As Rex Ryan said Sunday, this bye came at just the right time for the battered Bills. I’m sure the fans needed one, too. The best thing about the Bills being idle is there’s zero chance they’ll break your heart.
That doesn’t mean we can’t revisit old heartbreak. No matter how bad things appear, I’ll always find a way to make things worse. So with all this free time on my hands, I decided to compile a list of the most devastating road losses of the millennium.
Last year, after the loss to the Chiefs, I put together the home version of crushing defeats. There was a jarring sense that we’d seen it all before. Really, what seasoned fan didn’t sit back after Corey Graham’s go-ahead interception return, thinking, ‘They’ll find a way to blow it’?
Believe me, it’s not easy whittling down the tough losses. When you’re going back over 15-plus seasons, you come across some ghastly stuff, games you’d all but forgotten. It’s like finding a rotting corpse under the floorboards.
Last year, I limited it to home games, all but one in which they lost in the final two minutes. There haven’t been quite as many road losses that went right to the wire. Many of the Bills’ worst losses over the last 15 years have been blowouts.
I’m sure there are nitpickers who quarrel about when a millennium actually begins. But for our purposes, it started on Jan. 1, 2000. I’m sure you recall what took place in Nashville just one week later. The top millennial road disasters:
1. Tennessee 22, Bills 16 (Jan. 8, 2000): The Music City Miracle is an obvious choice. It was recently voted the seventh most devastating loss in history by NFL Network. I almost forgot it, since it was the 1999 season. You know the sad tale.
Wade Phillips pulls Doug Flutie for Rob Johnson. The Bills take a one-point lead on Steve Christie’s 41-yard field goal with 20 seconds left. On the ensuing kickoff, Lorenzo Neal pitches to Frank Wycheck, who laterals to Kevin Dyson, who runs 75 yards for a TD.
Forgotten fact: The Bills kicked the go-ahead field goal on first down, because they were out of timeouts and afraid Johnson might get sacked.
2. New England 25, Bills 24 (Sept. 14, 2009): Opening night of the final season of the Dick Jauron era is remembered for another dubious kickoff. Leodis McKelvin returns from his own end zone and fumbles it away with two minutes left. Three plays later, Tom Brady hits Ben Watson for the game-winner. The Bills took a 24-13 lead with 5:32 to play on a Trent Edwards-to-Fred Jackson TD pass. But Brady drives the Pats 81 yards to a score, setting the stage for McKelvin’s boo-boo. Back home, punks deface his front lawn.
Forgotten fact: McKelvin also fumbled the previous kickoff return, but Sam Aiken recovered.
3. Oakland 26, Bills 24 (Dec. 21, 2014): After upsetting Green Bay, they were over. 500 the week before Christmas for the first time in 10 years, still alive for the playoffs. True fatalists knew what was coming. The Bills were upset in the Black Hole by a 2-12 team led by rookie QB Derek Carr. Kyle Orton was dreadful. The defense, which lost Marcell Dareus to injury, was ordinary. Rookie Khalil Mack led a Raiders D that held the Bills to 13 yards rushing on 13 carries.
Forgotten fact: Oakland’s final TD was a 1-yard pass from Carr to obscure fullback Jamize Olawale.
4. San Diego 27, Bills 24 (Oct. 28, 2001): Happy anniversary! It was a grudge match after John Butler took the Chargers’ GM job and signed Flutie when the Bills let him go. Ralph Wilson said it was his Super Bowl. It looked good when Rob Johnson, who threw for a career-high 310 yards, drove the Bills to the go-ahead score with 1:30 left. But Ronney Jenkins returned the kickoff 72 yards and Flutie ran through a gaping hole in the middle of the defense for a 13-yard TD to win it.
Forgotten fact: Rookie Brian Moorman kicked off and had an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Jenkins’ 72-yard return.
5. Jacksonville 34, Bills 31 (Oct. 25, 2015): Playing in London, the Bills give up four touchdowns in a span of 5:35, two of them directly off EJ Manuel turnovers, to fall behind 27-3. They rallied to take a 31-27 lead, but let the 1-5 Jags march to a late TD, helped by a dubious pass interference call on Nickell Robey. Oddly, an interference call on Robey late in regulation cost the Bills in their last loss on foreign soil in 2013 – an OT defeat to the Falcons in Toronto by the same 34-31 score.
Forgotten fact: Manuel threw for a career-high 298 yards in defeat.
6. Jets 28, Bills 24 (Nov. 27, 2011): The Bills lost when Mark Sanchez threw a TD pass to Santonio Holmes with 1:09 to play. But it’ll be remembered as the day Stevie Johnson pulled out two imaginary pistols after scoring a first-half TD and pretended to shoot himself in the thigh, mocking Plaxico Burress. Stevie also imitated a jet crashing and got flagged, giving the Jets a short field. Oh, and he dropped a potential TD throw from Ryan Fitzpatrick with 20 seconds left.
Forgotten fact: Dave Rayner kicked a 53-yard field goal to give the Bills a 24-21 lead with 9:46 left.
7. Miami 24, Bills 23 (Dec. 4, 2005): J.P. Losman tossed three TD passes to Lee Evans in the first quarter. He also threw an interception at the Dolphins’ 3-yard line in the third quarter, sparking Miami’s comeback from a 23-3 deficit. Sage Rosenfels, who came in for Gus Frerotte in the third quarter, threw for 272 yards in 19 minutes and hit Chris Chambers with a 4-yard TD pass with six seconds left to win it.
Forgotten fact: Chambers had 15 catches and 238 yards, both team records at the time. Brian Hartline broke his single-game yardage record in 2012.
8. Tennessee 28, Bills 26 (Dec. 14, 2003): Looking to even their record to 7-7 and stay in the playoff hunt, the Bills lost to the obscure Billy Volek in his first career start. Volek threw for 295 yards and outplayed Drew Bledsoe, who coughed up a sack fumble for a TD. Bledsoe led a late TD drive to cut the deficit to two, but his low two-point conversion throw for Bobby Shaw was ruled incomplete on review.
Forgotten fact: Defensive tackle Pat Williams returned a fumble 28 yards for a TD, the only fumble return TD of his 14-year career.
9. New England 19, Bills 17 (Sept. 10, 2006): Bills led by 10 at half in Jauron’s debut, but couldn’t score again and lost when Ty Warren sacked Losman in the end zone for a safety with 8:55 to play. The game turned when Willis McGahee was stopped on fourth-and-1 at the Pats’ 7 in the third quarter. The Pats ran out the final 6:15 of the game. Bill Belichick went for it on fourth-and-2 at the Bills’ 26 with 2 minutes left. Corey Dillon converted.
Forgotten fact: McGahee said he wasn’t aware it was fourth down on the crucial stop.
10. New England 37, Bills 31 (Nov. 11, 2012): The list of crushing defeats against the Pats is a long one. I’ll never forget how down Fitzpatrick was after the Bills’ 12th straight loss in Foxborough. He outplayed Brady with 337 yards passing and two TDs. But after driving to the Pats’ 15, he threw a pick into the end zone with 23 seconds left. It was intended for T.J. Graham, who ran the wrong route. He had never run the play in practice.
Forgotten fact: The Bills had a franchise record 35 first downs in the loss.