Where It All Really Started For Andre Reed
By Steven King
The 1989 season was a big one for both the Cleveland Browns and Buffalo Bills. It was also a big one for then Bills WR Andre Reed. You might even say that Reed’s outstanding career, which is culminating with his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, began in earnest that season.
Then in his fifth year, Reed went from good to great in 1989.
He had 88 receptions, which is the second-most of his career.
He had 1,312 receiving yards, which is a career best.
He caught nine touchdown passes, the second-highest total of his career.
And one of his signature games of that season – and really, his career -- occurred Jan. 6, 1990, at Cleveland Stadium in the AFC Divisional Playoffs. He superseded everything he had done to that point, and set the stage for a sensational rest of his career.
The Bills set the stage, too, for a sensational period with that group of players.
The Browns won 34-30, getting the final victory of their great five-year run through the last half of the 1980s, when they made the playoff all five times, won four Central Division titles and advanced to the AFC Championship on three occasions.
As such, the victory was actually the beginning of the end for the Browns. They went 3-13 in 1990, causing coach Bud Carson to get fired at the midway point, and did not make the playoffs again until 1994. Following the 1995 season, the franchise moved to Baltimore and became the Ravens. Cleveland’s team from 1996-98 existed only in the fact it was held in trust by the NFL. The Browns then returned to the field in 1999.
So, yes, 1989 was pretty significant.
For the Bills, the fact they lost is merely a footnote to what happened that day in Cleveland. It was how they lost and how they came back in the second half that was the real story for them.
And Reed was an integral part of that.
He caught six passes for 115 yards – a huge chunk of the 405 yards passing by Hall of Fame QB Jim Kelly – and grabbed a 72-yarder for a touchdown in the game’s opening moments. He ran past the members of the Cleveland secondary with such speed on the play that it almost seemed as if they were standing still. Yes, the Bills were on the road and an underdog to the Browns, but Reed’s untouched sprint to the end zone before some of the sellout crowd of 77,306 even had a chance to settle into their seats was a message to Carson’s team: “Game on. Can you top this?”
As it turned out, Cleveland did top it – but just barely. It began when the hosts answered Reed’s score with 10 unanswered points on a 45-yard yard field goal by K Matt Bahr and QB Bernie Kosar’s 52-yard catch-and-run scoring pass to WR Webster Slaughter.
Two more touchdown passes – Kelly’s 33-yarder to WR James Lofton and then Kosar’s three-yarder to backup TE Ron Middleton – provided the Browns with a 17-14 halftime advantage.
They increased it to 31-21 after three quarters on another Kosar-to-Slaughter touchdown pass, this one of 44 yards, Kelly’s six-yarder for a score to Hall of Fame RB Thurman Thomas and then, on the ensuing kickoff, rookie Eric Metcalf’s 90-yard return for a TD.
The Bills were scoring with ease, but so was Cleveland. They needed to keep scoring, but in an even quicker fashion, and then hope that their defense could figure out a way to stop the Browns so they could begin flipping the game in their favor.
And they succeeded. It was during this time that the hurry-up offense was born. The Bills, going faster than the aging Browns defense could keep up with, cut the lead all the way to 34-30 and were driving down the field again like a hot knife through butter to get the winning points in the waning seconds before RB Ronnie Harmon dropped a sure touchdown pass. Kelly then tried to connect on a short crossing route but did not see Browns LOLB Clay Matthews, who intercepted the ball at the Cleveland 1 to snuff out the rally. The Browns took a knee on the next play as the clock ran out and headed to Denver for their third AFC Championship matchup against the Broncos in four years.
As for the Bills, sure, they lost the game. But in looking back at what had happened, they decided in the ensuing offseason that since the hurry-up had worked so well – and felt so comfortable, so right for the talent at hand – they would make it their regular offensive scheme.
With that as the catalyst, and Reed fitting into the offense like a glove, Buffalo won the next four AFC titles, an NFL record for either conference. The Bills never got the ultimate prize of a Super Bowl championship, but it’s likely that no team will ever duplicate the consistent success they had from 1990-93.
And it – and Reed’s march to Canton – started that day in Cleveland, when a loss was actually a victory.