1990 - Super Bowl Excitement and Disappointment
13-3 record, first of five in AFC East, first of 14 in AFC, second (tie) of 28 in NFL
Here we are folks. The most exciting and disappointing season in Bills history. In March the Bills signed two Plan B free agents - punter Rick Tuten and running back Don Smith. With their first first-round pick in three years the Bills selected cornerback James Williams. In later rounds the Bills would take fullback Carwell Gardner (second), guard Glenn Parker (third), linebacker Marvcus Patton (eighth), and defensive tackle Mike Lodish (tenth).
In the season opener a Jim Kelly pass to Butch Rolle became the thousandth TD in team history as Buffalo opened the season with a 36-10 win. In week 2 the Bills laid an egg against the Dolphins and were held to just two hundred yards of offense in a 30-7 loss in Miami. The bright lights of Monday Night were kind to Thurman Thomas in week 3. He ran for a career-high 214 yards in a Bills victory. Week 4 was a strange game for Buffalo. They were held to 9 points in the first three quarters but exploded for 20 points in 77 seconds to rally and beat the AFC Champion Broncos 29-28. The team was back at it a week later scoring 24 fourth-quarter in a 6:03 span to beat the LA Raiders 38-24. After the bye week the Bills once again rallied for a fourth quarter win after overcoming a fourteen-point deficit. This time the Jets were the victims of the comeback as fullback Jaime Mueller caught a 14-yard TD pass with 19 seconds left to give Buffalo the 30-27 win and 5-1 record. After a win over the hapless Patriots in which no comeback was necessary the Bills somewhat avenged their playoff loss to the Browns with a 42-0 blowout in Cleveland. Hometown boy Darryl Talley returned an interception for his first NFL touchdown in the win. The Bills put 45 on the Cardinals the next week and shut out the Patriots in week 11 to match their win total from the previous season. After a close loss to the Oilers the Bills rattled off four wins to break the team record with 13 regular season wins and match the overall team record of 13 total wins in a season. On December 2 the Bills unleashed the No Huddle Offense for the very first time. Jim Kelly went 8-for-8 for 229 passing yards and three touchdowns in the first quarter alone en route to a 30-23 win over the Eagles. The next week the Bills wrapped up their third straight playoff birth with a win over the Colts. In the game Andre Reed became the Bills all-time leader with 36 touchdowns receptions breaking Elbert Dubenion's 32-year-old mark. In week 15 the season seemed to blow up in the Bills faces as Jim Kelly would go down with a knee injury. The Bills would win the game 17-13 but at what cost? Week 16 was the epitome of the Dolphins-Bills rivalry of the early 90s even without Jim Kelly. The 11-3 Dolphins team led by Dan Marino came into Buffalo to face the 12-2 Bills in December. I get goosebumps just thinking about it. With a win the Bills would clinch the division and a loss would give the Dolphins the division lead with one game to play. Backup qyarterback Frank Reich would have none of it completing 15 of 21 passes for 234 yards and two touchdowns. Thurman Thomas added 154 rushing yards and Buffalo clinched their third straight division crown with a 24-14 victory. In week 17 the Bills had clinched the division and the number one seed in the AFC and lost to the Redskins.
The playoffs began with a revised format allowing one extra team to make the playoffs. Now three wild card teams and one of the division winners would play on wild card weekend for the right to move on to the divisional round and face the top two seeds. The Bills were the number one seed and received a bye. After staging a 4th quarter comeback in the wild card round the Miami Dolphins came into Rich Stadium for the playoff showdown. The Bills scored first with wide receiver Andre Reed's 40-yard touchdown reception. Then after Buffalo jumped to a 20-3 lead in the second quarter with running back Thurman Thomas' 5-yard touchdown, Miami quarterback Dan Marino cut the Bills' lead to 20-10 with a 64-yard touchdown completion to wide receiver Mark Duper. Before halftime, Bills quarterback Jim Kelly threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver James Lofton, and Marino scored on a 2-yard touchdown run. The teams exchanged field goals again the in third period. During the final quarter, Roy Foster, an offensive lineman who played in an eligible receiver position, caught a 2-yard touchdown pass to cut the Dolphins deficit to 30-27. But the Bills countered with Thomas' 5-yard touchdown run. Miami then fumbled the ensuing kickoff and Kelly capitalized with a 26-yard touchdown pass to Reed to clinch the game. Marino's 8-yard touchdown to wide receiver Tony Martin closed out the scoring. Kelly, who returned to start for the Bills after missing the last 4 games of the season with a knee injury, passed for 339 yards and 3 touchdowns, while also rushing for 37 yards. Reed was also a big factor, recording 123 receiving yards and a pair of touchdown catches. Lofton caught 7 passes for 149 yards and a touchdown. Thomas led the Bills ground attack with 32 carries for 117 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns, while also catching 3 passes for 38 yards. Marino threw for 323 yards and 3 touchdowns, but was intercepted twice. Duper caught 3 passes for 113 yards and a touchdown. Running back Sammie Smith rushed for 99 yards and caught a 9 yard reception.Now that's exciting football.
