Oct. 12, 1975 – Buffalo entered the day with a 3-0 record on the year. Things were looking up as they were leading the National Football League in scoring with 110 points for, and were second in total offense, 66 yards in trail of the Pittsburgh Steelers, with 1,231 total yards.
They had won each of their first three games easily with a 42-14 victory over the New York Jets in Week One, a 30-21 triumph over the Pittsburgh Steelers, and a 38-14 win over the Denver Broncos.
The Bills' high-power offense was led by O.J. Simpson, who was leading the NFL with four rushing touchdowns and 538 yards rushing – 16 more than second-place Dave Hampton and more than double Jim Otis, who ranked third with 255 rushing yards. Simpson and teammate Jim Braxton, who ranked fourth overall with 243 yards on the ground, ranked one-two in yards-per-carry among players with at least 45 touches to that point with 6.26 and 5.28 yards-per-carry, respectively.
Quarterback Joe Ferguson, to that point, had been equally stellar with six touchdown passes and no interceptions thrown – tallying a 109.8 passer rating. And on the defensive side, wide receiver turned defensive back Dwight Harrison was tied for the league lead with four interceptions – tied with Philadelphia’s free safety Bill Bradley, who up until 1975, had also been the team’s punter.
The Bills were set to square off with the Baltimore Colts at 2 p.m. on a 59-degree Sunday at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore.
The Colts would kick off the scoring with back-to-back rushing touchdowns from Lydell Mitchell – who rushed for nearly 1,000 more yards than teammate and future Hall of Famer, Franco Harris, in their respective final seasons at Pennsylvania State University in 1971 – and Baltimore led 14-0.
Stats Wizard: Lydell Mitchell attended Pennsylvania State University from 1969-71, alongside Franco Harris. In 1971, Mitchell rushed for 1,567 yards with 26 rushing touchdowns – 983 more yards on the ground and 20 more rushing scores than Harris in their final season in 1971, a season in which they led the Nittany Lions to a 30-6 Cotton Bowl victory over Texas. Harris, however, saw far greater success at the professional level, rushing for 5,586 more yards and 53 more total touchdowns, and was inducted into the Professional Football Hall of Fame in 1990.
The Bills answered with a 44-yard field goal and a 12-yard rushing score by O.J. Simpson, his fifth of the season. Buffalo trailed 14-10 at the end of the first quarter.
Mitchell would score again, this time on a 25-yard pass by Bert Jones, but the Bills would take the lead after a one-yard rushing score by Jim Braxton and 15-yard touchdown pass from Joe Ferguson to John Holland. Buffalo led 24-21 going into the half.
The third opened up almost identically to the second, a touchdown pass from Bert Jones to Lydell Mitchell, this time for 23 yards. Mitchell’s touchdown reception would give the Colts a temporary 28-24 lead, as the Bills added a 5-yard passing score from Ferguson, giving them a 31-28 lead at the end of the third. Buffalo would permanently take the lead on a three-yard rush from Braxton – after a Colts field goal in the fourth – bringing the game to its final score: Buffalo 38, Baltimore 31.
Stats Wizard: Lydell Mitchell is one of just nine players during the Super Bowl era with multiple rushing and receiving scores in a single game. O.J. Simpson would join him about a month later, on Nov. 23, 1975. The Bills are the only team in history to hand a team a loss in which they had a player with multiple rushing and receiving scores, besting Mitchell and the Colts in this one.
This was Buffalo’s fourth consecutive game with at least 30 points scored, a franchise record that was tied in 1992 and topped in 2004, when they scored 30 or more points in six straight games from Nov. 21, 2004, to Dec. 26, 2004.
Simpson brought his season rushing yard total to 697 yards, most in history through four games played, 33 more than the previous high, Jim Brown’s 664 in 1963, and 50 more than his 1973 season, in which he rushed for a then-record 2,003 yards.
Stats Wizard: O.J. Simpson fell 186 yards shy of his 1973 rushing record, but his 1,817 yards on the ground combined with his 426 yards receiving set a new standard for total yards from scrimmage – topping Jim Brown's 1963 total of 2,131 yards – and would stand until Eric Dickerson bested in by just one yard, in 1984, the same season he beat Simpson's single-season rushing mark, after the season had expanded from 14 to 16 games. The record now belongs to Chris Johnson, who had 2,509 total yards from scrimmage in 2009.
Things were looking up for the Bills, as they appeared primed to make a run at their first-ever Super Bowl, but their promising season wilted, as they finished 4-6, failing to even make the playoffs.
Many of the stats in this article made possible by the Pro Football Reference Play Index.