The 1992 Wild Card game is remembered by all for the huge comeback, the choke-job the Oilers pulled, and all sorts of people compare collapses to that game…kind of like Atlanta this weekend.
But why did it happen? The Oilers were supposedly the best team in the AFC that year, according to Football Outsiders, while the Bills were suffering a Super Bowl hangover and were tepid compared to their teams the two years before.
Houston entered the game with a 10-6 record, and their claim to fame was their vaunted run-and-shoot offense led by Warren Moon. He was throwing to targets like Haywood Jeffires, Webster Slaughter, Curtis Duncan and Ernest Givins, all receivers with good hands, speed, and moves. They played at home in a dome, a controlled environment, perfect for such a passing offense. In 1991, the Oilers won their division with an 11-5 record, and that team was probably better than this one, in all fairness. But the 1992 team was a fierce one who only lost as many games as they did because of inconsistent defensive play. The quiet Jack Pardee led the team, and what made the setup for the wild card game so memorable was Week 17.
Houston completely dismantled Buffalo 27-3 at home, a loss that cost the Bills a division title. During that game, Bills quarterback Jim Kelly was injured, and backup Frank Reich was forced to step in and do the job.
Going into the playoff game, there was no expectation for the Bills to win, as Rich Stadium wasn’t even sold out. The weather was miserable, but early on, it was Warren Moon who was heating up the field.
While the Bills struggled to get anything going, mustering only a field goal in the first half, Moon sliced up Buffalo’s defense for 4 touchdowns while completing 19/22 passes. The Oilers entered halftime with a 28-3 lead, and many left the game because the weather was terrible and the team was sucking pipe.
Things only got worse in the second half, as the Bills, on their third play from scrimmage, threw a pick-six to make the score 35-3.
But, as we all know, they came back. Kenneth Davis scored a touchdown, Buffalo kicks a surprise onside, Don Beebe catches a touchdown, and then Andre Reed scores 3 straight to bring the Bills to 38-35, and they won the game in overtime 41-38.
So why did it happen?
Well, the problem itself was the Oilers’ offense. Even though they rolled to 28 first half points, scoring only 3 in the second half is unacceptable. A huge liability of their form of the run-and-shoot was that you could not control the clock. Lorenzo White had a breakout year, but he was a power back and wasn’t very fast, so the quick Buffalo defense didn’t allow him to run. Houston had to stay aggressive and still throw, which led to three-and-outs and turnovers, including a terrible interception that was returned deep in Houston territory.
The Bills had a balanced offense, even without Kelly and Thurman Thomas, and they could speed up and slow down at will. The Oilers, meanwhile, were left floundering with no control over the clock while the Bills scored at will and a shell-shocked Warren Moon struggled. With a conventional offense, there’s no way fathomable that this sort of collapse would take place, but with that, there’s no guarantee the Oilers would have been as good as they were.
We can’t blame it all on the offense though, as punter Greg Montgomery also fumbled a field goal snap that would have essentially put the game away. The defense also didn’t hold up on their end whatsoever.