The precocious Jacksonville Jaguars, in their first post-season match in just their second season, upset the Bills 30-27 in Buffalo while the Dallas Cowboys, the defending champions, romped past the Minnesota Vikings 40-15.
The Jaguars' winning points came with just over three minutes remaining when Mike Hollis' 45-yard field goal hit the right post and bounced through. With the Bills then unable to pose a threat, they lost for the first time in 10 play-off games at Rich Stadium.
The Bills, in their eighth playoff appearance in nine years, were heading for victory when Jeff Burris intercepted a tipped pass and returned it 38 yards for a touchdown 43 seconds into the fourth quarter to put his side 27-20 ahead. But Jacksonville, making light of their inexperience, produced a 10-play, 65-yard drive capped by a two-yard touchdown pass from Mark Brunell.
On Buffalo's next possession, their quarterback, Jim Kelly, fumbled after being hit and the ball was recovered at the Jacksonville 41-yard line. The Jaguars then drove 31 yards in eight plays to set up Hollis' winning kick.
"Give Jacksonville credit." Marv Levy, the Buffalo coach, said. "They were down by seven in the fourth quarter and went the length of the field for a TD and then got the field goal."
Dallas, who have struggled on offense - in their last five regular season games they have totalled only 59 points - exploded into life to embarrass the Vikings. Taking advantage of four turnovers the home side had a 30- 0 lead by half-time.
In one of his masterly understatements Barry Switzer, the Dallas coach, said: "I guess you could say we turned it up at crunch time."
The Cowboys now play the Carolina Panthers, the NFC West champions and another second-year team playing the first post-season game. By contrast, Dallas has reached the NFC Championship game for four consecutive years, winning the Super Bowl three times during that span.
Minnesota lost its play-off opener for the fourth time in four appearances under their coach Dennis Green and since 1988 they have lost seven consecutive post-season games.
Emmitt Smith, whose lack of success has hindered the Cowboys, ran for 116 yards on 17 carries and sounded a warning for the Panthers when he said: "This is the best I have felt all year."