TAMPA, JAN. 21 -- Almost every football fan who has ever sat in his living room and second-guessed the local coach has wondered about those two-minute drills. If the Dallas Cowboys can drive 70 yards in five plays at the end of a half, why can't they do it at the beginning as well?
Why are huddles needed anyway? Why not simplify the terminology and the playbook and let players play? That, essentially, is what the Buffalo Bills have done the last couple of weeks and that no-huddle, fast-foward youhaveneverseenthisbefore offense is one of the things that makes Super Bowl XXV so interesting.
The New York Giants may have the best defense on earth, but they had big trouble with what the Bills threw at them in a 17-13 loss in Week 15.
The Bills arrived here tonight after Coach Marv Levy and his staff began working on their game plan. Levy said there'd be more work while his players are at Tuesday's picture day. But the Giants already know what they'll see.
The Bills will trot onto the field Sunday at Tampa Stadium, huddle once to call a couple of plays, then start playing football. Fast football. They'll run one play, line up and run another. The Giants had better start with a defensive lineup they like because the Bills don't allow time for substitutions.
What will make the Giants' preparations even more complex is that there has been limited opportunity to study the offense because the Bills have used it more than a few plays only three times.
They debuted it full-time in Week 14 and ran up 408 yards in defeating the Indianapolis Colts, 31-7. They'd flirted with it at various times earlier in the season, mostly when they were far behind or wanted a quick score at the end of the half. They tried it at the beginning against the Colts because, as Levy said, "they had defensive line people who were coming back from injuries and we thought we could tire them out."
Quarterback Jim Kelly had long urged Levy and offensive coordinator Ted Marchibroda to use the no-huddle more often, and that performance convinced them. They wanted to try the same thing against the Giants the next week, but scrapped it when Kelly got hurt in the second quarter.
Still, they scored on their first two possessions when Kelly was still in there. He missed the next two games before coming back Sunday before last against the Miami Dolphins, and every team in football will study what the Bills have done since.
They rolled up 493 yards and rushed past the Dolphins, 44-34, then gained 502 more in routing the Los Angeles Raiders, 51-3, in Sunday's AFC championship game.
In three games with Kelly and the no-huddle together, the Bills have averaged 468 yards and 42 points a game -- including 16 in the first quarter.
"We were prepared for it," Raiders defensive tackle Howie Long said. "I don't think anyone can stop it. If they play like they did today, there's nobody who's going to beat them. Plain and simple."
It's easier to understand what happens after the ball is snapped than before. After the ball is snapped, the Bills have fewer than 10 plays to choose from and they're simple ones -- inside traps to halfback Thurman Thomas, throwing to backs out of the backfield and Kelly rolling out and finding a receiver.
It may resemble the run-and-shoot, but differs in several important ways. First, plays are called, and receivers run pre-determined routes. Pure run-and-shoot teams ask their receivers and quarterback to adjust to the defense that is called.
Second, the Bills have not stopped running the ball. They rained 300 yards in the air and 202 on the ground against the Raiders. They also have a tight end in the game almost all the time and believe when the passing game fails they can line up and run the ball.
But what happens before the snap is more complex. It's still unclear how Kelly calls plays, but it appears to be a combination of things.
When the Bills do huddle, they call more than one play, then at various times in a drive Kelly whispers a new play (or two or three) to his receivers and running backs in brief minihuddles.
If Kelly believes the linemen haven't heard the play, he repeats it to center Kent Hull, who repeats it in the trenches.
If it sounds confusing, it can be, and one of the secrets of the Bills' success is more than just Kelly, Thomas, wide receiver Andre Reed and a big, strong offensive line. It's also that the Bills think and move with ease.
That's one of the things that caused the Cincinnati Bengals to give up the no-huddle two years ago. The Bengals weren't often stopped by opponents, but confusion at the line and fumbles and dropped snaps.
"There are so many things that we can do that the defense can't key on one thing," Hull said. "We run so many things out of the same formations. Jim adjusts to whatever the defense is doing and really he keeps us in the best situation all the time."
Indeed, the no-huddle looked unstoppable against the Raiders in part because Kelly had a magnificent day, playing three quarters and completing 17 of 23 for 300 yards and two touchdowns.
The Bills opened the Raiders game Sunday by scoring on an opening drive for the 10th time in 12 games, and they needed just nine plays and 3 1/2 minutes to drive 75 yards.
Kelly was six for six for 65 yards, including a 13-yard touchdown pass to James Lofton. But the Bills hardly slowed down after that. They drove 66 yards in four plays on their second possession and scored touchdowns five of the first seven times they had the ball.
When the Raiders lined up in a four- or five-man front, Kelly passed. When they dropped into pass coverage, he handed the ball to Thomas.
"I think the way we do it is probably different than the way anyone else will ever do it," Reed said. "It's made for us. It's made for this offensive team. We've got guys who can break plays left and right."
Not everyone believes the no-huddle is the key to the Bills' success. It's easy to get caught up in what's new and to forget what's old, that is that the Bills could probably win the old-fashioned way.
In Kelly, Thomas, Hull and Reed, they have four of the best offensive players in football, and Levy and Marchibroda are widely respected.
When everything else would break down, Kelly seemingly always had Thomas open in the flat or across the middle. No-huddle or not, the Bills resembled the San Francisco 49ers, who at their best had Joe Montana with an array of talent, from running back Roger Craig to wide receivers Jerry Rice and John Taylor to tight end Brent Jones.
"I think they beat us man to man," Raiders linebacker Riki Ellison said. "I don't think the no-huddle was that much of a factor. Jim Kelly is great. He's able to see the field and find the open guy. He has the time to sit back there and pick apart the pass defense."