This Day In Sports: The day the Bills were done, and then they weren’t

January 3, 1993, 30 years ago today: The Buffalo Bills pull off the greatest comeback in NFL history to that point, rallying from a 35-3 third quarter deficit to shock the Houston Oilers, 41-38, in overtime in an AFC Wild Card game. Warren Moon, the former Washington Huskies and CFL star, was in his ninth NFL season with the Oilers and was at a peak at the age of 36. Moon threw four first-half touchdown passes, and Houston led 28-3 at the break. Less than two minutes into the third quarter, Bills backup quarterback Frank Reich, subbing for the injured Jim Kelly, tossed an interception that was returned 58 yards for a touchdown, and it looked like that was that.

Buffalo was loaded on offense that season, featuring four future Pro Football Hall of Famers: Kelly, running back Thurman Thomas, and wide receivers James Lofton and Andre Reed. But Thomas left the game with an injury on that first third-quarter drive. Without the injured Kelly and Thomas, it seemed there was no way that Reich could bring the Bills back from down 35-3. After all, Kelly had suffered strained knee ligaments a week earlier in the final regular season game, and Reich replaced him—against Houston. The Oilers had won that matchup 27-3. In just over three halves of football, Houston had outscored the Bills 55-6.

But after the pick-six, Reich came alive. Not only that, Buffalo cut the deficit from 32 points to four in less than seven minutes. Kenneth Davis, filling in for Thomas, ran for a score, and Reich threw two touchdown passes to Reed and one to Don Beebe. The third quarter wasn’t even over yet. The steamroller slowed in the fourth—then Reich tossed a third TD pass to Reed with just over three minutes left to give the Bills their first lead. Houston was able to send it into overtime with a field goal in the final minute, but Buffalo’s Steve Christie kicked a 32-yarder in the OT for the unbelievable win.

Buffalo’s comeback record, of course, was broken by the Minnesota Vikings 2½ weeks ago, when they rebounded from a 33-0 halftime deficit to beat the Indianapolis Colts 39-36 in overtime. (Probability models showed the Colts had a 99.6 percent chance of winning when they were up by 33 points). But the Bills’ comeback versus the Oilers remains the biggest in NFL postseason history.

NOTE: It is coincidence that today’s item focuses on the Buffalo Bills. What that team is going through right now is unimaginable after Damar Hamlin’s collapse on the field due to cardiac arrest last night in the Monday Night Football game against the Cincinnati Bengals. It goes without saying that our prayers are with Hamlin and his family and his teammates.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra. He also anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK and one on News/Talk KBOI. His Scott Slant column runs every Wednesday.)

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