Bills' lock on AFC East may be rusting

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The balance of power in the AFC has shifted -- and not so subtly -- in the past two weeks. What once seemed the private domain of the Buffalo Bills suddenly seems up for grabs.

Any one of four or five teams could make a claim to AFC superiority this week.

It all started with the Miami Dolphins' 37-10 drubbing of the Bills in Week 5. When the Dolphins overtook the Atlanta Falcons, 21-17, Sunday, they owned the NFL's only perfect record (5-0). That's because the Kansas City Chiefs ruined the other unbeaten record when they beat the Philadelphia Eagles, 24-17.

Later in the day, the reeling Bills sent shock waves through the AFC with a 20-3 loss to the Los Angeles Raiders. Buffalo's collapse may be only momentary, but it gave hope to fans in Miami, Houston, Kansas City -- and maybe even Denver -- that the Super Bowl isn't out of reach.

Miami is a threat because it has Dan Marino and a new-found defense.

Houston is a threat because it has Warren Moon and its "House of Pain" home-field advantage.

And Kansas City is a threat because it has the most NFC-like team in the AFC. That's no small distinction, because the NFC has won the past eight Super Bowls.

"We like to think our type football, Chiefs football, matches up pretty decent with those teams," Kansas City president Carl Peterson said yesterday.

"My background is in the NFC," said Peterson, who was personnel director for the Eagles in their only Super Bowl season.

"The coaches I've had -- Dick Vermeil, Jim Mora, Marty Schottenheimer -- have a similar philosophy to mine. You've got to have great defense that keeps you in the game. You build a run-oriented offense and you play great special teams."

The Chiefs are respected for their defense and running game, but Sunday they showed they can throw the ball, too.

They took advantage of the Eagles' overaggressive safeties with play-action passes and quarterback Dave Krieg -- a castoff from the woeful Seattle Seahawks -- threw for three touchdowns. Kansas City passed on nine of 11 first-down plays to scald the NFL's best defense.

"That was very untypical of us," Peterson said. "But sometimes you have to change tendencies, especially against a team that plays the rush so well."

The Chiefs will get a good measure of their NFC-like tendencies this season. They play everybody in the NFC East except the Phoenix Cardinals. On Sunday, they visit the 4-1 Dallas Cowboys. But Peterson isn't ready to make any proclamations just yet.

"It's too early to make any statements," he said. "There are too many games left, and there are things you can't control. But we're making progress, and I'm pleased about where we are."

Disenchanting time

A hometown crowd of 54,254 gave quarterback Boomer Esiason some rough treatment Sunday during the Cincinnati Bengals' 38-24 loss to Houston. They booed him while he was completing 12 of 25 passes for 151 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Then they cheered when he badly bruised his left forearm on the helmet of an opposing player.

"That was probably the low point of any sport I've been around," said receiver Tim McGee. "That's not acceptable. It's real distasteful. This guy's been the god of all gods around here. I could see critiquing his performance, but you don't cheer for a guy getting hurt."

The Bengals fans are less than enchanted with the downward turn in Esiason's career. His numbers are down for the third straight season. He's averaging 129 passing yards a game and 5.16 yards per pass for five games. He's thrown for four touchdowns and had nine passes intercepted.

Rookie head coach Dave Shula says the Bengals have no quarterback controversy, though. He said Esiason is the starter over Don Hollas if he's well enough to face the Pittsburgh Steelers (and fellow former Maryland player Neil O'Donnell) Monday night. Esiason is listed as questionable.

Disappearing star

Dave Meggett, recently one of the New York Giants' big-play makers, has been virtually invisible in the team's 2-4 start. The scatback from Towson State has rushed for 18 yards on seven carries, and caught only 10 passes for 53 yards. He has yet to score.

Miscellaneous

Bills QB Jim Kelly had more X-rays taken on his throwing elbow yesterday. He injured the bursa sac on his right elbow trying to make a tackle against Miami last week and took another beating on it Sunday against the Los Angeles Raiders. The Bills have a bye this week, then play the Jets. . . . Cardinals QB Timm Rosenbach worked out yesterday, the day he became eligible to return to the active roster. Coach Joe Bugel said a decision would be made early this week about activating Rosenbach, who separated his right shoulder Sept. 13 when he was sacked by Clyde Simmons of the Eagles. . . . Giants QB Phil Simms underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right elbow and might be able to return to the team in about a month. Coach Ray Handley said doctors found no instability in Simms' elbow during the procedure at The Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. Dr. Russell Warren, the Giants' orthopedic surgeon, found a slight sprain of medial colateral ligament in the elbow, but he chose not to repair it during the procedure, Handley said. . . . Seahawks QB Dan McGwire will be out for the remainder of the season with a fractured left hip, the team said. . . . Cowboys veteran DB Bill Bates is expected to miss the rest of the season with torn knee ligaments, the team announced. . . . After he was ruled out of bounds on a catch in the end zone, Falcons WR Andre Rison said, "I bet the ref works for Don Shula, too." . . . 49ers WR Jerry Rice recorded the 99th touchdown catch of his career in a win over the New England Patriots. . . . Marino went without a touchdown pass Sunday for the 18th time in 140 games. . . . Moon's five TD passes against Cincinnati broke George Blanda's Oilers record of 165. Moon has 169.

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