The Buffalo Bills are a team primed for success in 2020. They’ve made the playoffs two out of the last three seasons. They’ve drafted well, made smart moves in free agency, and built a team capable of sustained success. The Bills are going in the right direction. However, as Maya Angelou once said, “if you don’t know where you’ve come from, you don’t know where you’re going”. And it’s in that state of mind that this article was sparked. To truly appreciate and understand how important the recent success and upward trend of the Buffalo Bills is to the franchise and their fans, you have to know the failures and low points. To understand the wins, you have to know the Buffalo Bills losses.
Buffalo Bills Losses: Five of the Worst in Team History
Defining something as “the worst” is somewhat subjective. For reference, the losses being listed here are based on the significance of the games themselves and the manner of the loss. What was on the line? What did the loss lead to? How likely was it for the Bills to lose that game? Context is key in all things, but especially in sports. And that context is what makes the five losses below that much more soul-crushing and heartbreaking. The losses below begin from the time of the Buffalo Bills four straight Super Bowl appearances. Because every bad loss from there on out was added onto the heap of proverbial “here we go again” moments for the franchise and the fans.
Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots 2009 Week 1
In 2009, the Buffalo Bills played the New England Patriots in week one. And it was played on Monday Night Football. And it was the debut game of Terrell Owens in a Bills uniform. Primetime against the Pats, Week 1, having Owens, a brand new season filled with hope, enough said. That sets the table. But what makes this game one of the five worst Buffalo Bills losses is the table setting combined with how the Bills lost.
With 5:32 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Fred Jackson catches a screen pass from Trent Edwards and scores a touchdown. Putting the Bills up 24-13. They’re up 11, with 5:32 seconds left in the game. Now up to this point, although the Bills were up, they hadn’t played particularly well. Especially on offense. Nevertheless, all they had to do was hang on and upset the Pats on prime time in front of the world.
What happens on the next drive is New England drives the ball down the throat of the Bills defense and scores a touchdown with 2:10 left in the fourth quarter. They don’t use any of their three timeouts or the two-minute warning. They do fail their two-point conversion attempt so it’s 24-19.
Now the Bills can waste clock or make the Pats use timeouts or the two-minute warning. Anything to help their cause. But on the next kickoff Bills returner Leodis McKelvin (who was third in yards per return the year prior) catches it two yards deep in the end zone while backpedaling, takes it out and fumbles. Pats recover and score another touchdown with 50 seconds left and the Bills lose 25-24. A loss that makes Bills fans say things like “of course” or “what a Bills way to lose”.
Buffalo Bills vs Dallas Cowboys 2007 Week 5
This was the first Bills home Monday Night Football game in 13 years. And it was against the Dallas Cowboys who Bills fans hated because of the two Super Bowl losses against them. Primetime game. First Monday Night Football game in a long time. And against a rival. Once again enough said. Also, the Bills were 1-3 and the Cowboys came in 4-0. Giving the Cowboys their first loss of the year would be a treat. A small treat, but still a treat.
The Bills get six takeaways in this game and score 3 non-offensive touchdowns (two interceptions and a kickoff return) and still find a way to lose. But the worst part of this loss is the way it happens.
With 6:21 left in the fourth quarter and the Bills up 24-16, Trent Edwards throws an interception at the Dallas 11-yard line. But, Tony Romo then throws a pick at the Buffalo goal line with 5:33 left. Buffalo eventually punts and gives the ball to Romo from his 20-yard line with 3:45 left in the game.
Romo proceeds to carve up the Bills defense and score with 24 seconds left. However, they fail the two-point conversion. 24-22 Bills. Dallas needs to recover an onside kick. That’s rare. Never happens. Guess what happens?
