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Filling The Void

Filling The Void: The Biggest Comeback in NFL History

The Buffalo Bills pulled off the greatest comeback in NFL history. But there was a lot more to the game than just a flurry of points.

NFL Field by Erin Costa is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Filling The Void: The Biggest Comeback in NFL History

Estimated Reading Time: 7 Minutes

Having a hard time with this whole “social distancing” thing? Yeah – us too. Especially when it comes to the lack of sports. So, we here at The Turf thought we’d offer a way to help ease the pain and suffering. While we may not have any of the current sports leagues to watch live, there is PLENTY of archive footage available at our fingertips. We’ve scoured the internet and assembled some of the most iconic, noteworthy and remarkable sporting events we could find. We also found some mundane, run of the mill matches and contests, that seemed banal at first watch. However, at this point, we’ll take anything that resembles sports, right? Each day, we’ll feature one of the contests and provide you a link where you can relive the glory, exhilaration, and thrill from the comfort of your couch.

Back to 1992…

When you’re a kid your brain frequently makes bold stands, like one day it just decides “The Air Up There” is the second-best movie of all-time. You move forward with your life believing this and it’s often not until you revisit or re-watch something for your adult brain to say, “Oh no…is…is this…bad??”

It can be pretty jarring and upsetting and a very valid reason to never address anything from your past.

And this was a big reason why I was nervous to write this, because I remember being 7 years old and thinking the Bills comeback vs. the Oilers was one of the most amazing things I had ever seen.

It probably sounds silly thinking a 32 point comeback might not end up being as impressive as I remember, but then again, it’s not like this was in the Super Bowl!

Luckily, it’s still a very enjoyable watch. But there are some key points I had no recollection of at all.

Houston’s “Run ‘N Shoot” offense

This first stands out when they show the starting lineups on screen. It’s a football game from 1992, so I was expecting a running back, tailback, H-back and fullback all being listed separately here. It was downright shocking to see Houston list FOUR starting wide receivers, and Buffalo starts out in a Dime package!

The Oilers are also carrying themselves from the start with the swagger and confidence of a Bond villain explaining all the intricate details of their master plan to a tied-up 007. There’s no way Buffalo is gonna keep up just like Mr. Bond can’t stop the sharks with nukes tied to their back from reaching the Thames. Europe!

Anyways, Houston just shreds the Bills defense in the first half and Moon throws four TD passes. At one-point Webster Slaughter catches a TD to make it 14-3, and he has a BROKEN HAND in the game. Later, he fields punts and, just to confirm, the hand has not healed at any point during the game.

Buffalo was missing more than Jim Kelly

Obviously, the Bills not having their starting quarterback was the key storyline here, and we’ll be getting to Mr. Reich later. But I didn’t realize they also were missing linebacker Cornelius Bennett for the game.

Then, at a point early during the third quarter it’s revealed Thurman Thomas is out of the game with a hip injury. What stood out to me is remembering that this was how we used to find out injured players were out of the game. I am never going to complain again about the dozen Pats writers I follow on Twitter all tweeting at the same time when a player:

“Is slow to get up”

“Walks off the field under his own power”

“Is with the training staff”

“Heads to the blue tent”

“Has his helmet in his hands”

“Is standing with the defense waiting to go back in”

Kenneth Davis was Thomas’ backup and I kept thinking how if I was in a fantasy keeper league in 1992 I totally would have targeted picking him the year before he was likely going to leave Buffalo because I am sharp like that. Then I checked and he never left Buffalo, and my luck is typically like that.

Houston special teams were really bad in the game

There are three facets of the game. Offense, defense and kicking. These are just the facts.

And if the Houston Oilers had spent a little more focusing on #3, maybe they win this game.

Here are some highlights of this squad’s performance:

  • Kickoff goes out of bounds
  • Multiple bad punts setting up Buffalo past their own 35
  • A squib kick to start the second half (why?)
  • Give up an onside kick recovery to Steve Christie (He’s the Bills kicker!)
  • Botched a snap that caused a missed FG

Not great, guys!

Buffalo’s 3rd quarter performance is GRAPHIC

Buffalo starts the second half by throwing a pick-six and going down 35-3.

Over the next 11 minutes of game time, they score 28 unanswered points.

Houston gains less than 10 total yards. And only has one turnover (INT).

This is the comeback, these 11 minutes. It’s almost perfect football and it’s a beauty to watch.

Reich is the catalyst, but the Bills WR really come to play here too. Andre Reed catches 2 TDs. James Lofton (who was 36 years old in this game?!!) makes a big catch. Don Beebe also grabs a TD and it reminded me of the commercial for those “big hits” Sports Illustrated videos that always had the one where Beebe gets flipped in the air and lands on his neck/head. We were a different type of audience in 1992.

The details of the end of the game

Most of the fourth quarter is kind of eh, until the Bills final possession. Kenneth Davis (primed for a 1993 fantasy breakout on the Browns!) busts a big 30+ yard run and then Reich hits Andre Reed for Reed’s 3rd TD of the day. Bills up 38-35 with 3 minutes left.

Full disclosure; I forgot this game went to OT. So while Houston was driving to end the game I kept thinking how more and more heartbreaking this was getting. The Oilers convert a 4th and 4 to the Buffalo 16 with ~1:30 left and I was just waiting for another Houston special teams miscue.

But that doesn’t happen. Houston makes a FG with 12 seconds left and we go to OT.

And Houston wins the toss!

But Moon throws a pick on the Oilers 3rd play of OT.

Buffalo then gets the ball in FG range and Steve Christie kicks a 30-yard game winner. One thing here, Christie was 3 of 6 on FGs between 30-39 yards during the season. That’s not good and must have added a nice layer of drama at the time. I can’t speak to that though. Again, I was 7 and my ability to decipher a sports story narrative had yet to develop.

Before we go, may I present “The Frank Reich Question”

Frank Reich was the quarterback in this game. As a quick reminder, the Bills came back from down 35-3 in the beginning of the second half and won 41-38 in OT. This is the largest comeback in NFL history.

In 1984, the Maryland Terrapins were down 35-0 to the Miami Hurricanes at halftime. The Terps put Frank Reich in at QB in the second half and won 42-40.

My question is would you rather be Frank Reich, who only started 20 games over his 13-year NFL career, or a perennial starting quarterback in the NFL who never really achieved anything of note. For an example, let’s say Tony Romo.

Romo was good (he made four Pro Bowls) and made a ton of money (and still is doing that), but he also never sniffed the MVP and was 2-4 in the playoffs (and never made it past the Divisional Round).

I keep thinking I’d rather be the guy who is immortalized with those two comeback games. Any time any team goes down big in a college or NFL game, Frank Reich is mentioned on that broadcast. If Tony Romo was not a broadcaster right now, would you ever think about him? What about Alex Smith or Philip Rivers after they retire?

Count me in for choosing the guy whose name and legacy will be difficult to erase.

Terry is from Massachusetts and is a passionate fan of the Patriots, Celtics, Red Sox and Bruins. He also will admit he only pays attention to Syracuse basketball when they're good. If there's a Twitter trade rumor even remotely associated with one of his teams, he's likely fallen for it. Finally, he believes 100% that if the Celtics had beaten the Heat in the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals they would have swept the Thunder in the Finals.

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