1991 - Return to the Big Game

1991 - Return to the Big Game
13-3 record, first of five in AFC East, first of 14 in AFC, second of 28 in NFL
Following the disappointing Super Bowl loss the Bills got right back to work.  They selected defensive back Henry Jones in the first round and defensive end Phil Hansen in the second.  The Bills also lost two running backs from the team as Don Smith went to the Dolphins as a Plan B Free Agent and Robb Riddick announced his retirement after being unable to come back from his serious knee injury from 1989.  Prior to the 1991 season the Bills took their show on the road and played the Philadelphia Eagles in Wembley Stadium as part of the American Bowl series of preseason games.

Just as the Dolphins game had been in January, the Bills' season opener vs. the Dolphins was an exciting and high-flying affair.  The Bills set a team record going for 503 yards of total offense and Jim Kelly set a career-high with 381 passing yards as Buffalo beat Miami 35-31 for their ninth win in ten meetings over the division foe.  A week later the Bills hung 52 points on the Steelers with Jim Kelly setting a team record passing for six touchdowns, including four to Don Beebe, and 31 completions.  The Bills would continue their winning ways getting to 5-0 before posting the worst offensive performance of the year (211 yards and 11 first downs)  in a loss to the Chiefs, 33-6.  The Bills ran off five more wins including a Monday Night game against the Bengals where Jim Kelly was picked off on the first three possesstions before storming back with five touchdown passes and winning 35-16.  After beating Miami again the Bills sat at 10-1 and had a four game lead over the division with five games to play.  A loss to New England prolonged the celebration until December when Buffalo beat the New York Jets clinching their fourth straight division crown.  The Bills were still fighting for home field advantage but Scott Norwood didn't get the memo.  The next week in L.A. he missed three field goals and an extra point but came back to kick the game-winning field goal in overtime to cap a Bills rally and beat the Raiders 30-27 in overtime.  QB Jim Kelly passed for 347 yards in front of the largest crowd ever to see the Raiders at the L.A. Coliseum, 85,081.  At 13-2 heading into the final game and two games up on the Denver Broncos the Bills starters saw limited action in the season finale and Buffalo lost to Detroit 17-14 in overtime.  The loss is significant because it ended Buffalo's home winning streak at 17 games - more than two seasons' worth of games in the snowy confines of Orchard Park.

The Bills were the number one seed and earned a bye into the divisional round where they faced the same Chiefs that had shut down the offense earlier in the year.  This time the Bills would rack up 448 yards of offense and the defense held the Chiefs to just 213 in a big Bills win.  The Bills crushed the Chiefs by jumping to a 17-0 lead by halftime and a 24-0 lead in the third quarter. Jim Kelly threw three touchdown passes: a 25-yarder to  Andre Reed, a 53-yard one to Reed, and a 10-yarder to James Lofton. Scott Norwood added 3 field goals and Kenneth Davis scored a touchdown on a 5-yard run.  Reed finished with 4 receptions for 100 yards and 2 touchdowns and running back Thurman Thomas recorded 100 rushing yards for his fourth straight postseason game, the second longest streak in NFL history. Meanwhile, Chiefs starting quarterback Steve DeBerg was knocked out of the game in the second quarter and backup quarterback Mark Vlasic threw 4 interceptions.

The next Bills opponent was another AFC West foe - the Denver Broncos.  The Broncos were the number two seed on the arm of John Elway and the strength of a top five defense.  The Broncos advanced the ball into Buffalo territory on all five first-half possessions but three missed field goals kept the first half scoreless.  Late in the third quarter, the Broncos faced second down and 10 at their own 19-yard line. Quarterback John Elway threw a shovel pass intended for running back Steve Sewell, but it was tipped by Bills defensive lineman Jeff Wright into the arms of linebacker Carlton Bailey, who returned the ball 11 yards for Buffalo's only touchdown of the game. Elway was then knocked out of the game after suffering a deep thigh bruise, and was replaced by backup Gary Kubiak. With 4:18 left in the game, Buffalo kicker Scott Norwood made a 44-yard field goal to increase the lead, 10-0. Kubiak led the Broncos 85 yards in eight plays and scored a 3-yard touchdown run with 1:43 left. Denver then recovered the ensuing onside kick, but the Bills clinched the victory after defensive back Kirby Jackson forced and recovered a fumble from running back Steve Sewell.  For the second time in two years the Bills were going to the Super Bowl!

