Persistent Bills go 4-ward

THE BALTIMORE SUN

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The brave souls who are the Buffalo Bills lined up for another public embarrassment yesterday, determined finally to get this Super Bowl thing right.

Give them this much: They are remarkable in their persistence, if nothing else.

The Bills earned an unprecedented fourth straight trip to the Super Bowl by pounding Joe Montana and the Kansas City Chiefs, 30-13, at Rich Stadium in another superb AFC championship game performance that featured 186 rushing yards and three touchdowns by Thurman Thomas.

They will arrive in Atlanta today without apology or respect, said All-Pro defensive end Bruce Smith.

"All we heard all week long was how everybody wants to see Joe Montana and the Dallas Cowboys or San Francisco 49ers [in the Super Bowl], and we hadn't even played yet," Smith said. "That's no respect at all.

"What we wanted to do was come out here and get some respect. [Heck] with what everybody wants to see. Until this game was decided, nobody was going to see anything. Now . . . they're going to see the Bills back in the Super Bowl. If they don't want to watch, turn the TV off."

The football populace will get a rematch of the Bills-Cowboys Super Bowl of a year ago, a game that deteriorated into a 52-17 Dallas blowout. The Bills' record third straight Super Bowl loss made them a laughingstock.

The Cowboys won their second NFC championship in a row yesterday, handily beating the San Francisco 49ers, 38-21. Dallas is an early 10-point favorite to beat the Bills again.

"The job's not done yet," said Thomas, who was masterful in cutting up a Kansas City defense designed to stop him. "We're 0-and-3 in the Super Bowl, and we definitely have to get the monkey off our back. We don't want to be 0-4.

"But if we play the way we played today, I think we have a great opportunity to win."

Not even the legendary Montana, with four Super Bowl rings, could derail the Bills this time. And there was no chance for a fourth-quarter, Montana-led comeback. The Chiefs quarterback was knocked out of the game three plays into the second half after a 17-yard completion.

He was hit by three Buffalo defenders -- Smith, Phil Hansen and Jeff Wright -- after throwing the pass. Montana's head whiplashed off the frozen artificial turf, and he watched the rest of the game with a dazed expression.

To that point, Montana had very little impact on the game. Throwing erratically, he was 8-for-22 in the first half with a critical interception, and finished 9-for-23 for 125 yards.

"I realized he was hurting when I was getting off him," Smith said. "He was moaning . . . ohhh, ohhh. I asked him if he was OK, and he didn't comprehend."

For the Chiefs (13-6), the biggest play of the game was the interception that closed the first half with the Bills leading 20-6. On second down at the Buffalo 5, Montana flipped a short pass to an open Kimble Anders at the 3.

But Anders muffed the catch, and the ball ricocheted to safety Henry Jones in the end zone.

"It was a sure touchdown," Jones said. "If he catches if cleanly, they're down seven going in and get the ball at the start of the second half. It was an extremely big play."

Yesterday, all the big plays belonged to the Bills (14-4). No one had a bigger impact than Thomas, the scatback who was in a foul mood all last week.

That was a good sign for center Kent Hull.

"He's always angry," Hull said. "He's moody. [But] I think he's at his best then."

The Chiefs had limited the Bills to 43 yards rushing -- and Thomas to 25 on 15 carries -- in a 23-7 Kansas City victory last November.

The Bills made amends yesterday, running for 229 and 17 first downs.

"The difference was Thurman Thomas," said Chiefs president Carl Peterson. "He was possessed."

Not to mention wounded by criticism he received during the season. As the Bills' running game lagged, Buffalo fans started calling for Kenny Davis to play more and Thomas less.

"You read the newspapers, look at the TV shows and listen to the radio," Thomas said. "A lot of fans were saying 'Start Kenny Davis and bring Thurman Thomas in in the first quarter.' I felt like I hadn't had a good game in a long time."

Thomas' 186 yards represented his career high and ranks fourth all-time in the postseason (Eric Dickerson's 248 in 1985 is tops).

"He had a great day today," said Bills coach Marv Levy. "I don't know if I've ever seen him run harder."

Thomas gained 129 yards in the first half, when he broke five runs of 10 yards or longer, including a 33-yarder.

He scored two touchdowns in the first half, both times on third-down plays, both times beating a Kansas City blitz. He went 12 yards on a draw for a first-quarter touchdown, then slipped outside for a 3-yard TD in the second behind some impeccable blocking up front.

"They opened holes like you wouldn't believe," quarterback Jim Kelly said of the offensive linemen. "When I hand the ball off, turn and can see the hole, you know they're doing their job."

The Chiefs actually got back in the game in the second half when backup quarterback Dave Krieg took them on a 90-yard, 14-play drive. Marcus Allen followed blocking fullback Ernie Thompson into the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown to pull Kansas City within 20-13.

It was the last meaningful offense the Chiefs would produce, though. The Bills controlled the ball in the fourth quarter, driving to Steve Christie's third field goal and Thomas' third touchdown.

Christie nailed an 18-yard kick with 12 minutes left and Thomas slashed right for a 3-yard clincher with 5:30 to go.

The Bills' locker room celebration was tempered by the fact they've already been here and done this three times before.

"We really haven't accomplished anything we haven't done in the past," Hull said. "The first time we won the AFC, this place went crazy. This was part of the goal we set in training camp. We're excited, but we haven't accomplished what we set out to do."

FOUR ON THE FLOOR?

The Buffalo Bills now can savor at least one positive Super Bowl record, being the first team to reach the game for four consecutive seasons:

SB ... ... Year ... ... Site ... ... ... ... ... Result

XXV .. ... 1991 ... ... Tampa, Fla. ... .. .. .. N.Y. Giants 20, Buffalo 19

XXVI .. .. 1992 ... ... Minneapolis ... .. .. .. Washington 37, Buffalo 24

XXVII ... 1993 .. .. .. Pasadena, Calif. ... ... Dallas 52, Buffalo 17

XXVIII .. 1994 .. .. .. Atlanta ... ... .. .. .. Dallas vs. Buffalo

BILLS RESULTS

RECORD: 14-4

Opponent ... ... ... ... ... Result

New England .. .. .. ... ... W, 38-14

at Dallas ... ... .. ... ... W, 13-10

Miami ... ... ... .. ... ... L, 22-13

N.Y. Giants ... ... .. .. .. W, 17-14

Houston ... ... ... .. .. .. W, 35-7

at N.Y. Jets .. ... .. .. .. W, 19-10

Washington ... ... ... .. .. W, 24-10

New England ... ... .. .. W, 13-10, OT

at Pittsburgh ... ... ... .. L, 23-0

Indianapolis ... ... ... ... W, 23-9

at Kansas City .. .. ... ... L, 23-7

L.A. Raiders ... ... ... ... L, 25-24

Philadelphia ... .. .. .. W, 10-7

Miami ... ... ... ... ... W, 47-34

N.Y. Jets .. ... ... ... ... W, 16-14

at Indianapolis ... .. .. .. W, 30-10

PLAYOFFS

L.A. Raiders ... ... ... ... W, 29-23

Kansas City ... ... .. .. .. W, 30-13

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