Yet another reader found this site by googling a something akin to a historical question that can’t be found easily by searching through stat sheets or box scores, and in a never-ending effort to keep up with my readers, I am more than happy to oblige.
The phrase that was searched was: “Buffalo vs. Denver, 20 points in seconds”.
This game took place in Week 4 of the 1990 season. Denver was coming off their third embarrassing Super Bowl loss in four years (but, better to have been there….), and came into the game with a 2-1 record. Buffalo entered the season thinking that this was finally the year that they could put it all together, earn home-field advantage in the playoffs, and finally reach the Super Bowl. The Bills also came into the game with a 2-1 record. Buffalo didn’t exactly hit the ground running on the season, though. They beat the Colts 26-10 (Jeff George’s NFL debut), but followed it up by getting thrashed at Miami by the tune of 30-7. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Bruce Smith and Darryl Talley blew up at Head Coach Marv Levy on the sidelines when Levy benched them with seven minutes to go, down 30-0. This was at a time when the Bills were still known as the “Bickering Bills”, and it was well-documented that they did not have the greatest team chemistry on earth. The Bills followed up that debacle by beating the Jets in the Meadowlands on Monday Night Football by the same 30-7 score.
The game itself was on a drizzly day in Orchard Park, and Buffalo’s offense was stymied for most of the game. Denver built a 14-3 halftime lead, and Buffalo’s lone score came on their last drive of the half when Denver was playing a prevent defense. Denver running back Bobby Humphrey amassed almost 100 yards rushing by halftime. You couldn’t even blame it on a single long run; it was like dying a slow painful death, six yards at a time. Buffalo scored on a 12-yard direct snap to Don Smith on 3rd and goal from the 12 following a Denver turnover in the third quarter, but missed the extra point. Sammy Winder scored on a three-yard run later in the third quarter to give the Broncos a 21-9 lead going into the fourth.
Buffalo’s offense was basically stuck in neutral throughout the game (they only gained 197 yards on the day). Denver lined up for a chip-shot 24-yard field goal with about seven minutes left that would have put the game away. Darryl Talley blocked a kick earlier in the game, so the wing payed a little more attention to him coming from the inside, and in doing so, let Nate Odomes come through from the outside and blocked the kick. Cornelius Bennett picked the ball out of midair and returned it 80 yards for a touchdown, closing the gap to 21-16. Three plays later, safety Leonard Smith intercepted Elway’s third down tipped pass and returned it 39 yards for a touchdown to give the Bills a 22-21 lead (missed extra point). The Broncos followed that up with a bad kickoff return coupled with a holding penalty on the return. The crowd was roaring by this point, and the referee stopped the game to quiet the crowd.
It didn’t help.
Elway fumbled the snap amidst mocking chants of “ELWAY! ELWAY!”. Bennett recovered at the two, and Kenneth Davis took it in on the next play for a 29-21 Buffalo lead. Buffalo completely stole the momentum and turned the game around in five plays and 77 seconds. Denver scored on their next series to bring them within one point at 29-28 (no two-point conversions in 1990; those didn’t come about until 1994), but they failed to recover their onsides kick, and the game was literally stolen by the Bills.
This was one of those games where stat sheets and box scores lie. Buffalo failed to gain 200 yards of offense for the game, and Denver ran for 208 yards and gained 410 yards all together. Denver gained 28 first downs to Buffalo’s fifteen. The only stat that didn’t go Denver’s way was their five turnovers to Buffalo’s three. This game was the turning point of the Bills’ first Super Bowl season, and Denver ended the year 5-11 and fifth in the AFC West.
I hope I sufficiently answered the question, and thank you for reading.