American Football Wiki
1990 Buffalo Bills season
Owner Ralph Wilson
President Ralph Wilson
Head Coach Marv Levy
General Manager Bill Polian
Offensive Coordinator Ted Marchibroda
Defensive Coordinator Walt Corey
Home Field Rich Stadium
Record 13–3
Place 1st AFC East
Playoff Finish Won Divisional Playoffs (vs. Dolphins) 44–34
Won AFC Championship (vs. Raiders) 51–3
Lost Super Bowl XXV (vs. Giants) 19–20
Previous Season Next Season
1989 1991

The 1990 Buffalo Bills season was the 31st for the franchise and the 21st in the National Football League. The team finished the year with a record of 13 wins and 3 losses, and first in the American Football Conference (AFC) East division. They were 8–0 at home for the second time in their franchise history.[1] On the road, the Bills were 5–3. Buffalo qualified for their first Super Bowl appearance.

The Bills' offense was one of the best in the league; their 428 points (26.75 points per game) scored was first in the league, and since they only gave up 263 points (6th in the league), their point differential was 165 points (10.3 per game), which was the best in the NFL in 1990, as well as the best point-differential in franchise history.[2] Buffalo's 48 offensive touchdowns (28 passing, 20 rushing) also led the league.

Defensive end Bruce Smith was named Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year for 1990,[3] recording 101 tackles, four forced fumbles, and a career-high 19 sacks.[4]

The season was chronicled on October 2, 2008 for America's Game: The Missing Rings, as one of the five greatest NFL teams to never win the Super Bowl.


NFL Draft

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1990 Buffalo Bills draft
Round Pick Player Position College Notes
1 16 James Williams Cornerback Fresno State
2 42 Carwell Gardner Fullback Louisville
3 69 Glenn Parker Guard Arizona
4 100 Eddie Fuller Running back LSU
6 154 John Nies Punter Arizona
7 166 Brent Griffith Guard Minnesota–Duluth
7 170 Brent Collins Linebacker Carson–Newman
7 181 Fred DeRiggi Defensive tackle Syracuse
8 208 Marvcus Patton Linebacker UCLA
9 238 Clarkston Hines Wide receiver Duke
10 265 Mike Lodish Defensive tackle UCLA
11 292 Al Edwards Wide receiver Northwestern State
      Made roster  


Regular season

Bruce Smith set a club record with 19 sacks. Smith also had 101 tackles.

  • September 24, 1990 – Thurman Thomas rushed for 214 yards versus the New York Jets. It was the second highest total in the history of Monday Night Football.
  • Bruce Smith had 8 tackles, 2 sacks, and 4 hurries in the Bills 30–23 victory over Philadelphia.
  • Bruce Smith had 9 tackles, 4 sacks, and 2 pressures in the Bills victory over Indianapolis.


Week Date Opponent Result Record Game Site Att.
1 September 9 Indianapolis W 26–10 1–0 Rich Stadium
2 September 16 at Miami L 7–30 1–1 Joe Robbie Stadium
3 September 24 at NY Jets W 30–7 2–1 Giants Stadium
4 September 30 Denver W 29–28 3–1 Rich Stadium
5 October 7 LA Raiders W 38–24 4–1 Rich Stadium
6 Bye
7 October 21 NY Jets W 30–27 5–1 Rich Stadium
8 October 28 at New England W 27–10 6–1 Sullivan Stadium
9 November 4 at Cleveland W 42–0 7–1 Cleveland Stadium
10 November 11 Phoenix W 45–14 8–1 Rich Stadium
11 November 18 New England W 14–0 9–1 Rich Stadium
12 November 25 at Houston L 27–24 9–2 Astrodome
13 December 2 Philadelphia W 30–23 10–2 Rich Stadium
14 December 9 at Indianapolis W 31–7 11–2 Hoosier Dome
15 December 15 at NY Giants W 17–13 12–2 Giants Stadium
16 December 22 Miami Dolphins W 24–14 13–2 Rich Stadium
17 December 29 at Washington L 29–14 13–3 RFK Stadium

Game summaries

AFC Championship Game

Los Angeles Raiders (13–4) at Buffalo Bills (14–3)

1 2 3 4 Total
Raiders 3 0 0 0 3
Bills 21 20 0 10 51

at Rich Stadium, Orchard Park, New York

  • Game time: Sunday, January 20, 1991. 12:30 pm EST
  • Game weather: Template:Convert/°F, rain/light snow
  • Game attendance: 80,325
  • Referee: Jim Tunney
  • TV announcers (NBC): Dick Enberg and Bill Walsh
  • Box Score

The Bills shredded the Raiders, limiting quarterback Jay Schroeder to 13 of 31 completions for 150 yards and intercepting him five times, while also holding running back Marcus Allen to just 26 yards on 10 carries. The Raiders offense clearly missed running back Bo Jackson, who suffered what would turn out to be a career-ending injury the week before in a win against the Cincinnati Bengals. On offense, the Bills amassed 502 total yards, including 202 yards on the ground. Running back Thurman Thomas rushed for 138 and a touchdown while also catching 5 passes for 61 yards, while running back Kenneth Davis tied an AFC playoff record with 3 rushing touchdowns. Buffalo also set an NFL playoff record by scoring 41 points in the first half. Bills quarterback Jim Kelly threw for 300 yards and two touchdown passes to wide receiver James Lofton, who finished the game with 5 receptions for 113 yards. Thomas recorded a 12-yard touchdown run, while Davis scored from 1 yard, 3 yards, and 1 yard out. Linebacker Darryl Talley returned one of his two interceptions 27 yards for a touchdown.

