January 27, 2012

1991: Giants Edge Bills in Super Bowl XXV

It was a showdown between two 13-3 teams in the 25th edition of the Super Bowl on January 27, 1991. The New York Giants, under Head Coach Bill Parcells, had won their first ten games in 1990 and, after thrashing the Bears in the Divisional playoff round, dethroned the two-time champion San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game. In losing three of their last four regular season contests, the Giants had also lost QB Phil Simms to a foot sprain and RB Rodney Hampton to an injured leg, but backup QB Jeff Hostetler and 33-year-old RB Ottis Anderson (pictured above) both rose to the occasion. The conservative offense made few mistakes along the way, turning the ball over just 14 times in 16 games. The stifling defense was led by LB Lawrence Taylor and ranked first in the conference.

The Buffalo Bills, coached by Marv Levy, won the AFC East in 1988 and ‘89 but had not made it to the Super Bowl. Their offense was the league’s highest-scoring, led by QB Jim Kelly (who also had an able backup in Frank Reich) and featuring all-purpose RB Thurman Thomas (pictured at right) and WR Andre Reed. The outstanding defense was anchored by DE Bruce Smith and was especially strong at linebacker, with Cornelius Bennett, Shane Conlan, and Darryl Talley. They ran up a total of 95 points in defeating Miami in the Divisional playoff round (44-34) and the Raiders for the AFC title (51-3) to advance to the team’s first Super Bowl (the Bills won two championships in the AFL).

There was a crowd of 73,813 at Tampa Stadium for the contest between the two clubs from New York state. The Bills punted following the first series of the game and New York took over at its 31 yard line after RB Dave Meggett returned it 20 yards. The Giants put together a methodical 10-play, 58-yard drive. Hostetler completed passes of 13 yards to TE Howard Cross and 16 yards to WR Mark Ingram along the way and Matt Bahr finished the possession off with a 28-yard field goal.

Buffalo came right back when, on the second play of their next series, Kelly threw a long pass that was deflected but caught by 13-year veteran WR James Lofton for a 61-yard gain to the New York eight. The Giants defense held and Scott Norwood booted a 23-yard field goal to tie the game at 3-3.

After a punt by the Giants, the Bills put together a long scoring drive of 12 plays that extended into the second quarter and covered 80 yards. Kelly completed four passes to Reed that covered a total of 44 yards and RB Don Smith scored on a one-yard touchdown carry. Norwood’s PAT made it 10-3.

The teams traded punts and Buffalo’s Rick Tuten pinned the Giants back on their seven yard line with his. Following a gain of seven yards on a pass to Anderson, New York was penalized half the distance due to a holding penalty, putting them back at the seven, and Hostetler tripped when fading back to pass and was sacked in his end zone by Bruce Smith for a safety. The Bills were up by 12-3 and dominating the contest.

With 3:49 to go in the first half, the Giants got the ball back on their 13 following a Buffalo punt. The offense gained ground in chunks as, following a Hostetler pass to TE Mark Bavaro, Anderson ran up the middle for an 18-yard gain, Hostetler went to the air again to Ingram for 22 more, and Meggett ran around end for 17 yards to the Buffalo 24. On a third-and-seven play, Hostetler threw to Cross who clawed his way to the first down. After two incomplete passes, Hostetler found WR Stephen Baker in the end zone for a 14-yard touchdown. The teams went into halftime with the Bills holding a narrow 12-10 lead.

The Giants started off the second half as they had ended the first, putting together a long scoring drive of 75 yards in 14 plays that ate up over nine minutes. Along the way, they converted on third-and-eight with Hostetler throwing to Meggett for 11 yards, Anderson had a 24-yard run, Hostetler connected with Ingram, who broke four tackles after making the catch, for 14 yards in a third-and-13 situation, and on third-and-four at the Buffalo 12, Hostetler completed a pass to Cross for nine yards. Anderson capped the long series with a one-yard scoring run and New York took the lead at 17-12.

The Bills found themselves in a fourth-and-25 situation on their next possession and had to punt from their own 38. Tuten’s kick traveled only 20 yards, giving the Giants good field position at their 42. Driving to the Buffalo 35, they went for it on fourth-and-two. The result was Anderson being thrown for a two-yard loss, and the momentum shifted back to the Bills as the game moved into the fourth quarter.

It took just four plays for Buffalo to capitalize as Thomas took the handoff on a draw play, broke two tackles, and bounded down the sideline for a 31-yard touchdown. With Norwood’s extra point, the Bills were back in front by two points at 19-17.

The Giants responded by putting together another long drive. They converted two third downs as Hostetler completed four passes and Anderson, Meggett, and FB Maurice Carthon all carried the ball. After going 74 yards in 13 plays to the Buffalo three yard line, Bahr kicked a 21-yard field goal and New York was in the lead by a point.

The teams traded punts, and Buffalo regained possession on its own 10 with 2:16 remaining on the clock. Kelly scrambled twice for nine yards and, on third-and-one, Thomas took off for 22 yards on a draw play out of shotgun formation. A pass to Reed and a nine-yard Kelly run got the ball into New York territory. Kelly threw to TE Keith McKellar, who made a shoestring catch at the 40, and Thomas ran for 11 yards to the New York 29. Kelly spiked the ball to stop the clock, which was now down to eight seconds, and Norwood came in to attempt a 47-yard field goal. There was no last-second success for the Bills, though – Norwood’s kick sailed wide to the right and the Giants were champions by a score of 20-19.

New York had a huge edge in time of possession (40:33 to 19:27), keeping the high-powered Bills and their no-huddle offense off the field. Statistically it was closer, however, as the Giants had the edge in total yards (386 to 371) and first downs (24 to 18). Neither team turned the ball over, but Buffalo suffered from dropped passes and missed tackles.

“We didn't want them to have the ball,” Bill Parcells said. “I have a lot of confidence in our defense, but I'm not so naive to think they couldn't put points on the board against us. I knew for us to have a chance to win we had to keep their offense off the field.”

Cornelius Bennett summed up the feeling of his Buffalo teammates when he said, “Scotty (Norwood) didn’t lose the football game. We lost it as a team.”

Jeff Hostetler (pictured at left) completed 20 of 32 passes for 222 yards and a touchdown. Ottis Anderson was the game’s MVP as he rushed for 102 yards on 21 carries that included a TD; Dave Meggett added 48 yards on 9 attempts. Mark Ingram caught 5 passes for 74 yards and Mark Bavaro also had 5 receptions, gaining 50 yards.

For the Bills, Thurman Thomas was outstanding as he ran the ball 15 times for 135 yards and added another 55 yards on 5 pass receptions. Jim Kelly was successful on 18 of 30 throws for 212 yards. Andre Reed had 8 catches for 62 yards and James Lofton gained 61 on his one reception.

In the offseason, Bill Parcells quit as coach of the Giants and, under his successor Ray Handley, the club fell out of contention during the next two years. Buffalo continued to top the AFC, winning the next three AFC Championships. However, the one-point loss to New York was the closest they came to winning a Super Bowl during that period as they lost badly to the Redskins following the 1991 season and Dallas after ’92 and ’93.