|Date||January 3, 1993|
|Location||Buffalo, New York|
|Announcers||Charlie Jones and Todd Christensen|
The Comeback was a NFL playoff game between the Buffalo Bills and the Houston Oilers played January 3, 1993. It featured the Bills recovering from a 32-point deficit to win in overtime, and it remains the largest comeback in NFL history. (The largest comeback in a regular season game is the San Francisco 49ers comeback from a 35-7 deficit in the second quarter against the New Orleans Saints on December 7, 1980.)
It was played in Rich Stadium, and was televised by NBC, with Charlie Jones and Todd Christensen calling the action. The game was not seen on television in Western New York because of league blackout rules (an unusual situation for playoff games); the stadium was not sold out of tickets.
Both teams qualified for the playoffs as wild card teams.
The Buffalo Bills, the American Football Conference (AFC) champions for the previous two seasons, recorded an 11–5 record during the 1992 regular season and finished in second place in the AFC Eastern Division. Buffalo's no-huddle offense led the league in rushing yards (2,436) and ranked second in the league in total offensive yards (6,114 yards).
Meanwhile, the Houston Oilers finished in second place in the AFC Central Division with a 10-6 record. Houston's Run & Shoot offense led the league in passing (4,231 yards) and its defense ranked third in the league, allowing only 4,532 total yards. Overall, the team boasted nine pro bowl selections, including their quarterback Warren Moon (despite missing six games with injuries) and three wide receivers, Curtis Duncan, Haywood Jeffires, and Ernest Givins. The Oilers also had a powerful running attack with Lorenzo White, who rushed for 1,226 yards and caught 57 passes.
The Bills and Oilers had faced each other for the final game of the regular season, with Houston defeating Buffalo, 27–3 in Houston. During that game, Bills starting quarterback Jim Kelly suffered strained ligaments in his knee, leaving backup quarterback Frank Reich to finish the game in his place. With Kelly out, Reich took the reins starting in place of Kelly the following week in the wild card game. Buffalo hosted. Reich also started the following divisional playoff game in Pittsburgh in which Buffalo also won 24–3, then advancing to the AFC Championship game the following week versus the Miami Dolphins.
Reich and the biggest comeback in college football history
As the backup quarterback for the Maryland Terrapins, Reich replaced injured starter Stan Gelbaugh and led the Terrapins back from a first-half deficit of 31–0 to a 42–40 victory over the previously unbeaten Miami Hurricanes under Bernie Kosar. However, this was eventually overshadowed by the 2006 Michigan State-Northwestern game.
Houston dominated the game early, as quarterback Warren Moon completed 19 of 22 passes for 220 yards and 4 touchdowns in the first half, while the Oilers held the ball for 21:12, keeping the Bills' high-powered offense off the field for most of the first two quarters. On the opening drive of the first quarter, Moon completed 6 of 7 passes on an 80-yard scoring drive that took over 9 minutes off the clock and ended it with his first touchdown throw to wide receiver Haywood Jeffries for 3 yards to give the Oilers a 7–0 lead. Buffalo responded on their ensuing drive, as Kenneth Davis returned the kickoff 33 yards to the 44-yard line. Reich subsequently led the Bills to the Oilers 18-yard line where Steve Christie made a 36-yard field goal, to cut the score to 7-3. But Moon struck right back, leading the Oilers on a second quarter scoring drive that was nearly identical to their first one, completing 6 of 7 passes on another 80-yard drive and finishing it with a 7-yard touchdown pass to Webster Slaughter. Then after forcing the Bills to a three-and-out, Moon threw a 26-yard touchdown pass to Curtis Duncan. Later on, with 1:15 left in the half, the Oilers drove for another touchdown, aided by an encroachment call against the Bills on fourth down and 1. Moon completed the drive with his second touchdown pass to Jeffires, this one a 27-yarder, and the Oilers went into their locker room with a 28–3 halftime lead.
In the Bills' locker room, Defensive Coordinator Walt Corey angrily chided the defense. "I was hollering the same things the fans were hollering at me when we left the field," Corey says. "I can't repeat the words, but the more I talked, the louder I got. The thing that bothered me was their approach. To me, they looked timid. They looked like they were going to get in the right spots, but they weren't going to make anything happen afterward. This is an attitude game. Sometimes you start playing and you're afraid to make things happen or afraid to make a mistake." Nose Tackle Jeff Wright recalled "With every word that came out of Walt's mouth, he reached a new temperature level, until he finally just exploded. He had every right to say the things that he said. We were embarrassing him, we were embarrassing ourselves, we were embarrassing Buffalo Bills fans."
