Oh for three!
And they keep getting worse.
First, there was the heartbreaker in Tampa.
Then, there was the embarrassment in Minneapolis.
Sunday night, there was the disaster in Pasadena.
In absorbing a 52-17 loss to the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl XXVII before 98,374 at the Rose Bowl, the Bills became the only team ever to lose three consecutive times in the National Football League's clash between the best of the AFC and NFC. It was the Bills' worst post-season loss ever and equaled the third-most points they have ever allowed in a game, regular-season or playoff.
"Obviously, this is embarrassing to us, and to the organization," said linebacker Shane Conlan. "Are we going to be labeled like (four-time Super Bowl losers) Denver and Minnesota are labeled? It is something we are going to have to live with. I'd rather be there than not, but . . . "
Bills head coach Marv Levy said, "I told the players after the game, 'You don't want to hear a speech from me now. We're all hurting and speeches won't make it go away. We'll talk about it in depth at our team meeting on Tuesday.' "
For the second straight Super Bowl, Buffalo's big guns came up small.
Jim Kelly performed terribly through most of the game's first 23 minutes before suffering a sprained right knee, the same injury that sidelined him for the first two playoff games. He threw two interceptions and had one disastrous fumble. Frank Reich took over the rest of the way, but there were no miracles this time.
Thurman Thomas rushed for a mere 19 yards, and, as has been the case since late in the regular season, he frequently left the game with nagging injuries. Bruce Smith was held to one sack (which came after Dallas built a 21-point lead), and generated minimal pressure on quarterback Troy Aikman.
The Bills self-destructed with a Super Bowl-record nine turnovers. Five came in the first half, resulting in 28 points for the Cowboys.
"You can't beat a college team with that many turnovers," said Kelly, who connected on four of seven passes for 82 yards, and was sacked twice.
On the second sack, Kelly was hit by defensive end Charles Haley while surprisingly attempting to throw on first down from his own 10. The ball flew out of Kelly's hand, bounced off a helmet, and defensive lineman Jimmie Jones grabbed it on the fly for a 2-yard touchdown that gave Dallas a 14-7 lead.
Despite the turnovers, the Bills had their chances to keep the game competitive, but could not capitalize.
Six times in the game's first 30 minutes, the Bills needed only one yard for a touchdown or a first down, and couldn't get it. Four of those times came inside the Dallas 5-yard line.
Meanwhile, the Cowboys, despite having the league's youngest roster with an average age of 26, showed tremendous poise. On offense, they executed their balanced attack flawlessly. On defense, they stifled the Bills with their quick, swarming scheme.
Aikman, who was voted the game's Most Valuable Player, completed 22 of 30 passes for 273 yards and four touchdowns. Emmitt Smith rushed for 108 yards and one TD on 22 carries, and gained 27 more yards on six receptions.
It appeared as if the Bills might have gotten a lift when Reich took over for Kelly with 6:52 left in the second quarter and the Cowboys leading, 14-7.
Kelly was injured when linebacker Ken Norton Jr. hit the outside of the quarterback's right knee and bent it inward. Two trainers helped him walk gingerly off the field, and he was carted to the dressing room. Kelly returned to the sidelines in the second half wearing street clothes.
On his first two plays, Reich completed passes of 7 yards to Pete Metzelaars and 38 yards to Andre Reed (who finished with a game-high eight catches for 152 yards) to the Dallas 22. Three runs moved the Bills to the 6, and Reich fired a perfect pass that Don Beebe dropped in the end zone. After Thomas was stuffed on third and 1, the Bills settled for a 21-yard Steve Christie field goal to cut the Cowboys' lead to 14-10.
But they would never get any closer.
On their next possession, the Cowboys needed a mere 1:30 to zip from their own 28 to the Buffalo 19. From there, Aikman found Michael Irvin, who beat Nate Odomes, for his second scoring throw of the night to put Dallas in front, 21-10.
After that, the Cowboys were off and running to their third Super Bowl victory, and the ninth consecutive win in the Big Dance by a National Football Conference club.
"They played excellent football," said Reich, who finished with 18 completions in 31 attempts for 194 yards and a touchdown, but was sacked twice, intercepted twice and lost two fumbles. "They did what we thought we could do. We didn't execute, and they executed very well."
"Well, I felt we had the best football team," Dallas coach Jimmy Johnson said. "As far as the domination thing, when you turn the ball over as much as they did, you're going to have problems. Sometimes, it just snowballs."
The Bills' comedy of errors continued with 1:43 remaining in the second quarter when Thomas caught a screen pass, fumbled, and Jones recovered at the Buffalo 18. One play later, Aikman again found Irvin, who burned J.D. Williams for a touchdown to make it 28-10. That gave the Cowboys 14 points in the final two minutes of the first half.
And Dallas kept steamrolling in the second half, taking the kickoff and driving 77 yards in 12 plays for a 20-yard field goal by Lin Elliott for a 31-10 advantage.
For the briefest of moments, it seemed that Reich might, in fact, have one more miracle up his sleeve. On a third-and-14 play, he rolled right to avoid pressure and threw 40 yards across the field to a wide-open Beebe to cut Dallas' lead to 31-17 as time expired in the third quarter.
But the Cowboys came right back less than five minutes into the fourth quarter on Aikman's 45-yard scoring bomb to Alvin Harper, who was open on a blown coverage by Henry Jones. That put the Cowboys up, 38-17, and killed any hope of a comeback by the Bills.
And then it got really ugly.
First, a Reich interception set up a 10-yard touchdown run by Smith. Then, Reich fumbled a shotgun snap, which Norton recovered and returned 9 yards for the final points of the day.
The Cowboys nearly had yet another score when Reich was sacked and fumbled the ball away to defensive lineman Leon Lett. Lett rambled 64 yards to the Buffalo 1, where he slowed to celebrate by waving the ball around with his right hand. Beebe hustled downfield, caught up with Lett and stripped the ball, forcing it to roll through the end zone. The officials ruled it a touchback and awarded it to the Bills at their 20.
It was hard for those in the Buffalo dressing room to find something positive to say about this game, but some tried.
"It's not how many times you lose, it's how many times you get back up," Jeff Wright said. "And we're going to get back up."