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There was 2:55 left in the game, and the Kansas City Chiefs were
backed up on their four-yard line, trying to hold on to a 17-14
lead. On the Denver sidelines John Elway was pacing up and down
like an angry lion, eager to atone for the last pass he had
thrown--a deep interception into double coverage.

"I could see Elway pacing the sidelines," Chiefs defensive end
Neil Smith said afterward. "He looked hungry. After the game I
went over to him and said, 'I could feel you, man. I could feel
your hot breath.'"

Elway never got his chance. The Broncos didn't get the ball
again. Steve Bono had to convert a third-and-eight from the six,
then a third-and-five from the 20, and he did, each of his
completions coming on a short, timed pattern with everything in
sync. And that is the strength of K.C. coach Marty
Schottenheimer's system: ball control, no blown assignments, a
quarterback who doesn't screw up, with the whole thing fortified
by sound defense. It's a system built for preserving leads.
"That's what this offense is all about," Bono said.

It was just fine for Sunday's Broncos-Chiefs slugfest, with the
Kansas City lines wearing Denver down on both sides of the ball.
It's the high-percentage way to travel when you want to ensure
an impressive regular-season record and an annual trip to the
playoffs--provided, of course, that you have superior personnel,
which the Chiefs certainly have. But then the second season
arrives, the postseason, and that's where the Schottenheimer
system tends to break down.

The mechanical approach can take you only so far. There comes a
time when innovation is called for, a touch of dash--the quick
strike, the ability to bring your team back in a heartbeat or to
put points on the board quickly when you get caught in a
shoot-out. Is Bono the man for that kind of action? Well, he
played his worst game last year in the Chiefs' 10-7 playoff loss
to the Colts. And around the league the book on the Chiefs still
reads: solid in all departments except quarterback.

"Everything we're doing with Steve is geared to the playoffs,"
offensive coordinator Paul Hackett said in the locker room after
Sunday's game. "He's picking up a little more each week--to get
to that innovative level. There's going to come a time, maybe in
the postseason, maybe in a few weeks, when we're going to have
to put together a 60-yard drive in the last two minutes to win
it. That'll be the test. That'll show us what kind of
quarterback we have. Don't forget, he did bring us back today."

The comeback Hackett alluded to was a 67-yard drive that began
with 8:16 left, a pressure situation, sure, but not really a
nail-biting two-minute drill. To his credit, Bono was working
with a jayvee set of receivers filling in for injured varsity
stars Lake Dawson and Tamarick Vanover. It took Bono practically
the whole game to get his timing down with the new guys, but he
finally did, and a big reason was that the Denver rush had died,
worn down by the Chiefs' 1,510-pound offensive line.

Sunday's game was a corporate victory, a triumph for an
organization that has kept the heart of the team--the fine
offensive and defensive lines--together during this era of free
agency. "After this past off-season I was very surprised to see
us all back together again," left guard Dave Szott said. "And
very happy, too."

The defensive line was suckered by traps and misdirections in
the first half as Denver's terrific little tailback, Terrell
Davis, rushed for 130 yards, but then the line rose up and took
command. Davis picked up 11 yards after the intermission. The
Kansas City pass rush came on, and Elway, who has been saddled
with a short-passing control attack this year, finally got tired
of throwing little dink passes and just let one go for glory,
and that was the last pass he threw in Arrowhead.

The night before the game Elway had admitted that the role of
dinkmeister was making him a bit wacky. "I'm not used to it," he
said. "I keep wanting to go downfield. It's all I've done in my

A Steve Bono can be programmed into such a system, a John Elway
never. But Elway has won his share in the postseason, when the
stakes are highest. Bono has won zero. September belongs to Bono
and the Chiefs, but January is another matter.

--Paul Zimmerman

Dr. Z's weekly Internet NFL preview is at

COLOR PHOTO: TODD ROSENBERG Bono completed 20 of 35 passes, but only one of them was good for more than 18 yards. [Steve Bono]