LOS ANGELES -- The media called them embarrassing.
A network commentator referred to them as the laughingstock of the league.
The New York Giants labeled them ducks.
The once-proud Los Angeles Raiders weren't only losing games. They were losing something even more precious -- their mystique.
Respect had turned into ridicule. They were still being called the National Football League's bad boys, but for a different reason.
And this wasn't any opponent. This was a team that came into the Coliseum leading the league in total offense. This was a team with the American Football Conference's highest-rated quarterback in Jim Kelly, the league's top touchdown producer in running back Thurman Thomas, and the league's top pass catcher in Andre Reed.
The Raiders, invoking the proud tradition of Lyle Alzado and Jack Tatum, of John Matuszak and Ted Hendricks, shut down the Bills without a touchdown.
"They said we were the laughingstock of the league last week," Raiders defensive lineman Nolan Harrison said. "What are they going to say now?"
The defensive heroes were everywhere.
Defensive lineman Howie Long came to work not knowing how long he could perform because of a sore hamstring. Defensive back Dan Land took the field not knowing how much he would play in his role as a reserve. Linebacker Aaron Wallace came into the game hoping to make up for last week, when his ineffectiveness resulted in Anthony Bell taking Wallace's place on first and often second down.
There were other Raiders with something to prove yesterday. Defensive lineman Greg Townsend has had to listen for weeks to the trade rumors he has heard since arriving overweight after holding out for the entire preseason. Defensive back Ronnie Lott has has to listen to questions about the game against the Kansas City Chiefs two weeks ago when he was pushed around on national television.
But all of them did their part yesterday to put some menace and mystique back in the Raiders.
Long, sore hamstring and all, had two of the Raiders' five sacks. Anthony Smith also had two, with Aundray Bruce getting the other.
"I was concerned about the hamstring," Long said, "but I figured, if it goes, it goes."
What did go was cornerback Lionel Washington's groin muscle. He pulled it in the first quarter, forcing him to leave the game.
But Land made the most of the opportunity, playing a strong game in Washington's place.
At one point, Land came up to Washington on the sideline and asked, "How am I doing?"
Washington replied, "Just keep doing what you're doing."
Time and again the Bills seemed like a slumbering giant, about to awaken and wreak havoc as they have done to so many other teams.
But time and again, the Raiders responded with a big defensive play.