January 12, 1992: Denver Broncos vs. Buffalo Bills
Historical Game of the Week
By Ken Crippen
- Professional Football Researchers Association
Published: December 15th, 2008
January 12, 1992
AFC Championship Game
The Bills finished the 1991 season 13-3 and in first place in the conference. The Broncos were not far behind with a 12-4 record. In a tough contest, the Broncos earned their way to the AFC Championship game by beating the Houston Oilers 26-24. The Bills had an easier time by winning 37-14 over the Kansas City Chiefs. Another win by Buffalo and the Bills would attempt to avenge their Super Bowl loss from the previous year.
Each team punted twice to begin the game. At that point, Jim Kelly was intercepted by Greg Kragen on a pass tipped by Ron Holmes. Kragen caught the ball on the Bills’ 29-yard line to begin the Broncos drive. Denver’s offense was unable to advance for a first down, leaving them in position for a field goal attempt. David Treadwell missed the 47-yard try.
In Denver’s next offensive series, Kirby Jackson intercepted a John Elway pass, but it was reversed. The Bills defense held, but on fourth and four, Jeff Wright was called for offsides, and the Broncos’ drive continued. This gave Denver a first down and they continued to move the ball. The Bills defense stiffened and held Denver to another field goal attempt, but this time, Treadwell hit the goal post on his 42-yard try. Denver’s next series was almost a repeat of the previous. The Broncos drove down into Buffalo territory, but left with another field goal attempt. Treadwell again hit the post and the game remained scoreless.
It took a big play by Broncos DB Tyrone Braxton and another big play by the Buffalo defense to turn the game. Braxton intercepted a Kelly toss and returned it to the Denver 19-yard line. Elway attempted a pass to Steve Sewell, but the ball was tipped by Jeff Wright into the hands of Carlton Bailey. Bailey returned the ball for a touchdown. According to Wright, “They had run the play earlier in the game and they have a tendency to repeat a lot of plays, so I knew they’d probably be coming back to it and when they did, I reacted.” Bailey gave his perspective, “I didn’t recognize the tip right away. I heard it, then I looked up and saw the ball. All I could think of was ‘If I drop this ball, I’m never going to hear the end of it when I show up at the meeting Monday morning.’” Baily continued, “We used to have this linebacker called Mongo [Matt Monger] and he couldn’t catch a cold. If I dropped it, they would have been calling me Mongo the rest of my life.”
The Bills were on top 7-0 in the fourth quarter. Late in the game, Scott Norwood connected from 44 yards to give the Bills a 10-0 lead with 4:18 remaining in the game. At that point, Gary Kubiak – who replaced an injured John Elway – drove the Broncos 85 yards for a touchdown. With 1:43 left in the game, the Bills held a slim 10-7 lead. Denver attempted an onsides kick, which was recovered by Steve Atwater on the Bronco 49-yard line. Kubiak dropped back to pass and hit Steve Sewell. Kirby Jackson stripped the ball from Sewell’s hands and the Bills had possession to run out the clock. “I had underneath coverage and they threw it short and I focused on the ball,” recalled Jackson. “I knew I had stripped it, but I couldn’t find it. I think it was meant for me to get the ball.”
The Bills won the game and earned another trip to the Super Bowl. According to Jim Kelly, “Last year’s Super Bowl lingered in our minds – four, five, six months – and I didn’t like that. We have a chance to go back and not many teams get a second opportunity. We have our second opportunity. Now it’s a matter of us capitalizing on it.” The Bills went on to lose 37-24 to the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl XXVI.
There was no question that the defense carried the team that day. The Broncos held the Bills to a season low 109 passing yards. Meanwhile, Denver drove into Bills’ territory ten of 14 times they had the ball. However, they were unable to score until the final drive late in the game. According to Jeff Wright, “Defense wins championships and we were a big part of it today. The offense carried us all season, we just paid them back.”