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1992 - Third Time's a Charm, Right?

1992 - Third Time's a Charm, right?
11-5 record, first (tie) of five in AFC East, first (tie) of 14 in AFC, fourth (tie) of 28 in NFL
The top-ranked Bills offense earned offensive coordinator Ted Marchibroda a new job as head coach of the Indianapolis Colts. Tom Bresnahan was promoted from line coach to fill the vacancy. Based in large part on several missed field goals and extra points by Scott Norwood the Bills signed Plan B Free Agent kicker Steve Christie from Tampa Bay and released Norwood, the team's all-time leading scorer, during the preseason. The Bills drafted offensive tackle John Fina in the first round of the draft and safety Kurt Schultz in the seventh. Prior to the season the Bills traded Leon Seals meaning 1991 second-round pick Phil Hansen would start opposite Bruce Smith at defensive end. Linebacker Ray Bentley also departed the team via Plan B Free Agency.

In the first game of the season Buffalo welcomed coach Chuck Knox back to Buffalo as coach of the Rams. The Bills handed their former coach the worst loss of his career, 40-7. In the game James Lofton passed Steve Largent to become the all-time NFL leader with over 13,089 receiving yards. The next week was also a special game. Pete Metzelaars had the game of his life catching four passes for 113 yards and two TDs including a 53-yard catch and run. Jim Kelly and Steve Young combined for over 850 yards passing as Buffalo beat San Francisco 34-31 in the only NFL game to have no punts attempted by either team. The Bills went 4-0 to start the year following up those two wins with two blowouts of division foes Indianapolis and New England. In week 5 the Bills amassed 400 yards of offense but turned the ball over five times in a loss to Miami in Buffalo and fell to the Raiders in week 6 heading into the bye week. The week off could not come at a better time and Buffalo stormed out of the bye winning five straight to get to 9-2. In that fifth game Jim Richter became the all-time leader in games played for the Bills with 198 and Kenneth Davis rushed for a career-best 181 yards in relief of Thurman Thomas in a 41-14 demolition of the Falcons. The Bills then lost two close games to the Colts and Jets before beating the Denver Broncos to earn Marv Levy his 71st win as Bills coach and place him atop the list as the franchise's all-time winningest coach. With another win the Bills sat at 11-4 heading into the final game of the year. A week 11 victory over the Dolphins had evened the season series at one game apiece and the Bills were leading the Dolphins by a game. A win or a Miami loss and Buffalo clinches their fifth straight division crown. A Bills loss and a Dolphins win would give the Dolphins a better conference record and the division crown on a tiebreaker. The Bills went to Houston on a Sunday night to face the 9-6 Oilers led by Warren Moon and clawing to get into the final playoff spot. The team already knew Miami had won so if they wanted the division they were going to have to win it. Trailing Houston 10-3 in the second quarter Jim Kelly was knocked out of the game with a knee injury. The run-and-shoot offense employed by the Oilers was too much for a depleted Bills defense and Houston ran away with an easy 27-3 win forcing a rematch the following week in Buffalo. Buffalo made the playoffs as the top wild card team but lost the division for the first time since the strike-shortened 1987 season.

The knee injury suffered by Jim Kelly would not heal in a week and Frank Reich would get the start at quarterback. Because of the loss the previous week to the Oilers and the lack of their franchise QB at the helm and defensive stalwart Cornelius Bennett also out of the lineup, Bills fans didn't sell out the playoff game and the game was blacked out on local television. As they had the previous week Warren Moon did pretty much what he wanted to in the first half against the Bills over matched defense throwing four touchdown passes for a 28-3 halftime lead, almost the exact score the Oilers had beat the Bills by the week earlier. Fans began leaving the stadium at halftime and on the television broadcast the studio analysts were writing the Bills' end. One person who didn't yet was Boomer Esiason who was a teammate of Reich at Maryland where Reich led a 31-point comeback to overcome the largest deficit in division 1 NCAA football history. Even Marv Levy was skeptical saying, "I thought I had a better shot at winning the lottery [than coming back]." A quick Houston interception return for a score in the third quarter made the game 35-3 and even more fans began departing. The Houston radio announcer made the bold proclamation, "The lights are on here at Rich Stadium, but you might as well turn them off...this one is over." After that Frank Reich and the Bills defense orchestrated the most improbable comeback in NFL history. (I don't want to sound cliche here but this is by far my favorite Bills game ever.) On the ensuing drive the Bills worked the ball down the field culminating the drive with a Kenneth Davis touchdown run. Davis was in the game because a hip pointer had forced Thurman Thomas to sit out. The next play was called "Suicide Onside". Mark Pike was lined up next to Steve Christie. It was his job to demolish the guy that came closest to the onside kick. Christie kicked a beautiful ten yard dribbling kick that nobody on the opposing sideline was expecting, Pike annihilated linebacker Rick Graf, and Christie recovered his own onside kick to give the Bills the ball at midfield. A few plays later Reich threw a bomb to Don Beebe who took it into the end zone to give the Bills two touchdowns in 56 seconds. The 12th man, who had been inducted into the Bills Wall of Fame earlier in the year, began cheering again. People started to come back in from the parking lots and attempt to return to their seats. After a near miss on a bloop kick where Buffalo almost recovered again, the Oilers took the ball almost an hour after they had last run an offensive play. After an Oiler punt the Bills raced down the field again on the strength of some Davis runs and Reich passes and capped the drive with a 26-yard touchdown pass to Andre Reed on a throw that took all day to get to the wide open Reed yet no Houston defender could even put a hand on him. The Bills had cut the lead to 35-24. On the next drive the crowd noise cause all kinds of confusion in to the spread offense and Moon threw an interception on the first play on the drive. But the Bills were stopped for only five yards and sat at the Oiler 18 yard line. With all his moxie Levy ordered the team to go for it on fourth down. Andre Reed's slant pattern over the middle led to a touchdown on the play as Buffalo scored 28 points in the third to cut the lead to 35-31 with 17 minutes left. Fans began storming the gates trying to get back in and security finally relented allowing ticketholders to return to their seats as the Oilers began to lose their composure. As the fourth quarter dawned the Bills now had to go into the Rich Stadium wind if they wanted to win the game. With the win Houston began to move the ball again and moved into position for a field goal. Following two 25-yard punts, Greg Montgomery wrapped up the worst day of his life by muffing the snap on the attempt. Darryl Talley's return for a touchdown was called back but the Oilers had still blown a chance. A 35-yard run by Kenneth Davis on a 3rd and 4 draw play cut the distance to the end zone in half for the offense before Andre Reed caught his third TD of the game (matching his season output) and with 3:08 remaining the Bills were up 38-35. The Oilers passing game resurfaced and moved the ball down the field completing passes when they mattered most including a fourth down conversion. Once inside the 20 Kevin Gilbride got conservative playing not to lose the field goal chance despite the muffed hold on the previous try. With fifteen second left, though, the Oilers kicked the tying field goal to send the game to overtime. The Oilers won the toss and took the ball but Buffalo had the wind at their backs. Only one touchdown was scored into the wind all game. On third down a Moon pass sailed over his receiver into the waiting clutches of Nate Odoms. A facemask gave the Bills the ball at the Houston 20. Following a pair of runs Reich knelt to the ground seven yards behind the snapper to take his last snap of the game and Christie booted through the game-winning field goal to cap the greatest comeback in NFL history.

