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Wild Wild Card
Peter King
January 11, 1993
A record-breaking rally by Buffalo knocked Houston out of the NFL playoffs
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January 11, 1993

Wild Wild Card

A record-breaking rally by Buffalo knocked Houston out of the NFL playoffs

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There were nods all around, and then Davis took a handoff in the light mist, skated through the guard-tackle hole on the right side and sprinted 35 yards to the Houston 33. The crowd went nuts. There was blood in the mist now—it was the Oilers'—and the Buffalo faithful could smell it. Someone shook the REVENGE IS BEST SERVED COLD sign hanging behind the Houston bench, trying to get the players' attention. But someone else already had their attention: The Oilers couldn't believe what they were seeing from Reich, the unassuming career backup.

The day before the game, Buffalo special teams captain Steve Tasker had said he thought this wild-card game was perfect for Reich. Kelly is a reactionary quarterback who puts an opposing defense on the run and frustrates it by using the Bills' tremendous speed. The previous week, however, Houston had used its own speed and quickness to blunt everything Kelly had tried at the Astrodome. "Frank will be good," said Tasker, "because I think it'll take a slow, cerebral approach to win this game, and he's as cerebral as they come. He'll put us in the right position to make plays."

In fact, the Buffalo coaches had been worried during the week that Reich was overpreparing. Offensive coordinator Tom Bresnahan told him to ease up on the extra film work, but Reich knew what he had to do. He stayed at Rich Stadium two hours later than the coaches did on Saturday, watching a few more tapes of the Oiler defense. The cramming obviously paid off, as Reich showed when he called time and suggested a running play. Another dividend came only four plays later, when the Bills had a first down at the Houston 17 with 3:20 to go.

The Oilers still weren't doing anything special with Reed, even though he had caught seven passes for 119 yards. Now Reich wanted to go to him again. So, as he had done throughout the second half, Reich spread his receivers. He sent Beebe and James Lofton on routes that took them wide toward the end zone, while Reed and tight end Pete Metzelaars looked for an inside seam near the goal line. Reich was trying to create a nine-on-nine field, with Lofton and Beebe taking Dishman and Gray out of the play.

The strategy worked. Reich took the snap and immediately focused on Metzelaars, hoping that free safety Marcus Robertson would stay with Metzelaars and that a nickelback—in this case, Jackson—would bite and swing over to help Robertson. That's what happened. Reich then looked to Reed, who was streaking downfield at the five, and lofted a pass two feet over the hands of linebacker Al Smith and a foot beyond the flailing Robertson, who had been covering Metzelaars nearby. Bills 38-35, with 3:08 left.

The Buffalo lead did not hold up, though. Starting from his own 28, Moon used up all but 12 seconds of regulation in marching Houston to the Buffalo nine. This time there was no sudden rain or gust of wind, and Del Greco tied the game at 38 with a 26-yard field goal. And there would be more hurdles for the Bills to clear before they could make this come-back complete—like the Oilers winning the toss to determine who got the ball first in overtime, and Moon completing his first two passes of sudden death.

On the third play of overtime, on third-and-three at the Houston 27, Buffalo settled into a soft zone. The linebackers would cover the Oilers' slot receivers, and the corners would stick with the wideouts. "We were trying to bait Moon," said cornerback Nate Odomes.

As a slot receiver, Givins led Talley across the middle, Moon pumped the ball, and Talley dived at Givins, wrapping his arms around Givins's waist. Moon then drilled a pass to what was now an open space between the fallen Givins and Haywood Jeffires, who had run a short sideline route. "I was tackled," said Givins, who had played magnificently, making nine catches for 117 tough yards. "But there was no use in crying about it. It wasn't going to be called."

Odomes was positioned perfectly to intercept the pass, and his two-yard return—plus a 15-yard penalty against Jeffires, who grabbed Odomes's face mask on the tackle—put the ball at the Houston 20. After two carries by Davis gained six yards, Christie came on to kick the game-winning 32-yard field goal. Bills 41-38. "This was my first playoff game," said Christie, who was a Plan B pickup from the Tampa Bay Bucs last winter. "To be able to win a game like this...a kicker just dreams about it."

At Rich Stadium both teams leave the field by the same runway to get to their respective locker rooms, which are separated by about 20 feet of pavement. One of the first players up the runway was Odomes, who let loose a high-pitched scream, and he was trailed by Dishman, who was muttering, "Unbelievable, unbelievable, unbelievable...." Soon a beaming Levy ran up, taking whacks on the back from on-duty state troopers and the fathers of some of his players. He was followed by Moon, whose chin was stuck to his chest. The last player in was Jeffires, wandering almost aimlessly, looking blankly above the maelstrom. "How'd we find a way to lose?" he asked. "There can't be any reason for this."

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