Super Bowl XXV

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1 2 3 4 Total
Bills 3 9 0 7 19
Giants 3 7 7 3 20

at Tampa Stadium, Tampa, Florida

  • Date: January 27, 1991
  • Game time: 5:30 p.m.
  • Game weather: 62 F, wind 8 mph
  • Referee: Jerry Seeman
  • Box Score

To counteract the Bills' no-huddle offense, the Giants' strategy was to use a power running game utilizing O.J. Anderson, aided by quarterback rollouts, bootlegs, and play-action fakes. As tight end Mark Bavaro later recalled, "[w]e came out with three tight ends, fat slobs picking you up and moving you and letting you tackle O.J., if you could."[6] This enabled them to take time off the clock and limit Buffalo's possessions. The Giants set a Super Bowl record for time of possession with 40 minutes, 33 seconds, including 22 minutes in the second half. On defense, New York wanted to be physical with Buffalo's wideouts, and play with extra defensive backs to concentrate on stopping the Bills passing game, while conceding the running game.

The contrast in strategies was evident during the first period. After forcing the Bills to punt on the opening drive of the game, the Giants consumed 6:15 off the clock by marching 58 yards in 10 plays to score on a 28-yard field goal from Matt Bahr. In that drive, New York ran five rushing plays and five passing plays. But the Bills struck right back on their ensuing possession with a five-play, 66-yard drive that took 1:23 off the clock, including a tipped 61-yard completion from quarterback Jim Kelly to receiver James Lofton that set up Scott Norwood's 23-yard field goal to tie the game at 3–3.

After forcing the Giants to punt on their ensuing possession, the Bills' offensive strategy started to work to perfection. Kelly led the Bills on a 12-play, 80-yard scoring drive that consumed 4:27 and moved the ball so effectively that the team never faced a third down. Kelly completed six consecutive passes (four to Andre Reed) for 62 yards, and running back Don Smith capped it off with a one-yard touchdown run to give Buffalo a 10–3 lead. Smith's 1-yard touchdown run was his only carry of the game and the last carry of his career. Reed's 5 first quarter receptions were a Super Bowl record.

After trading punts, the Giants were pinned at their own 7-yard line. On second down, defensive lineman Bruce Smith sacked quarterback Jeff Hostetler in the end zone for a safety, increasing the Bills' lead 12–3. On the play, Smith had a chance to force a fumble since Hostetler was holding the football with only his throwing hand. But to his credit, Hostetler held the ball away from Smith, helping to ensure that only 2 points would be surrendered.

The Bills started out on their next drive with great field position following the free kick, but were forced to punt after 3 plays. Taking the ball at their own 13-yard line with 3:43 left in the second quarter, the Giants abandoned their long drive strategy and employed a quick strike attack of their own. Hostetler led the Giants 87 yards, scoring on a 14-yard touchdown pass to wide recieiver Stephen Baker with just 25 seconds left in the half to cut New York's deficit to 12–10.

The Giants then opened the third quarter and resumed their original game strategy by driving 75 yards in 14 plays to score on Ottis Anderson's one-yard touchdown run, taking their first lead of the game since their opening possession at 17–12. The drive consumed a Super Bowl record nine minutes and 29 seconds, and included four successful third down conversions. The highlight was a 14-yard pass to wide receiver Mark Ingram on 3rd down and 13 yards to go. Ingram caught a short pass and broke five Buffalo tackles to get the first down and keep the drive alive.

After forcing Buffalo to punt on their ensuing possession, New York drove to the Bills' 35-yard line. But on fourth and two, Smith tackled Anderson for a 2-yard loss. Buffalo then took over and stormed down the field, advancing 63 yards in just four plays and scoring on a 31-yard burst from running back Thurman Thomas on the first play of the fourth quarter, regaining the lead at 19–17. Thomas' fourth-quarter touchdown run marked 1,000 points scored in Super Bowl history (1,001 with the extra point).

However, before the Bills' defenders had a chance to catch their breath, they found themselves back on the field trying to contain another long Giants drive. This one went for 14 plays and 74 yards, half of which came off passes from Hostetler to tight end Mark Bavaro, and took another 7:32 off the clock. The Bills managed to halt the drive at their own 3-yard line when linebacker Cornelius Bennett broke up Hostetler's third down pass, but Bahr kicked his second field goal to give New York a 20–19 lead.

On the Bills' ensuing possession, they could only advance to their own 41-yard line before having to punt, enabling the Giants to take more time off the clock. The Bills finally forced New York to punt and took the ball at their own 10-yard line with 2:16 remaining. Kelly then led them down the field with a mix of scrambles, short passes, and Thomas runs. Buffalo drove to the Giants' 29-yard line, setting up Norwood for a 47-yard field goal attempt with eight seconds left. However, his kick barely sailed wide right, sealing New York's victory with 4 seconds left.