The Bills were not finished. Reich and company now went to face Pittsburgh in the divisional round. The defense accumulated seven sacks and three turnovers in a convincing 24-3 victory. The same unit that got torched by Moon in the first half of the Wild Card game held the Central division winners to an opening-drive field goal. The AFC Championship went through Miami, though. Jim Kelly returned to the field to lead Buffalo to a 13-3 halftime lead and Mark Pike ripped the second half kickoff return from Mike Williams' hand to allow Buffalo the first chance of the second half. Davis came through again with a short run to put the Bills up 20-3 before Steve Christie's three additional field goals iced the game for Buffalo. The Bills' running game racked up 182 yards against the Dolphins' defense, with Thurman Thomas and Kenneth Davis teaming up for 157 rushing yards and 122 receiving yards, over 75 percent of Buffalo's total yardage. The Bills were headed to their third straight Super Bowl!

After an early blocked punt by Steve Tasker, Buffalo jumped out to an early 7-0 lead over the NFC Champion Dallas Cowboys. Then the Bills imploded. On the Bills next possession Jim Kelly threw an ill-advised interception and Troy Aikman moved Dallas down the field before throwing a strike to tight end Jay Novacek to even the score. On the next play Jim Kelly was sacked, causing a fumble that Dallas picked up and returned for a touchdown. Only fifteen seconds separated the touchdowns, the shortest amount of time in Super Bowl history for one team to score twice. Buffalo managed to march down the field but Dallas held strong on three plays to keep Buffalo out of the end zone. On fourth and goal Jim Kelly took a rollout to his right looking for Thurman Thomas who was covered. He attempted to force a pass to Metzelaars and was picked off. On the next offensive possession Kelly was knocked from the game with a knee injury and Reich came in relief. After driving the length of the field the Bills settled for a field goal to close the score to 14-10. Then the wheels came off. Troy Aikman threw two touchdown passes to Michael Irvin separated by 18 seconds and a Thurman Thomas fumble to run the lead to 28-10. A Reich to Beebe touchdown cut the lead to 31-17 but another Aikman touchdown pass followed by a Reich interception put the Cowboys on the Bills' 8 with a 38-17 lead. Emmitt Smith went the rest of the way pushing the lead to 45-17. In attempting to orchestrate another comeback Reich dropped a shotgun snap that was picked up by Ken Norton and returned for a touchdown to make the lead 52-17. Later, Reich would be sacked again and fumble. Leon Lett recovered the ball and began running towards the end zone. He started to celebrate a little too early and as Lett held out the ball after lumbering 64 yards, Don Beebe caught up to him and knocked it into the end zone. It rolled out of bounds for a touchback. Moral victories were all the Bills had at that point. Other than that play, the Bills had been humiliated and lost their third straight Super Bowl by the score of 52-17.

The Bills finished the regular season as the third-highest scoring and second-leading offense in the league. Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, tackle Howard Ballard, Andre Reed, and tackle Will Wolford were named to the Pro Bowl squad from the offense. The Bills rushing attack once again led the league and Thurman Thomas led the league for a record fourth-straight year in yards from scrimmage. Jim Kelly was third in passing yards and touchdown passes and ranked in the top five in every other major quarterback statistical category except passer rating where he placed tenth based on his league-leading 19 interceptions. On the defensive side of the ball Bruce Smith, cornerback Nate Odomes, safety Henry Jones, and linebacker Cornelius Bennett were both named to the Pro Bowl and were joined by special teamer Steve Tasker. The defense dropped to 12 in the league rankings but made up for it with some big plays. They were stout against the run, placing sixth, but gave up the eighth-most passing yards in the league. Henry Jones led the league with 8 interceptions and Mark Kelso added seven to balance the many yards allowed. Jones and Tasker were named to the All-Pro team and Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, and Bruce Smith were named to the second team.