The second-seed Raiders unseated the team that knocked the Bills out of the playoffs and represented the AFC in the Supr Bowl the previous year by defeating the Bengals in the divisional round. The Bills would not be denied their Super Bowl this time. On Buffalo's opening drive, Jim Kelly completed six consecutive passes, the last one a 13-yard touchdown throw to James Lofton after he recovered a fumbled snap in shotgun formation. The Raiders responded with a 41-yard field goal, but Buffalo stormed back with another touchdown just four plays after the ensuing kickoff, set up by Kelly's 41-yard completion to Lofton. After a punt, Los Angeles intercepted a pass from Kelly. But two plays later, Darryl Talley intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown. The Raiders were forced to punt on their next possession, and Buffalo stormed down the field again, scoring with a 1-yard touchdown run by Kenneth Davis on fourth down and goal. An interception by Nate Odomes set up Davis' second touchdown less than a minute later, and before the half ended, Lofton caught his second touchdown pass to give the Bills a 41-3 first half lead. The workers in Tampa were told to begin painting the end zone of the AFC team red and blue. Buffalo increased their lead to 48-3 with Davis' third touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter. Later on, Scott Norwood closed out the scoring with a 39-yard field goal. The Bills defense shredded the Raiders, limiting quarterback Jay Schroeder to 13 of 31 completions for 150 yards and intercepting him 5 times, while also holding running back Marcus Allen to just 26 yards on 10 carries. Buffalo recorded a total of six interceptions, the third highest total ever in a single NFL game. Defensive back Mark Kelso recorded his fourth career postseason interception in the game, a Bills' record. On offense, the Bills amassed 502 total yards, including 202 yards on the ground. Running back Thurman Thomas rushed for 138 and a touchdown while also catching 5 passes for 61 yards, while running back Kenneth Davis tied an AFC playoff record with 3 rushing touchdowns. Buffalo also set an NFL playoff record by scoring 41 points in the first half. Bills quarterback Jim Kelly threw for 300 yards and two touchdown passes to wide receiver James Lofton, who finished the game with 5 receptions for 113 yards. Thomas recorded a 12-yard touchdown run, while Davis scored from 1 yard, 3 yards, and 1 yard out. Linebacker Darryl Talley returned one of his two interceptions 27 yards for a touchdown. The Bills were on their way to Super Bowl XXV!!!
The only team with a better record than the Bills in 1990 was the New York Giants. The Bills had the top offense in the league and the Giants had the top defense. It was a classic irresistible force vs. an immovable object. The Bills were heavily favored to win the game on the strength of their high-powered offense and on the basis of Buffalo's 17-13 win in the regular season. To counteract the K Gun offense the goal of Bill Parcells' team was to control the clock as much as possible by running O.J. Anderson down the Bills' defense collective throat. Giants tight end Mark Bavaro would say later, "[w]e came out with three tight ends, fat slobs picking you up and moving you and letting you tackle O.J., if you could." This limited Buffalo's possessions as New York set a Super Bowl record by holding the ball for 40 minutes and 33 seconds including 22 in the second half. On defense, New York wanted to be physical with Buffalo's wideouts, and play with extra defensive backs to concentrate on stopping the Bills passing game, while conceding the running game. The contrast in strategies was evident during the first period. After forcing the Bills to punt on the opening drive of the game, the Giants consumed 6:15 off the clock by marching 58 yards in 10 plays to score on a 28-yard field goal. But the Bills struck right back on their ensuing possession with a five-play, 66-yard drive that took 1:23 off the clock, including a tipped 61-yard completion from quarterback Jim Kelly to receiver James Lofton that set up Scott Norwood's 23-yard field goal to tie the game at 3-3. After forcing the Giants to punt on their ensuing possession, Kelly led the Bills on a 12-play, 80-yard scoring drive that consumed 4:27 and moved the ball so effectively that the team never faced a third down. Kelly completed six consecutive passes (four to Andre Reed) for 62 yards, and running back Don Smith capped it off with a one-yard touchdown run to give Buffalo a 10-3 lead. Smith's 1-yard touchdown run was his only carry of the game and the last carry of his career. Reed's 5 first quarter receptions were a Super Bowl record. After trading punts, the Giants were pinned at their own 7-yard line. On second down, defensive lineman Bruce Smith sacked quarterback Jeff Hostetler in the end zone for a