1993 - Last Gasp
12-4 record, first of five in AFC East, first (tied) of 14 in AFC, first (tied) of 28 in NFL
As happens with highly successful teams the Bills continued losing key members of their front office and coaching staff. This was not normal, however, as a power struggle at the top resulted in Bill Polian being released from his contract as General Manager of the Bills. Director of Pro Personnel John Butler was promoted to the post and as a result assistant general manager Bob Ferguson left to join the Denver Broncos front office. A new position was also created and Jerry Butler was named director of player and alumni relations. The loss of Polian coincided with a huge change in the way contracts in the NFL were handled. Plan B Free Agency was the only way a player could leave a team since 1987. Similar to today's Restricted Free Agents, Plan B Free Agents could sign with anyone but their team had the chance to match any offer. In essence you could keep a player as long as you wanted as long as you were willing to match offers. In 1993 the new Collective Bargaining Agreement allowed Unrestricted Free Agency for the very first time and Buffalo suffered considerably from the change in the rule. Restricted Free Agent Will Wolford left to join the Colts in a loophole riddled contract. Former first-round pick and Pro Bowl linebacker Shane Conlan joined the Rams linebacker corps. Guard Mitch Frerotte, linebacker Carlton Bailey, and DB Clifford Hicks also left via free agency. The team also chose not to re-sign wideout James Lofton. The Bills did bring in defensive lineman Oliver Barnett and wide receiver Bill Brooks to counteract the losses. In the draft Buffalo selected cornerback Thomas Smith and defensive tackle John Parrella in the first two rounds. Guard Corbin Lacina joined the team in round six. As part of the preseason American Bowl series, Buffalo played the Vikings in Berlin, Germany.
The Bills jumped out to another fast start going 7-1 in their first eight games. The second of those victories was a 13-10 victory over the Cowboys without holdout Emmitt Smith in Dallas. The lone blemish was a loss to the Dolphins in the third week of the season. It was the second time in as many years that Miami beat Buffalo at home. In mid-November the Bills went into Pittsburgh for a Monday Night game against the Steelers. Jim Kelly and Andre Reed were knocked out of the game and the offense was held to 157 total yards in the Bills first shutout loss since 1985 - a span of 133 games. Two weeks later after a nice win over Indianapolis the Bills met the Chiefs helmed by Joe Montana and featuring Marcus Allen. Kansas City kept Buffalo's offensive woes going in a 23-7 Bills loss. The next week the Raiders came to town quarterbacked by the hated Jeff Hostetler, winning quarterback in Super Bowl XXV. Tim Brown scored on a fourth-quarter reverse and the Raiders beat the Bills 25-24 (in a game a ten-year-old Matt Warren would witness in person) and knock Buffalo to 8-4, a game out of the division lead. The Bills won a close game in Philadelphia the next week 10-7 before going to Miami for a division showdown. Both teams had identical 9-4 records but Miami was without the injured Dan Marino. Buffalo's offense finally awoke and scored three touchdowns in the third quarter to put the Bills up 47-20. They would hold on for the 47-34 win and control of the division. For the fifth time in six seasons, the Bills clinched the AFC East crown the very next week in a win over the Jets in the coldest game in Bills' history. The game did not sell out but you could understand when the temperature was nine degrees and the wind chill was 28-below. With a win in the final week Buffalo would secure homefield advantage through the playoffs for the third time in four years. They scored 27 unanswered points in the second through fourth quarters and beat the Colts to clinch the number one seed.
In the divisional round the Bills faced the Raiders. Tight end Pete Metzelaars and back Thurman Thomas both left the game with injuries in the second half and Buffalo trailed 23-22. With just over two minutes left in the fourth quarter Jim Kelly hooked up with Bill Brooks for the winning touchdown. The defense won the day holding L.A. to just one first down in the second half. The AFC Championship game welcomed Joe Montana and the Chiefs to Buffalo. Earlier in the year the Bills lost in Kansas City and Montana was looking to return to his favorite stage on Super Bowl Sunday. Thurman Thomas came to play, fully recovered from the previous week's concussion, and gained 186 yards on 33 carries and scored three touchdowns. All together the Bills' runners cranked out 229 yards rushing the ball and the defense hounded Montana and back-up Dave Krieg. The Bills were on to their record-breaking fourth straight Super Bowl against the heavily favored Cowboys.
The Bills held a 13-6 lead at halftime on the legs of Thurman Thomas and Steve Christie, whose 54-yard kick is the longest in Super Bowl history. Less than a minute into the second half, Thurman would fumble and Dallas recovered taking it in for a score and a tie ballgame. Then MVP Emmitt Smith carried seven times for 61 yards on the next Cowboys drive finishing with a 15-yard touchdown. Smith would add a touchdown run on fourth and goal and the Cowboys beat the Bills 30-13. Jim Kelly completed a Super Bowl record 31 passes in 50 attempts for 260 yards in the loss.
Several key announcements and honors were made during the season. The Bills would renovate a portion of Rich Stadium including adding a new scoreboard, constructing 14 luxury suites, and building a brand new practice facility. Elbert "Golden Wheels" Dubenion joined the Bills Wall of Fame and the 20th anniversary of OJ Simpson's 2000 yard season was celebrated by holding a ceremony for the Electric Company. Thurman Thomas finished second to Emmitt Smith in total yards from scrimmage, the first time in five year he was not the league-leader. He had the third-most rushing yars in the league. Pete Metzelaars led the team in receiving with 68 catches, the only Bills tight end to accomplish the feat and first to catch more than 50 passes in one year. It was the first time in nine year Andre Reed did not lead the team. Jim Kelly was in the top ten in several major categories including completions (fifth), yards (fifth), and touchdowns (sixth). Thurman Thomas was third in rushing and Nate Odomes led the league in interceptions. Bruce Smith was second in the league with 14 sacks. Despite those two contributing big numbers, Buffalo's defense fell to 27th in the league in yards allowed. That is misleading, however, as Buffalo's defense saw the most plays in the league. They were 16th in yards given up per play, a better indicator of the effectiveness. Ultimately scoring is more important and they ranked fifth in scoring defense. Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed, tackle Howard "House" Ballard, Bruce Smith, Cornelius Bennett, Nate Odomes, and Steve Tasker were all named to the Pro Bowl. Bruce Smith was named to the All-Pro team for the fourth time and was joined by Steve Tasker. Thurman and Nate Odomes were named to the second team.