AFC Wild Card Match-Up Memories: Reich Returns to Buffalo for Playoffs, Road-Field Advantage in Nashville

Photo credit: Buffalo Bills

The NFL playoffs get underway this weekend with six — yes, six — Wild Card contests.

In what will be a 2-part series, we’ll be looking at the playoff history between the teams set to play this weekend. The series begins with a look at the AFC.

Reich Returns to Buffalo for the Playoffs

AFC East champions for the first time since 1995, the second-seeded Buffalo Bills will remain home to host the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts were the last AFC team to a secure a spot in the playoffs. Indianapolis captured the No. 7 seed by the topping the Jacksonville Jaguars last weekend, 28-14.

The Colts are one of just two AFC teams that Buffalo has never met in the playoffs. The other is the Baltimore Ravens, who coincidentally play their home games in a city the Colts used to occupy.

Although the Colts and Bills have never met in the playoffs, it would be foolish to say there was no history here. The head coach of the Colts, Frank Reich, is something of a Buffalo legend.

In 10 years with the Buffalo Bills from 1985-94, Reich made just 10 total starts. What Reich did accomplish however, was engineering the greatest playoff comeback in NFL history.

It was the Wild Card round on Jan. 3, 1993. Playing at home against the Houston Oilers, the Bills were on the short end of a 35-3 score following a 58-yard interception return for a touchdown by Houston’s Bubba McDowell off of Reich. Reich was playing in place of the injured Jim Kelly when he proceeded to lead Buffalo to 35 straight points.

Kenneth Davis scored the first touchdown for the Bills before Reich fired four touchdown passes, including the last three to Andre Reed, to give the Bills a 38-35 lead. Al Del Greco would force overtime with a field goal, but Buffalo’s Steve Christie won it with a 32-yard kick in the extra period.

Buffalo would go on to win the AFC for the third straight season. The 41-38 victory remains the greatest comeback in NFL playoff history. Coincidentally, Reich clinched the trip to Buffalo last Sunday on the 28th anniversary of the memorable comeback.

You, Again

For just the third time in 30 years, the Cleveland Browns are in the playoffs. The Browns clinched the spot last weekend with a 24-22 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Cleveland. Their reward? A rematch, but this time in Pittsburgh.

The Browns ended the NFL’s longest playoff drought this season. Although this will be just the Browns’ third playoff appearance in three decades, their last two ended at the hand of the Steelers and both times, in Pittsburgh.

The last playoff game for Cleveland came in the 2002 season. In the Wild Card round at Pittsburgh, Cleveland raced to a 24-7 lead and led by 12 with just over three minutes to play. The Steelers rallied for a 36-33 victory behind 367 yards passing from quarterback Tommy Maddox.

After Maddox’s 5-yard touchdown pass to Hines Ward drew Pittsburgh to within five, Chris Fuamatu-Ma’afala scored the game-winner with less than a minute to play.

Prior to that, Cleveland’s last playoff appearance had come in 1994. That season, the Browns were defeated by Pittsburgh in the Divisional round, 29-9. The Steelers held the Browns to 186 yards and intercepted quarterback Vinny Testaverde twice in the victory.

The loss came six days after what remains the Browns’ last playoff win. It came over the New England Patriots.

The head coach of the Browns at the time?

Bill Belichick.

A Road Team’s Series

Sunday’s contest between the Baltimore Ravens and Tennessee Titans will be the fifth playoff match-up between the teams. Each time in the past, the victor has been the road team.

Last season, Tennessee stunned the top-seeded Ravens with a 28-12 win in the Divisional round. Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson accounted for more than 500 yards, but three turnovers proved too much to overcome. Derrick Henry rushed for 195 yards for the Titans in the win.

Prior to that, the roles were reversed. In the Divisional round during the 2008 season, it was the sixth-seeded Ravens who went into Nashville and shocked the No. 1 seed Titans. Matt Stover kicked a 43-yard field goal with less than a minute to play to lift Baltimore to a 13-10 win.

It was the second straight playoff match-up between the teams decided on a late field goal. The teams met in the Wild Card round during the 2004 season. In that one, Gary Anderson knocked home a 46-yard field goal with 29 seconds remaining to lift Tennessee to a 20-17 victory.

The first playoff match-up between the teams came during Baltimore’s run to the Super Bowl in 2000. In just the second playoff game in Ravens’ franchise history, Baltimore broke a 10-10 fourth-quarter tie in Nashville with non-offensive touchdowns from Anthony Mitchell and Ray Lewis for a 24-10 victory in the AFC Divisional game.

Mike Ferguson is the managing editor for Fifth Quarter. Be sure to follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeWFerguson. Follow all of Mike’s work by liking his Facebook page.