1994 - AFC Domination Over
7-9 record, four of five in AFC East, 9 of 14 in AFC, 17 of 28 in NFL
Coming off four straight Super Bowls, the Buffalo Bills were bound for a letdown at some point. The NFL helped dismantle the Bills dynasty starting with free agency in 1993 and culminating in 1994 with the addition of a salary cap. At the time Buffalo was in the top five in league salary and were forced to release quality starters just to comply with the new cap. The transition was a rough one for Buffalo's offensive line. Guard Jim Ritcher was released, tackle Howard Ballard was not re-signed, and Keith McKeller had problems recovering from a knee injury and was let go. Interception machine Mark Kelso retired after several concussions, and Nate Odomes also left via free agency. The Bills secondary also lost starting cornerback JD Williams. Due to these heavy losses, Buffalo received two additional second round picks and an additional third round selection as compensatory picks. Cornerback Jeff Burris was selected first to bolster the pass defense. Tight end Lonnie Johnson was picked in the second round to replace McKellar and linebacker Sam Rogers was also selected in the second.
The Bill lost to the Jets in Week 1, scoring only 3 points. It was the first time since 1988 the Bills did not find the end zone at home. In Week 2, Jim Kelly won a quarterback duel with then-Patriots QB Drew Bledsoe. The two combined for over 700 passing yards and 7 touchdowns, and though Bledsoe had more yardage, Kelly had more touchdowns in a 38-35 Buffalo win. After two more wins, the Bills lost to Chicago with Thurman Thomas watching from the sidelines. The Bills beat Miami the next week before losing to the Colts. Following the bye week, the Bills hung 44 points on the Chiefs defense and Steve Christie kicked two field goals to lift him to 15 for 15 on the year, breaking Scott Norwood's team record of 13 straight made field goals. For the first time since Hank Bullough was coach of the Bills, the Jets beat the Bills twice in one year when Buffalo's offense was shut down in the second half, allowing Boomer Esiason to lead the Jets to the 22-17 win. Following a loss to the Steelers on Monday Night Football in Week 11, Buffalo sat at 5-5, two games behind the Dolphins and tied with the Jets who had beaten Buffalo twice. A win versus Green Bay put the Bills over .500, but a loss to the Lions the following week drop them back.
With four games left, Buffalo was once again looking up at Miami (2 game lead) and now the red hot Patriots were a game up on the Bills, too. To make matters worse the Jets were still tied with Buffalo. The Bills helped their cause in week 14 with a big win over the Dolphins. Following a late home loss to the Minnesota Vikings, however, the Bills playoff hopes were in jeopardy and made worse by a Jim Kelly injury late in that game. The Patriots came to town in Week 16 and Drew Bledsoe led New England to 35 unanswered points to beat th Frank Reich-led Bills 41-17 and put a wild card spot out of reach. In Week 17 Reich once again filled in for Kelly in a loss to the Colts. The Dolphins won the division and the Patriots earned a Wild Card berth for the first time under Bill Parcells.
On the season the Bills fell back a little finishing 11 in points, 10 in total yards and passing yards, and 8 in rushing yards. After the loss of so many defensive backs, the passing defense really suffered finishing 23 in passing yards and 25 in passing touchdowns allowed. The defense as a whole dropped as well finishing 22 in points allowed and 17 in overall yards allowed. Wideout Andre Reed was the only offensive player selected to the Pro Bowl and was joined by defensive end Bruce Smith and special teamer Steve Tasker. This was the first time in seven years the Bills did not make the playoffs. Linebacker Mike Stratton, who turned the tide in the 1964 AFL Championship game with the "Hit Heard 'Round the World" on Chargers' running back Keith Lincoln, was added to the Wall of Fame.