receiver Andre Reed. Beebe, the Bills' fastest receiver, had six catches for 77 yards, and Lofton three for 34 with a touchdown.
"One thing we had to do was go deep on them and loosen them up," said Kelly, who passed for 245 yards in the first half alone.
"We respect the defensive backs from Kansas City, but I had a lot of confidence in my receivers that with the speed they have, we can beat [the Chiefs] deep."
Twice in the first half, Kelly found Reed lined up in man-to-man coverage against cornerback Jayice Pearson. Both times, Kelly audibled to a pass to Reed. Both times, Reed beat Pearson for touchdowns on passes covering 25 and 53 yards.
On defense, the Bills went to an even-man front (from their normal 3-4) in an effort to stop the Chiefs' running game. The new alignment had Smith lined up on the center and linebackers Darryl Talley and Shane Conlan hugging the line.
Buffalo coach Marv Levy called it a "magnificent job" on defense, but declined to attribute the success to the revised strategy.
"The magic isn't where you line them up," Levy said. "The magic is playing what you play correctly. We didn't play it very well when we played the other time. . . . We did have a much fuller understanding of what they did [this time], and certainly when you're motivated, you learn it better."
Having Smith and Wright this time made a big difference, Talley said, "because the Chiefs had to compensate for the things Bruce does. And Jeff is a pretty good nose tackle."
Wright was involved in a critical first-half play when he and linebacker Cornelius Bennett sandwiched Chiefs quarterback Steve DeBerg on the pass rush. DeBerg's throwing hand hit Wright's helmet as he fell, and one play later DeBerg was out of the game for good with a sprained thumb.
DeBerg's replacement, Mark Vlasic, threw four second-half interceptions, as the Bills built leads of 24-0 and 30-7.
Cornerback Kirby Jackson intercepted Vlasic twice, and safety Leonard Smith and cornerback Clifford Hicks had one apiece.
Aside from Kelly's three interceptions, it was a nearly perfect game for the Bills, who are trying to repeat as AFC champions. A year ago, they lost the Super Bowl to the New York Giants when place-kicker Scott Norwood was wide right on a 47-yard field-goal attempt. Yesterday, Norwood, who was in a 1-for-6 slump, made three of them, including one from 47 yards.
After he hit a 33-yarder at the end of the first half, Norwood gave an impromptu tomahawk chop to the Chiefs. A Buffalo crowd of 80,182 also taunted the Chiefs with the chop.
"It was the emotion that you get during a game that gave me the idea," Norwood said. "With 80,000 fans doing it, it makes you want to do it."
The AFC championship game histories of the Broncos and Bills, who will play for the conference title next week (year indicates season; before 1970, AFL championship):
1964 Bills 20, Chargers 7
1965 Bills 23, Chargers 0
1966 Chiefs 31, Bills 7
1988 Bengals 21, Bills 10
1990 Bills 51, Raiders 3
1977 Broncos 20, Raiders 17
1986 Broncos 23, Browns 20
1987 Broncos 38, Browns 33
1989 Broncos 37, Browns 21