ORCHARD PARK, N.Y., JAN. 20 -- The gear was packed away and the locker room mostly chilly and empty by the time Jay Schroeder made the long walk to his dressing cubicle. He dressed slowly and spoke softly as he pulled on a black T-shirt and pair of jeans.

But he didn't duck anyone and he didn't apologize. He explained each of his five interceptions and answered every question today after his Raiders had been demolished by the Buffalo Bills, 51-3, in the AFC championship game.

"I tried to force some things and make some plays," he said. "That's no secret. We were in a position where I thought we had to have some plays, and I just didn't get it done. The worst part is we've got six months to think about this. But if we do it right, we'll be better because of this."

The Raiders never have hidden the fact that they got this far, not because of Schroeder, but somewhat despite him. They got here with defense and a running game, and by asking only that Schroeder throw the ball deep and try to stay away from the big mistake.

That's what he'd done most of this season, and just when he seemed on the verge of ending the Raiders' 10-year search for a quarterback, he threw an awful day in the mix.

The Raiders trailed, 14-3, when Bills linebacker Darryl Talley returned Schroeder's first interception for a touchdown. Bruce Smith hit Schroeder seconds after the throw, but the pass looked like a mistake even before the contact.

Schroeder didn't argue. "He got me," he said, "but I tried to throw something that wasn't there. You have to give them some credit. They dropped men into some different areas, and like any good football team, they try to take away what you do well. I feel bad because we needed to keep our defense off the field long enough to regroup. We couldn't get it done."

Not that it would have mattered. The Raiders trailed, 34-3, by the time Schroeder threw his second interception, with 2:56 left in the first half. He was trying for Willie Gault deep down the left sideline, but Gault and cornerback Nate Odoms were running step-for-step and Schroeder never should have let the ball go.

So with the Raiders trailing, 41-3, at the half, it probably didn't matter what Schroeder did to start the second half. He'd taken the Raiders from their 29 to the Buffalo 32, but on first down he overthrew Mervyn Fernandez and found safety Mark Kelso at the 5.

He did it again the next time he got the ball. The Raiders drove to the Buffalo 2, and on third and goal, Schroeder threw into the hands of Buffalo's Leonard Smith. No receiver was within five yards of the ball.

After No. 5, Raiders Coach Art Shell put backup Vince Evans in the game and gave Schroeder the rest of the day off.

"They played well and we didn't play well," said Schroeder. "I felt good and thought we could move it on them. But we couldn't keep their offense off the field, and when you have to throw every down, you're going to get in trouble."

Shell refused to criticize his quarterback. "He wasn't rattled," the coach said. "We just didn't get our offense on track, and on the defensive side, they moved the ball quite well. I'm very proud of this football team. We've come further than anyone outside this organization thought we would come."