The 1980 Buffalo Bills won the team's first playoff game as a member of the NFL. The 1981 team was not faring very well, however, and after back-to-back losses sat at 6-5 with the 2-9 New England Patriots coming to town. In a dog fight for the AFC East crown with the New York Jets and the Miami Dolphins - and with slim hope of a wild card berth with a loss - the Bills could ill-afford a letdown in a game against the bottom-dwelling Pats.
The Bills scored first and took a 13-10 lead into the fourth quarter, but just couldn't put the Patriots away. Buffalo led deep into the fourth quarter until New England's Matt Cavanaugh hit Stanley Morgan for a 65-yard completion to Buffalo's five-yard line. Just after the two-minute warning, Cavanaugh found tight end Don Hasselback to give the Patriots a 17-13 lead. On the Bills' next possession, Joe Feguson threw a pick, and fans started streaming for the exits.
After using all three timeouts on defense, the Bills got one more chance at their own 27 with 35 seconds remaining and no way to stop the clock. With starting running back Joe Cribbs knocked out earlier in the game, Buffalo's backup running backs had to step up.
With his receivers blanketed, Ferguson found backup running back Roland Hooks down the middle of the field for a brilliant 37-yard catch. Ferguson managed to clock the ball with 12 seconds left at New England's 36. With time for one or two shots at the end zone, Buffalo called the Hail Mary.
There's only one reason we don't talk about that circus catch from Hooks to get the ball to the 36, and it's what happened next. Hooks, Jerry Butler, and Frank Lewis lined up to the right and ran towards the end zone, where they found six Patriots. Ferguson's heave was deflected by linebacker Mike Hawkins, but Hooks was the miracle man on the final drive and caught the batted ball for his second touchdown of the day.
Check out this NFL.com video of the play which they posted just a few days ago.
Hooks went on to finish the season strong in replacement of the injured Cribbs. The Bills followed suit, winning four straight to take their record to 10-5. Despite losing in Week 17 in a game to decide the AFC East crown, Buffalo was assured a playoff spot thanks to their Week 8 win over the Denver Broncos, who would also finish 10-6.
Without Hooks' miraculous final drive, the 1981 Buffalo Bills would never have been able to win the team's first NFL playoff game. It's one of the great finishes in team history and tuned out to be a must-win.