THE BILLS LOST TO THE DOLPHINS, BUT WORSE, THEY MAY HAVE LOST CONFIDENCE IN JIM KELLY

October 20, 1996

Is this it for Jim Kelly? Has he hit the wall? That was the
question hanging over a subdued and depressed Buffalo locker
room on Sunday after the Miami Dolphins' shocking 21-7 upset of
Kelly's Buffalo Bills in windswept Rich Stadium.

"They sacked Jim seven times, and now it's all gonna be on us,"
one Buffalo offensive lineman said. "But you run your man all
the way past him, and he's still standing there, and then the
guy comes back to get the sack. What can you do?"

"Bring in a new quarterback" was all you heard on the postgame
call-in shows. And it was worse in the stands, where they booed
Kelly unmercifully after every stumble, every misfire, every
sack. The fans want Todd Collins, the second-year backup from
Michigan, who is 2-0 as a starter. Kelly is 2-2 and next to last
in the NFL quarterback rankings after his three interceptions on
Sunday, the last of which was returned 91 yards by Miami
cornerback Terrell Buckley for the touchdown that locked up the
game. Kelly had a hard time finding his receivers as the young
Miami defenders clamped down on the short stuff and dared him to
throw long. He was also immobile in the pocket. On most of his
sacks it was the first rusher who got him.

Was it just a bad outing, with many good ones to come? Or, at
age 36, is Kelly through? Most depressing of all were Kelly's
own postgame remarks. Someone asked him if the team felt a sense
of urgency after this defeat. His answer was rather
shocking--especially for him. "There's an urgency on myself," he
said. "Either I get it done or I get out of there and let Todd
get it done. I'm man enough to face up to the fact that when I
make mistakes, let someone else do it." Never in his 11-year NFL
career has Kelly, one of the fiercest competitors in history,
talked like that.

I asked Marv Levy how concerned he was about Kelly, long-term.

"It's too early to have a response to that kind of question,"
Levy said, looking very tired. "Too early."

He had enough to worry about, particularly criticisms of the
call he made at the end of the game, a call he says was his
alone. The Dolphins were leading 14-7 with 1:55 left, but the
Bills had the ball first-and-goal at the Miami two. The ground
game had been one of the few things working for the Bills all
day. And Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson had earlier conducted a
clinic on how to run a goal line offense: First-and-goal on the
three, three straight running plays took it in for Miami's first
score. Same thing on the Dolphins' next touchdown, three
straight runs, this time from the six. No three wideouts,
nothing fancy, just kaboom!

But Levy decided to get tricky on first down at the two. He
called a delay pass to one of his two tight ends, Tony Cline,
reasoning that if the play didn't work, the Bills could always
run it in.

"It's a play our old tight end Butch Rolle scored a million
touchdowns on," said offensive coordinator Tom Bresnahan. But
this time Miami defensive end Trace Armstrong read pass and
grabbed Cline.

"I covered him," Armstrong said.

"You grabbed him," someone said.

"Well, that's my way of covering."

Lonnie Johnson, the other tight end, was tied up too. So Kelly
bailed out and threw the ball away and collected a 10-yard
intentional-grounding penalty. On second-and-goal from the 12,
Kelly's dump pass attempt was incomplete. Third-and-goal, Kelly
fell down handing the ball off to Thurman Thomas, who picked up
two. Then on fourth down Kelly tried to hit wideout Andre Reed,
who was standing outside Buckley on the goal line. A real bullet
might have made it, but it was a tired pass, and Buckley stepped
over and picked it off and rang down the curtain.

Kelly's real trouble on Sunday was from the waist down. When he
wasn't having difficulty avoiding the rush, he threw off
balance. Maybe it was the residue of the pulled right hamstring
that kept him out of two games. Maybe it was because his
receivers had such a tough time shaking free.

"Hey, it wasn't all Kelly's fault," Buckley said. "Give the
Miami Dolphins some credit."

Yes, Miami did have four rookies starting on defense against one
of the NFL's trickiest attacks. And on offense the Dolphins'
reserve quarterback, Craig Erickson, was throwing in that nasty
Buffalo wind and making few errors while facing one of the
league's finest defenses. We'll give them all the credit in the
world. And for Kelly? A big question mark.

--Paul Zimmerman

COLOR PHOTO: JOE TRAVER Even when Kelly wasn't suffering one of his seven sacks, his lack of mobility cost him. [Miami Dolphins player tackling Jim Kelly]

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)