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It's a Special Night for the Bills' Tasker, Who Gets Game Ball : Buffalo: He forces a fumble and later his blocked punt is returned for go-ahead touchdown.

October 08, 1990|CHRIS BAKER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — After making the Pro Bowl as the AFC's top special teams player in 1987, wide receiver Steve Tasker of the Buffalo Bills may be doomed to being a special teams specialist.

"When the Bills picked me up off the waiver wire from Houston in 1986 they said, 'Listen, we're having some problems on our special teams, can you help us out?' And they liked what they saw," Tasker said.

Tasker showed why he's regarded as one of the best special teams players in the NFL by setting up two touchdowns, one by forcing a fumble on a punt return, the other by blocking a punt as the Bills overcame a 10-point deficit to hand the Raiders their first loss of the season, 38-24, Sunday night at Rich Stadium.

Buffalo's special teams captain, Tasker was voted the game ball. Unlike his teammates who have thrown balls into the stands after catching touchdown passes, Tasker plans to keep his.

"It's the first game ball I've ever received and it's going up on my mantle," Tasker said.

Tasker set up what turned out to be the winning touchdown when he blocked a Jeff Gossett punt, which cornerback J.D. Williams recovered and returned for a touchdown.

With the Bills trailing, 24-21, after James Lofton's 42-yard touchdown reception, Buffalo's defense forced the Raiders to punt. Tasker raced through to block the kick and Williams scooped it up and went 38 yards for a touchdown to give the Bills a 28-24 lead with 6:52 left in the game.

"It's tough to block a punt because punt protection is usually the first thing you work on in training camp," Tasker said. "Gossett is such a great punter that sometimes they could let everyone run free and and he'd still get it off.

"But I took a gamble and cut the corner to get a jump and I came through untouched. Had (Gossett) not stepped toward me instead of away from me there's no way I would have gotten there."

Gossett, who had never had a punt blocked since joining the Raiders in 1988, didn't see Tasker coming around the corner.

"The snap was real good and I got it off as fast as I could," Gossett said. "I talked to Tasker afterward and he said he took a gamble and cut the corner as much as he could and he came through pretty clean. I take pride in being one of the fastest guys in the league getting off punts.

"Tasker's probably the best punt-blocker in the league, but we knew that coming in and we worked on it all week. He just beat us today."

After blocking four punts in the past five seasons, Tasker has turned kick-blocking into an art form. Although the stereotype of a special teams player is someone who plays like a kamikaze, Tasker take a scientific approach, as befits a Northwestern graduate.

"There's a technique to it," Tasker said. "You see guys jumping up with their hands in the air and they'll never block kicks. The key is to take it right off the guy's foot because it rises so quickly off a punter's foot that you have to be 10 feet tall to jump up and block it."

Bruce DeHaven, Buffalo's special teams coach, said Tasker is the best kick blocker in the NFL.

"Albert Lewis (the Kansas City Chiefs' kick-blocking specialist) is pretty good, but Steve has had four blocked punts since he's been in the league and four blocks doesn't happen by accident.

"It's almost impossible to get a block on Jeff Gossett, that's why Steve's accomplishment is even greater because nobody has come close to blocking a Jeff Gossett punt."

Does Tasker have to sacrifice his body to block kicks?

"That one didn't hurt," Tasker said. "I've had blocks where it leaves a tattoo on you for a week. But I caught that one on the tape on my wrist so it deflected the bruise."

Tasker also set up the Bills' first touchdown when he forced a fumble by Raider punt returner Tim Brown at the Raider 15. Quarterback Jim Kelly, who had been unable to move the offense in the first quarter, threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Andre Reed just two plays later to tie the score at 7-7 with 4:09 left in the first half.

"I lucked out on that because the punt was over to my side," Tasker said. "If the punt had been in the middle of the field I wouldn't have been there. I was right in (Brown's) face when he caught it, but I never knew he fumbled it until I heard the reaction of the players around me. It was lucky for me that I was on that side and unlucky for Tim Brown that I was able to get there."

Brown said: "I just got hit. At the time the ball got there he got there and I didn't have time to put it away."

The fifth-string wide receiver on the Bills, who feature extraordinary receivers such as Lofton and Reed, Tasker is small (5 feet 9) and slow and rarely plays except on special teams. But he accepts his role.

"They shudder to put me in at wide receiver," Tasker said. "I guess I'm doomed to playing special teams instead of receiver for the rest of my career here. But I like the role. It beats sitting on the bench."

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