November 18, 2009

1984: Greg Bell’s 206 Rushing Yards Spur Bills Upset of Cowboys

It had been a long and disappointing season in Buffalo as the winless Bills (0-11) prepared to take on the visiting Dallas Cowboys (7-4) at Rich Stadium on November 18, 1984. The Cowboys were tied with Washington atop the NFC East and couldn’t be blamed for believing that they had little to fear from the hapless Bills.

The Bills were a team in transition under Head Coach Kay Stephenson. The offense had been particularly disappointing, with the exception of rookie RB Greg Bell, replacing the talented Joe Cribbs who had jumped to the USFL. Bell had carried the ball 158 times for 646 yards thus far, a 4.1 average gain, with two hundred-yard performances. On this day he set the tone by taking off on an 85-yard scoring run on Buffalo’s first play from scrimmage. It would prove to be all the points the Bills would need.

The defense played inspired football, holding the Cowboys to just 78 rushing yards on 24 attempts (virtually all by RB Tony Dorsett, who had 70 yards on 17 carries). Dallas QB Gary Hogeboom completed fewer than half his passes (22 of 45) and the Bills intercepted him twice.

Buffalo missed opportunities to score twice more in the first half. Don Wilson returned a punt 34 yards to put the Bills in good field position, but the resulting field goal attempt failed due to a bad snap. LB Joe Azelby blocked a Danny White punt, but Bills QB Joe Ferguson promptly threw an interception that led to the only Dallas score of the game, a 20-yard Rafael Septien field goal that made it 7-3 at the half.

Thanks to Bell’s running, the Bills were able to control the ball for extended periods during the second half, including a total of 11:34 in the fourth quarter alone. A nine-play, 70-yard drive resulted in the only other touchdown of the day, fittingly scored by Bell on a four-yard pass from Ferguson. Safety Rod Kush and CB Brian Carpenter both intercepted Hogeboom passes to snuff out Dallas drives. The final score was 14-3 as Buffalo entered the win column.

Bell, the star of the game, ran for 206 yards on 27 carries and caught two passes for another 12. QB Ferguson had an ordinary performance, completing just 13 of 29 passes for 117 yards with a TD and two interceptions. WR Byron Franklin topped the Buffalo receivers in both receptions (6) and yards (55).

In the euphoric mood after the game, Bills DE Ben Williams said “this is kind of like our Super Bowl.” Owner Ralph Wilson added “I feel like we’re leading the league.” Meanwhile, Dorsett summed up the feeling of the stunned Cowboys by saying “I’m totally embarrassed…it’s total humiliation.”

The joy didn’t last long for the Bills – they lost decisively at Washington the next week, although they did win once more to the floundering Indianapolis Colts to conclude the season with a league-worst 2-14 record. However, they used the first overall pick in the 1985 draft to select Bruce Smith from Virginia Tech, who would become a bulwark at defensive end. The Cowboys split the remainder of their games and finished with a 9-7 record, which was the same as that of the Giants and Cardinals in the NFC East but, with tie-breakers applied, left them in fourth place and out of the postseason.

Greg Bell ended up compiling 1100 yards on 262 carries for the year with seven TDs, and caught 34 passes for 277 yards and another score. He was selected to the AFC Pro Bowl team.