Player stats

Thurman Thomas

Thomas led the NFL in total yards from scrimmage for the second consecutive season. His 1,297 yards led the AFC and was second in the NFL to Barry Sanders. Thomas had at least 100 total yards in 10 of the Bills 16 games. After gaining 219 total yards versus the New York Jets, Thomas was named AFC offensive player of the week. Note: Rush = Rushing Yards; REC = Receiving Yards

Game Rush Rec Total
Indianapolis 84 61 145
Miami 23 37 60
New York Jets 214 5 219
Denver 36 25 61
LA Raiders 67 47 114
New York Jets 5 0 5
New England 136 9 145
Cleveland 58 65 123
Phoenix 112 0 112
New England 165 5 170
Houston 54 32 86
Philadelphia 53 39 92
Indianapolis 76 91 167
New York Giants 60 65 125
Miami 154 29 183
Washington 0 22 22


1990 AFC East standings
(1) Buffalo Bills 13 3 0 .813 7–1 10–2 428 263 L1
(4) Miami Dolphins 12 4 0 .750 7–1 10–2 336 242 W1
Indianapolis Colts 7 9 0 .438 3–5 5–7 281 353 L1
New York Jets 6 10 0 .375 2–6 4–10 295 345 W2
New England Patriots 1 15 0 .063 1–7 1–11 181 446 L14



1990 Buffalo Bills staff
Front Office
  • Owner/President – Ralph Wilson
  • Vice President of Administration/General Manager – Bill Polian
  • Assistant General Manager/Director of Pro Personnel – Bob Ferguson
  • Director of Player Personnel – John Butler
  • Assistant Director/Collegiate Scouting – A. J. Smith
  • Administrative Assistant to the Head Coach – Chuck Lester

Coaching Staff

  • Vice President for Football Operations/Head Coach – Marv Levy

Offensive Coaches

  • Offensive Coordinator – Ted Marchibroda
  • Running Backs – Elijah Pitts
  • Receivers – Nick Nicolau
  • Offensive Quality Control/Tight Ends – Don Lawrence
  • Offensive Line – Tom Bresnahan

Defensive/Special Teams Coaches

  • Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers – Walt Corey
  • Defensive Line – Chuck Dickerson
  • Defensive Backs – Dick Roach
  • Defensive Quality Control – Chuck Lester
  • Special Teams – Bruce DeHaven

Strength & Conditioning

  • Strength and Conditioning Coordinator – Rusty Jones


1990 Buffalo Bills roster

Running Backs

  • 23 Kenneth Davis RB
  • 30 Don Smith RB
  • 34 Thurman Thomas RB
  • 28 Larry Kinnebrew FB
  • 35 Carwell Gardner FB
  • 41 Jamie Mueller FB

Wide Receivers

Tight Ends

  • 84 Keith McKeller
  • 87 Butch Rolle
  • 88 Pete Metzelaars

Offensive Linemen

  • 51 Jim Ritcher G
  • 59 Mitch Frerotte G
  • 65 John Davis G
  • 67 Kent Hull C
  • 63 Adam Lingner C
  • 69 Will Wolford T
  • 75 Howard Ballard T
  • 74 Glenn Parker T

Defensive Linemen

  • 78 Bruce Smith DE
  • 91 Jeff Wright NT
  • 96 Leon Seals DT
  • 73 Mike Lodish NT
  • 92 Gary Baldinger DE/NT
  • 98 Jeff Hunter DE
  • 94 Mark Pike DE
  • 50 Ray Bentley ILB
  • 56 Darryl Talley ILB
  • 58 Shane Conlan ILB
  • 97 Cornelius Bennett ILB
  • 54 Carlton Bailey LB
  • 99 Hal Garner LB
  • 57 Matt Monger LB
  • 53 Marvcus Patton LB

Defensive Backs

  • 31 James Williams CB
  • 37 Nate Odomes CB
  • 26 Chris Hale CB
  • 27 Cliff Hicks CB
  • 29 David Pool CB
  • 38 Mark Kelso S
  • 46 Leonard Smith S
  • 49 John Hagy S
  • 47 Kirby Jackson DB
  • 20 Richard Carey DB
  • 45 Dwight Drane DB
  • 43 Kim Phillips DB

Special Teams

*Note: Rookies in italics

Awards and records

  • Led NFL in Points Scored, 428
  • Jim Kelly, NFL Passing Leader, 101.2 Passer Rating
  • Jim Kelly, Most Valuable Player, Pro Bowl
  • Bruce Smith, NFL Defensive Player of the Year
  • Bruce Smith, UPI AFL-AFC Player of the Year, Defense
  • Bruce Smith, Newspaper Enterprise Association Defensive Player of the Year Award
  • Bruce Smith, Team Record, Number of Sacks in a Single Season, (19)
  • Bruce Smith, AFC Defensive Player of the Month, December
  • Thurman Thomas, NFL Combined Yards from Scrimmage Leader


External links