Bills Failure Chronicles – December 28, 1996: Jaguars 30, Bills 27

Natrone Means destroyed the Bills in this playoff contest. (PHOTO CREDIT: Life)

It’s tough to be a Bills fan. We’ve suffered through some awful, heartbreaking losses. Each week, we’ll take a look at one awful game from years past in a feature called Bills Failure Chronicles.

Hey, remember when the Bills used to make the playoffs?

It’s okay if you don’t. It’s been a while. But the Bills used to make getting to the playoffs and losing in horrible ways a habit. Now, I would kill for that problem.

Anyway, today we take a look at one of those long (long long long ) ago playoff defeats: Jim Kelly’s final game.

Background: The early 90′s Bills, despite not winning a Super Bowl, had put together one of the greatest runs in NFL history. However, it was nearing the end of the road. Great players like Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed, Bruce Smith, and many others were on the downside of their careers. The Bills had slipped a bit after winning four straight AFC championships, not making the playoffs in 1994 and losing in the divisional round in 1995. The Bills also struggled down the stretch in 1996, dropping games in a row late before beating Kansas City in the finale to clinch the AFC’s fourth seed. However, hopes were high that legendary coach Marv Levy could rally this aging group for lone last run at that elusive Super Bowl win.

Meanwhile, the Jacksonville Jaguars were in a completely different situation. The second-year franchise, led by coach Tom Coughlin and exciting quarterback Mark Brunell, managed a 9-7 record to earn the fifth seed in the AFC playoffs. What’s more impressive is that the Jags were 4-7 at one point and completely left for dead before rallying to win their final five games to sneak into the playoffs. As opposed to Buffalo’s squad of aging veterans, the Jaguars were quite young. Defensive end Clyde Simmons (age 32) was Jacksonville’s only real contributor over the age of 30.

The Terrible Result: The favored Bills jumped out to an early 7-0 lead on a Jim Kelly pass to Thurman Thomas. But Kelly handed the lead right back as the Jaguars’ veteran presence Simmons picked off a Kelly pass and took it back 20 yards for a score. The rest of the game was a seesaw affair, with the Bills grabbing a 27-20 lead in the 4th quarter when Jeff Burris intercepted a Brunell pass and returned it for a touchdown. That would be Buffalo’s last points however, as Jacksonville tied the game with a Jimmy Smith touchdown catch and won it late with a Mike Hollis 45-yard field goal.

Hope Spot: The Burris touchdown late. That could have broken the young Jaguars’ resolve. It didn’t.

Norwood Moment: The Simmons touchdown in the first quarter. The Bills were up 7-0 and looking good…and then a 32-year-old defensive end takes an interception back to the house. Typical Bills. That score really kept the Jaguars in the game as Jacksonville struggled in the first quarter to stop the Bills’ offense otherwise.

Of course, the Hollis kick at the end hurt too. Don’t OTHER teams’ kickers ever blow game-winning kicks?

Ridiculous Stat(s) of the Game:

1) Natrone freaking Means of all people killed the Bills in this game, rushing 31 times for 175 yards, including a 30-yard touchdown.

2) The playoff veteran Bills fumbled the ball four times. The inexperienced Jaguars? Zero times.

3) Shitty Todd Collins (my official nickname for him) made a cameo in this game. Predictably, it was shitty. (1-for-4 passing, 7 yards)

4) The Bills haven’t played a home playoff game since this one. Really.

Personal Memory:

My 11-year-old self was SURE the Bills were going to win. The Jaguars were some crappy new team, and the Bills had LEGENDS like Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas and Andre Reed! I actually think I had a basketball game that afternoon so I missed the second half…and I’m pretty sure I cried at the game when someone told me they had lost.

Best Postgame Quote:

This is actually from some time later from Jim Kelly:

‘While I do agree with the many who have said this is the end of an era, to me, it’s not an end,” Kelly said. ”To me, my life is just beginning.”

Kelly never played again.

Aftermath:

The following season, the Bills left the Jim Kelly era behind and launched into the (thankfully) brief Shitty Todd Collins era. And boy, was Todd Collins shitty. So shitty in fact, it took him until 2001 to get back into the league as a shitty backup quarterback after his one shitty year as Bills starter (1997). And he was still on an NFL roster last year. HOW?

The Jaguars went on to shock the John Elway-led Denver Broncos at Mile High by an eerily similar 30-27 score before bowing out in Foxboro with a 20-6 loss to the Patriots in the AFC Championship game.

Labatt’s Losing Level: (1 – I’ll be okay; 10 – Only getting blackout drunk will dull the pain)

Just a six. While last-second playoff losses hurt, I can’t imagine I’d be too upset to see the Bills in the playoffs again, no matter how it turned out.

Past Bills Failure Chronicles:

September 15, 2009: Patriots 25, Bills 24

November 28, 2010: Steelers 19, Bills 16 (OT)

October 8, 2007: Cowboys 25, Bills 24

January 2, 2005: Steelers 29, Bills 24

Feeling depressed after that? For a dose of positive Bills feelings check out Josh Cortina’s “Positivity” Series here on BLD!

If you’re a Jaguars fan, bite me. Also visit blackandteal.com, Fansided’s Jaguars blog.

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