Life as a Bills fan is rough. You all know that. You know all of the negative stats – Buffalo’s never won a Super Bowl, Buffalo lost four straight Super Bowls, the Bills haven’t been to the playoffs since 1999, etc.
Losing stinks, and the Bills have done quite a bit of it in their history.
But it’s not just that the Bills lose. It’s HOW the Bills lose. This team finds a way to lose in a way that just rips out your guts, stomps on your heart, and makes you never want to watch football again. (But you always come back.)
Because I’m apparently a glutton for punishment, I’ve decided to create a new regular feature here on BLD called Chronicles of Failure. Each time I’ll take a look back at one of the more brutal, ridiculous, or just strange losses in Bills history.
Today we’ll focus on probably the most crushing Bills loss of the past decade – the 2004 season finale.
Background: After an awful 1-5 start, the Drew Bledsoe-led Bills had a remarkable second half of the season, winning six straight games (all by double digits) heading into the season finale against Pittsburgh. As a result, with a win against the Steelers the Bills were guaranteed a playoff spot. To make things sweeter, the game was in the friendly confines of Ralph Wilson Stadium. To make things even sweeter, the 14-1 Steelers had already clinched the #1 seed in the AFC Playoffs and was planning on playing mostly backups in this (by their perspective) meaningless season finale. This included sitting down Ben Roethlisberger and Jerome Bettis. Replacing them would be the immortal Tommy Maddox and undrafted rookie free agent Willie Parker, who had ran for grand total of 84 yards on the season up to this point. This was a game the Bills had to win.
The Terrible Result: In what can’t be spun as anything other than a choke job, the Bills lose 29-24 at home to the Steelers backups. Willie Parker runs wild, going for 102 yards and a score. With the Bills trailing in the fourth quarter, a Bledsoe fumble is returned for a score by a backup Steelers linebacker by the name of James Harrison. (Really.) The final score is actually a bit deceivingly close, as a late Willis McGahee touchdown with under two minutes to go pulled Buffalo within 5 points. The Bills failed to recover the onside kick, and that was that.
Hope Spot: (The moment when you think the Bills could actually pull this out) With the Bills trailing 16-10, Nate Clements picks off Maddox and returns 30 yards for a go-ahead score.
“Bills” Moment: (One of those ridiculous, awful moments that only seem to happen to the Bills) With the Bills leading by one late in the third quarter, Rian Lindell missed a 28-yard field goal. That’s one of only six misses from within 29 yards Lindell’s 11-year career.
Personal Memory: I had an awful feeling the Bills were going to blow this game somehow. All week I heard, “If any team could blow this, it’d be the Bills.” And lo and behold, it came to pass. As soon as Lindell missed the field goal, I just knew. Somehow, even though the Bills were still ahead, the Steelers were going to win.
Best Postgame Quote: “We had a bad day and it didn’t work out. I’m really looking forward to next year, because we have something to build on.” – Ralph Wilson (Naturally, the Bills went 5-11 the following season)
Aftermath: This was Bledsoe’s last game in a Buffalo uniform. He was released before the 2005 and the reins were handed to J.P. Losman. Yeah. The Bills haven’t sniffed the playoffs since.