ORCHARD PARK, N.Y., JAN. 20 -- Perhaps the single defining moment of this afternoon's AFC championship game came early, after the Buffalo Bills had run five plays. Jim Kelly had completed three straight passes for 33 yards, Thurman Thomas had run twice for 21 and the Bills were 20 yards from their first touchdown.
As Kelly again rushed the Bills to the line of scrimmage, Raiders linebacker Jerry Robinson frantically called time out, went to the sideline and said something that probably went a lot like, "Anything else in the playbook, guys?"
There would be nothing else for Robinson and the Raiders this snowy day as the Bills rushed into the Super Bowl with a 51-3 victory in front of 80,324 at Rich Stadium.
The Bills not only won the right to play in their first Super Bowl -- next Sunday in Tampa against the New York Giants -- but did it with the third-most lopsided postseason total (the Bears beat the Redskins 73-0 in 1940, and the Raiders downed the Oilers 56-7 in 1969).
Every NFL team will spend part of its summer looking at tapes of Kelly and the Bills' no-huddle offense that ran up 502 yards and scored on five of its first seven possessions.
The Bills were so impressive on offense that a defense that intercepted six passes and held Marcus Allen to 26 yards rushing could have been overlooked. Former Redskin Jay Schroeder had an awful day, completing 13 of 31 for 150 yards -- with five interceptions.
Linebacker Darryl Talley got two of them, including one he returned 27 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter.
There was much, much more. Running back Thurman Thomas had 199 total yards, backup Kenneth Davis scored three touchdowns, and the Bills were up 41-3 at the half. The NFC has won six straight Super Bowls, but the Bills already have a victory over the Giants this season, 17-13 at Giants Stadium in Week 14 and have been installed as early five-point favorites.
"I just made the point with our team that this game is not our goal -- to go to the Super Bowl," Bills Coach Marv Levy said. "Our goal is to stay focused for another week. We have one more river to cross."
That was the theme throughout their locker room, where as defensive end Bruce Smith said: "We're going to stay humble for another week. This isn't the time to celebrate. We're going to enjoy this one about 15 minutes and then get started tending to business."
Just when the run-and-shoot looked like the offense of the future, the Bills have come up with something better -- a hurry-up offense that doesn't allow defenses to substitute and has all the advantages of the run-and-shoot (three or four wide receivers) without any of the disadvantages (the Bills have a tight end and, therefore, a running game).
The Raiders were overwhelmed. When they played their traditional defensive front, Kelly rolled out and threw. When they brought in extra defensive backs, Kelly called running plays, handing off inside to Thomas, who rushed for 128 yards and caught five passes for 61 more.
The Bills have added bits and pieces to their no-huddle setup all season, and last week's 44-34 victory over Miami was the first time they'd run it from beginning to end. Today it averaged 7.3 yards per play and got them 300 yards in the air and 202 on the ground.
"It snowballed and we couldn't stop them," Raiders Coach Art Shell said. "I thought we were prepared. I felt we were mentally prepared. We kept giving them different looks up front, but we didn't make the plays. It was one of those days when we didn't do anything right."
The only thing the Bills didn't dominate was time of possession. They held the ball for 32 of the game's 60 minutes, mainly because they scored so quickly. Their first drive went 75 yards, but took only nine plays and 3 1/2 minutes.
Their second, 66 yards, took four plays and 61 seconds. Then came Talley's interception return, and by the end of the first quarter it was 21-3.
"I know you're expecting something philosophical, guys," Allen said. "It's simple: We just got whipped. One of the biggest games of our lives and we didn't get it done. We didn't even come close."
The Bills have started six of their last seven games in the no-huddle and scored first-possession touchdowns in 10 of their last 12 games -- including a touchdown in the Dec. 15 game against the Giants.
Today they started from their 25-yard line and lined up with three wide receivers and Thomas in the backfield. The Raiders started with six defensive backs and were ready.
However, on the first play Thomas slipped between the tackles for 12 yards.
The Bills lined up quickly and Kelly flipped over the middle to Thomas for 14. Then to wide receiver Andre Reed for 15.
Kelly slipped Thomas an inside handoff from the shotgun and got five more. He threw to Thomas for nine and the Raiders called a timeout.
"I really don't think they were prepared for it," Thomas said. "It would seem they would have known what would have been so successful for us. The only negative is that we score so quickly there's so much time on the clock."
After the timeout, Kelly passed five yards to Thomas, then connected on a three-yarder to Reed for a touchdown that was nullified by a holding call. However, it caused only a slight delay. From shotgun formation, Kelly dropped the snap, rolled right and hit wide receiver James Lofton for the touchdown.
The Raiders put their one and only drive together on their first possession. Schroeder opened with 26-yard passes to Mervyn Fernandez and Willie Gault.
But Talley tipped his third pass, Allen gained five and Fernandez dropped a third-down chance. Jeff Jaeger kicked a 41-yard field goal to make it 7-3.
The Bills came right back. On second and eight from the Buffalo 36, Lofton, cut by the Raiders in preseason, got behind cornerback Lionel Washington and caught a 41-yarder. Kelly scrambled for 11 and Thomas scored on a 12-yard run after an inside handoff.
That made it 14-3 and it remained that until Schroeder was hit by Smith an instant before he threw. Whether that affected the throw is arguable, but the pass was a bad one, landing short of wide receiver Tim Brown and right in Talley's hands.
"I thought, 'Oh no, the ball's coming right for me,' " Talley said. "All I was thinking was: 'Don't freeze. Start running.' I didn't have time to practice my spike or anything."
Jeff Gossett's bad punt and an 18-yard return by Nate Odomes got the Bills in position again, and they made it 28-3 with a 13-play, 57-yard drive.
The Raiders again interrupted the drive with a timeout, but the Bills rolled on effortlessly. They faced only two third-down plays. On the first, Thomas gained five. On the second, he was stopped for no gain, but a play later Davis scored standing on a one-yard run.
The Bills scored twice more before intermission and went to their locker room with a good day's work behind them -- three forced turnovers, 387 yards and a 41-3 lead. When Davis scored on the first play of the fourth quarter to make it 48-3, Kelly was done.
Their celebration was mostly quiet, though Levy got his first Gatorade shower and Talley and others mugged for the largest home crowd ever to see the Bills.
"I've been here five years and this is so nice," center Kent Hull said. "Some of those people up in the stands have been here 30 years. I can imagine how it feels to them."