Happy New Year from my family to yours! With the new year comes an entire season of Throwback Thursday that I hope you guys have been enjoying. The Buffalo Bills played a very important game on New Year’s Day back in 1989 that a lot of Bills fans will recall. Buffalo had just won the AFC East during the season, and earned the second seed and a bye in the AFC playoffs. Since two teams from the same division were not allowed to meet in the divisional round (ironic right?), the Cincinnati Bengals had the top seed and were slotted to play the Seattle Seahawks who had won the west. The Bills would get the winner of the wild card game, who happened to be the Houston Oilers, who defeated the Cleveland Browns 24-23 the previous weekend. That would set up a Warren Moon–Jim Kelly showdown, and they were not the ones to steal the show. Now let’s throw it back to January 1, 1989:
With the wind chill close to 20 degrees, it was time for playoff football yet again in Western New York. For the second time in what would be a string of six appearances in a row, the Bills were playing postseason football. On this chilly New Year’s Day, it would be the defenses that dominated the game and Buffalo would rely on special teams heroics to move into the AFC Championship Game.
On the first drive of the game, the Bills looked to be moving. They got down to the Houston 18-yard line, before they hit a roadblock. A bad snap to Kelly forced Buffalo to move back to the 32, and Scott Norwood was not able to convert a 50-yard field goal as it fell short. Houston was able to drive the ball as well moving into Buffalo territory down to the 32. But they also had trouble on third down, and this was when Bruce Smith made his presence felt with a 13-yard sack on Moon.
Enter the first special teams moment of the game, as Leonard Smith burst through and blocked Greg Montgomery‘s kick, allowing the Bills to take over at the Oilers 46 yard line. Jim Kelly would hit Trumaine Johnson for 28 yards combined on a pair of passes, and the drive would be finished by a Robb Riddick one-yard score to put the Bills up 7-0 in the second quarter.
Riddick finished the day with nine carries for 12 yards and that lone score.
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Houston would promptly answer, but were not able to tie it as they drove 71 yards down the field. After stalling in the red zone, they would have to settle for aTony Zendejas
35-yard field goal to cut the lead to 7-3. The Oilers were able to force a punt and get back into field goal range before the half was over, but the Smith got another block, this time denying Zendejas’ kick from taking flight and making the halftime score stand at 7-3.
Kelly got the Bills near midfield on their first drive of the second half, but he was intercepted by Tracey Eaton at the Buffalo 47-yard line. The Oilers drove inside the five, before an errant pitch lost over 10 yards, and then Zendejas was denied for three points again. This time it was his own doing, as he shanked a 31-yard field goal and the game stayed 7-3.
After the teams exchanged punts, the Bills would score what would be the game-winning touchdown in the third quarter. Buffalo drove 59 yards in six plays, capping it off with a Thurman Thomas 11-yard TD run to make it 14-3 Bills.
Thomas ran the ball seven times for 75 yards and a touchdown.
The Bills were ready to ice the game late in the third when they got the ball back and drove to the Oilers’ two-yard line. However, Houston’s defense came up huge with a goal-line stand that would save the game for now, and keep the score at 14-3 after three quarters.
The Oilers would not take advantage though. Two plays later, Mark Kelso intercepted Moon and returned the ball to the Houston 18-yard line. This would set up Norwood for a 27-yard field goal to make it 17-3 Bills.
Houston would turn the ball over again on their next possession, crumbling under the playoff pressure in Buffalo. Derrick Burroughs recovered a fumble by Oilers receiver Haywood Jeffires at the Houston 26-yard line. The Bills would not be able to put the game away though, as Norwood hit the uprights from 36 yards out to keep a sliver of hope alive.
The Oilers would widen that sliver just a little bit, scoring with just over five minutes left in the game after a nine-play, 80-yard drive in which Moon completed four passes. Mike Rozier pounded the ball in from a yard out, and just like that the lead was cut in half at 17-10.
Houston was also able to force a punt, so they would be getting the ball back after the two-minute warning. However, the offense never stepped foot on the field, as Steve Tasker forced one of the biggest fumbles of his career on the return, knocking the ball loose from the grasp of Curtis Duncan, and Ray Bentley recovered. This allowed Buffalo to run out the clock and win their first playoff game since 1981 when they defeated the Jets in the AFC Wild Card Game that season.
Buffalo would be eliminated by a team from Ohio for the third straight season, however, when they lost to the Bengals in the AFC East Championship Game 21-10.