2000 - End of an Era
8-8 record, 4 of 5 in AFC East, 9 of 16 in AFC, 17 of 31 in NFL
The Bills had severally mortgaged their future salary cap space for one last go in 1999. On a sad day in Buffalo history, the Bills released Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed, and Bruce Smith two days after the Music City Miracle. Thomas hadn't been the leading rushing since 1996, Reed hadn't been the leading receiver in two seasons, and Smith had his lowest single-season sack total since his rookie year (outside of his injury-filled five-game 1991 season). Other salary cap cuts were fullback Sam Gash, and a host of defensive players including Kurt Schulz. The Bills hoped to restock via the draft but were disappointed by the haul. Defensive end Eric Flowers was supposed to replace Smith but had only four sacks in his two years in Buffalo. Travares Tillman was brought in to replace Schultz and played only two years in Buffalo as well. LB Corey Moore, WR Avion Black, RB Sammy Morris, DE Leif Larsen, and WR Drew Haddad and LB DaShon Polk all failed to make large impacts in Buffalo. Both quarterbacks, Doug Flutie and Rob Johnson, entered training camp with legitimate shots at being the starting QB in 2000. Ultimately Flutie would tear his groin in the preseason and Johnson won the job.
To open the 2000 season the Bills played host to the same Tennessee Titans that had knocked them out of the playoffs the year before on a questionable call. This time, the Bills would avoid a late-game charge by the Titans and back-up quarterback Alex Van Pelt, in for an injured Rob Johnson, led the Bills to a 16-13 win. In week 2 Johnson bounced back and led the Bills to a victory over the Green Bay Packers. In week three the Bills turned it over four times in a loss to the division-rival Jets. After the bye the team lost two straight games to the Colts and Dolphins before a last-second field goal in regulation and a Doug Flutie-led field goal drive in overtime beat the Chargers. It was Flutie's first appearance of the year due to his injury. The next week Flutie started for Buffalo but they ran into the juggernaut Vikings offense and lost a high-scoring affair 31-27. The Bills then beat the Jets at home on a last-second Christie field goal, 23-20. The following week Christie tied it again on the final play of regulation and in overtime booted through the game-winner. The following week Flutie once again started for the Bills against Chicago. The Bills knocked the Bears' QB from the game and third-string Shane Matthews came in and turned the ball over four times. Just before the end of the first half Johnson was inserted under center to test his injured shoulder. He led the team on a field goal drive and took the lead before going back to the bench to start the second half. Flutie came back in at the start of the second half and led the team to a touchdown in the second half and the defense thoroughly dominated the Bears' offense in a big win for Buffalo to move them to 6-4 on the year. Rob Johnson started the next week and scored a diving touchdown with under three minutes left to lift the Bills to a victory and a 7-4 record. They were one game behind the Dolphins and tied with the Jets and Colts in the AFC East but lost to the Buccaneers in a game where they outgained Tampa Bay 433 to 180 but still lost by two touchdowns. The Dolphins could now clinch the division by beating the Bills and a 24-0 halftime lead all but ensured it. After two straight losses to Bills were now 7-6 and in danger of missing the playoffs. At 16-6 late in the third quarter of the next game against the Colts, Rob Johnson was sacked by former Bill Jeff Burris. Johnson fumbled and Indianapolis ran it in to go up 23-6 and held on to win 44-20 in a wild second half. The loss eliminated the Bills from the playoff chase with their third straight defeat. An Adam Vinetiari kick in overtime handed the Bills their fourth straight loss in a game where Rob Johnson was once again knocked out due to injury. After the game Ralph Wilson fired G.M. John Butler. A season-ending rout of the Seahawks led by Flutie evened the Bills' record at 8-8. After the season, Wade Phillips refused to make changes to his coaching staff and was fired.
The Bills offense clicked under Johnson, who threw for 177 yards a game and 12 touchdowns in his 12 games but the team was only 4-7 in games he started. He was sacked 49 times (third-most in the league) in only 11 starts, a rate of 4.5 a start. Flutie went 4-1 as a starter but averaged only 154 yards a game. Together the two combined for over 3800 passing yards and 20 touchdowns, both would have been top ten in the league. While they were a top ten offense, the scoring didn't mesh with the yardage and the Bills fell to 20 in points scored. The defense under coach Phillips was once again remarkable, allowing the third-fewest yards. But like the offense the defense numbers didn't mesh. The defense ranked 18 in points allowed despite the low yardage totals. Once again no Bill rushed for more than 600 rushing yards with Shawn Bryson leading the way toting the rock for 591 yards. One very bright spot on the offense was Eric Moulds who caught a then-team record 94 receptions for 1326 yards (second-most in team history) and five scores. Defensive end Marcellus Wiley led the defense with 10.5 sacks and linebacker Sam Cowart had 88 tackles to go with his 5.5 sacks, two interceptions, and two fumble recoveries.
Wide receiver Eric Moulds, guard Ruben Brown, nose tackle Ted Washington, and linebacker Sam Cowart were selected to the Pro Bowl and Cowart and Brown were second team All-Pro selections. Two AFL names joined the Bills Wall of Fame in 2000 as offensive lineman Bob Kalsu and safety Geroge Saimes were added. Kalsu was honored for holding down the fort at right guard in his rookie campaign before leaving the team to serve and die for his country in Vietnam. Saimes was a standout in the Bills' defensive backfield on both AFL Championship squads and was selected to the All-time AFL defensive team.