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Raiders Lost in the Shuffle, 51-3 : AFC: Buffalo takes advantage of Schroeder's five interceptions and piles up 502 yards of offense to move on to Tampa.


ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — You wouldn't know it, but the Raiders wanted to be here. They worked all season for the privilege. Bring on Buffalo, they said. Next stop, Tampa.

But all those super dreams fell 49 points short because of an offense that didn't work, theirs; an offense that couldn't be stopped with a court order, Buffalo's; an assumption that the Raiders ever stood a chance, and Jay Schroeder, who would at once uncoil and leave scattered a season's worth of expensive Mike White quarterback lessons.

The Bills' 51-3 victory over the Raiders in Sunday's AFC championship game before 80,324 at Rich Stadium left a considerable gap in Raider lore. Raiders make history, not fools of themselves. Yet, there was owner Al Davis, the whole game slack-jawed, no doubt agonizing over how to repair the emotional damage.

Where do the Raiders go from here? The Denver Broncos went through this last year in Super Bowl XXIV after ending up on the short-end of a 55-10 score and sank to the AFC West basement.

Sunday's loss ranks with some of the all-time great playoff blowouts, taking a seat next to Washington's 73-0 drubbing of Chicago in 1940. The Raiders could only conclude the beating was thorough and inevitable.

"I don't think anybody could have stopped them," defensive end Howie Long said. "You could have brought back the (Pittsburgh) Steel Curtain and it wouldn't have mattered."

Maybe not. Buffalo's first offensive drive was one of the great opening acts ever. The Raiders, resigned to a helpless basketball strategy, were forced to call time out after consecutive Buffalo gains of 12, 14, 15, five and nine yards.

There was no other way to stop the momentum. The Bills rested two minutes, then continued their assault on the Raiders and the history books. After the respite, they needed three more plays to score, taking a 7-0 lead on a 13-yard pass from quarterback Jim Kelly to former Raider James Lofton, who would make Los Angeles pay for cutting him in 1989.

The Raiders' response was brief and uncompelling. Schroeder found Mervyn Fernandez for 26 yards on first down and Willie Gault 26 more yards on second. But thoughts of an explosive offensive exchange between the teams ended quickly when the Raiders had to settle for a 41-yard Jeff Jaeger field goal.

If you missed it, you missed the Raider offensive attack.

The two other Raider highlights were a blocked extra point--hey, it could have been 52-3--and the third quarter, during which the Bills were held scoreless.

The rest of it was pure Buffalo artistry and sheer Raider misery. Lest the Raiders think they had made a game of it after cutting the lead to 7-3, the Bills scored again in four plays. Kelly's no-huddle offense was almost flawless as he picked his feeble opponent apart. After a two-yard gain on first down, Kelly passed 41 yards to Lofton, scrambled for 11 yards and then handed off to Thurman Thomas, who ran 12 yards around right end for the touchdown.

The Bills made the score 21-3 with 3:09 left in the quarter when linebacker Darryl Talley intercepted a Schroeder pass and returned it 27 yards for a touchdown.

Defensive end Bruce Smith pressured Schroeder heavily from the blind side as he threw.

"Obviously, the ball didn't go where I wanted it to go," Schroeder said.

Few did. Schroeder threw five interceptions after throwing nine in 16 regular season games. Someone asked whether he accepted blame for the loss.

"What kind of a question is that?" he said. "Everyone in this room has to take personal responsibility."

There were plenty of takers. Cornerback Lionel Washington had a miserable time in an attempt to stay with former teammate Lofton, who finished with five catches for 113 yards. After Kenneth Davis' touchdown runs of one and three yards in the second quarter put the Bills ahead by 34-3, Lofton capped off the half with an eight-yard scoring pass from Kelly. Again, Washington was on assignment.

"I couldn't cover him," Washington said, tears in his eyes. "I don't blame myself, but I played a big part in the game. I couldn't come up with the big plays to stop him. You've got to take it personally sometimes."

The game was over at the half. In two quarters, the Bills had 387 yards. In two quarters, Thomas had rushed for 109 yards. Kelly had passed for 247. The Bills had set a playoff record for most points scored in a half.

Dating to the first meeting Oct. 7, Buffalo had scored 65 points against the Raiders in three quarters.

The Raiders thought they were ready.

"A game like today is an education," tailback Marcus Allen said. "You can talk a hell of a lot about being ready and focused. It's difficult to explain, but there are all these other intangibles. When the level rises, you've got to be ready for it."

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