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By David Staba

There's an old National Football League adage that maintains, with 22 very large men continuously engaged in very well-compensated hand-to-hand combat, the referees could call a penalty on every play.

On Sunday in Kansas City, the officiating crew did a fine job of converting cliche into reality. Referee Terry MacAulay and his crew of subordinate judges, umpires and linesmen threw flags when Buffalo had the ball. They threw them when Kansas City had the ball. They threw them on runs. On passes. On kicks.

Watching the Bills establish a surprisingly easy dominance during the first three quarters, despite the yellow blizzard, while attending a house party, BillStuff expected that little piece of laundry to flutter across the television screen during a car commercial.

"This," said Heather, while munching one of the double-chocolate brownies prepared by John (our host) and ace Niagara Falls Reporter photographer Dick Longwood, "is ridiculous."

Buffalo was penalized on six of the first seven possessions by either team and 10 of the first 14. Penalties negated a perfect Brian Moorman punt that Buffalo downed at the Kansas City 1-yard-line, forced the Bills to settle for field goals instead of touchdowns on three otherwise effective drives and kept two of Kansas City's three scoring marches moving along.

But if the men in striped shirts proved a bit over-enthusiastic about their jobs at times (particularly that crucial pass interference call on Chris Watson in the fourth quarter that provided nearly half of Kansas City's yards on the decisive possession), the Bills too often gave them no choice.

Their offensive, defensive and special-teams units combined for their most complete game of the season. But Buffalo's collective inability to adhere to the basic rules of the game turned what should have been an impressive road win in one of the NFL's most hostile environments into a one-point loss. The defeat dropped them out of the AFC East lead and stretched their already long odds on earning a wild-card berth even farther.

If Buffalo winds up a single game shy of a playoff spot, some Bills fans will blame MacAulay's painfully zealous crew. Their conspiracy-minded brethren may even dredge up the old "the NFL hates Buffalo because it's a small-market" theory.

Both groups may take some consolation from their rationalizing, but they'll be wrong. If the faithful need scapegoats to help them come to terms with an otherwise unexplainable and unwarranted loss, here are a pair of names -- Ron Edwards and Peerless Price.

Their infractions didn't cause the immediate damage inflicted by the highly questionable fourth-quarter pass interference call on Watson, but Edwards and Price earned high marks for abject stupidity shortly after halftime. Their temporary cerebral shutdowns also showed why these Bills will wind up watching the playoffs on television.

Bledsoe's 7-yard touchdown pass to Moulds gave Buffalo a three-point lead and a distinct edge in momentum going into halftime. The Bills' dominance continued on Kansas City's first drive, with the Chiefs quickly facing a third-and-7 from their own 12-yard line. When Trent Green threw incomplete on third down, it looked for a fleeting second as if Buffalo would get the ball near midfield after the punt, in point-blank range to take a double-digit lead and silence the all-red crowd at Arrowhead Stadium for good.

Except that Edwards thought it would be a really good idea, even with an official two steps away, to shove Green to the ground with both hands.

Maybe getting so close to the quarterback confused the second-year defensive tackle, who came into the game with precisely one sack to his credit. Or perhaps Edwards, who would finish the day with a solitary tackle, just wanted to make himself feel useful by touching someone.

Whatever the rationale behind it, Edwards' shove gave Kansas City new life. The Chiefs wound up punting, anyway, but only after running six more plays, picking up another first down and reaching the Buffalo 43. After the punt sailed into the end zone, the Bills started at their own 20, about 30 yards behind where they would have been if not for Edwards' roaming hands.

As dumb as Edwards' penalty may have been, Price did all he could to get his teammate off the hook on Buffalo's next drive. After catching a 9-yard pass, he and Chiefs cornerback Eric Warfield bumped into each other while getting off the ground. The two had been jawing at each other all day, and Warfield apparently disrespected Price in some way. So Price gave him a forearm to the face.

You can't do that, either. The flag flew and Buffalo moved back 15 yards. Everyone at the party groaned.

Bledsoe still moved Buffalo into position for a field goal, but thanks to a holding penalty on Price and a false start on guard Ruben Brown, he had to cover 101 yards to do so.

It was one of the more anticlimactic scoring marches in recent memory.

Instead of forcing Kansas City's offense, which had sputtered all afternoon, into comeback mode, the Bills led by 16-10 and left the Chiefs needing only to put together one touchdown drive to win.

Which is exactly what they did.

Moreover, Price's fit of pique showed once again that, even in the midst of his breakout season, as far as the free-agent-to-be is concerned, it's ultimately all about Peerless.

Another sports cliche points out that there is no "I" in team. But there's certainly one in Price.

BILLS MVP: With the Chiefs' deep zone taking away pass routes down the field, Travis Henry twisted, burrowed and broke tackles en route to 126 yards on 24 carries. Would have been nice if at least one of his attempts had come when the Bills had a first-and-goal from the Kansas City 5-yard line in the second quarter, but offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride knew better. After three straight incompletions, Buffalo settled for the first of Mike Hollis' three field goals.

THE OTHER GUYS' MVP: Trent Green had modest passing numbers (12-of-20 for 197 yards), but turned in the two biggest runs of the day -- a 9-yard scamper for the go-ahead touchdown and a 12-yard jaunt to pick up the clinching first down.

SIGN THAT BLEDSOE WAS HUMAN: The one time Price or Eric Moulds got open deep, with just over four minutes left, Buffalo's quarterback came up a couple yards short. Warfield was there, and got the best of Price, whom he limited to 40 yards on four catches, one last time.

CONSPICUOUS BY HIS ABSENCE: Middle linebacker London Fletcher spent most of the afternoon helping shut down Priest Holmes, the NFL's second-leading rusher coming in. He hobbled off in the fourth quarter, and Holmes started running wild. Fletcher returned, but Holmes earned 50 of his 104 yards in the final 15 minutes.

WING REPORT: La Nova's hot offerings didn't pack as much wallop as usual, but the barbecue wings delivered a tasty change of pace. And required plenty of napkins. Grade: B.

BS FAN OF THE DAY: Like most of the fairly non-partisan gathering, John didn't take the defeat too hard. And his secret ingredient in the brownies -- chocolate chips -- elevated them high above the norm.


David Staba is the sports editor of the Niagara Falls Reporter and the editor of the BuffaloPOST. He welcomes email at dstaba13@aol.com.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com November 19 2002