ORCHARD PARK, N.Y., DEC. 23 -- The first fan leaped onto the field of Rich Stadium with 2:05 left in Buffalo's 24-14 thumping of Miami. His face was painted Bills blue and white and he wore a T-shirt that read "Do the Reich Thing," a takeoff on a Spike Lee movie title and a tribute to Buffalo's new and probably temporary hero, quarterback Frank Reich.

Embarrassed by the Dolphins in Week 2, 30-7, the Bills retaliated today behind Reich, the former University of Maryland quarterback and career NFL backup. But he had help. Buffalo's offensive line twice allowed him eight seconds to find a receiver. Running back Thurman Thomas allowed him to breathe even easier, carrying the ball 30 times for 154 yards. And the Bills' defense handed him a pillow, holding the Dolphins to seven points through the first 58 minutes 41 seconds.

With its club-record 13th victory, Buffalo has its third straight AFC East title and will host all of its playoff games after taking a bye in the first week. Miami (11-4) must play a wild-card game. The bye gives starting quarterback Jim Kelly, out with ligament and cartilage damage in his left knee, time to heal. Kelly is expected back for the divisional round of the playoffs Jan. 12-13.

Also, it seems, Buffalo, with just two losses, could restore some R-E-S-P-E-C-T to the tattered image of the AFC. The Bills' record crowd of 80,235 certainly thought so, as many fans dodged police on horseback and tore apart a goal post. The fans should be used to home victories: At Rich Stadium, the Bills are 8-0 this season and 23-2 over three years.

"The road to the Super Bowl will come through Buffalo," said Miami linebacker Cliff Odom.

Buffalo sacked Dan Marino (24 of 43 for 287 yards and two touchdowns) three times, the most since the Colts got him four times on Sept. 25, 1988. Pro Bowl defensive end Bruce Smith didn't register a sack, but he beat rookie Richmond Webb repeatedly and drew enough double teams so his teammates could do the damage.

"We controlled them in Miami and they turned it around and did the same thing to us," Marino said.

It didn't look like a seldom-used backup was controlling Buffalo's attack. Reich took control of the no-huddle offense with ease. He finished 15 of 21 for 234 yards and two touchdowns.

Reich said after the game Kelly gave him "a big hug. I said, 'Jim, it's in your hands.' And he said, 'Well, not yet, we've got next week {against Washington}.' "

Said Thomas: "He was a big reason for our win. He called a lot of audibles and kept us going. Today Frank did everything right."

Except one thing: After moving the Bills to the Dolphins 26-yard line, Reich fumbled while trying to run. The ball was recovered by defensive end Jeff Cross.

After Miami kicker Pete Stoyanovich missed a 28-yard field goal wide left (he had made his previous 18 attempts from inside the 40), Reich and Thomas went to work. On a 13-play, 80-yard scoring drive, Thomas accounted for 30 yards. Once, when Thomas took a screen pass, he didn't even wait for his blockers and gained 13 yards.

The drive ended with a seven-yard touchdown pass from Reich to James Lofton, who squeezed between a safety and cornerback into the back of the end zone. It was Reich's eighth touchdown pass of his career.

The Bills' main objective on offense was to get the running game established. And comments during the week from Cross and other Dolphins only angered Thomas, who had the fifth 100-yard game of his career.

"After you have a guy like Jeff Cross mouthing off and saying we can't run the ball, then we're going to run the ball," said Thomas, who left the game three times because of back spasms.

After Miami's Marc Logan bobbled a kickoff and linebacker Carlton Bailey recovered, the Bills scored quickly. Reich threw a bullet pass between defensive backs J.B. Brown and Jarvis Williams to Andre Reed for an 11-yard touchdown.

The Dolphins answered quickly, with a 30-yard Marino to Mark Duper scoring pass that bounced off the receiver's facemask before settling into his arms.

A 21-yard field goal by Scott Norwood gave the Bills a 17-7 lead. Buffalo ended the third period with a 12:37 to 2:33 advantage in time of possession. And just as the fourth quarter began, Thomas scored on a 13-yard run. No one was near him.

The victory was costly, however. The Bills' deep threat, Don Beebe, broke his left fibula when linebacker John Offerdahl fell on him in the third quarter. He is out for the rest of the season.