Unlike the previous year the Bills were not favored in this Super Bowl.  The oddsmakers had the Redskins favored to win by a touchdown on the strength of their number one scoring offense and number two scoring defense.  The Redskins were quite literally excellent on both sides of the ball.  Despite being return participants the Bills were sloppy from the start. First, the opening kickoff had to be redone because Bills kicker Brad Daluiso kicked the ball before the referee signaled to begin play. Then after Washington was forced to punt, Thurman Thomas missed the first two plays of Buffalo's first drive because he misplaced his helmet.  Later in the first quarter, Washington drove 89 yards and appeared to score a touchdown on a third down pass from Mark Rypien to wide receiver Art Monk but it was overturned on instant replay.  The Redskins tried to salvage the drive with a field goal attempt, but their holder fumbled the snap. On Buffalo's first play after the botched field goal attempt, Jim Kelly gave Washington another chance to score by throwing an interception that was returned to the Bills 12-yard line. But Rypien propmptly gave it back with an interception to Bills defensive back Kirby Jackson on the third play of the Redskins' ensuing drive.  In the second quarter the Redskins took a 3-0 lead in the second quarter and forced the Bills to a three-and-out.  Punter Chris Mohr booted a 23-yard punt to set up a short field and Washington would take advatage.  A Rypien touchdown pass followed by another Kelly interception was followed by another touchdown by the Redskins and a 17-0 halftime lead.  Just 16 seconds into the second half Jim Kelly was intercepted again and the return set the Redskins up at the Bills' 2 yard line.  One play later the Redskins were up 24-0 before Buffalo finally got some offense going.  They drove 77 yards but settled for a field goal then finally punched it into the end zone on their next drive to cut the lead to 24-10.  But Buffalo's hopes of a comeback faded when Washington advanced 79 yards in 11 plays on their ensuing drive, scoring a 30-yard touchdown to give the Redskins a 31-10 lead with 1:24 left in the third period. Then 3 plays after receiving the ensuing kickoff, Kelly fumbled the ball while being sacked and the Redskins recovered. After the turnover, Washington drove to the Bills 7-yard line and increased their lead to 34-10 with a 25-yard field goal on the second play of the fourth quarter.  On the ensuing drive Kelly was sacked, threw an incompletion, then threw an interception which was turned into another field goal and a 37-10 Bills deficit.  A Kelly to Metzelaars touchdown pass cut the lead to 37-17 and Buffalo recovered the onside kick.  They drove for another score to cut the lead to 37-24 but the next onside kick was unsuccessful and the Redskins ran out the clock to almost nothing.  The Bills offense was grounded for the majority of the day by the attacking defense of the Redskins who patterened their game on the successful Broncos attack from the AFC CHampionship game. Kellycompleted 28 of a Super Bowl-record 58 passes for 275 yards and two touchdowns, but was sacked 4 times, intercepted four times, and lost a fumble. Thomas ran for only 13 yards on 10 carries and was limited to 27 yards on four receptions.

The K-Gun offense once again dominated the league by gaining an NFL leading 6,525 yards and scoring 458 points, second only to Washington. Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas both had the best seasons of their careers. Kelly completed 64.1 percent of his passes for 3,844 yards (then the most in team history) and a league leading 33 touchdowns (still the most in team history), with only 17 interceptions, to give him a 97.6 passer rating. Thomas rushed for 1,407 yards, caught 62 passes for 620 yards, and scored 12 touchdowns to earn him both the NFL Offensive Player of the Year Award and the NFL Most Valuable Player Award.  His 2038 yards from scrimmage led the NFL and was his first time breaking the 2000 yard mark. Buffalo had more than one threat in their backfield when running back Kenneth Davis emerged rushing for 624 yards, catching 20 passes for 118 yards, and scoring 5 touchdowns. Behind the offensive line led by Kent Hull, the two running backs led the league in yards per attempt - Thurman with 4.9 and Davis with 4.8 yards per carry - and led the league in rushing yards.  Andre Reed led the team with 81 receptions for 1,113 yards and 10 touchdowns, and also rushed 12 times for 136 yards. On the other side of the field, veteran wide receiver James Lofton recorded 57 receptions for 1,072 yards and 8 touchdowns.  Until Jerry Rice broke the record Lofton was the oldest thousand-yard receiver ever at 35.  It was the first time in team history that two receivers went over one thousand yards.  Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, James Lofton and Andre Reed, guard Jim Richter, Cornelius Bennett, Darryl Talley, and Steve Tasker were all named to the AFC squad at the Pro Bowl.  For the only time in his career Jim Kelly was named to the All-Pro team where he was joined by second-time selections Thurman Thomas and Kent Hull.  Jim Richter was named to the second team. For assembling this great team Bill Polian was named NFL Executive of the Year for the second time. 
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