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Buffalo Bills vs. New York Jets: Rivalry History

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As with any two division rivals, things have been tense for a long time between the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills. They started their epic tale all the way back in the AFL’s inaugural season, in 1960.

The AFL Days (1960-68)

New York went by a different name in those days, and the Buffalo Bills rolled into the Big Apple to try and take down the Titans for the first time on a fresh Sunday afternoon.

September 11, 1960

It was the first game ever to be played by either team. The start of something incredible, whether they knew it yet or not. Buffalo started things off with an early field goal, but were consequently blown out, losing 27-3. The pair battled it out over their first few seasons, but neither had any real success. The Buffalo Bills would be the first to turn it around.

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Buffalo’s record was improving year-over-year until 1964, where they took a sudden and impressive leap forwards under the tutelage of Bills Wall of Famer Lou Saban, winning two consecutive AFL Championships over the San Diego Chargers. The newly-named Jets, however, seemed to flounder. Buffalo couldn’t stay on top forever, and the Jets were in hot pursuit.

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September 29, 1968

That takes us all the way to 1968, one of the worst years in Buffalo Bills history. Buffalo went a dismal 1-12-1 that season, being carved to pieces over and over again as they shed their success ahead of the AFL-NFL merger. There was but a lone bright spot in that dark period of our team’s past, and it came on September 29th, against Hall of Fame QB Joe Namath.

Namath put the Jets up early. But, for as many touchdowns as he could throw, he was known to throw a poor ball here or there as well. That fateful Sunday, he threw four good ones into the endzone for touchdowns, and five interceptions to our defenders. In the second quarter, a then record-setting 100-yard pick-six put Buffalo up 17-7, but the New York offense was lethal, and led 21-20 at the half. It had been a stellar performance from both teams, but Buffalo needed another boost if they wanted to win this game.

A quiet third quarter featured only a single Buffalo field goal to put them back up 23-21. When the ball got moving for the Jets in the fourth quarter, it started moving backwards. Namath sent an errant pass into the arms of Butch Byrd, who returned it 53 yards for the second defensive house call of the night, but it wasn’t the last. Up next was another Wall of Famer by the name of Booker Edgerson, who took Namath’s next pick 45 yards the other way to the end zone, handing us a comfortable 37-21 lead as the game wound down.

Joe was still a legendary QB, and his valiant comeback attempt was almost complete, as he added two touchdowns late in the game to make it 37-35, but he ran out of time. Buffalo’s lone win of the season had come in epic fashion against a dominant opponent with championship aspirations.

Joe Namath’s team went on to make the playoffs quite comfortably that year. He also famously ‘guaranteed’ a win in Super Bowl III over the Baltimore Colts. They won that game too, and haven’t sniffed a Super Bowl since.

The Early NFL Years (1969-77)

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December 16, 1973

In 1973, another prominent Buffalo Bill was busy making history. O.J. Simpson posted over 200 more yards in a dominant performance against the Jets. With a five-yard run late in the game, Simpson became the first man to ever rush for 2,000+ yards in a single season. Back then, the regular season only featured 14 games, making ‘The 2,000 Club’ all the more exclusive. Buffalo won that game 34-14, and Simpson was carried off the field by his teammates, hoisted into the sky triumphantly.

The Game That Mattered: December 27, 1981

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Finally, we arrive at what is probably the most meaningful game in the entirety of the all-time series between these two storied franchises. The lone playoff meeting between the two happened on a cool December night in 1981. The Buffalo Bills ended a 16-year playoff drought at 10-6 (third in the AFC East). They finished ahead of the New England Patriots and Baltimore Colts, sat behind the second-seeded Miami Dolphins and ended just a half-game behind the 10-5-1 New York Jets. That narrow lead meant the Bills were forced to play the Wild Card on the road, visiting Shea Stadium in Queens for the right to advance to the Divisional Round. (Fun Fact: The Jets did actually play in New York back then.) Behind quarterback Joe Ferguson, Buffalo went right to work.

Defensive back Charles Romes scooped up the opening kickoff, fumbled by the Jets, and returned it 23 yards for the opening score, setting the tone for one gruesome first half. Receiver Frank Lewis took in a 50-yard touchdown from Ferguson shortly after, and Nick Mike-Mayer put a field goal through the uprights to push us out to a 17-0 lead to begin the contest.

Frank Lewis, having one of the most memorable games of his career already, hauled in another touchdown on a 26-yard catch to open the second quarter and the game was ready to be put to bed, with over half of it left to be played. The Bills couldn’t keep up that pace forever. The Jets were a formidable opponent. Right on cue, quarterback Richard Todd hit Mickey Shuler for a 30-yard score, and they closed the half out with a chip-shot field goal to bring the Buffalo lead down to a manageable 24-10.

