No Punt Game
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|Date||September 13, 1992|
|Stadium||Candlestick Park, San Francisco, California|
|TV in the United States|
The No Punt Game is the nickname given to a National Football League game held between the Buffalo Bills and San Francisco 49ers on September 13, 1992 at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, California. The game is notable for being the first game in NFL history not to feature a single punt by either team, as the Bills and 49ers, led by quarterbacks Jim Kelly and Steve Young, respectively, combined for 1,086 total yards of offense, with both quarterbacks passing for over 400 yards. Promoted as a potential Super Bowl "preview", the No Punt Game featured several players now enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, including Kelly, Young, Andre Reed, James Lofton, Jerry Rice, Thurman Thomas and Bruce Smith, and is now remembered as one of the greatest games ever played.
During the late 1980s and early 1990s, ESPN anchor Chris Berman regularly predicted for seven consecutive years through his alter ego, "The Swami", that the Bills and 49ers would match up during Super Bowl; one or the other – but never both – made it during that span. Likewise, this game was promoted as a "potential Super Bowl preview" by television announcers Dick Enberg and Bob Trumpy.
The starting quarterbacks for the two teams, Steve Young and Jim Kelly, had both played in the United States Football League before joining the NFL. During a 1985 game between Young's Los Angeles Express and Kelly's Houston Gamblers, Los Angeles jumped to a 33–13 lead, but the Gamblers came back under 574 passing yards from Kelly, winning 34–33 in what is now called "The Greatest Game No One Saw", due to ABC deciding to air the New Jersey Generals game as the sole USFL game to be broadcast that week. By 1992, Kelly had become entrenched as the Buffalo Bills' franchise quarterback, while Young was substituting for injured 49ers starter Joe Montana. Buffalo had appeared in the previous two Super Bowls, while San Francisco had missed the playoffs for the first time in nine years despite finishing 10–6 the previous season.
The game started slowly, with neither team scoring on their opening possession, due to San Francisco kicker Mike Cofer missing a 33-yard field goal and Jim Kelly getting strip-sacked by the 49ers defense on the ensuing Bills drive. After that, all other drives in the first half aside from a Bills kneeldown at the end resulted in a score. Much like the aforementioned USFL Game, Young's 49ers jumped to an early lead over Kelly's Bills, leading 24–13 after halftime. However, Buffalo would respond with two unanswered touchdown passes from Kelly to tight end Pete Metzelaars, the latter of which occurred after Bills defender Bruce Smith forced 49ers running back Keith Henderson to fumble. The 49ers would retake the lead with their own long touchdown pass from Young to receiver John Taylor. After both quarterbacks threw interceptions on the next two drives, Kelly marched the Bills 72 yards in the 4th quarter, culminating with an 11-yard Thurman Thomas touchdown run to retake the lead 34–31. The 49ers had one last chance to tie or take the lead, but Cofer missed a 47-yard field goal attempt wide-right with 1 minute remaining, allowing Buffalo to kneel out the clock and claim victory.
In addition to neither 49ers punter Klaus Wilmsmeyer nor Bills punter Chris Mohr being called to punt, a first in NFL history, several other offensive milestones were reached in the game. Young and Kelly became just the third pair of NFL quarterbacks to each surpass 400 yards passing in a game, combining for 852 passing yards. This was the only game in 1992 to feature any 400-yard passers. 4 receivers topped 100 yards during the game, and 18 plays went for more than 20 yards, with 5 of those surpassing 40 yards. Bills cornerback Nate Odomes was later quoted saying "You saw two of the finest offensive teams on the field today, and two not-so-good defensive teams." Likewise, 49ers linebacker Mike Walter quipped, "I feel as a defensive guy that I have to go over and apologize to the offensive guys." Despite the perceived lack of defensive play, both teams were able to force three turnovers on each other.
at Candlestick Park, San Francisco, California
|James Lofton||WR||SE||John Taylor|
|Will Wolford||LT||Steve Wallace|
|Jim Ritcher||LG||Guy McIntyre|
|Kent Hull||C||Jesse Sapolu|
|Glenn Parker||RG||Roy Foster|
|Howard Ballard||RT||Harris Barton|
|Andre Reed||WR||FL||Jerry Rice|
|Thurman Thomas||RB||Ricky Watters|
|Jim Kelly||QB||Steve Young|
|Steve Tasker||FL||TE||Brent Jones|
|Don Beebe||FL||FB||Tom Rathman|
|Phil Hansen||LE||Pierce Holt|
|Jeff Wright||NT||Michael Carter|
|Bruce Smith||RE||Dennis Brown|
|Darryl Talley||ROLB||LCB||Eric Davis|
|Cornelius Bennett||LOLB||RCB||Don Griffin|
|Kirby Jackson||DB||SS||Merton Hanks|
|Kurt Schulz||DB||FS||Dana Hall|
|Nate Odomes||RCB||LOLB||Tim Harris|
|James Williams||LCB||LILB||Mike Walter|
|Henry Jones||SS||RILB||Bill Romanowski|
|Mark Kelso||FS||ROLB||John Johnson|
- Referee: Red Cashion (#43)
- Umpire: Dave Hamilton (#42)
- Head Linesman: Sid Semon (#109)
- Line Judge: Charles Stewart (#62)
- Back Judge: Dick Creed (#61)
- Side Judge: Tom Fincken (#47)
- Field Judge: John Robison (#46)
Aftermath and legacy
Buffalo and San Francisco both finished the season strong following the game, but would both see their seasons end with playoff losses to the Dallas Cowboys, the eventual Super Bowl champions. The 49ers would only lose one more game in the regular season, finishing with a 14–2 record and the number 1 seed in the NFC, but lost in the NFC Championship Game to Dallas 30–20. Buffalo would finish second in the AFC East with an 11–5 record and the number 4 seed in the AFC. In the playoffs, the Bills overcame a 35–3 lead by the Houston Oilers in the AFC wild card game, now known as "The Comeback", to win 41–38. Buffalo would make it to the Super Bowl, but lost to Dallas 52–17.
Since the "No Punt Game", there have been four other regular season games with zero punts by either team. Two came in 2014: during week 4 as the Green Bay Packers defeated the Chicago Bears 38–17, and in week 8, as the New Orleans Saints beat the Packers 44–23. In week 4 of 2021, the Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Philadelphia Eagles 42–30 in a game with no punts. Most recently, on November 30, 2023, the Dallas Cowboys defeated the Seattle Seahawks 41–35 in a game with no punts.
The first playoff no-punt game occurred during the 2003–04 NFL playoffs as the 3 seed Indianapolis Colts led by Peyton Manning, Edgerrin James, and Reggie Wayne defeated the 2 seed Kansas City Chiefs led by Trent Green, Dante Hall, and Priest Holmes, by a 38–31 score in the Divisional round.
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