Meanwhile, head coach Marv Levy told his team, "You've got thirty more minutes. Maybe it's the last thirty minutes of your season. When your season's over, you're going to have to live with yourselves and look yourselves in the eyes. You'd damn well better have reason to feel good about yourselves, regardless of how this game turns out."
Apparently, the words of Corey and Levy didn't have any immediate effect. 1:41 into the third quarter, Reich threw a pass that bounced off the hands of tight end Keith McKeller and went into the arms of defensive back Bubba McDowell, who returned the interception 58 yards for a touchdown. Houston now had a commanding 32-point lead, 35-3; it was only the second time all season the Oilers had broken 30 points scored in a game. The Bills' misfortunes were compounded with the loss of Thurman Thomas, who had to leave the game due to a hip injury on the drive, forcing Buffalo to attempt a comeback with a second-string backfield of Reich and Davis.
A Houston radio announcer was immortalized on NFL Films with the statement "The lights are on here at Rich Stadium, they've been on since this morning, you could pretty much turn them out on the Bills right now."
The Bills got a huge assist to start their comeback on the ensuing kickoff. The wind shifted the ball just before it was kicked by Al Del Greco. As a result, it became an unintentional squib kick that the Bills recovered with great field position at midfield. Buffalo then drove 50 yards in 10 plays, including a pass to Pete Metzelaars that went right through the hands of linebacker Eddie Robinson, and scored with a 1-yard touchdown run by Davis, cutting the deficit to 35–10 when the extra point was added. On the drive, Reich completed a 24-yard pass to tight end Metzelaars and a 16-yard strike to Andre Reed, while Davis kept the drive going with a 5-yard run on fourth down and 2 before finishing it off with a touchdown run with 8:52 left in the 3rd quarter.
Christie then recovered his own onside kick and the Bills scored on the fourth play of their ensuing drive with Reich's 38-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Don Beebe (on a play in which one of Beebe's feet went partially out of bounds during the run before he made the catch—an illegal touching of the football; this was pointed out on ESPN's "NFL Primetime" postgame recap as well as by Todd Christensen on the NBC broadcast). Then, the extra point made the score 35-17 with 7:46 left in the third quarter.
Houston was then forced to punt for the first time in the game on their next drive, and Greg Montgomery's 25-yard kick gave Buffalo the ball at their own 41-yard line. Reich started out the ensuing drive with an 18-yard completion to James Lofton. Davis gained 20 yards on a screen pass and then Reich threw a 26-yard touchdown pass to Reed, trimming the lead (after making the extra point) to 35–24. In a span of 10 minutes in the third quarter, the Bills had run 18 plays, gained 176 yards, and scored 21 points, while holding the Oilers' offense to 3 plays for 3 yards.
The situation did not get any better for Houston. On the first play of the Oilers' ensuing possession, Moon's pass was tipped off the hands of Slaughter; Bills' safety Henry Jones intercepted the pass from Moon and returned it 15 yards to the Houston 23-yard line. Three plays later, Buffalo faced fourth down and five on the 18-yard line. Rather than attempt a field goal, Reich connected with Reed for the touchdown. With the score (including the extra point), the Bills had cut their deficit from 32 points to four in a span of just 6:52. On the Oilers' next drive, linebacker Darryl Talley forced a fumble from Moon while sacking him. Houston recovered the fumble, but they were forced to punt, and Montgomery's 24-yard kick gave Buffalo the ball at its 48-yard line. In the third quarter, Buffalo had outscored Houston 28–7 while holding Moon to 2 of 7 completions for 19 yards.
This time, the Bills could not take advantage of their excellent starting field position and had to punt. Moon's run and shoot offense began to move the ball effectively again, aided by a roughing the passer penalty on Bruce Smith that negated linebacker Carlton Bailey's interception. Despite two sacks by Wright on the drive, Houston reached the Buffalo 14-yard line. Al Del Greco attempted a field goal to increase the Oilers' lead, but Montgomery fumbled the snap. Talley recovered the ball and returned it 70 yards, but officials ruled him down by contact when he made the initial recovery, giving Buffalo the ball on their own 26-yard line. After two plays, the Bills faced third down and four. With Houston's defense dropping back and expecting a pass, Reich handed the ball off to Davis, who stormed through the line and took off for a 35-yard gain. Only a diving tackle from defensive back Steve Jackson prevented Davis from taking it all the way for a touchdown. Then Reich went back to passing the ball, completing a short pass to Reed at the Oilers' 17-yard line on third down and two for the first down. With just 3:08 left in the fourth quarter, Reich threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Reed, giving Buffalo its first lead of the game 38–35 (after the extra point); for the first time all season, the Houston defense (ninth in fewest points allowed that season) had allowed over 29 points. But Moon led Houston downfield on a 63-yard drive to score the tying 26-yard field goal from Del Greco to send the game into overtime. A key play on the drive was an 18-yard completion to Slaughter on fourth down and four from the Bills' 34-yard line.