The Jets wouldn’t be denied, opening up the second half with a drive to our goal line before stalling out and having to settle for a lowly 19-yard field goal attempt. Not going for it all on fourth down might have cost them in the long run. A pitch to Joe Cribbs opened up the fourth quarter and led to a 45-yard scamper, putting the Bills in good position again, as his breakaway touchdown left us up 31-13 with less than a quarter left to play. However, New York was about to steal their momentum back. In quick and desperate response, Bobby Jones brought in a 30-yard pass for another Jets score, and a goal-line rush from Kevin Long shortly after brought the deficit to only 31-27. Time was running low but the ball was in Todd’s hands, he needed a touchdown to steal the win away from the Bills.

There was one more heroic moment left in the Buffalo Bills defense, and it came at the whim of DB Bill Simpson. As the Jets shredded their way down the field, seemingly destined for the end zone, he jumped a route at the one yard line and picked the ball off for his second interception of the day. Sliding into the muck and the dirt, he secured the win. In a tense, bloody game where there wasn’t a single uniform not covered in dirt and grime, the Bills were the victors.

Following that heart-wrenching, ferocious battle of champions, these two franchises didn’t meet again until 1983. (They didn’t play in the NFL’s strike-shortened 1982 season.) Buffalo had won the day, but lost to the eventual AFC Champion Cincinnati Bengals the next week.

A Dominant Decade-Plus (1983-2000)

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The rivalry became incredibly one-sided once Jim Kelly returned to the Buffalo Bills from his USFL tenure in 1986. He consistently dominated the Jets, going undefeated against them from 1987 to 1992.

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By the mid-90’s, the Kelly era began to close but, much like when we took on the Dolphins, we had to have the last laugh.

December 26, 1993

Buffalo was en route to their fourth and final Super Bowl appearance, with only two weeks left in the season. The team had already secured a playoff berth, but they wanted that first round bye, and they wanted it badly. All they had to do was end the season in mediocre fashion and it would be theirs, but the Jets were trying to make the playoffs too, and wouldn’t give up easily. A win would have secured them a playoff berth.

That cold day was about as miserable as it could be. Wet everywhere and well below freezing, the teams took the field. We marched down the turf and Thurman Thomas opened the scoring with a short rush through the goal line. It was the only Buffalo Bills touchdown of the day. In response, Johnny Johnson took in a 24-yard touchdown pass from then-Jets QB Boomer Esiason before the game settled into a defensive battle in the elements. For great or for ill, the rest of the game would rest on the legs of the kickers, Steve Christie and Cary Blanchard.

Christie would prove the better. In the second quarter, both of his attempts (one from 38 yard out and one from 36) would go through the uprights, whilst Blanchard missed his chip-shot 27-yarder. Blanchard missed another one from 41 yards in the third quarter, but was saved from ridicule by his team scoring a go-ahead touchdown instead.

Up 14-13, they were close to pulling off the remarkable upset and sneaking their way into the playoffs. Christie had other plans. Buffalo took a late lead on his 40-yard kick, and the ball was in the hands of the Jets offense with plenty of time. They took the ball downfield, before being forced to settle for a game-winning field goal attempt with 53 seconds left in the game. Blanchard didn’t fare any better that time either, and the Bills secured their first-round bye, whilst the Jets lost the next week to the Oilers’ backups and missed the playoffs.

“The first two didn’t feel good once they came off my foot, but the third one felt really good. I aimed for the right upright because I was pulling everything, and it drifted left, too. Just bad luck.”

– Cary Blanchard, postgame, on his missed field goals
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It was the end of an era, and the beginning of some of the darkest times in Buffalo Bills history. The drought had finally begun, with few moments worth remembering on a historic scale. As Buffalo trended quickly down and stayed at the bottom of the heap for a considerable time, New York quietly began to play some of their best football ever, which doesn’t say much. Still, by 2010, they stopped making the playoffs once again, and at the time of writing this, they have yet to break that fresh drought of their own.

The Drought Days (2001-16)

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Despite the hard times we were facing, there were memorable moments, just not all of them good ones.

December 14, 2008

The 6-7 Buffalo Bills were up against the 8-5 division-leading Jets by a score of 27-24. Buffalo’s narrow playoff hopes were alive, barely, and with that win they would have knocked New York out of their division lead. They had the ball on their own 27-yard line with two minutes, looking to run out the clock for the win, when disaster struck. A bootleg that left the ball in J.P. Losman’s hands was our downfall, as he was quickly sacked by Abram Elam, forcing a fumble, which was scooped up by the defense for the game-winning score. A disaster of epic proportions had put Buffalo on the back foot, and they found themselves in sudden need of a touchdown. An immediate Losman interception followed by a valiant fourth-down stop, and then another Losman interception, buried the team right where their playoff hopes were; six feet under.

