With the Super Bowl looming, it is hard to believe that the Buffalo Bills were once participating in this event. I can't even remember what it was like for the Bills to make the playoffs, let alone be playing in the Super Bowl for four consecutive years. This time of the year makes me reflect on those four games and what happened during them that caused the Bills to come out on the losing end in all four appearances.
Super Bowl XXV
The Bills were favored by 7 going into this game. They ranked first in offense and 6th in defense and had a league best point differential. The New York Giants on the other hand were without their starting quarterback Phil Simms. They did have the league's best defense but their offense was middle of the pack, ranked 15th in the league. The Bills went into the Meadowlands during the season and beat the Giants. They were coming off two easy playoff wins including a 51-3 destruction of the Oakland Raiders. Who really thought the Giants had a chance to win this game? They couldn't even find the end zone in their NFC championship game, there was no way their offense with their backup quarterback could keep up with the Bills.
The problem, besides the rumor that Buffalo's players were partiers and were out for all hours of the night before the game, was that there was a huge coaching mis match. The Giants head coach was Super Bowl Champion Bill Parcells, and even worse, their defensive coordinator was then little known Bill Belichick. Somehow they put together a game plan to hold the Bills offense under 20 points, a feat that was accomplished only 4 times out of 18 games, one of which in a meaningless week 17 game that Gale Gilbert played in. The Giants struck first with a Matt Barr field goal which was matched by Scott Norwood later in the first quarter. The middle two quarters were perhaps the most decisive. The Bills took the lead in the second quarter with their first touchdown from kick returner and 3rd string running back Don Smith on a running play near the goal line. Then, somehow the Bills managed to turn a safety into one of the two plays that cost them the game. After tripping over a lineman, Jeff Hostetler held the ball away from his body with one hand. Bruce Smith grabbed his arm but did not strip the ball en route to the tackle. This could have been a sure touchdown but instead was just a safety and a 12-3 lead. The Bills relinquished all the momentum after Hostetler hit Baker for a 17 yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to 12-10.
The third quarter is where the Giants put their stamp on this game. Ottis Anderson and the Giants' offense embarked on an epic march that took 9 minutes and 29 seconds off the clock. The story of this drive was missed tackles by the Bills. On a critical 3rd and 13, Hostetler threw about a 7 yard pass to Ingram who was able to break about 5 tackles and somehow pick up 13 yards and a first down. That play broke the backs of this defense and allowed the Giants to punch it into the end zone a few plays later. The Bills were able to rally on a 31 yard touchdown run from Thurman Thomas, who was easily the best player on the field that day, to re take the lead 19-17 for the final time.
As the fourth quarter began, the Bills held the lead, but their defense was exhausted as the Giants held the ball almost the entire second half. Matt Barr's field goal half way through the 4th gave the Giants a 20-19 lead. The Bills had a great season, but in the end they came up short as usual in heart breaking cut wrenching style. The Bills got the ball back with 2 minutes and 16 seconds left from their own 10 yard line and only one time out. They managed to drive the ball 60 yards in 2 minutes and 8 seconds thanks to the running of Thurman Thomas. That set up Norwood. The rest is history. If the Bills played the Giants 10 times that season, they would have won 9 of them but they didn't win the one that mattered.
The Giants held the ball for 40 minutes and 33 seconds, compared to the 19 minutes and 27 seconds for the Bills. It is hard to believe that with this much of a disparity, the Bills even had a chance to win the game. The Bills converted only 1 out of their 8 third downs while the Giants converted 9 of 16. Ottis Anderson was the MVP but the best player was Thurman Thomas. Thomas had 20 touches for 190 yards and a touchdown. He was unstoppable in this game. A lot of this has to do with the defensive scheme the Giants ran. They played with only 2 down lineman much of the game which slowed down the Bills offense by taking away the passing attack. When it was all said and done, the Bills were out coached and out played by a team that they were clearly better than and they would never again be close to winning a Super Bowl.
Interesting Super Bowl fact: The Bills fumbled one time in Super Bowl XXV. The Bills added 6 in Super Bowl XXVI, 8 in Super Bowl XXVII and another 3 in Super Bowl XXVIII. That is 18 fumbles in 4 games. How does that happen?
Super Bowl XXVI recap coming soon.