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To me, there are two athletes in sports history that received way too much blame for their mistakes. One is Bill Buckner, whose error cost the Boston Red Sox a chance of playing in the 11th inning of Game Six of the 1986 World Series, and the other is Scott Norwood.
The Bills had the ball on their own 10-yard line with 2:16 to play trailing the New York Giants 20-19. The Bills had one timeout and the two-minute warning available to them.
The Bills only threw two passes on the drive and the longest completion was a mere eight yards.
Fast forward eleven years to Super Bowl XXXVI. The New England Patriots faced a similar predicament, although the Patriots were not trailing the St. Louis Rams, the game was tied at this point.
The number of plays called by the Patriots with no timeouts and 1:21 to play: Eight. The Patriots started the game-winning drive of Super Bowl XXXVI at their own 17-yard line.
The number of plays called by the Bills with 2:16 left, one timeout and the two-minute warning: Eight.
The Patriots called eight straight passes and had a kicker who had never missed a kick indoors with a penchant for making the big kicks in Adam Vinatieri.
While the Bills' running game had been very effective during the game, they continued to rely on it even thought it was taking too much time off the clock. They never took a chance to get closer for an easier kick.
Scott Norwood’s longest field goal of the 1990 NFL season was 48 yards. That kick came in Week 3 on an artificial surface against the New York Jets. Norwood was 6-for-10 on kicks of 40 yards or more. Norwood was more known for accuracy than distance. In his career, Norwood only made 59 percent of his kicks beyond 39 yards. He made 83 percent of his kicks of 39 yards or less.
Could Scott Norwood have made this kick? Yes, and while I am sure Scott Norwood wished he made that kick, I wish there was a figure like Sean Maguire from Good Will Hunting to tell him, “It’s not your fault.” Norwood was so concerned about the distance of the kick that his kick had too much power and therefore the ball could not bend to the left toward the uprights. Instead, the kick went fairly straight and was wide right.
Had the kick been 40 yards or less, I think Norwood could have deserved much more of the blame that he received, but somehow Marv Levy escaped a good portion of the blame that should have been on his shoulders and not his kicker’s. The Bills were seven-point favorites in the game and they let the Giants dictate the pace of the game throughout the Tampa evening. That was the main reason why the Bills lost, not just some high-pressure 141-foot kick on a beat-up grass field that had less than a 50 percent chance of going through the uprights. I am not sure how many out of 10 Norwood makes, my guess is two or three.
The Bills would return to the Super Bowl each of the next three seasons, but it was this opportunity in Tampa in 1991 that haunts them the most.