“Of a number of heartbreaking losses, that was the worst to this point”

– Dick Jauron, postgame, Dec 14th, 2008

October 18, 2009

The next year, we won one of the most hideous matchups these two teams ever played, but we’d be lying if we said it wasn’t entertaining. A humbling game for the Jets’ rookie QB Mark Sanchez, it should never have gone to overtime. Buffalo took their first drive of the game downfield for a kick through the uprights, and New York responded in kind. Next time they had the ball, Sanchez threw a single pass, which was immediately picked off by Jarius Byrd. The offense couldn’t do anything with that possession, or any others, moving the ball nowhere for the rest of the half as the Jets stumbled into a touchdown and a field goal to take a 13-3 lead before Trent Edwards was taken out of the game with an injury.

A three-and-out to open the second half had the fans in tears. The defense could only do so much. Or so it seemed. George Wilson picked off Sanchez on the next drive’s opening possession, and a chip shot field goal went through the uprights. Four plays later, Sanchez threw another interception to Jarius Byrd, and Buffalo followed up with a game-tying touchdown drive on a breakaway by Lee Evans. On fourth down at the edge of field goal territory, Sanchez threw his fourth interception, which the Bills failed to capitalize on. After some more lost possessions, Fred Jackson returned a punt to the halfway line, and as time expired in regulation, Ryan Lindell sent the game-winning field goal attempt wide right.

On the opening drive of overtime, the Jets fumbled the go-ahead field goal, and the kicker threw the ball up in the air, letting John Wendling come down with it for Buffalo. They traded more wasted drives before Buffalo was gifted the last golden opportunity they needed. With six and a half minutes left in overtime, and the score tied, Sanchez threw his fifth and final interception right to Paul Posluszny near midfield, handing over favorable field position and plenty of time for a game-winning drive. Lindell wouldn’t miss the next field goal attempt, and Buffalo would return to Western New York with a ‘W’.

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November 24, 2014

This one is a personal favorite. A freak snowstorm buried ‘The Ralph’ and the surrounding area, so an emergency relocation to Ford Field in Detroit was in order. Players had to be brought to the airport via snowmobile to make their flight in time, as we all held our breath, not knowing what such a strange week would bring for our Buffalo Bills. Free admission was given out, and fans of all kinds crowded the stands, largely in support of the honorary home team. Chants of ‘Let’s Go Buffalo’ shook the walls by kickoff, and whilst it wasn’t in Buffalo, it was certainly a home game.

Buffalo hadn’t been able to practice all week, but that didn’t stop them from opening up with a bang. A stalwart defensive performance ensued, with plenty of fireworks on offense, too. Kyle Orton looked like a star, hitting the underrated Robert Woods for a scintillating score on Buffalo’s first drive. The Jets scored an early field goal, but would find themselves scoreless for the rest of the contest, overpowered by our defense and ineffective against our offense. Scott Chandler hauled in a 19-yard touchdown pass to close the first half out at 14-3, before giving us a memorable moment in which he shoveled snow straight out of the end zone.

Check out this video for some highlights!

“I broke two shovels this week — one was mine and one was my neighbors’. I’ve got to go to Home Depot tomorrow and get two more.”

– Scott Chandler, postgame, on his snow shoveling touchdown celebration

The game turned into a rout, making a mockery of both Jets QBs Michael Vick and Geno Smith. They opened the second half with a long field goal drive, and followed it up with a blocked punt, which Manny Lawson recovered for a special teams touchdown. Vick was then intercepted by Duke Williams (the safety), before Fred Jackson ran in a touchdown to push the score to 31-3. A few more punts, and a few more breakaway plays by the Bills left nothing more to be said, as we routed the Jets 38-3 in one of the strangest weeks in recent memory.

November 12, 2015: The Color Rush Game

We can’t talk about the drought without touching on one of the most ferocious and tense games these two teams ever played. It was 2015. The Buffalo Bills had hired Rex Ryan as their head coach. Ryan was coming right off his tenure with the Jets, and his departure from the organization wasn’t something either party was happy about.

In the first meeting since the signing, there was plenty to be on edge about. IK Enemkpali, who broke Geno Smith’s jaw in preseason and was cut from the team, was picked up by Ryan. There was a lot of bad blood in the water, which Ryan started churning when he sent Enemkpali out for the coin toss as a team captain, his first act as a visiting head coach in his return to New York.

