1995 - Return to the Playoffs
10-6 record, first of five in AFC East third of 15 in AFC, six of 30 in NFL
In 1995 two teams joined the National Football League when the Jacksonville Jaguars and Carolina Panthers strapped on the pads for the very first time. Several former Bills joined former general manager Bill Polian in Carolina as quarterback Frank Reich, tight end Pete Metzelaars, and wide receiver Don Beebe all left via free agency to join the new team. More key losses came in the off-season when running back Kenneth Davis retired and Darryl Talley joined the Falcons. To replace Talley the Bills signed Bryce Paup from the Packers and to replace the departed defenisve tackle Jeff Wright the Bills signed Ted Washington from the Broncos and added defensive lineman Jim Jeffcoat from the Cowboys. In the draft the Bills selected guard Reuben Brown with the first-round pick and heir apparent to the Jim Kelly throne Todd Collins in the second. In later rounds they would select DB Ken Irvin, LB John Holecek and RB Darick Holmes. They also signed quarterback Alex Van Pelt in the off-season. To revamp their No. 17-ranked defense, the Bills hired former Broncos defensive coordinator and head coach Wade Phillips to be their new defensive coordinator.
The Bills began the year with an anemic offense and a loss for the second straight year. But this year Buffalo would respond with fire and win their next five games. Poor offensive output led to two division losses to the Patriots and Dolphins to leave the Bills at 5-3. The defense put the Bills on their back in a Week 10 win over the Colts. Ted Washington plowed through the line on a fourth-and-goal stop, Bruce Smith caused a fumble that Henry Jones recoverd, and Bryce Paup sacked the three Indianapolis quarterbacks once each on the way to a 16-10 win. The defense preserved a win the next week as well as Kurt Schulz intercepted a pass to hang on for the 23-17 win over the Falcons. The next week was a different team but the same result. The Jets scored on a Hail Mary with no time left on the clock but the two point conversion attempt was broken up by Thomas Smith, saving the win. In week 13 the Bills lost to the Patriots for the third straight time, dropping them to 8-4, but Buffalo still had a one game lead or more on every team in the division and maintained that cushion after losing the next week to San Francisco. The Bills offense scored 6 TD in a Week 15 blowout of the St. Louis Rams and gave them a chance to clinch the division with a Week 16 win over the Dolphins. In the game the Bills would score and the Dolphins would answer until the defense forced a punt with 4:30 remaining. The rushing offense led by Thurman Thomas would grind out the remaining time giving Buffalo a 23-20 and their sixth division crown in eight seasons. In Week 17 Todd Collins made his first NFL start with Buffalo's playoff seed secured but was replaced by Alex Van Pelt after being sacked five times. Andre Reed returned from a ten-week layoff to score a touchdown.
The Bills once again played the Miami Dolpins in the playoffs - this year in the Wild Card round. Buffalo scored the first 27 points of the game and rushed for 344 yards in a big win over the Dophins. Even Steve Tasker got involved going over one hundred yards receiving for the first time in his career. Tasker played an important role on offense in 1995 as an injury replacement. The Bills won 37-22 and would face the Steelers in the divisional round - a team they had lost to in both the preceding years. Bruce Smith was not able to make the trip due to illness and the Steelers took advantage of the Bills' defense scoring the first 20 points of the game. Thurman Thomas punched in the end zone for the Bills first points and in the process scored a touchdown in his seventh straight playoff game (second longest all time). Alex Van Pelt threw a touchdown pass in relief for Jim Kelly and Kelly would come back to throw one of his own to Thurman Thomas. It was Thomas' 18th career postseason touchdown, the most in NFL history at that time. But the Steelers ground the clock for over five minutes and added two more late touchdowns in a 40-21 win. (Personally, I remember thinking how weird it was that the Bills lost in the playoffs. It was their first postseason loss to an AFC opponent since 1989.)
The absence of Reed to injury, Beebe and Metzelaars to free agency, and Kenneth Davis to retirement left the Bills with many holes on offense. As a result the Bills dropped to 13 in points, 20 in yards, and 21 in passing yards. The Bills' rushing attack managed to be number 6 in the league. The defense, led by Defensive Player of the Year Bryce Paup and his 17.5 sacks, made big gains and finished 12 in points allowed and 13 in yards allowed. Steve Tasker made the Pro Bowl as a special teams player for the fifth straight year and Bryce Paup and Bruce Smith were both Pro Bowlers and All-Pros. Joe Ferguson was added to the Bills Wall of Fame in 1995. Ferguson was the franchise's all-time leading passer throwing for 27,590 yards prior to Jim Kelly breaking the record in 1994. Ferguson, despite two 3500+ yard season, was never named to a Pro Bowl roster.