The Buffalo Bills have missed out on the NFL’s playoffs for the past 17 seasons, but Sunday’s huge 23-17 road win over the defending NFC champion Atlanta Falcons could go a long way towards helping Sean McDermott and company snap the playoff drought.
By knocking off such a talented and formidable foe as the high-flying Falcons, the Bills built off of their momentum from a 26-16 home win over the Denver Broncos, and earned the franchise’s best road win since Steve Christie booted five field goals to spearhead the Bills to a 29-10 win over the Miami Dolphins in the 1992 AFC Championship.
How big was Sunday’s road win over Atlanta? In the 17 years the Bills have been conspicuously absent from the NFL’s postseason, they have earned road victories 44 times. In 33 of those contests, Buffalo beat up on teams that didn’t finish with a winning record.
That means the Bills only had 11 wins against teams that finished that season with a winning record. It gets worse. If you boil it down, only three opponents posted a playoff win in the same year they lost to Buffalo at their place.
Of those three road wins over teams that would go on to win a playoff game that season, two of those came against the New England Patriots, and none of those wins over Buffalo’s rivals in Foxboro came against Bill Belichick’s best squads: one was a 17-9 triumph when Tom Brady and company only played one half of football in the 2014 season finale, and the other was a 16-0 shutout in Week 4 of the 2016 season, when Brady was suspended for his role in Deflategate.
So what are we left with to compare to Sunday’s huge road win over the Dirty Birds? Under the “legendary” head coach Dick Jauron, the Bills picked off the New York Jets six times, with five INT’s coming against then-rookie Mark Sanchez, en route to a 16-13 overtime victory on Oct. 18, 2009. Sanchez eventually went to the AFC CHampionship game that season.
While the Bills (3-1) are alone in first place in the AFC East, one game up on both the New England Patriots (2-2) and the New York Jets (2-2), the first time Buffalo has been in sole possession of first place in the division this late in the season since Week 7 of the 2008 season, let’s take a moment to celebrate the magnitude of Sunday’s win.
By all accounts, nearly every national expert sided with the Falcons, who entered the game favored by as many as eight points. And with good reason. The Falcons boasted the NFL’s reigning MVP in Matt Ryan, featured one of the game’s top wide receivers in Julio Jones, and had a two-headed running back monster in Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman that, when they combine for 200 or more all-purpose yards, make the Falcons unbeatable (7-0 entering Sunday).
But Sunday afternoon at brand-new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the Bills served notice to the rest of the league that while those outside of One Bills Drive envisioned a tank job and a shot at a high draft pick (and a franchise quarterback) as the goals of first-year head coach Sean McDermott, these are not your bungling Bills who have languished in playoff purgatory since losing to the Tennessee Titans in the Music City Miracle during the 1999 season.
When asked his thoughts on the magnitude of Sunday’s road win, McDermott wasn’t taking the bait.
“I would say hold your horses a little bit. It is one step at a time. This is a great win, what more can you say?” McDermott said during his post-game press conference. “It is a great win but it is the next win. It is the next game and that is what we have to keep our focus on. After we take 24 hours to enjoy this ... (we) turn our attention to the Cincinnati Bengals.”
Sounds like McDermott has his sights set on keeping his team humble and grounded, while (hopefully) earning more marquee road wins in the future.