These teams made fast enemies amidst an aggressive defensive game. The first quarter’s lone score was a Randy Bullock field goal from close range to put the Jets up by three. But, as the first half wore down to a close, Buffalo got going. A short drive and a 47-yard long Dan Carpenter field goal evened things up, but a sudden and spectacular special teams play brought life to the away fans. Duke Williams (the safety) scooped the ball off the turf on the ensuing kickoff return, and strolled it into the endzone for a score. The extra point was missed, but it was a two-score lead and that was good enough. Then, the defense forced another three-and-out. A field goal followed and the Bills took a 12-3 lead going into halftime.

They came out of the tunnel in the second half with all the momentum in the world. Tyrod Taylor lofted a 26-yard touchdown to Karlos Williams to open it up. A quick Jets fumble on the next play from scrimmage, both forced and recovered by Bacarri Rambo, gave us excellent field position. Buffalo settled for a field goal, and a 22-3 lead, with New York still only halfway through their locker room speech. Now-Jets QB Ryan Fitzpatrick led a beautiful drive in response, going 80 yards in eight plays for a touchdown of their own. In need of another two touchdowns, they failed to complete a fourth-down conversion against us on their next attempt, but eventually found Eric Decker in the end zone to narrow the game to 22-17.

Buffalo nearly gave their rivals the lead, as the following three-and-out ended in a fumbled punt, but punter Colton Schmidt fell on it at our own 13-yard line. The turnover on downs felt like the end of the world, but luckily we had a great defense and a desperate opponent. In need of six points, the Jets had to go for it all on fourth down, and fell short. After a short time-killing drive and punt by Buffalo, Rambo would rise again, putting the game on ice with an interception on their final possession to win it.

That rough matchup was the first color rush game for Thursday Night Football and it brought up some the issues with color schemes. The red on the Buffalo Bills jerseys, combined with the green of the Jets’ green jerseys, was a poor contrast. It made the game literally unwatchable to the 8% of American men who are red-green colorblind (roughly 13 million people at the time). The rules for jerseys were changed to fix this issue, but it caused severe issues on gameday.

Recent History (2016-present)

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In the 2018 Draft, the New York Jets traded up to take Sam Darnold with the third overall pick, where the Bills packaged some of their capital to move into seventh. Buffalo selected Josh Allen, and the two would be compared to one another time and time again until Darnold’s AFC East tenure ended in the 2021 offseason.

November 11, 2018

In Josh Allen’s rookie season, Buffalo took on the Jets once again, but Allen was injured. He’d been taken out against the Texans by a late hit from Whitney Mercilus, and a pitiful performance by Nathan Peterman proved (once again) that he wasn’t going to be the answer, even as a backup. Enter Matt Barkley.

He was set to play in his first game as a Buffalo Bill, only nine days after signing with the team, effectively ending the Peterman era. In a game that featured the end of LeSean McCoy’s season-long slump, a fake punt to convert a fourth down, an offensive fumble-recovery in the end zone, and a touchdown reception from left tackle Dion Dawkins, Barkley sparkled. He earned an immediate love from Bills Mafia which still holds today, despite his absence from our team. The final score was 41-10, though it was 38-10 by the time the fourth quarter rolled around, and half of MetLife Stadium was already emptied. Only the away fans remained.

September 13, 2020

Possibly the most surprising series victory in recent memory, and maybe the fondest, was the 2020 season opener in Buffalo. Josh Allen had spent an entire offseason fuming about the Wild Card loss to the Houston Texans, but instead of sitting around, he got to work. And it paid off. There was a lot of goalpost-moving as he kept on hitting targets and setting new standards for his level of play, but eventually he would prove to those who didn’t believe in him that he was here to stay. Overcoming an opening-drive fumble, he led three straight touchdown drives to start the game, running the first one in himself before sending two passing scores to rookie RB Zack Moss and veteran WR John Brown.

Though not finding the end zone again, Allen and company moved the ball with impunity, getting into field goal range four times as rookie kicker Tyler Bass worled through his growing pains. They kept it out of the hands of the Jets offense and let our defense rest on their laurels whilst missing two starting linebackers. It was the first game of the ‘New Josh Allen’ who we’ve all come to know and love, and it was far from the last.

Now, we’re coming off a tough loss, and we’re going up against an unknown commodity in backup QB Mike White, but this team is angry, hungry, and they’ve definitely been humbled. On Sunday, we attempt to continue our sweep of the AFC East in style.

If you’re enjoying this series, check out last week’s installment against the Jacksonville Jaguars. And make sure to come back next week as we review the rivalry history of the Buffalo Bills and the Indianapolis Colts!

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