On December 30, 1995, the Buffalo Bills hosted the Miami Dolphins in a Wild Card playoff game. The Bills entered as the third seed, having won the AFC East with a 10-6 record. The Dolphins were the sixth seed at 9-7. It was the second time the teams had met in Orchard Park that December, as Buffalo had clinched the division two weeks earlier by defeating the Dolphins.
Buffalo went on to win the match-up in dominant fashion, beating Miami 37-22 in a game that wasn’t even as close as the final score indicated. The Bills led 24-0 at halftime, having scored on four of their first five offensive possessions. Buffalo added a field goal in the third quarter before falling asleep at the switch a bit defensively in the fourth quarter. The teams alternated scores in the final period of the game, but they were never in danger of losing the game.
Jim Kelly was below-average in the swirling winds of Rich Stadium, completing 12-of-22 passes for 195 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions. However, the Buffalo rushing attack was merciless, as the team ran an incredible 52 times for an even more ridiculous 341 yards and three touchdowns. Thurman Thomas ran 25 times for 158 yards and a touchdown. Darick Holmes had 15 carries for 87 yards and a touchdown. Even backup fullback Tim Tindale, who ended up with only 65 rushing yards for his whole regular season career, rushed four times for 68 yards and a touchdown in this playoff blowout.
Buffalo’s leading receiver that day? It wasn’t Andre Reed, who was held without a catch on two targets. Instead, it was special-teams ace Steve Tasker, who caught five passes for 108 yards and a touchdown, all in the first half. The Bills’ defense, ranked 12th in points and 13th in yards (out of 30 teams at the time), forced Dan Marino into four turnovers in the game. He was intercepted by Filmel Johnson, Ken Irvin, and Marlo Perry. Bryce Paup, the 1995 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, was held without a sack even though he led the league that year with 17.5 (however, he did recover a Marino fumble).
The victory gave Buffalo its eleventh playoff victory in seven playoff appearances under head coach Marv Levy. The game is also notable for the opposing head coach, as the loss was legendary Dolphins coach Don Shula’s final game in the NFL.
For Bills fans, this game is notable, as well, since it is the last time the Bills won a playoff game. Granted, they haven’t had many opportunities since then, but the team is 0-5 in the playoffs since that day. After beating up on Miami, Buffalo moved on to face the second-seeded Pittsburgh Steelers, winners of the AFC Central Division in 1995. Buffalo lost 40-21 at Three Rivers Stadium to the eventual AFC Champions.
In 1996, the team lost its first playoff game at Rich Stadium, dropping a 30-27 decision to the Jacksonville Jaguars in Jim Kelly’s final game. In 1998, the Bills lost to the Dolphins in Miami, losing 24-17 when Doug Flutie fumbled at the Miami five-yard line with 17 seconds left in the game. The following year, Buffalo lost in even more agonizing fashion to the Tennessee Titans, losing 22-16 thanks to a
forward lateral kickoff return touchdown on the penultimate play of the game. In the 2017 Wild Card, Buffalo traveled to Florida and lost 10-3 to the Jacksonville Jaguars in a game that many felt set football back 100 years.
Buffalo has exorcised some demons this year. They beat all three of the NFC East teams that defeated them in the Super Bowl. They defeated the Titans in Tennessee. They won in Pittsburgh, something they hadn’t done since beating the Steelers in the 1992 AFC Divisional playoffs. They even saw the Steelers miss out on any shot at the playoffs thanks to a Week 17 defeat at the hands of a less unkind group of Baltimore Ravens. They could exorcise another with a win on Saturday.
As I write this, it is 24 years to the day since Buffalo won a playoff game. I was a nine-year-old fourth grader when that happened. Marv Levy and Don Shula were strapping young men, aged 70 and 65, respectively. Jim Kelly was 35. Dan Marino was 34. Today, the quarterbacks from Buffalo’s last win are nearly the same age as their coaches were when the game took place. More shocking (perhaps depressing?) for myself, I am darn near the same age the quarterbacks were in that game that I watched as a nine-year-old.
If you’re feeling nostalgic, the game is on YouTube. With Josh Allen, who wasn’t born until May of 1996, set to play in his first playoff game on Saturday against the Houston Texans, it gives us something to quench the thirst for Bills football while we wait. Hopefully, head coach Sean McDermott’s second playoff game as a head coach is Buffalo’s first playoff victory in nearly a quarter century.