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On This Date in Sports January 3, 1993: Leaking Oil

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

Trailing the Houston Oilers 35-3 in the early stages of the third quarter of a Wild Card Game at home, the Buffalo Bills stage an improbable comeback with backup quarterback Frank Reich to win in overtime 41-38. The 32-point comeback is the largest in the history of the NFL. The Bills would take the momentum from the comeback and reach the Super Bowl for the third straight season.

 After losing two straight Super Bowls, the Buffalo Bills, coached by Marv Levy, looked to continue their dominance in the AFC while finally winning the Lombardi Trophy, which had eluded them. Once again, the Bills were in a position to win the AFC East, holding an 11-4 record heading into the final week of the season. However, needing a win in Week 17, the Bills were soundly beaten by the Houston Oilers 27-3 at the Astrodome. Making matters worse, quarterback Jim Kelly suffered a sprained knee that would limit his availability in the playoffs. Benefiting from the Bills' loss was the Miami Dolphins, who won the AFC East with a record of 11-5.

The Houston Oilers, coached by Jack Pardee, had suffered even more frustration than the Bills. Making the playoffs for the sixth straight season, the Oilers, despite having Warren Moon, who was one of the top passers in the NFL, had yet to reach the AFC Championship Game, winning just two playoff games in the previous five years. The Oilers were heading into the playoffs with momentum, winning four of their last five games to finish 10-6, including a dominant win over the Bills in the regular-season finale.

In their Wild Card matchup, the Oilers took an early lead as Warren Moon connected with Haywood Jeffries on a three-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter. The Bills, meanwhile, got a 36-yard field goal from Steve Christie. Things appeared to unravel for the Bills in the second quarter, as Houston seemed to be dominating them for the second time in seven days, scoring 21 unanswered points, with Moon throwing touchdown passes to Webster Slaughter, Curtis Duncan, and Haywood Jeffries. 

Down 28-3 at the half, the Bills were challenged by their coaching staff, who questioned the effort they were giving. Things did not get much better right away, as Frank Reich had an interception returned 58 yards by Bubba McDowell to make it 35-3 in favor of the Oilers. Nearly a decade earlier, Frank Reich, while at Maryland, had led the biggest comeback in NCAA history, rallying from down 31-0 to beat Miami. If the Bills were to win, they would need an even bigger miracle, as Thurman Thomas was knocked out of the game with a hip injury. With a shift in the winds, things began to change when Al Del Greco squibbed the ensuing kickoff, giving the Bills the ball at the 50. The Bills quickly went 50 yards, with Eddie Robinson scoring from the one. The Bills then recovered an on-side kick, setting up the most controversial play of the game, as Don Bebe caught a 38-yard touchdown pass from Reich. On the way down the field, Beebe ran out of bounds and came back in to make the catch and should have been flagged for illegal touching. Before the 1992 season, the NFL decided to eliminate instant replay, which was in the league from 1986-1991. After going three and out, Oilers punter Greg Montgomery had a 25-yard kick, giving the Bills the ball at their own 41. Buffalo quickly scored again, cutting the deficit to 35-24 as Andre Reed had a 26-yard reception. On the next possession, Henry Jones picked off Warren Moon, setting up a second Reed touchdown catch from 18 yards to make it 35-31. 

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As the fourth quarter began, Rich Stadium went insane as the Bills were suddenly back in the game. Houston had a problem as the fourth quarter began and looked to regain momentum driving the ball to the Buffalo 14. However, Montgomery fumbled the snap on a short field goal attempt, as the Oilers came up without any points. After the Oilers flubbed field goal, the Bills took the lead, with Andre Reed scoring again from 17. The Oilers would force overtime on a 26-yard field goal by Al Del Greco. The Oilers won the coin toss in overtime, but Warren Moon was picked off by Nate Odomes, setting the Bills up at the Houston 20. After two runs, the Bills sent Steve Christie out to win a 32-yard field goal. The kick was dead center perfect, allowing the Bills to celebrate a 41-38 miracle win.

The Bills would beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 24-3 in Bill Cowher’s first playoff game at Three River’s Stadium. In the AFC Championship Game, the Bills got a boost from the return of Jim Kelly to beat the Miami Dolphins 29-10. In Super Bowl XXVII, the Bills suffered one of the biggest blowouts in the history of the big game, losing to the Dallas Cowboys 52-17.