Resiliency was one of the most commonly preached subjects during Marv Levy’s reign as head coach of the Buffalo Bills. Ask anyone who played for Buffalo during the early 1990’s how they would define their career, and the word resiliency is a staple theme. The Bills displayed that resiliency on September 1, 1991, in their first NFL regular season game since coming off a heart breaking 20-19 loss to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXV.
The Miami Dolphins, quickly becoming Buffalo’s fiercest rival in the AFC East, traveled to Rich Stadium to exact revenge against the team that had bounced them out of the playoffs eight months prior. All signs pointed to Miami succeeding in the early going when Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino connected on a forty-three yard touchdown pass to Mark Clayton and a 7-0 lead to close the first quarter.
The Bills on the other hand seemed to have a Super Bowl hangover. On their first drive, Buffalo drove down the field setting up Scott Norwood for a 25 yard chip-shot field goal. It sailed wide-right. Again the Bills moved the ball deep into Miami territory but were denied points when Dolphins’ safety Louis Oliver intercepted Jim Kelly’s pass in the end zone.
The early season matchup in Buffalo was quite welcome by Miami. There was no need for concern over a neutralizing frigid breeze in September for the warm-weather Dolphins. With momentum swinging their way running back Mark Higgs’ 5’7 frame crossed the goal line from three yards out giving Miami the 14-0 lead.
The resilient Bills however had an answer to their early mishaps. That answer came in the form of a touchdown pass from quarterback Jim Kelly to Andre Reed. The connection covered fifty-three yards, cutting Miami’s lead in half 14-7, revitalizing an anxious Rich Stadium crowd going into halftime.
Adversity stuck again for the Bills to open the second half when Miami increased their lead to 17-7 and Jim Kelly was hobbling on a sprained ankle forcing him to temporarily leave the game. The Bills were already without future Hall of Famer Bruce Smith on the defensive side, and nose tackle Jeff Wright was injured and missed most of the second half.
The Bills spirit was not broken.
Backup quarterback Frank Reich, filling in for Kelly, got the Bills back within 17-14 on a three yard toss to Butch Rolle. Kelly, able to stabilize the ankle went back to work and hit Thurman Thomas for a 50 yard touchdown pass to give the Bills their first lead 21-17 heading into the final quarter.
Miami would not go down easy. Dan Marino hit Mark Clayton for their second touchdown hookup and the Dolphins retook the lead 24-21. Thurman Thomas and the Bills however were in an unstoppable rhythm. Everything was clicking as they moved down the field with ease scoring touchdowns on their next two possessions opening up a 35-24 lead. The Dolphins responded late coming within 35-31 on a Dan Marino to Mark Duper touchdown pass, but the Bills were able to run out the clock on their final drive.
The unstoppable stalwart of the game was Thomas, who ran for 165 yards on 25 carries also catching 8 passes for 103 yards and a touchdown. The future Hall of Fame running back became the first Buffalo Bill ever to eclipse 100 yards in rushing and receiving in a single game.
Jim Kelly was on fire despite a tender ankle. He completed 29 of 39 passes and two touchdowns. His 381 passing yards were a career best in a regular season game.
Andre Reed capped off the Hall of Fame trio with 11 receptions for 154 yards and 1 touchdown.
The Bills offense failed to score on just four possessions for the day. The missed field goal and the turnover in the first quarter were the first two. The others being a punt to end the first half and a kneel down to end the game.