The unthinkable happened to the Buffalo Bills Sunday night.
Not only did they lose their second Super Bowl in as many years, they came up with a dreadful performance on top of it.
Taking advantage of the Bills' overall sloppiness -- punctuated by five turnovers -- the Washington Redskins rolled to a 37-24 victory in Super Bowl XXVI before a crowd of 63,130 at the Metrodome and a billion television viewers throughout the world.
Buffalo's big offensive guns, quarterback Jim Kelly and running back Thurman Thomas, came up empty. And its defense, which lost linebacker Shane Conlan to a knee injury in the first quarter, was unable to contain quarterback Mark Rypien and the rest of the Redskins' arsenal.
Rypien was brilliant and earned Most Valuable Player honors by completing 18 of 33 passes for 292 yards and two touchdowns while throwing only one interception. Wide receivers Gary Clark and Art Monk each caught seven passes -- for 114 and 113 yards, respectively.
Kelly threw four interceptions (tying a Super Bowl record), had several passes dropped, fumbled once and was sacked five times. He attempted a game-record 58 passes, completing 28 for 275 yards and a pair of TDs.
Thomas finished with only 13 yards on 10 carries.
"Defeats are very bitter, and I can't remember one in 40 years of coaching that was more hurtful than today," said Bills coach Marv Levy, whose team's final record for 1991-92 is 15-4. "Overall, we played a team that was better and they showed it."
Although the Bills are the NFL's winningest team since 1988, they now are in danger of becoming a notorious Super Bowl loser like Denver and Minnesota, each of which is 0-4 in The Big Dance.
"We have the talent to win Super Bowls," Thomas said. "Once we get here, we just can't do it. We're falling in the role of Denver and Minnesota. We just don't play well (in the big game)."
Kelly sustained a mild concussion during the game in the fourth quarter and struggled to remember details about the contest.
"I don't really remember too much about it, and maybe it's best that I don't," Kelly said. "We, as an offensive team, didn't make the plays we usually make. Sometimes, I had guys open and I didn't hit them. Sometimes, balls were there that we didn't catch. Sometimes, blocks slipped away.
"Overall, I just have to give credit where credit's due. They were very well-prepared. We were just outplayed."
Washington coach Joe Gibbs, 3-1 in Super Bowls and 17-2 in '91-92, gave heavy praise to his defense.
"Our defense did a great job," he said. "We came in with a good plan and we were able to do a lot of things."
After a scoreless first quarter, the Redskins took command in the second and moved to a 17-0 halftime lead.
They might have had a larger advantage, but instant replay reversed a 2-yard touchdown catch by Monk, who was caught by TV cameras stepping out of bounds in the back of the end zone. That brought up fourth-and-two, but the Redskins were unable to cash in on an easy field-goal try when holder Jeff Rutledge mishandled the snap.
Washington drew first blood just 1:58 into the second period on a 34-yard field goal by Chip Lohmiller. The score capped a seven-play, 64-yard drive highlighted by a 19-yard run by Earnest Byner and a 41-yard pass from Rypien to Ricky Sanders.
After the Bills went three and out, the Redskins began their second scoring march of the night from their 49. With the help of a 16-yard Rypien pass to Clark and a 10-yard roughing-the-passer penalty on linebacker Cornelius Bennett, the Redskins advanced to the Bills' 10. From there, Rypien fired a scoring pass to Byner to make it 10-0 with 9:54 remaining in the half.
Al Edwards' 11-yard kickoff return put the Bills at their own 14. And two plays later, Kelly launched a long floater for James Lofton. The ball hung in the air long enough for Darrell Green to intercept at the Washington 45. It was one of several Kelly passes that didn't seem to have the usual zip.
Rypien then engineered a five-play, 55-yard drive, which included his 34-yard pass to Clark to the Buffalo 15 and ended with a 1-yard scoring run by Gerald Riggs after a 14-yard run by Ricky Ervins. That put Washington in front, 17-0.
It appeared the Bills might get some points in the final minute of the first half. They drove to the 28 where, on third-and-18, Kelly threw to Andre Reed. He appeared to be interfered with by free safety Brad Edwards, but there was no call. Reed was so incensed he slammed his helmet to the turf and drew a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that pushed the Bills out of field-goal range.
In the first half, the Redskins outgained the Bills by a whopping 266 yards to 78. They rushed for 60 yards while permitting a mere 8 on the ground (3 by Thomas on six carries).
The Redskins made it 24-0 only 16 seconds into the third quarter after capitalizing on an interception by linebacker Kurt Gouveia, whose 23-yard return put the ball at the Buffalo 2. One play later, Riggs bulled into the end zone again.
The pickoff was caused when blitzing linebacker Andre Collins came through clean and got in Kelly's face before the intended receiver, tight end Keith McKeller, was ready for the catch.
The Bills finally got onto the board 3:01 into the third on a 21-yard field goal by Scott Norwood, capping an 11-play, 77-yard drive.
They cut Washington's lead to 24-10 on a 1-yard touchdown run by Thomas to cap a 56-yard drive. The march was helped by a 29-yard pass interference penalty on Martin Mayhew, who was all over Lofton in the end zone, moving the ball to the Redskins' 1.
At that point, the crowd, which clearly had more Bills than Redskins fans, began to come alive, sensing a chance for their team to get back into the game.
But the Redskins soon put it out of reach with 1:24 remaining in the third quarter on a 30-yard scoring pass from Rypien to Clark.
For good measure, Lohmiller hit field goals of 25 and 39 yards in the fourth quarter.
The Bills succeeded in making the final score look respectable in the game's final six minutes with Kelly touchdown passes of 2 yards to tight end Pete Metzelaars, on a 79-yard drive, and 4 yards to Don Beebe, on a 50-yard march.
But it was too little, too late.
"It's disappointing," Levy said. "We'll make some additions and subtractions and make the necessary corrections to be back here next year."