Mike Mularkey doesn't want to dwell on past resentments. On a conference call with Buffalo media on Wednesday, he said his departure from the Bills after two years as head coach was "old news". But Mularkey, who returns to town as the Jacksonville coach this Sunday, said the infamous 2004 finale -- and other parts of that season -- does stick in his craw.
"A lot," Mularkey said. "I've used it a number of times, because of where we were and what we had to do to get to that point, I just told (Jags PR man) Dan Edwards, 'If the Jacksonville game, if we stopped them any one of the three fourth downs they converted, we don't have to beat Pittsburgh to go to the playoffs.'"
Mularkey was referring, of course, to the opener of that '04 season, when the Bills allowed the Jags to drive to a winning TD at home. That led to an 0-4 start. The Bills later fell to 3-6 before winning six straight games and setting up a finale at home against the Steelers, who had clinched home-field advantage. Using mainly backups, Pittsburgh beat the Bills, 29-24, and knocked them out of the playoffs.
The Bills went 5-11 in 2005, Mularkey's second season as coach. Ralph Wilson fired Tom Donahoe as president and GM after the season. Mularkey resigned with one year left on his contract rather than accede to some organizational changes that were in the works. The 9-7 record in '04 is the last Bills' winning season.
"I've used the example of how one play can affect a season," Mularkey said. "There's a number of plays that changed the whole scenario in that Pittsburgh game. We would not have needed to win it. We would have been in the playoffs. I still talk about a lot of things in that season, how that team had to overcome the adversity of starting 0-4, sticking together. That was a very memorable season for me."
Given the way his time here ended, and seeing how Sunday will be his first time back in Buffalo since then, would winning this game be especially sweet, he was asked?
"Well, I'll be honest," Mularkey said. "I was very excited for our players this last game (a win over the Titans). They have done everything we asked. We haven't had a lot of good feeling here, and I wanted our players to feel good about what they did. We want to improve and see progress in all the players, all of our schemes and us as a team and coaches.
"We want to win all these games," he said. "We want to finish the season strong. Will it have extra feeling? I'll be happy for our players, because they have worked their tails off. I don't know if it'll be anything extra special for me."
Mularkey was asked if he has imagined how differently things might have gone for him, for the Bills, and for Buffalo if he had won that finale against Pittsburgh in 2004. He gave a long pause before answering.
"I can honestly say I have not thought that," he said. "I did not. Maybe I did back then. But I have not thought that for a long time. No."
The Bills, who appeared to be on the rise after '04, fell apart in 2005.
"I think there's a number of things ... that changed the, the makeup of the team, to start the offseason off," Mularkey said. "I'm not going to get into specifics. The guys were proud of what they did that year. I still think they felt very good about what they accomplished after the start that we had."
Presumably, he was speaking about changes that were made after the '04 season. Donahoe cut ties with Drew Bledsoe and handed the starting job to J.P. Losman, who proved unready. He also allowed Pat Williams and Jonas Jennings to leave in free agency. The run defense went from seventh in '04 to 31st in '05 and has never recovered. Ah, memories.