Sadly, all four of the Bills’ most recent playoff appearances and subsequent games have had some unappealing results.
1st Down: 2017 Wild Card (9-7 Record)
It is well documented how the Bills ended their 17-year playoff drought in 2017. The Bills rallied from a brutal three-game losing streak during the middle portion of the regular season (including the infamous Nathan Peterman five interceptions in one half against the Chargers).
In an unexpected development, the Bills beat the Chiefs on the road in week 11 on their way to winning four of their last six games. With a little (okay, a lot) of help from Andy Dalton and Tyler Boyd on a miraculous 4th down touchdown, the Bills found themselves in the playoffs for the first time since 1999. To me, the relief of just making the playoffs superseded any negative feelings I had when the Bills eventually fell to the Jaguars in an ugly game in Jacksonville.
The Bills were never going to make a Super Bowl run in 2017, and then starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor was eventually traded to the Browns during the offseason. The Bills made Josh Allen 1st round selection in the 2018 draft (the first time in franchise history the Bills drafted a quarterback in the top ten), and the rest is now history…in the making.
2nd Down: 1999 Wild Card (11-5 Record)
Most fans would rather not relive the “Music City Miracle,” but you have to go all the way back to 1999 for the third most recent Bills playoff appearance. Following a disappointing wild card loss to the Dolphins the year prior, the Bills actually improved on their 10 win season in 1998 with an 11 win regular season in 1999.
Doug Flutie was the starting quarterback all season, compiling a 10-5 record as the Bills headed into their last game. With the Bills unable to improve their playoff positioning, head coach Wade Phillips decided to rest Flutie and start Rob Johnson in week 17 against the Colts. After an above-average performance and a convincing 31-6 win against the Peyton Manning-led Colts, Phillips decided to start Johnson in the Bills wild card playoff game on the road against the Titans.
The Bills @ Titans wild card game still holds the NFL record for combined wins of wild card teams…The Bills with 11, and the Titans with 13. The game itself is well documented, and I don’t need to get into any more detail about how the result sent the Bills spiraling into a drought of epic proportion.
P.S. It was a forward pass.
3rd Down: 1998 Wild Card (10-6 Record)
The 1997 season was Marv Levy’s last as head coach of the Bills, following a 6-10 regular-season record. Wade Phillips was elevated from his defensive coordinator post to be the Bills’ next head coach starting in the 1998 season. The 1998 season was the first glimpse fans saw of the eventual quarterback carousel/controversy between Rob Johnson and Doug Flutie.
Flutie would end up starting 10 games for the Bills, collecting seven wins along the way. With a 10-6 regular-season record, Phillips and Flutie led the team back to the playoffs as a wild card team. The Bills were set to face the division-rival Dolphins in Miami for the game, which ultimately resulted in a 24-17 Buffalo loss.
Penalties and an absurd five turnovers derailed any chance the Bills had to win, even in a game where the offense racked up over 400 total yards. The silver lining for the Bills in this loss was wide receiver Eric Moulds. Moulds set, and still holds, the record for receiving yards in a playoff game. He hauled in nine passes for a whopping 240 yards in the game.
4th Down: 1996 Wild Card (10-6 Record)
As the Super Bowl years came to a close, the Bills were still fielding a strong team in the mid-1990s, as evidenced by their wildcard playoff berth in 1996. The door had yet to be completely shut on the Jim Kelly/Thurman Thomas/Bruce Smith era.
After missing the playoffs the year after their 4th Super Bowl appearance in a row, the Bills were back with another 10 win season in 1996. Marking their 6th season out of 7 with at least 10 wins, the Bills lost their wildcard game to the upstart Jacksonville Jaguars on a late 4th quarter Mike Hollis field goal. The Jaguars were only in their second year as a franchise after becoming an expansion team the season prior.
This home playoff loss would ultimately be Marv Levy’s final playoff game as the head coach of the Bills. Perhaps even more noteworthy is the fact that this game would ultimately be the last played by eventual hall of fame quarterback, Jim Kelly.