They said the Buffalo Bills couldn't do it . . . and they were right.
Playing like the underdogs they were, the AFC's not-ready-for-prime-time players lost a record fourth straight Super Bowl Sunday night in the Georgia Dome.
The final score of Super Bowl XXVIII was Dallas 30, Buffalo 13.
It wasn't as humiliating as last year's 35-point loss to the Cowboys, but it also wasn't exactly wide right like three years ago.
The Bills were actually in control of this one for a half, leading, 13-6, and looking good.
But less than a minute into the third quarter, momentum swung in the Cowboys' direction when Bills running back Thurman Thomas fumbled and reserve safety James Washington returned the ball 46 yards for a touchdown.
From then on, the Bills unraveled. The result was 24 unanswered points by the Cowboys and another Buffalo heartbreak in The Big One.
"How difficult is it?" linebacker Darryl Talley said. "It's a bitch. It hurts, it hurts deep."
"That's probably going to be part of our identity for years and years to come -- that we lost four Super Bowls in a row," the Bills' Steve Tasker said.
Thomas was clearly dejected on the bench after the fumble. He threw his helmet on the sidelines and sat with his face buried in his hands as teammate after teammate tried to console him. He played sparingly after that, taking himself out for long stretches with what he claimed were leg cramps.
By the postgame interviews, Thomas seemed to have recovered emotionally. He appeared relaxed, almost to the point of indifference. And he didn't dodge the blame.
"I can sit here and take the blame because I pretty much turned the momentum when I fumbled," he said. "Sure, it was a devastating loss, but I'm not going to go out and kill myself."
"If there's anyone to blame, it's the whole team," defensive end Bruce Smith said. "Each and every one of us could have played better. I could have played better."
Once again, Thomas picked the Super Bowl to give one of his worst performances. He fumbled twice, which led to 10 points for Dallas, and was held to a mere 37 yards on 16 carries. He rushed for 19 yards in Super Bowl XXVII and 13 in Super Bowl XXVI.
In all, the Bills, who finished the season with a 14-5 record, had three turnovers Sunday, leading to 17 points for the Cowboys. In their last two Super Bowls, the Bills have given Dallas 52 points on 12 turnovers.
"After that fumble return for a touchdown, it just picked up our momentum," said Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith, who rushed for 132 yards and two touchdowns, and was voted the game's Most Valuable Player.
"The key was the fumble," Cowboys defensive end Charles Haley said. "After that, it seemed like they panicked a little bit, went off their game plan, and tried to go downfield."
The Cowboys (15-4) got off to a roaring start when Kevin Williams returned the opening kickoff 50 yards to the Bills' 48. The Bills, however, got a moral victory by holding Dallas to a 41-yard field goal by Eddie Murray.
On their first possession, the Bills drove 43 yards to tie the score on Steve Christie's Super Bowl-record 54-yard field goal.
Then, after forcing the Cowboys to punt, the Bills appeared in good shape with the ball at their own 41. However, on the first play, Thomas caught a shovel pass for 7 yards, but had the ball stripped by Washington. Safety Darren Woodson recovered at the 50, but Dallas again was limited to a Murray field goal, from 24 yards, to make it 6-3 with 3:55 left in the quarter.
The Bills responded with a 17-play, 80-yard drive that ended with a 4-yard touchdown run by Thomas to go ahead, 10-6. The Bills had punted on a fourth-and-3 from their 41 but picked up a first down when Dave Thomas was penalized five yards for running into punter Chris Mohr.
After the teams traded punts, Dallas was on the move with a first-and-10 from the Buffalo 37. But quarterback Troy Aikman, who wasn't nearly as sharp as he was in winning the MVP award in last year's Super Bowl, was intercepted by cornerback Nate Odomes. Odomes' 41-yard return gave the Bills a chance to add to their lead from the Cowboys' 47 with 1:03 left in the half.
And the Bills did exactly that, driving 38 yards in seven plays to a 28-yard Christie field goal as time expired. With a 13-6 halftime lead, they seemed to have the necessary momentum to finally break their Super losing streak.
"It was upbeat," Bruce Smith said of the mood in the Buffalo dressing room at halftime. "We felt very good about the way we played in the first half. We knew we had to play the same way, or a better performance, in the second half. Unfortunately, things didn't work out the way we wanted them to."
To say the least.
On the opening possession of the second half, the Bills, for the second time in the game, did the thing they knew they couldn't do against the Cowboys -- they gave the ball away.
On first and 10 from the Buffalo 43, Thomas took a handoff through right guard and was stripped of the ball by much maligned Cowboys defensive end Leon Lett, who was a factor all day. Washington, a strong candidate for MVP, recovered and weaved his way 46 yards for a touchdown 55 seconds into the third quarter to tie the game at 13-13.
"It wasn't a matter of me being careless with the football," Thomas said. "It was just that at certain times, when I got the football, I had somebody around me and didn't have enough time to tuck it away. That second one turned the entire football game around."
Even though the score was tied, one could feel the game slipping away from Buffalo. The next time the Bills touched the ball, they moved backward, going from their own 37 to the 26 before punting.
The Cowboys took over on their own 36, and drove 64 yards in eight plays to a 15-yard touchdown run by Emmitt Smith to take a 20-13 lead 6:18 into the third quarter. Smith ran for 61 yards on the drive.
Following two punts by each team, the Cowboys put a stranglehold on the game when quarterback Jim Kelly was intercepted by Washington on the first play of the fourth quarter. Washington's 12-yard return set up a nine-play, 34-yard scoring drive that ended with a 1-yard touchdown run by Smith. That made it 27-13, and school was out.
Buffalo's next drive ended with Kelly being sacked for a 13-yard loss, and the Cowboys marched to their final points of the game, a 20-yard Murray field goal.
Kelly had a superb first half, hitting 19 of 26 passes for 176 yards. He finished 31 for 50 for 260 yards.
"I can't sit back here and cry about it," Kelly said. "I have to stand up like a man. We lost to a very good team, but we'll keep going until we get it right, I guess."