After two failures, the Buffalo Bills finally advanced to the Super Bowl when they defeated the LA Raiders 51-3 before 80,324 delirious fans to win the AFC title. The Bills, using their famous "No Huddle" offense, exploded for 502 yards on offense (202 of which were on the ground). Jim Kelly passed for an even 300 yards, completing 17 out of 23 and two touchdowns. The no huddle was the hurry up, 2 minute drill offense that the Bills used most of the games for most of the season. They employed it to perfection this January day in 1991.
America was involved in the Gulf War with Iraq. The televised broadcast of the game would be interrupted on several occasions with live war updates. Fans in attendance would have their minds in two places, at the game and in the Middle East. When the Bills came out of the tunnel just prior to the opening kickoff, they were greeted with a wild sea of American flags. Rich Stadium was an ocean of red, white and blue, both the Bills and America's colors.
"I was pumped for the Raiders game, really excited," Kelly said. "As I got to the bottom of the tunnel, I felt goose bumps going up and down my arms. The stadium was packed. There were American flags all over the place. And once the national anthem began, it seemed like the number of those flags doubled. People were pulling them out of their pockets left and right. After the music finished and the crowd started to roar, it actually took a few minutes before you could get your mind back on what you had to do in the game. It was an emotional moment for all of us."
Kelly connected on his first 6 passes and in the process, threw a touchdown pass to James Lofton, and set up a touchdown by Thurman Thomas. Lofton's first touchdown of the two he scored in this championship game came after Kelley got the snap out of the shotgun position and he dropped it. Jimbo quickly snapped it up, circled to his right and threw a pass to Lofton, who proceeded into the endzone.
"All the defensive backs were coming up at the same time and they kind of bumped into each other," Lofton described the play.
"We got after the Raiders from our first possession," Kelly said in his book Armed and Dangerous.. "We rattled off five consecutive "K-Gun" plays and motored deep into Los Angeles territory. Then the Raiders, desperately looking to regroup, called another of those basketball-type time-outs that we had become used to seeing from our opponents. They looked more confused and disoriented than any of the other teams that had previously faced our no-huddle."
The Raiders stormed back and to the Bills 29 yard line. But the Bills defense stiffened and Jeff Jaeger kicked a 41-yard field goal to score the only points the Raiders would have that day.
In just four plays after Jaeger's kick, the Bills scored yet another touchdown when Thomas ran a slant right and made it into pay dirt. The key play in the drive was when Lofton beat Lionel Washington and hauled in the pass Kelly aired out for a 41-yard gain.
With the Bills driving again, the Raiders got a break when rookie cornerback Garry Lewis picked off Kelly's pass. The Raiders had third down in their own territory when Schroeder was rushed on both sides and had to get the ball off in a hurry. The pass was on target, but the wrong one as Darryl Talley picked it off and returned it 27 yards for a touchdown, making it 21-3. The Raiders couldn't mount anything on their next possession, so the Bills marched down the field again, thanks in large to big runs by Thomas and Davis. The Bills gambled on 4th and goal, and Kenneth Davis ran to the left one yard for another touchdown to put the Bills up 27-3.
Nate Odoms intercepted another Schroeder pass which set up a 3-yard touchdown run by Davis. And to cap things off in the unbelievable first half, Kelly threw an 8-yard bullet to Lofton to put the Bills up 41-3 at halftime, an AFC record for biggest lead at halftime in the playoffs.
"Of course, you had to fight yourself as hard as possible to avoid losing your concentration altogether," Kelly said about the possiblity of letting the huge halftime lead go to their heads. "You had to remember that the Raiders were still going to be out there when we went back on the field. And they weren't going to be happy."
Thurman Thomas ran for 138 yards on 25 carries and also caught 5 passes for 61 additional yards. Kelly set a AFC championship game record by completing 74 percent of his passes. He only had one of his passes intercepted and had a clean, dry jersey at the end of the game since he wasn't sacked once.
Schroeder had five of this throws picked off and he was replaced with Vince Evans, who also had an interception in the AFC championship game. This game was the worst ever playoff loss for the Raiders.
In the second half, Kenneth Davis got his third touchdown of the day and put the Bills up 48-3 on the first play from scrimmage in the 4th quarter. And to cap off the Buffalo scoring, Scott Norwood connected from 39 yards out to make it the final 51-3.
Thurman Thomas was probably the No. 1 Star in this one. In the first half alone, he racked up 109 yards on 20 carries and 61 yards on 5 receptions.
"I really think they weren't prepared for it," Thurman said about the "No Huddle" in the jubilant dressing room after the game. "We've been running it for a long time now, and you would think the LA coaches would know that's what got us this far and would prepare for it. But it seemed they didn't prepare for it until we got down there deep in their territory when they called the timeout."
"I tell you," receiver Andre Reed said, "when Thurman first came here, I thought he was just a runner, but he has turned into probably the most versatile back in the league. He gives us not only the running threat, but the passing threat, because he can catch. Not only does he take pressure off me, but off James Lofton and Keith McKeller, too."
"For most of the season, my pass protection was fantastic," Kelly in his book Armed and Dangerous.. "That day, it was the best ever. The great pass rush we had been expecting from Long and Greg Townsend never came close to materializing. My guys didn't allow anyone to get near me. It was also my third consecutive postseason game in which I threw for at least 300 yards."
Then there was the Bills celebration on the sidelines that started about halfway into the fourth quarter.
"I remember standing on the sidelines and feeling very satisfied with what we had done as a team and with what I had done individually," Kelly said. "All the way around, it was an incredible performance—something that we could be proud of for years to come.
"Our postgame celebration actually began at the start of the fourth quarter. By the third quarter, even the smallest doubts that might have remained about our victory were long gone. So in that final period, you had the whole defense dancing on the benches. You had players throwing all kinds of things into the stands—towels, sweatbands, footballs, whatever they could get their hands on. The fans kept yelling for souvenirs, and their orders kept being filled."
The Bills players celebrated winning the their first AFC Championship in style. The doors were closed and everybody went bonkers.
"It was bedlam," Ray Bentley, Bills linebacker said. "Everybody was just out of their minds. It was chaos. Guys were running, screaming, banging heads, kissing. In fact, I was a little embarrassed by some of the kissing that was going on."
"I don't think there was a person on the face of the earth who could have predicted that score," Kelly said. "Unless they were joking, drunk or both. It just wasn't possible for someone to guess we would beat a team that good by 48 points in any game, let alone with the AFC championship on the line. But everything we did, offensively and defensively, fell our way."
Bills owner Ralph Wilson, who received the game ball, said, "I'm a little shell-shocked by the tremendous performance the team put on today. This is probably the best performance the Bills have ever had."
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Copyright ©2001 Rick Anderson