Frank Reich’s 1993 Wild-Card Hand-Warmer
The MMQB presents NFL 95, a special project running through mid-July detailing 95 artifacts that tell the story of the NFL, as the league prepares to enter its 95th season. See the entire series here.
Beset by injuries, the Buffalo Bills were without their franchise quarterback (Jim Kelly), linebacker (Cornelius Bennett) and running back (Thurman Thomas) when they trailed the Houston Oilers, 35-3, at home in the second half of a wild-card playoff game on Jan. 3, 1993. What’s more, Houston had defeated Buffalo, 27-3, in the regular-season finale the week before. So it was no wonder that Bills fans (who didn’t sell the game out to begin with) headed for the exits early at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
But Kelly’s backup, Frank Reich, was just keeping his hands warm in the 24-degree wind chill that day. After falling behind by 32 points, Reich and Bills outscored the Oilers 38-3 to win, 41-38, setting the record for biggest comeback in league history.
It started innocently enough, with a 1-yard touchdown run by Kenneth Davis to make it 35-10. Then Bills kicker Steve Christie recovered his own kickoff (dubbed a mistake by coach Marv Levy), and a controversial 38-yard touchdown pass from Reich to Don Beebe made it 35-17 (replays showed Beebe stepping out of bounds). Three more Reich TD passes in seven minutes, one after a botched snap on an Oilers’ 31-yard field goal attempt, gave the Bills a 38-35 lead with 3:08 left to play. But Houston quarterback Warren Moon marched the Oilers 63 yards to set up the game-tying 26-yard field goal.
On the third play of overtime, Moon was intercepted by Bills defensive back Nate Odomes. After two runs, Christie booted the game-winning field goal from 32 yards out. Reich completed 21 of 34 passes for 289 yards and four touchdowns. He also led the Bills to a road win over the Steelers the next week but was replaced by the recovered Kelly in the AFC title game as the Bill advanced to their third straight Super Bowl. So much for the hot hand.
— Greg Bedard