1972 - Turning Loose the Juice
4-9-1 record, Fourth of five in AFC East, Tenth-t of thirteen in AFC, 19th-t of 26 in NFL
Following the resignation of John Rauch and interim coach Harvey Johnson's return to the front office, Ralph Wilson returned to a familiar name to bring the Bills back to prominence - AFL-Champion coach Lou Saban. Saban returned to find a much different team than he left. A team with a dominant defense following 1965's AFL Championship had a league-worst defense when he returned. With the first overall selection the Bills attempted to address the defense by selecting defensive end Walt Patulski (for you Syracuse Bills fans he was born in Fulton, NY, where I student taught). The Bills also added twelve year offensive starter, guard Reggie McKenzie, and guard Bob Penchion.
The Bills started 2-2, already doubling their win total from the year before, on their way to a 4-9-1 which was salvaged with a tie and win in the final two weeks of the season. The Bills improved in every statistical ranking (although when you are last or next to last the year before that should be a given) andd finished 19th in points and 18th in yards. Saban's approach featured the running of O.J. Simpson who rushed for an average of 89.4 yards a game, 1251 yards total, and six touchdowns en route to his first Pro Bowl berth and an All-Pro selection. On the strength Simpson's running and aided by 453 yards from fullback Jim Braxton, the Bills finished sixth in the NFL in rushing yards. Quarterback Dennis Shaw proved not be the answer replacing Jack Kemp and completed only 53% of his passes, 1666 yards, and 14-17 TD to INT ratio.
Receiver J.D. Hill had his career season in Buffalo in his second year catching 52 balls for 754 yards and 5 touchdowns on his way to joining Simpson in the Pro Bowl. Joining them on the squad was cornerback Robert James. Simpson was named MVP of the Pro Bowl that year carrying 16 times for 112 yards and catching 3 passes for 58 yards. After the game, Pittsburgh's "Mean" Joe Greene would remark, "Man, if that guy had some blocking up there in Buffalo they'd have to ban him from this league." Patience, Joe. Just wait and see what happens when he gets some blocking...