ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Don't tell nose tackle Fred Smerlas the Buffalo Bills played well enough to beat the New York Jets Sunday. He's heard it all before and doesn't want to hear it again.
"There are so many ifs and buts on this team," Smerlas said after the Jets' 31-28 victory. " . . . If we had won all the games we lost by four or fewer points last year, we would have won the division. We're tired of that. You can only use so many excuses. There's no reason to be so close and not win it."
The Bills, who lost seven games by six points or less last season, again played just well enough to lose.
"I'm glad to get away with a win," said Jet Coach Joe Walton, who was forced to make pregame adjustments on his offensive line because of injuries. "We played a lot of new people today that were question marks. We should be glad to get the win. It should give them some confidence."
Linebacker Bob Crable may have made the biggest play of the day for the Jets. Protecting a three-point lead, 24-21, late in the game, he deflected, then intercepted, a Jim Kelly pass deep in Buffalo territory. Johnny Hector's subsequent 1-yard touchdown plunge for New York put the game out of reach for Buffalo.
"Somebody was supposed to pick me up but nobody did," Crable said. "I'm just used to picking up balls when they're lying on the ground--not spinning in the air."
A reshuffled Jets offensive line, despite allowing three sacks in the first half, gave Ken O'Brien ample time to pass, and the Jet quarterback responded with a 55-yard scoring bomb to Wesley Walker and a 4-yard scoring pass to Mickey Shuler.
Hector's two scoring runs, from 2 and 1 yards out, came in the fourth quarter. The Jets also got a 29-yard field goal by Pat Leahy.
O'Brien finished 24 of 35 for 276 yards. This was a return to the form that led New York to a 10-1 start in 1986 and a rebound from his disappointing showing when the Jets lost their final five games of the season. He was intercepted 12 times while throwing only 2 touchdown passes in those five games.
"We got back to the basics and started moving the ball," he said. "We did what we set out to do."
Kelly threw touchdown passes to Trumaine Johnson, acquired in a preseason trade with the San Diego Chargers, Chris Burkett and Robb Riddick, who also scored on a two-yard run.
"We moved the ball very well," Buffalo Coach Marv Levy said. "We scored 28 points. Normally, that's enough to win. But today it wasn't."
The Jets, who took a 14-7 lead at the half, scored on their first two possessions of the third quarter. A drive that lasted 7 minutes 46 seconds led to Leahy's field goal midway through the quarter, and the subsequent drive that ended with Hector's two-yard touchdown took 5 minutes 17 seconds.
The Jets played center Joe Fields at right guard to replace Dan Alexander, who was moved to right tackle to fill in for the injured Gordon King. Guy Bingham took over for Fields at center.