1999 - Home Run Throwback
11-5 record, 2 of 5 in AFC East, 4 of 16 in AFC, 5 of 31 in NFL
The Cleveland Browns rejoined the league in 1999 and were added to the AFC Central. The Bills lost linebacker Chris Spielman, wideout Quinn Early, tight end Lonnie Johnson, and running back Darick Holmes in free agency. Buffalo selected Ohio State cornerback Antoine Winfield in the first round and in the second added wide receiver Peerless Price. The other major change to take place in 1999 was the expiration of the Rich Stadium naming rights deal. The Bills' home stadium had been named after Rich Foods for 25 years - ever since the move from The Rockpile. The stadium was renamed Ralph Wilson Stadium in honor of team founder and President Ralph Wilson, Jr.
1999 was a season that will live on in infamy as long as the Buffalo Bills remain an NFL franchise, and forever in the city. Right now, it's the last time the Bills made a trip to the playoffs, and the way in which their season ended remains one of the most famous and controversial plays in NFL history. On the first play of the year Thurman Thomas suffered an internal injury and was lost for the first ten games of the year. After losing the opening game to the division rival Colts and Peyton Manning, the Bills won three straight games on the back of the defense. 17-3 over the Jets, 26-0 over the Eagles, and forcing three turnovers in a 23-18 win in Miami. The offense stepped up the following week gaining 365 yards in a win over the Steelers to push the record to 4-1. Doug Flutie enjoyed an outstanding day completing 21 of 32 passes for 261 yards and 3 TDs while adding another 39 yards on 7 rushes. The next two weeks saw Buffalo's offense sputter. Flutie threw an interception on the first play of week 6 en route to three on the day in a loss to the Raiders. The next week was not any better with WR Eric Moulds, TE Jay Riemersma, OG Ruben Brown, LB John Holecek, and DE Phil Hansen all out with injuries. Flutie threw two more picks, lost a fumble, and completed only 24 of his 50 passes in the Bills second straight loss, dropping them to 4-3. Buffalo's defense turned the tide the next week in another difficult week for Flutie. It was the quarterback's third straight week with three turnovers but the defense held the Ravens in check and the Bills squeaked out a win. The next week the offense played mistake-free football and the defense was dominant and the Bills beat the Redskins holding the team to 19 minutes of possession. The next week the Bills beat Miami 23-3 to improve to 7-3, only a half game behind the Dolphins (whose only two losses had come to the Bills) and Colts for the division lead. But a loss to the 3-6 Jets knocked the Bills back down to 7-4 before a win before the bye brought them back up to 8-4, a full two games behind the streaking Colts. After the late bye, desperately needed for Buffalo with their top three running backs ailing, the Bills gave the Giants everything they could handle before a defensive stand and last-minute field goal gave the Giants a 19-17 win. The 8-5 Bills were now three games behind Indianapolis with three to play and tied with the Dolphins a Wild Card berth. After a victory in Arizona the Bills were 9-5 with New England coming to town. The Colts had also won, thus clinching the AFC East crown. Buffalo was playing for a wild card spot. In a dramatic but low-scoring game, the Patriots and Bills slugged it out to a 10-10 tie with six seconds remaining. The Bills knew their playoff chances were good win or lose but a win would lock it up. Patriots kicker Adam Vinatieri pushed the kick wide right but had another chance in overtime to win with a 44-yard attempt. This one fell short and Buffalo marched down the field for the winning Steve Christie kick. It clinched a wild card spot for Buffalo and in the final game of the season Buffalo's backups beat Indianapolis in a meaningless game for the Bills to run Buffalo's record to 11-5 and drop Indy to 13-3. Indianapolis had clinched the AFC East but was still fighting with Jacksonville who won in week 17 and gained home field advantage with a 14-2 record. In the final game, quarterback Rob Johnson got his only start of the year. Andre Reed passed Art Monk that day to rank second in career receptions, passed Steve Largent to rank fourth in career receiving yardage, and recorded his 50th catch of the year to give him his 13th career season with 50+ catches tying Jerry Rice for the NFL record.
After leading the Bills to a 10-5 record and resting in the final game of the season, Wade Phillips stunned the football world when he named Rob Johnson the team's starter for the playoff game against the Tennessee Titans (formerly the Houston Oilers franchise). Johnson's first mistake was a Jevon Kearse strip/sack in the end zone which resulted in a safety. After the kick the Titans marched down the field and scored on a Steve McNair touchdown run giving them a 9-0 lead. After a controversial replay moved a ball spot giving the Titans a first down, Tennessee advanced into Buffalo territory at the end of the first half but mercifully missed a field goal and leaving the halftime score 12-0 in favor of the Titans. Buffalo's offense responded in the second half scoring a touchdown on the first drive to make it a 12-7 Titan lead and another Buffalo score gave Buffalo a 13-12 lead after the two-point conversion failed. An Al Del Greco field goal put Tennessee back on top 15-13 with only 1:48 to play. With no timeouts and little time Buffalo's offense executed a two-minute offense to near-perfection and Johnson threw a 19-yard completion to Peerless Price without his shoe on to put Buffalo into field goal range. Steve Christie knocked home the field goal with 16 seconds left. On the ensuing kickoff Titans tight end Frank Wycheck was given the ball by the fielder and ran to his left before turning and firing the ball across the field to wide receiver Kevin Dyson. Dyson returned the kick 75 yards for the game-winning TD. The play was reviewed by replay where it was confirmed to be a lateral and not a forward pass. The homerun throwback, later dubbed the "Music City Miracle", handed Buffalo it's last playoff loss to date. Longtime special teams coach Bruce DeHaven was made the scapegoat and fired after coaching the Bills since 1986.
Buffalo's rushing offense was very good in 1999. They ranked 8 in rushing yards behind 695 from Jonathan Linton who played in several games for an injured Antowain Smith who was second on the team with 614 yards. Doug Flutie added 476 and Thurman Thomas contributed 152 in only three starts and five games in his last year as a Bill. Flutie also threw for the most yards by a Bills QB (3171) since Jim Kelly in 1993 and ranked in the top ten in completions, attempts, yards, and passing touchdowns. Eric Moulds led the team in receiving for the second time catching 65 passes for 994 yards, The Bills defense finished first in the league allowing only 4045 yards and second in points with 229 points allowed, an average of less than 14 points a game. Fullback Sam Gash (with no rushes on the year) and guard Ruben Brown were the only two Bills selected to the Pro Bowl. The Bills did not add a player to the Wall of Fame in 1999 but added longtime trainer Ed Abramoski. Abramoski was head trainer for Buffalo from 1960 (when he accompanied Ralph WIlson from Detroit) until 1995. In 1999 the second Bills player was selected to the Hall of Fame as AFL era guard BIlly Shaw joined O.J. Simpson in Canton. Shaw is the only player inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame without ever playing for the NFL. He was named to eight AFL All-Star teams and was a member of the all-time AFL team.