Now that the Buffalo Bills’ 17-year playoff drought is finally over and we relish the return to normalcy, we’ll continue with part two of the top 10 moments of the Bills’ drought with numbers 5 through 1 below. In case you missed it, see moments 10 through 6 here.
5: Kyle Orton’s game winning drive vs. Minnesota
Coming in at number 5 is the game winning drive of Week 7 in 2014 during which the Bills came from behind to defeat the Minnesota Vikings to improve to 4-3 on the season. The Bills again showed their fantastic defense under defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz as they held the Vikings to just 16 points and forced QB Teddy Bridgewater to throw two interceptions to CB Leodis McKelvin.
The thrilling drive showed perfect execution of the two-minute drill which featured a 4th and 20 conversion to TE Scott Chandler followed by a 3rd and 12 completion to WR Sammy Watkins. Shortly after, QB Kyle Orton hit WR Chris Hogan on a clutch 28-yard strike to set the Bills up on the goal line for Sammy’s eventual game-winning touchdown.
Though it was Sammy’s score that actually won the game, it was Hogan’s unbelievable catch that should receive most of the credit. Orton basically threw the ball up for grabs but Hogan, in an impressive display of athleticism, went up and snagged the ball while securing possession after crashing to the ground.
On the day, Watkins recorded 122 yards and 2 touchdowns while Hogan had 63 yards which included the clutch 28-yard grab. The game’s outcome proved the Bills had at least two solid receivers in Hogan and Watkins and that their defense was for real. It inspired hope for the remainder of a season which at first seemed like a lost cause given the benching of QB EJ Manuel after he failed to live up to expectations.
4: Acquiring Mario Williams and LeSean McCoy
In the fourth slot of the countdown are the signings of arguably the two biggest names to play for the Bills since the mid-1990’s, DE Mario Williams and RB LeSean McCoy. Williams signed with Buffalo in March of 2012 after spending six years with the Houston Texans where he averaged 8.8 sacks per season and had two Pro-Bowl appearances. He signed a six-year, $100 million dollar contract with the Bills which was the largest contract ever signed by a defensive player at the time.
Williams had an immediate impact for Buffalo as he recorded 10.5, 13, and then a monstrous 14.5 sacks 2012, 2013, and 2014, respectively. Unfortunately, he had a steep drop off in 2015 as he only recorded 5 sacks and then left for the Miami Dolphins on somewhat of a sour note for the 2016 season. Although in his final year with Buffalo he appear disinterested in football, you cannot argue with his phenomenal performances in his first three seasons which were spectacular to watch.
The other signing of Shady McCoy in 2015 came as a huge surprise to NFL fans everywhere, especially since the price tag was relatively low for the All-Pro. The Bills traded LB Kiko Alonso who had a torn ACL and missed all of 2014 to Chip Kelly and the Philadelphia Eagles in return for the star running back.
Since coming to Buffalo, Shady has made the Pro Bowl each year and does not appear to have lost a step despite rapidly approaching age 30. He continues to be one of the shiftiest and illusive backs in the league and will likely be the focal point of the Bills’ offense again this coming season.
3: Bills upset Falcons
En route to ending their playoff drought, the Bills shocked the NFL world during Week 4 of the 2017 season when they upset the Atlanta Falcons who were a participant in the previous year’s Super Bowl. For a team who was projected to have fewer than seven wins entering the season to go on the road and defeat a team of Atlanta’s caliber was a tremendous feat and the results injected excitement in the Bills’ fan base.
During the game, Buffalo forced three turnovers that included two interceptions by Micah Hyde and a 52 yard fumble return by rookie Tre’Davious White. Although one of Hyde’s picks and Matt Ryan’s fumble were highly questionable, Buffalo was able to capitalize on the opportunity and ultimately won the game 23-17 after staying strong on the goal line in the closing seconds.
The Bills improved to 3-1 after the game and it was one of the happiest points of the season (with the exception of the Andy Dalton touchdown pass to actually get into the playoffs) as a tremendous buzz emerged in the news and media sources.
2: The great start to the 2008 season
Though the latter part of the 2008 season was probably one of the more heartbreaking and ‘Billsiest’ portions of the drought, the beginning was one of the best. Buffalo fired out of the gates to a 4-0 start under QB Trent Edwards’ leadership before stumbling against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 5. However, many fans didn’t think much into it and merely thought it was just some bad luck as Edwards left the game with a concussion.
The following week was a bye for the Bills and allowed Edwards to get healthy, but Week 7 featured a match up against the San Diego Chargers who were considered to be one of the top teams in the AFC that year and were led by stud RB LaDainian Tomlinson. This game is particularly memorable because not only did Buffalo improve to 5-1 after the upset, but Ralph Wilson Stadium experienced several power outages throughout the broadcast.
Bills fans were ecstatic after the game as they truly thought the team was a legitimate contender and that Edwards may be the franchise guy. Although ‘Tricky Dicky’ Jauron and the boys only won another two games in the remainder of the season and ended with an all-too-familiar 7-9 record, it was definitely one of the highest points of the 17-year drought.
1: The 2011 triumph over New England
Coming in the top spot is the Bills’ 34-31 comeback victory over Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in Week 3 of the 2011 season. Any win against the Patriots since the turn of the century is significant, but this one was particularly great as it was at home, improved Buffalo to 3-0, and felt legitimate.
The game started largely as expected with New England jumping out to a 21-0 lead by the middle of the 2nd quarter. Suddenly however, the Bills were brought back to life and managed to battle their way back into the game. The Buffalo secondary was a nightmare for Tom Brady all day as they forced him into throwing four interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown by CB Drayton Florence. The play was again featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, similar to Sam Adams’ interception return against New England nearly a decade earlier.
With the game tied 31-31 late in the 4th quarter, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick hit RB Fred Jackson for a long pass that set up K Rian Lindell for the game-winning field goal with two seconds left allowing the Bills to escape victorious. Jackson had a lane to the end zone but purposefully gave himself up to burn more clock in a heads up play.
Unlike other times where the Bills upset a juggernaut, this win didn’t feel fluky. Buffalo was able to disrupt Brady and outscore New England, something the Patriots nearly always do to the Bills. Not only were fans simply excited about the record, but the way Buffalo was winning was awesome. During the first five games of the season, the team was averaging 32.8 points per game underneath the offensively minded Chan Gailey and the passing game was actually a threat to opposing defenses. It was a truly entertaining brand of football.
This victory over the Patriots was more satisfying than most because there was no excuse that New England could have used to explain their defeat, they were just straight up beaten. The comeback, SI cover, undefeated record, and victory over an opponent that has tormented the Bills for so long makes it the top moment of the drought era.