When Mike McCormack took over as coach of the Baltimore Colts he said he wanted to end their past psychological dependence on Bert Jones, the oft-injured quarterback.
The coach did a lot of convincing today as Greg Landry, a 13-season veteran with a brace on his knee, started in place of Jones, faced up to a 14-0 deficit in the second quarter and kept the Colts in the playoff picture in the American Football Conference with a 28-24 Eastern Division victory over the first-place Buffalo Bills.
Landry brought it off against the No. 1 defense in the league, needing only eight pass completions in 24 attempts after surviving two interceptions.
The Bills were left with a 9-4 record as the Colts defeated them for the second time this season. The Bills blamed three lost fumbles, an interception, a mishandled punt snap, a missed 35-yard field goal and a 47-yarder that was blocked as they missed a chance to pull two games ahead of pursuing New England, a loser at San Francisco.
The Colts raised their record to 7-6 and McCormack remarked about the Bills' turnovers, "Paul Brown used to say, 'How did it come out? How did we do?'"
The Colts put the Bills away in the fourth quarter by going 45 yards to score, on Curtis Dickey's three-yard run, for a 28-17 lead after Joe Cribbs of the Bills fumbled and Baltimore recovered.
The Bills went 80 yards to score after that, on a seven-yard pass from Joe Ferguson to wide receiver Jerry Butler, but there were only 44 seconds remaining following Nick Mike-Mayer's conversion.
They tried an onside kickoff, but wide receiver Randy Burke of the Colts caught the bouncing ball and Landry ran out the clock.
McCormack was asked if the Colts finally rid themselves of the notion thay they could not win without Jones, who watched the game on the sideline with strained muscles in the back of his throwing shoulder, suffered last week in a loss at New England.
"I hope so," he said. "I thought we ran pretty good today too, for a team that finished 28th in rushing last year."
Will Landry start next Sunday?
"I thought that would be you guys' first question," McCormack replied. "We'll decide that later in the week. Bert still has tenderness in his shoulder, but he threw well before the game. Chuck Knox (Buffalo coach) watched over my shoulder as our two quarterbacks warmed up and he said, 'There's nothing wrong with Bert's throwing.'
"This was a good example today of what we can do. We beat Miami after they won four in a row; we beat the Bills when they were 5-0 at the beginning of the season and today after the Bills had won three in a row. I think we're still in the race."
Left on the Colts' schedule are Cincinnati, Miami again and Kansas City again.
The Colts themselves had to rise above a lost fumble and the two interceptions off Landry.
The Bills scored their first touchdown in the first quarter, after Dickey fumbled and defensive end Ben Williams recovered on the Balitmore two. Buffalo went over on the next play, on a run by Cribbs.
At the start of the second quarter, the Bills made as if to monopolize the game when they took 10 minutes 21 seconds, running 17 plays, to go 88 yards for a touchdown, on a 12-yard pass from Ferguson to wide receiver Ron Jessie.
In that drive, Ferguson handed off to Cribbs on a Statue of Liberty reverse, had Cribbs throw a halfback option pass to Jerry Butler for 13 yards, and made good on a fourth-and-one gamble at the Baltimore 27 with fullback Roosevelt Leaks running the ball.
The Colts tried a little trickery of their own in the same period when former Redskin Mike Bragg successfully passed from punt formation on fourth and 19 to Burke. The play was nullified because of an ineligible Colt downfield.
So much the better for Baltimore. Bragg's punt accidentally touched return man Cribbs and was recovered by the Colts on the Buffalo 18. Landry ran a quarterback draw for a six-yard touchdown and Steve Mike-Mayer, Nick's brother, converted to cut the Bills' lead to 14-7.
Greg Cater of the Bills dropped back to punt, juggled the snap from center on fourth down and was thrown for a nine-yard loss to the Buffalo eight. Landry tossed an eight-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Ray Butler and Steve Mike-Mayer's second conversion made it 14-14.
The Colts went 79 yards to score in the third quarter after Lyle Blackwood intercepted on Ferguson. Landry passed 22 to Ray Butler, ran 14 himself, threw 18 to Dickey on a screen pattern, and Dickey ran the last 18 yards from scrimmage, putting Baltimore ahead for the first time, 21-14, with the extra point.
Nick Mike-Mayer cut the margin to 21-17 on a 40-yard field goal in the same period.
The Colts stepped into a more comfortable lead with 13:04 gone in the fourth quarter after Cribbs fumbled a punt and the Colts recovered at the Buffalo 45.
Dickey ran 11 yards to eat up part of the 45 yards and accounted for the last three yards with his second touchdown run.
Landry connected on only four of 13 passes in the first half for 32 yards, but finished with 88 yards gross.