First quarter: Quick strike
The Houston Oilers walked onto the Rich Stadium field amid one of the great offensive runs in NFL history. The Oilers’ passing offense had ranked No. 1 in the NFL in 1992 for a third straight season. Overall, the Houston offense was third in yards and sixth in points.
Houston’s offense included three future Hall of Famers — quarterback Warren Moon and guards Bruce Matthews and Mike Munchak. They were among seven offensive Pro Bowlers, joining running back Lorenzo White and receivers Haywood Jeffires, Curtis Duncan and Ernest Givins.
The Oilers’ run-and-shoot offense — the model for today’s spread attacks — ran the ball on only 36.8 percent of its plays, the second lowest rate in the league. The Bills, by contrast, had the most rushing attempts in the league and ran 50.5 percent.
Key plays: Houston took the opening kickoff and drove 80 yards in 14 plays to a touchdown, which came on a 3-yard pass from Moon to Jeffires. The Bills answered with a 36-yard Steve Christie field goal.
Weather: It was a decent day for Jan. 3, overcast and 41 degrees at kickoff. But the wind was a factor, blowing 16 to 24 mph.
Second quarter: Shoot 'em up
Counting his six seasons in the Canadian Football League, Warren Moon passed for 70,553 yards, more than any other Pro Football Hall of Famer.
He might never have had a better 15 minutes of play than the second quarter against the Bills.
The Oilers had three possessions and scored three touchdowns, on drives of 80 yards, 67 yards and 67 yards. Moon completed 12 of 14 passes for 158 yards and three touchdowns.
The Bills played a dime defense, with six defensive backs, against the Oilers’ four-receiver formation. Moon picked them apart with precise throws underneath and down the seams of the zone defenses.
“We didn’t do anything the first half,” Bills defensive coordinator Walt Corey told The News after the game. “We were playing our dime defense. I thought the scheme of the dime defense was good, but we didn’t make anything happen.”
Key plays: Moon threw TD strikes of 7 yards to Webster Slaughter, 26 yards to Curtis Duncan and 27 yards to Haywood Jeffires. The last came with 14 seconds left and made it 28-3.
Third quarter: Floodgates open
It was the wildest quarter in Bills history. On the fourth play from scrimmage, Houston’s Bubba McDowell returned an interception 58 yards for a touchdown to put the Oilers up, 35-3.
The Oilers’ ensuing kickoff was mishit, caromed off the Bills’ Mark Maddox and the Bills took over at midfield. Subbing for injured Thurman Thomas, Kenneth Davis capped a 50-yard drive with a 1-yard TD run.
With help from a block by Mark Pike, Steve Christie recovered the ensuing onside kickoff at the Buffalo 48.
Frank Reich threw a 38-yard TD pass to Don Beebe with 7:56 left. Just 3:35 later, Reich threw a 26-yard TD pass to Andre Reed. After an interception by Henry Jones, Reich threw an 18-yard TD pass to Reed to pull the Bills within 35-31, with 2 minutes left in the quarter.
Key adjustment: Defensive coordinator Walt Corey took defensive backs Cliff Hicks and Kurt Schulz off the field and replaced them with two linebackers, Maddox and Marvcus Patton.
Gambles: The Bills converted a fourth-and-2 situation on the first TD drive, and the 18-yard TD pass came on a fourth-and-5.
Fourth quarter: Sealing the deal
Three big defensive plays helped key the Buffalo victory. The first: On a first down from the Bills’ 40 with 11:13 left, Warren Moon threw a perfect deep post for Haywood Jeffires at the Bills’ 5. Nate Odomes made a great recovery to break up what would have been a touchdown.
The second: Four plays after the Odomes breakup, Phil Hansen hustled and tripped Lorenzo White from behind on a screen pass at the Bills’ 21. White would have gotten at least 10 more yards. Houston settled for a 31-yard field-goal try but holder Greg Montgomery fumbled the snap.
The third: On the third play from scrimmage in overtime, Odomes intercepted a Moon overthrow and the Bills took over at the Houston 20, setting up Steve Christie’s winning, 32-yard field goal.
Key plays: Frank Reich threw a 17-yard TD pass to Andre Reed with 3:08 left to put Buffalo ahead, 38-35. Al Del Greco kicked a 26-yard field goal with 12 seconds left to tie.
No call: On Odomes’ overtime pickoff, intended receiver Ernest Givins was tripped slightly by Darryl Talley. He didn’t fall and there was no call.