On This Date in Sports January 12, 1991: Division Duel in the Snow
In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com
The Buffalo Bills hold off the Miami Dolphins in the snow, winning 44-34 to reach the AFC Championship Game for the second time in three years. The Bills jumped to a 20-3 lead, but Miami kept fighting back as Dan Marino and Jim Kelly passed for over 300 yards with three touchdown passes. The Dolphins made too many mistakes, with three turnovers, while Thurman Thomas had two touchdowns, which made the difference in the game. The Bills would reach their first Super Bowl with a 51-3 win over the Los Angeles Raiders.
After a four-year drought, the Miami Dolphins returned to the playoffs with a 12-4 record, coach Don Shula, who was in his 21st season in Miami. The Dolphins jumped out to a great start, winning eight of their first nine games. This included a 30-7 Week 2 win in Buffalo. All four losses the Dolphins suffered were against teams that won a playoff game. This included a loss in Week 3 to the New York Giants. It was the first time the Dolphins had played the Giants in 18 years. In the Wild Card Game, the Dolphins rallied to beat the Kansas City Chiefs 17-16, as Dan Marino had a pair of touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
The Buffalo Bills had their best season in 1990. Led by Marv Levy, the Bills won their third consecutive AFC East title. The Bills reached their first AFC Championship in 1988 but lost to the Cincinnati Bengals. After a Divisional Playoff loss to the Cleveland Browns in 1989, the Bills put together their finest season in 1990. They went 13-3, overcoming an early-season loss to Miami. Despite an injury to Jim Kelly, the Bills beat the Dolphins with the division on the line in Week 16, earning home field throughout the playoffs.
Fans at Rich Stadium in Orchard Park were ready for war, as the only heat was from the rivalry between the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills. During the 1970s, the Dolphins set an NFL record by winning 20 straight, going a perfect 20-0 during the decade. When Buffalo ended the streak in 1980, fans rushed the field and tore down the goalposts to celebrate. As the 1990s began, the Bills were on the verge of making history, while Dan Marino and the Dolphins hoped for another chance at winning a Super Bowl ring. As kickoff approached, soft, steady snow fell in Western New York, creating a playoff winter wonderland.
The Bills were unaffected by the falling snow, as they scored on the first drive of the game, with Andre Reed catching a 40-yard pass from Jim Kelly, who returned to action after missing the final two games of the season. The Dolphins answered with a 49-yard field goal by Pete Stoyanovich. Following a 24-yard field goal by Scott Norwood, the Bills had a chance to bury the Dolphins as Nate Odomes intercepted Dan Marino at the Miami nine. However, Miami's defense kept Buffalo out of the end zone as Norwood hit a second field goal to extend the Bills' lead to 13-3.
Following a Miami punt, the Bills continued to impose their will on the Dolphins, driving down the field, with Thurman Thomas scoring on a five-yard run to make it 20-3 early in the second quarter. With the game starting to get away from them, Dan Marino stepped up and looked to get the Dolphins back in the game as he connected with Mark Duper on a 64-yard touchdown. The Bills again answered as the Dolphins could defense could not find their footing, with James Lofton catching a 13-yard touchdown pass to make the score 27-10. The Dolphins could not answer and were forced to punt. However, punter Reggie Roby recovered a fumble by Al Edwards, opening the door for a Dolphins comeback. The Dolphins took advantage of the turnover as Dan Marino scored on a quarterback sneak to make the halftime score 27-17.
After the teams traded field goals in the third quarter, the Dolphins got the game down to a field goal as Roy Foster reporting a tackle eligible, caught a two-yard pass from Marino. It would be the closed the Dolphins would get as the Bills responded with a second touchdown by Thurman Thomas. Marc Logan fumbled the ensuing kickoff as the Bills again stretched the lead to 44-27, with Andre Reed catching a 26-yard touchdown pass. The Dolphins would get a late score by Tony Martin, but the game ended as the Bills recovered the on-side kick.