1976 - The Downfall
2-12 record, fifth of five in AFC East, 13 of 14 in AFC, 26 of 28 in NFL
The Seattle Seahawks (NFC West) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (AFC West) joined the NFL in 1976. Good thing for the Bills, too. The Bucs went 0-14 and were the only team that had a worse record than the Bills. The preceding draft had killed the Bills but the 1976 draft would prove much different. You would be hard-pressed to find a better first four picks by a team in any draft than the Bills had in 1976. In the first round the Bills selected cornerback Mario Clark. In the second round they snagged two long-term offensive line starters in left tackle Ken Jones and Joe Devlin who would start 20 seasons combined protecting Bills QBs from Ferguson to Kelly. In the third round defensive end Ben Williams was drafted. Williams was the only player from the class to play in a Pro Bowl but the others were very good for Buffalo while playing on some bad teams.
The Bills began the year 0-2 but came back with a win against the Bucs and a huge 34-point win over the Chiefs. Following a Week 5 loss to the Jets, Lou Saban was fired. (He coached the University of Miami from 1977 to '78 and is credited with recruiting Jim Kelly to play there.) Offensive line coach and architect of the Electric Company Jim Ringo was named interim coach. Internal fighting took place, Joe Ferguson was injured, and the team went 0-9 to finish out the year losing the final two games of the year 45-27 and 58-20. The offensive juggernaut from the year before was hobbled and fell to the middle of the league in all major categories except rushing yards. The rushing offense ranked third in the league on the legs of O.J. and fullback Jeff Kinney.
One highlight of the Bills that season was the Thanksgiving Day game. In the matchup with the Detroit Lions, the Bills put forth at the same time one of the best and the worst performances in Thanksgiving history. On the positive side, running back O.J. Simpson set the league record for most rushing yards in a single game, with 273. However, Simpson achieved this feat due in large part to the fact that the Bills' backup quarterback, Gary Marangi, gained only 29 yards passing and completed only 4 out of 21 passes, in addition to throwing an interception affording a passer rating of 19.7. Despite Simpson's record-setting performance, the Bills lost the game, 27-14.
Once again the only Bills selected for postseason honors were future Hall of Famers O.J. Simpson and Joe DeLamielleure. Both were selected to the Pro Bowl and the All-Pro teams, OJ for the fifth straight and Joe D. for the second consecutive year.