The Comeback (American football)

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In American football, "The Comeback" refers to the January 3, 1993 NFL playoff game between the Buffalo Bills and the Houston Oilers, one of the most memorable NFL games ever played.

Played in Buffalo's outdoor home of Rich Stadium, the Bills, led by quarterback Frank Reich and wide receiver Andre Reed, overcame a 32-point deficit to win the game in overtime. This represents the largest comeback in NFL history.

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[edit] Background

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.

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 reigns starting in place of Kelly the following week in the wild card game. Buffalo hosted Houston, having a better record. 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 had been responsible for what was then the biggest comeback in the history of college football. In 1984, 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 University of Miami.

[edit] Game summary

[edit] The Oilers dominate early

Houston dominated the game early, as quarterback Warren Moon threw for 220 yards and 4 touchdowns in the first half. Moon's first touchdown was to wide receiver Haywood Jeffires for 3 yards to give the Oilers a 7-0 lead. Then after Buffalo kicker Steve Christie made a 36-yard field goal, Moon completed 3 unanswered touchdown passes to give Houston a 28-3 lead before halftime: A 7-yard score to wide receiver Webster Slaughter, a 26-yarder to wide receiver Curtis Duncan, and a 27-yarder to Jeffires.

The misfortunes of the Bills were compounded early in the first half when starting running back Thurman Thomas went out of the game with a hip injury. Thomas was replaced by Kenneth Davis, and Buffalo was forced to use a second string backfield of Reich and Davis against Houston's third ranked defense during the season.

1:41 into the third quarter, Oilers defensive back Bubba McDowell intercepted Reich's first pass of the second half and returned it 58 yards for a touchdown. Houston now had a commanding 32-point lead, 35-3.

[edit] "The Comeback"

The Bills did not give up and altered their strategy by switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense, helping to contain the Houston passing offense. Then, Buffalo started the comeback, advancing 50 yards to score on Davis' 1-yard touchdown run to cut the deficit to 35-10.

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 recever Don Beebe, making the score 35-17.

Houston was then forced to punt on their next drive, and Buffalo took five plays to score on Reich's 26-yard touchdown pass to Andre Reed, trimming the lead, 35-24.

On the Oilers' ensuing possession, Bills safety Henry Jones intercepted a pass from Moon and returned it 15 yards to the Houston 23-yard line. Buffalo then 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, the Bills had cut their deficit from 32 points to four in a span of just 6:52.

After the teams traded punts, Houston reached the Buffalo 14-yard line. Kicker Al Del Greco attempted a field goal to increase the Oilers' lead, but the snap was fumbled. The Bills then marched 74 yards to score on Reed's 17-yard touchdown reception from Reich, taking the lead 38-35 with just 3 minutes left in the fourth quarter. But Moon led Houston on a last minute drive downfield to score the tying 26-yard field goal from Del Greco to send the game into overtime.

Early in overtime, Bills defensive back Nate Odomes intercepted a pass from Moon, setting up Christie's 32-yard game-winning field goal to give the Bills a 41-38 win. Buffalo would win 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. Moon recorded 36 of 50 completions for 371 yards and 4 touchdowns, with 2 interceptions. Receiver Curtis Duncan caught 9 passes for 117 yards. Jeffires recorded 8 catches for 98 yards and 2 touchdowns.

The very next day, the Oilers fired defensive coordinator Jim Eddy and defensive backs coach Pat Thomas. [1] Eddy would be replaced by Buddy Ryan.

In commemoration of the game, Steve Christie's kicking shoe from the game has been enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

[edit] Scoring summary

1 2 3 4 OT Total
Oilers 7 21 7 3 0 38
Bills 3 0 28 7 3 41
  • HOU - Jeffires 3-yard pass from Moon (Del Greco kick) 7-0 HOU
  • BUF - FG Christie 36-yards 7-3 HOU
  • HOU - Slaughter 7-yard pass from Moon (Del Greco kick) 14-3 HOU
  • HOU - Duncan 26-yard pass from Moon (Del Greco kick) 21-3 HOU
  • HOU - Jeffires 27-yard pass from Moon (Del Greco kick) 28-3 HOU
  • HOU - McDowell 58-yard interception return (Del Greco kick) 35-3 HOU
  • BUF - K. Davis 1-yard run (Christie kick) 35-10 HOU
  • BUF - Beebe 38-yard pass from Reich (Christie kick) 35-17 HOU
  • BUF - Reed 26-yard pass from Reich (Christie kick) 35-24 HOU
  • BUF - Reed 18-yard pass from Reich (Christie kick) 35-31 HOU
  • BUF - 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

[edit] See also

[edit] References