safety, increasing the Bills' lead 12-3. On the play, Smith had a chance to force a fumble since Hostetler was holding the football with only his throwing hand. But to his credit, Hostetler held the ball away from Smith, helping to ensure that only 2 points would be surrendered. The Bills started out on their next drive with great field position following the free kick, but were forced to punt after 3 plays. Taking the ball at their own 13-yard line with 3:43 left in the second quarter Hostetler led the Giants 87 yards, scoring on a 14-yard touchdown pass with just 25 seconds left in the half to cut New York's deficit to 12-10. The Giants opened the third quarter and resumed their original game strategy by driving 75 yards in 14 plays to score on Ottis Anderson's one-yard touchdown run to make the score 17-12. The drive consumed a then Super Bowl record nine minutes and 29 seconds, and included four successful third down conversions including a highlight reel play from Mark Ingram who broke five Buffalo tackles to keep the drive alive. After forcing Buffalo to punt on its ensuing possession, New York drove to the Bills' 35-yard line. But on fourth and two, Smith tackled Anderson for a 2-yard loss. Buffalo then took over and stormed down the field, advancing 63 yards in just four plays and scoring on a 31-yard burst from Thurman Thomas on the first play of the fourth quarter, regaining the lead at 19-17. However, before the Bills' defenders had a chance to catch their breath, they found themselves back on the field trying to contain another long Giants drive. This one went for 14 plays and 74 yards, half of which came off passes from Hostetler to tight end Mark Bavaro, and took another 7:32 off the clock. The Bills managed to halt the drive at their own 3-yard line when linebacker Cornelius Bennett broke up Hostetler's third down pass, but Matt Bahr's second field goal gave New York a 20-19 lead. On the Bills' ensuing possession, they could only advance to their own 41-yard line before having to punt, enabling the Giants to take more time off the clock. The Bills finally forced New York to punt and took the ball at their own 10-yard line with 2:16 remaining. Kelly then led them down the field with a mix of scrambles, short passes, and Thomas runs. Buffalo drove to the Giants' 29-yard line, setting up Norwood for a 47-yard field goal attempt with eight seconds left. However, his kick sailed wide right, less than a yard outside of the goalpost upright, and Buffalo failed to win the Super Bowl on the last play of the game. There were many impressive performances in the game by players from both teams. Jim Kelly completed 18 of 30 passes for 212 yards with no interceptions, while adding another 23 yards on six rushing attempts. Jeff Hostetler completed 20 of 32 passes for 222 yards and a touchdown, and rushed for 10 yards. Dave Meggett recorded 129 combined net yards (48 rushing, 18 receiving, 37 punt return, 26 kickoff return). But the best performances came from both teams' starting running backs. Ottis Anderson rushed for 102 yards, caught a pass for seven yards, and scored a touchdown. Thurman Thomas scored a touchdown, rushed for 135 yards, and caught five passes for 55 yards, giving him 190 total yards from the line of scrimmage. Thomas' 135 yards are the most yards rushing for a member of a losing team. This was also only the second Super Bowl to have two 100-yard rushers. Upon returning to Buffalo, the Bills were met by 20 thousand fans. When the team stepped out of City Hall the crowd chanted "We want Scott!" and Norwood was applauded.
On the season the Bills offense was nearly unstoppable with the ball in their hands. They led the league in points scored and were in the top ten in yards (6), passing yards (10), passing TDs (3), INTs (4), rushing yards (7), rushing TDs (2), and turnovers (3). The defense was also outstanding ranking sixth in points allowed, eighth in yards allowed, and seventh against the pass while snagging 35 turnovers. With a potent offense and the second-leading sack artist in the league on your team you expect some honors. Defensive end Bruce Smith was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year for registering a team-record 19 sacks and notching 101 tackles. Jim Kelly led the league with a 101.2 passer rating and Thurman Thomas lost the rushing title to Barry Sanders by only seven yards. (In fairness to Thurman, the last game of the year was meaningless for the Bills.) For the second year in a row Thurman led the league in yards from scrimmage. Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed, left tackle Will Wolford, center Kent Hull, Bruce Smith, linebackers Cornelius Bennett, Shane Conlan, and Darryl Talley, and special teams demon Steve Tasker were selected to the Pro Bowl. Thurman, Hull, and Bruce were named All-Pros and Reed and Conlan were named to the second team.