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Bucky Gleason: With a little help from their friends, Bills finally break through

Bucky Gleason

Our oldest son, who will graduate from college in May, has little recollection of the Music City Miracle. He was 3 years old at the time. Our daughter was 1. Our younger two sons, both currently involved in high school sports, were yet to be born. To them, the playoffs were nothing but a rumor.

You think about how much time had passed since the Bills last reached the postseason. The Sabres were coming off their last appearance in the Stanley Cup final, a few years before their owners being shipped off to prison. Dominik Hasek had won his third straight Vezina Trophy and fifth overall. Jack Eichel was 2.

Bill Clinton was in the White House. The World Trade Center stood strong in Lower Manhattan. Cellphones were in their infancy, and iPhones and iPads had not yet entered the world. Dan Marino was putting the finishing touches on his Hall of Fame career with the Dolphins.

Eighteen years.

How much has your life changed since the Bills' last playoff game?

The drought finally came to a merciful end Sunday when the Bills beat the Dolphins and the Ravens lost to the Bengals in the season finale. With a rookie coach and general manager and a mediocre quarterback, the Bills played just well enough for just long enough and received just enough help to end their 17-year playoff drought.

Finally, it's over.

The Bills did their part with their win over the Dolphins, but they should send "Thank You" cards to Andy Dalton, of all people, for hitting Tyler Boyd with a 49-yard touchdown pass with 44 seconds remaining, lifting the Bengals to a 31-27 victory over the Ravens in a wild, wild final game.

With the Chargers delivering a beatdown on the Raiders, the Bills' hopes came down to Cincinnati beating Baltimore. Cincy was in control before falling apart in the third and fourth quarters. The Bengals had a 24-10 lead. But like so many Bills' teams over the years, they gagged and allowed Baltimore to take a 27-24 lead.

Unlike so many Buffalo teams, Cincy recovered. Dalton should be given a key to the city and run for mayor.

The Bills will visit Jacksonville on Sunday afternoon for a wild-card game against the Jaguars while getting reacquainted with Buffalo coach Doug Marrone and defensive tackle Marcell Dareus.

In a town where nothing comes easy, the Dolphins contributed to the Bills' cause while playing a third-string quarterback, David Fales, whose surname was befitting Buffalo teams. Indeed, the Bills had failed with incredible, math-defying regularity since the turn of the century.

But nothing was more fitting Sunday than Kyle Williams rushing for a 1-yard touchdown in what could have been his final regular-season game with the Bills. The defensive tackle had been a heart-and-soul warrior for 12 NFL seasons without playing in a single playoff game.

Finally, he will.

Years ago, back when the Bills were expected to reach the postseason every year, you could feel the momentum building across the region. Bills fans – and there was no #billsmafia at the time – wondered whether they would finally win a Super Bowl. It was hardly the case leading into a must-win game against the Dolphins.

Be honest: How many of you figured the Bills would beat Miami but not get the help they needed elsewhere and ultimately fall short? I did. This is Buffalo, where many teams over many years have found ways to lose. The fan base for years has been conditioned to hope for the best and brace for the worst.

Finally, the Bills came through. And then the Bengals came through.

The Bills knew they needed to first take of their own business before worrying about other games affecting them. If we learned anything about this wild and wacky season, however, it's the mediocrity around them. The Bills twice had finished with 9-7 records and missed the playoffs.

This year, it was enough.

Baltimore, a 10-point favorite earlier in the week, stunk up M&T Bank Stadium in the first half against Cincinnati. Jacksonville, with the third seed locked up, didn't look much better against Tennessee while the Chargers pummeled the Raiders and missed the playoffs on a tiebreaker.

The Bills couldn't have asked for a better start. They strolled down the field before Tyrod Taylor found Nick O'Leary wide open for a 26-yard touchdown. The Dolphins had a blown coverage on the play, which explained why the Dolphins' closest defender was in the vicinity of Tampa-St. Pete.

Fortunately for the Bills, the Dolphins treated the season finale like the preseason finale. Buffalo should give Miami coach Adam Gase a game ball. With nothing to lose and draft position to gain, the Dolphins three times went for the first down on fourth down. In any other game, it would have made little sense.

Gase also replaced veteran Jay Cutler with Fales, a sixth-round pick in 2016 who was cut seven times since last season. With that resume, he should have been named David Fails. The Bills couldn't have known too much about him based on his six passing attempts going into the game.

Marcus Murphy had only one rushing attempt in two years with New Orleans before making his debut Sunday for the Bills. He was yet another example that running backs can be found just about anywhere. Murphy was first-team All-Southeast Conference selection in 2014 but barely had a sniff in the NFL.

And they just might need him.

LeSean McCoy suffered an ankle injury 93 seconds into the third quarter and was carted off the field. His return initially was announced as questionable, but the expression on his face suggested he was not coming back any time soon. He did not return Sunday and could be sidelined next week.

Next week is next week. The Bills made the playoffs, giving a long-suffering town a Happy New Year that was a long time coming.


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