The Buffalo Bills Pulled Off the Greatest Comeback in NFL History Nearly 30 Years Ago

The famous Buffalo Bills comeback of 1993 would have broken social media had it existed back then. With fans trying to climb back into the stadium and a backup quarterback marching all over the Houston Oilers, the shocking comeback had all of the hallmarks of an unbelievable Hollywood screenplay.

However, this was more than just a historic NFL comeback. The classic game remains one of the shining moments for a franchise known for losing four consecutive Super Bowls. As Josh Allen and the resurgent Bills hope to return to title contention nearly 30 years later, the comeback stands as a testament to overcoming seemingly impossible hurdles.

The setup for the Buffalo Bills’ comeback in 1993

Everything went wrong for the franchise at the end of the 1992 season. In the final week of the regular season, Bills star quarterback Jim Kelly went down with a knee injury during a 27-3 blowout loss to the Oilers in Houston. It gave fans little hope for making another deep playoff run.

On the other sideline, future Hall of Famer Warren Moon had overcome an injury earlier in the year and had the Oilers humming on offense. While pushing the Oilers to an early 28-point lead in the AFC wild-card matchup, Moon was nearly perfect. He threw for four touchdowns and put the game seemingly out of reach by halftime.

As History.com reports, it got even uglier for the Bills in the second half. Buffalo’s backup quarterback Frank Reich threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown to make it 35-3. Making matters even worse, the Bills lost star running back Thurman Thomas to injury on the drive as well. The team turned the high-octane running offense over to backup Kenneth Davis.

According to the local NBC affiliate, that’s about the time that large crowds headed for the exits. Fans assumed an ugly first-round playoff loss was inevitable.

One touchdown at a time for Bills QB Frank Reich

Quarterback Frank Reich of the Buffalo Bills looks to pass the ball during the 1993 playoff game against the Houston Oilers
Buffalo Bills quarterback Frank Reich during the 1993 playoff game against the Houston Oilers | Rick Stewart /Allspors

With the game not even being televised in the Buffalo area, hardly anyone actually saw the beginning of the comeback. After punching in a touchdown to make it 35-10, Bills kicker Steve Christie botched the following kickoff. He ended up recovering it himself. According to a New York Times feature, Bills coach Marv Levy swears he didn’t call for an onside kick.

A little luck turned out to be exactly what the Bills needed. Reich quickly hit wideout Don Beebe for a 38-yard touchdown to make the score respectable. Even this play was teeming with luck for the Bills. Beebe stepped out of bounds before re-entering to catch the touchdown.

After being pushed around by the Houston run-and-shoot offense for much of the game, the Bills defense woke up. It forced a couple of turnovers that led to scoring strikes from Reich to future Hall of Famer Andre Reed.

Following a muffed field-goal attempt by the Oilers, Reich again found Reed in the endzone to give the Bills a 38-35 lead with only a few minutes to go. As the NY Times details, Bills stadium personnel started letting fans with valid ticket stubs back into the stadium. Previously, fans were climbing over unattended fences to return to their seats.

Moon rallied the Oilers for an impressive game-tying drive to end regulation. But the Bills picked off Moon in overtime to set up the game-winning field goal.

The game became the greatest comeback in NFL history, sending the Bills to a third consecutive Super Bowl appearance. Alongside Bills greats like Reed, James Lofton, and Darryl Talley, Reich continues to have a special place in Buffalo lore thanks to one of the greatest games in franchise history. 

Other games in the shadow of the Buffalo Bills’ comeback

The comeback by Reich was not even his first time engineering a historic comeback. Playing for the University of Maryland, Reich brought the Terrapins back from a 31-point deficit to stun Jimmy Johnson-led powerhouse Miami. It turned out to be the biggest college comeback in history, with the record remaining for more than two decades.

Although the Bills’ comeback in the 1992 AFC wild-card game remains the gold standard in the NFL, the Super Bowl LI (51) comeback by the Patriots over the Falcons is a close competitor. Down 28-3 at one point to the Falcons, Tom Brady had to be flawless down the home stretch to turn the tide. He ultimately led the Pats to a shocking 34-28 Super Bowl win in overtime.

Also in contention for the greatest NFL comeback is the 2013 AFC wild-card game (played on January 4, 2014) between the Chiefs and Colts. After falling behind by 28 points, Indy quarterback Andrew Luck shook off early mistakes to lead a dramatic comeback in front of the home fans at Lucas Oil Stadium. The 45-44 win would turn out to be one of Luck’s greatest NFL games, according to ESPN, and one of the best moments in Colts franchise history.  

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