2003 - Regression
6-10 record, 4 of 4 in AFC East, 9 of 16 in AFC, 20 of 32 in NFL
After winning five more games in 2002 than 2001 and featuring one of the most potent offenses in the league, you'd think the Bills would continue improving in 2003. The biggest weakness in 2002 was the defense and to aide in improving that weakness Buffalo brought in fired Bengals coach Dick LeBeau as a defensive consultant and assistant head coach. They also added players to their linebacker corps signing Jeff Posey when free agency opened and later inking LeBeau's former defensive terror in Cincinnati, Takeo Spikes. To help the run stopping ability of the defense the Bills signed massive defensive tackle Sam Adams. On offense, Peerless Price was a free agent but Tom Donahoe franchised the wideout before trading him to Atlanta for a first round pick to replace the one dealt for Bledsoe. Donahoe also traded for tight end Mark Campbell (to replace Jay Remiersma) and signed fullback Sam Gash (to replace the departed Larry Centers). To finally solve the revolving door that had existed at kicker since the release of Steve Christie in 2000, Buffalo signed kicker Rian Lindell. With the first-round pick they acquired from Atlanta, Buffalo selected injured Miami running back Willis McGahee. McGahee had been injured in the national championship game and wouldn't even be able to play in 2003. To add to the question marks, Buffalo had a top-flight running back in Travis Henry. In later rounds the Bills added DE Chris Kelsay, LB Angelo Crowell, and DB Terrence McGee. Just prior to the start of the season the Patriots cut safety Lawyer Milloy and the Bills swooped in and signed the Pro Bowler.
In the opening week Milloy would get a chance to stick it to his former team. He recorded a sack and an interception to go along with five tackles in a 31-0 blowout win. Sam Adams also had a memorable play. Adams dropped into pass coverage on a zone blitz, one of LeBeau's favorites, and picked off a Tom Brady pass. Adams rumbled, and I mean rumbled, in for the 37-yard interception return touchdown. Brady threw four picks on the day. In Week 2 the Bills kept rolling, running over Jacksonville with three Henry TD runs and two Bledsoe touchdown passes. The offense was great in the first two games but in week 3 Miami shut down Gilbride with a running game on Ricky Williams' back. Williams carried 42 times for 153 yards and Miami held the ball for 41 minutes. Buffalo's only points came on a Nate Clements INT return. With their two top running backs out with injuries, Buffalo fell to Philadelphia the next week and evened their record at 2-2. Henry returned the next week, playing through pain, and scored the winning touchdown in overtime against the Bengals. The following week Buffalo was manhandled by the winless Jets, scoring only 3 points and committing four turnovers. But Henry and the Bills would bounce back the next week beating Washington before falling to Kansas City the next week. Buffalo quarterbacks were picked off five times and the team committed seven turnovers in the loss and entered the bye 4-4. Drew Bledsoe's woes continued and in the game following the bye his longest pass was 18 yards and he was sacked three times in another Bills loss. The Bills offense was a no-show again the next week, failing to score a TD for the third straight week in a 12-10 loss to Houston. Buffalo scored a touchdown against the Colts but still lost 17-14, falling to 4-7 on the year. The cries for Williams' job that had already begun grew louder. A seventeen-point second quarter and three Schobel sacks in week 13 helped the Bills rout the Giants 24-7. At home against the Jets the Bills won again, raising their record to 6-7 on the back of another stellar performance by the dinged Travis Henry. A failed two point conversion at the end of the fourth quarter helped Tennessee hand Buffalo their eighth loss on the year and the Bills lost two more to finish the year 6-10. The Bills mustered only 3 points in Week 16 and in a rematch with the Patriots, New England returned the season-opening favor and beat Buffalo by the same score, 31-0, that the Bills had earlier in the year. Following the season the entire Bills coaching staff was dismissed, despite Buffalo climbing to the second ranked defense.
On the year Drew Bledsoe led the NFL with 49 sacks which led to Alex Van Pelt and Travis Brown appearing in 8 games total. The offense that was great the year before fell to 30 in points and yards.Bledsoe threw for only 2860 yards and threw more interceptions (12) than touchdowns (10). Travis Henry was once again solid on the ground going for 1356 yards and ten touchdowns. On defense, Aaron Schobel compiled 11.5 sacks to help the defense ranked second in yards and fifth in points. Guard Ruben Brown and linebacker Takeo Spikes represented Buffalo in the Pro Bowl. Bills linebacker Darryl Talley was added to the Wall of Fame in 2003. Talley never missed a game in his twelve years in Buffalo and played on all four Super Bowl teams. He is the Bills' all-time leading tackler with 1,137 and averaged 120 tackles a season. His 188 games for Buffalo ranks fifth in team history. Prior to the 2003 campaign two former Bills were slected for enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Joining fellow lineman Billy Shaw was Electric Company guard Joe Delamielleure. Joe D. opened some huge holes for O.J. Simpson (another Bills Hall of Famer) and was a six-time All-Pro. Joe D. was also a member of the 1970s All-Decade team. The other Bill to be elected was wide receiver James Lofton. Lofton played in Buffalo for four years and while in town became the all-time leading receiver in NFL history.