Houston won the coin toss and got the ball at its 20-yard line. Moon started out the drive with two completions for 7 yards, but his 50th pass attempt of the day turned out to be his last. On third down and three, Moon threw a pass intended for Ernest Givens five yards downfield, but due to a struggle with Talley, Givens could not get his arms up to make the catch. The ball went over his head and right into the arms of defensive back Nate Odomes for an interception. After a 2-yard return, Jeffires committed a 15-yard facemask penalty while making the tackle, giving the Bills a first down on Houston's 20-yard line. After two runs by Davis, Christie kicked a 32-yard field goal to give Buffalo the win, 41–38. Buffalo won the following two AFC playoff games to advance to the 3rd of their four consecutive Super Bowl appearances.
Reich finished the game with 21 of 34 pass completions for 289 yards and 4 touchdowns, with 1 interception. Reed had 8 catches for 136 yards and 3 touchdowns. Davis rushed for 68 yards and a touchdown, while also catching 2 passes for 25 yards and returning a kickoff for 33. Moon recorded 36 of 50 completions for 371 yards and 4 touchdowns, with 2 interceptions. His 36 completions set a playoff record that would stand until broken by Drew Brees' 39 completions in 2010 (Brees' New Orleans Saints also lost that game). Givens caught 9 passes for 117 yards. Jeffires recorded 8 catches for 98 yards and 2 touchdowns.
The Bills advanced to the Super Bowl (their third of four consecutive appearances), where they lost to the Cowboys 52-17. Reich relieved an injured Jim Kelly in the second quarter, but could not lead a rally this time. NFL Films' documentary on this game claims that the Super Bowl was Reich's last playoff game. This is in fact not true. Reich appeared in another playoff game with the Lions in 1997 against the Buccaneers in relief of an injured Scott Mitchell.
Over a year later, the phrase 'Choke City' on the front page of the Houston Chronicle during the 1994 NBA Playoffs was attributed to this NFL playoff game where the Houston Rockets lost its first 2 semifinal games to the Phoenix Suns until they won 2 road games.
- HOU - TD Jeffires 3-yard pass from Moon (Del Greco kick) 7-0 HOU
- BUF - FG Christie 36 yards 7-3 HOU
- HOU - TD Slaughter 7-yard pass from Moon (Del Greco kick) 14-3 HOU
- HOU - TD Duncan 26-yard pass from Moon (Del Greco kick) 21-3 HOU
- HOU - TD Jeffires 27-yard pass from Moon (Del Greco kick) 28-3 HOU
- HOU - TD McDowell 58-yard interception return (Del Greco kick) 35-3 HOU
- BUF - TD K. Davis 1-yard run (Christie kick) 8:52 left in 3rd quarter 35-10 HOU
- BUF - TD Beebe 38-yard pass from Reich (Christie kick) 35-17 HOU
- BUF - TD Reed 26-yard pass from Reich (Christie kick) 35-24 HOU
- BUF - TD Reed 18-yard pass from Reich (Christie kick) 35-31 HOU
- BUF - TD Reed 17-yard pass from Reich (Christie kick) 38-35 BUF
- HOU - FG Del Greco 26 yards 38-38 tie
- BUF - FG Christie 32 yards 41-38 BUF
- "Greatest Games: 1993 AFC Wild Card Game Bills 41, Oilers 38 (OT)". Billszone.com. http://www.billszone.com/mtlog/archives/2003/10/03/greatest_games_1993_afc_wild_card_gamebills_41_oilers_38_ot.php.
- "PRO FOOTBALL; Oilers Dismiss 2 Defensive Aides". New York Times. 1993-01-05. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9F0CE0DE1E3FF936A35752C0A965958260.
- Bills greatest games
- Total Football: The Official Encyclopedia of the National Football League. HarperCollins. ISBN 0-06-270174-6.
- "The Comeback vs. Houston". Buffalo Bills. Archived from the original on 2006-03-21. http://web.archive.org/web/20060321141302/http://www.buffalobills.com/history/TheComeback.jsp. Retrieved 2006-04-19.
- "NFL's Greatest Comeback". Pro Football Hall of Fame. http://www.profootballhof.com/history/decades/1990s/greatest_comeback.jsp. Retrieved 2006-04-19.
- "Buffalo's wild comeback in '92 the obvious choice". ESPN.com. 1999. http://static.espn.go.com/nfl/playoffs98/news/1999/981230/01019467.html. Retrieved 2009-03-12.