The 1990 Buffalo Bills had a legendary offense. They scored 428 points over 16 games, best in the league. They scored 48 offensive touchdowns, best in the league. They won 13 games, and scored 95 points in two AFC playoff games, the second a devastating 51-3 beating of the Los Angeles Raiders, with 502 yards of offense. They ran the no-huddle “K-gun” quick strike offense, led by four future Hall of Famers — quarterback Jim Kelly, receivers Andre Reed and James Lofton, and running back Thurman Thomas.
They were feared, and heavy favorites going into their first of four straight Super Bowls, facing their polar opposite — the New York Giants, who had also won 13 games, but with the best defense in the league, holding opponents to 211 points, and a ball-control offense led by backup quarterback Jeff Hostetler, who replaced Phil Simms, who went down with a broken foot in a 17-13 loss to the Bills in week 15.
The Giants would stun the Bills with a 20-19 win — the first of Bill Belichick’s six Super Bowl championships on his resume.
Officially, the New England Patriots coach, who has also lost three Super Bowls, has five Super Bowl championships as a head coach, with three losses, and the record will show he will be going for his sixth NFL title in Sunday’s Super Bowl LIII contest against the Los Angeles Rams.
That victory would likely be perceived as the final piece of evidence that Belichick is the greatest coach in NFL history. His only real rival, if you’re keeping score, is the man whose name is on the Super Bowl trophy — Vince Lombardi and the five NFL championships he won with the Green Bay Packers, including the first two Super Bowls.
But if we chose to truly believe the evidence, the Giants’ win over the Bills in Super Bowl XXV should be Belichick’s win. Then-New York Giants coach Bill Parcells gets the credit, but it was Belichick’s brilliance that defeated Buffalo — a defensive game plan that was so genius that it was sent to the Pro Football Hall of Fame for display.
Belichick was 38 at the time — five years older than Rams coach Sean McVay — and already had a Super Bowl ring from four years earlier, as defensive coordinator of the Parcells’ Giants team that beat the Denver Broncos 39-20 in Super Bowl XXI.
This time, though, the challenge was much greater. The Bills were an offensive juggernaut, scoring fast and scoring often.
So Belichick came up with a plan — not “a” plan, but perhaps the greatest defensive game plan we’ve ever seen.
Belichick had figured out as the season went on, the Bills had, for the most part, stopped running the ball and relied almost totally on their Pro Bowl passing offense. So he came up with a plan for force Buffalo to run the ball.
“We made them call the plays they did not want to call,” safety Greg Jackson told the New York Daily News.
He used a defense with just two defensive linemen and five linebackers — basically dramatically experimenting in the biggest game they would play.
“We put in a completely new defensive scheme,” nose tackle Erik Howard told the Daily News. “We had five linebackers underneath and that took away all of their crossing stuff, so that had to throw them for a loop.”
Any receiver who crossed the field, they were blasted, pounded and punished.
Kelly threw for just 212 yards and no touchdowns, while Thomas ran for 135 yards on 15 carries. Without their lethal passing game to force the Giants to play from behind, New York dominated the time of possession — 40:33 to Buffalo’s 19:27 — behind the running game led by Ottis Anderson. The game did come down to the missed 47-yard field goal by Scott Norwood with time expiring, but the low-scoring 20-19 victory was orchestrated by Belichick.
Parcells may get the credit on his watch, but this was a Belichick Super Bowl victory — the first of six he can call his own, no matter what the coaching rosters say. Sunday, against the 21st century version of an offensive Bill Belichick in Sean McVay, he will go for his seventh Super Bowl win.
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