Dallas recovers the onside kick. Romo completes a pass to Terrell Owens and spikes the ball with one second. But the catch is overturned. Instead, there are 13 seconds left, ball at the Buffalo 47. Romo completes two passes and with two seconds left Nick Folk makes a 53-yard kick and the Bills lose 25-24. Also, the Bills iced Folk during his first attempted kick. He made that iced kick. And the subsequent kick to win. Just for added salt in the wound
Buffalo Bills vs Pittsburgh Steelers 2004 Week 17
The Bills hadn’t made the playoffs since 1999. Not a thing fans were used to at the time. To make it in 2004, all they had to do was beat the Pittsburgh Steelers and have the New York Jets or Denver Broncos lose. This game was at home. And the Steelers had already clinched the number one seed in the AFC so they were starting a lineup with a heavy amount of backups.
So, beat the Steelers’ backups, hope for some help, and you’re in. I can’t guarantee help. But surely a team of NFL starters can beat a team of backups at home with this much on the line.
The Bills came in winning six straight and outscoring their opponents 228-89 in the process. Seventh in points per game and eighth in points against. Again, playing against backups.
The Buffalo Bills lost this game 26-24. To a team of backups. And also the Jets lost. So if the Bills had won, they would’ve made the playoffs and wouldn’t have carried a playoff drought until 2017.
The Music City Miracle
The title of this one says it all. Also when a game has a name, it’s bad for the losing team.
Buffalo Bills at Tennessee Titans 1999 Wild Card. The Bills were 11-5 with a stellar defense that was second in points allowed and first in yards allowed. But the story of this game comes down to two things. Bills owner Ralph Wilson Jr. telling head coach Wade Phillips to start Rob Johnson over Doug Flutie. And the home run throwback.
Flutie went 10-5 in 1999 and sat in Week 17 as the Bills had nothing to gain. Rob Johnson started, played well, and won. He was ideally the franchise quarterback in ownership’s eyes so the pressure was put on the coaching staff to start Johnson in the playoffs. Though he put the Bills in position to win this game, he played awful. Going 10-22 for 131 yards, and taking six sacks including a safety.
Kicker Steve Christie puts the Bills up 16-15 with 20 seconds left and it looks very good for Buffalo. The Bills then kick-off to the Titans and the home run throwback gives the Titans a 75-yard kickoff return touchdown and the Bills lose 22-16. This one is the definition of gut-wrenching for so many reasons. Having to start Johnson over Flutie, combined with how good the Bills defense was and the extremely improbable way to lose, puts this on the list of worst Buffalo Bills losses forever. Plus for added impact, the Bills wouldn’t make the playoffs again until 2017.
Another one with a name, and thus another very bad one for the Buffalo Bills. This is the patient zero of worst Buffalo Bills losses.
The game is Super Bowl XXV vs the New York Giants and the Bills were 13-3 and extremely good. Running their “K-Gun” no-huddle offense the Bills led the league with 26.8 points per game. Their defense was sixth in points allowed, eighth in yards allowed. They were spearheaded by defensive end Bruce Smith who was named defensive player of the year after posting 19 sacks and 101 tackles.
Quarterback Jim Kelly led the league in passer rating and running back Thurman Thomas led the league in total yards from scrimmage. The team had 10 Pro Bowlers and 11 players that made an All-Pro team. They beat the 12-4 Oakland Raiders 51-3 in the AFC Championship. This was the best team in franchise history. Plus the Giants were starting their backup quarterback.
And with 2:16 left in the game, the Bills have the ball at their 10-yard line, down 20-19. Jim Kelly would drive the Bills down to the Giants’ 29-yard line to set up kicker Scott Norwood for a 47-yard field goal. Norwood would miss that kick. Pushing it “wide right”.
This was the first of four straight Super Bowls for the Bills. A feat no other team in NFL history has accomplished. This loss is the worst of the Buffalo Bills losses because this team was great and going to four straight Super Bowls in unheard of. But because they didn’t win one, this team and that run are discounted and forgotten. This is also the worst loss because it was the Bills’ best chance to win a Super Bowl. They would be blown out in the next three.
The Buffalo Bills are in a good place today. As of this moment, 2020 and beyond looks very good for them. However, their history is one of heartbreak and defeat. These losses paint a picture of strife and failure and dull the shine that the Buffalo Bills organization should have. Hopefully, 2020 and beyond can ease the pain from previous years and write new successful chapters in the Buffalo Bills story.
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