The Belfast Beacon

The Drought…….IS OVER!

Dan Geyer

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January 8, 2000 is a day which will haunt the Buffalo Bills forever. On this day, the Bills lost to the Tennesee Titans 22-16 in the AFC wild card game. It was this game in which then coach Wade Phillips chose to start backup Quarterback Rob Johnson over Doug Flutie. Phillips’s mistake cost the Bills a shot at advancing in the playoffs in the game known as “Music City Miracle” and began a long painful seventeen year drought in which the Bills failed to make the playoffs, finishing with records of: 3-13, 8-8, 6-10, 9-7 ,5-11, 7-9, 7-9, 7-9, 6-10, 4-12 and 6-10 in 2011, 2012 and 2013, 9-7 in 2014, 8-8 in 2015 and 7-9 in 2016. Fast forward to December 31,2017. The Bills entered their week 17 matchup at Miami with a chance at making the playoffs. However, a Buffalo win alone would not propel them into the playoffs, as one of two scenarios needed to occurs. Scenario #1: Bills beat Dolphins and Cincinnati beats Baltimore. Scenario #2: Buffalo beats Miami and the LA Chargers needed to lose against the Oakland Raiders and Titans needed to lose to the Jaguars.  The Bills game was moved from 1 pm to 4:25 by the NFL, so all teams battling for the playoffs would play at the same time.

Buffalo started the game the right way, going up 7-0 from a 26 yard TD pass to Nick O’ Leary from Tyrod Taylor. At the same time, Cincinnati went up 7-0 while the LA-Oakland game remained scoreless. Kicker Stephen Hauschka kicked a field goal to put the Bills up 10-0 at the half. Meanwhile, Titans kicker Ryan Succop kicked four field goals to give Tennessee a 12-3 at the half and LA scored 20 points and Oakland scored 10 to give the Chargers a 20-10 halftime lead and Cincinnati added another TD and a field goal to give the Bengals a 17-10 halftime lead.

Buffalo came out in the second half, adding a Kyle Willams touchdown and another Hauschka field goal to put Buffalo up 19-0. Kyle Williams, a 12 year Bills veteran potentially in what could’ve been his final game, was inserted into the game on a 1st and goal play and ran into the end zone. Buffalo surrendered a Miami field goal to cut the lead to 19-3.

The only scoring that occurred in the second half of the Chargers game was a Phillip Rivers Touchdown and another field goal, leading to a win of 30-10. Jacksonville added a TD off a fumble recovery and a field goal, but Tennessee added one more field goal to seal the game 15-10 and essentially eliminate Scenario #2 for the Bills.  In the Bengals-Ravens game, Cincinnati scored on an 89 yard interception return to put Cincinnati up 24-10. Baltimore cut the lead to seven with a Joe Flacco TD pass. The fourth quarter of the Bills-Dolphins game was the most tense quarter of their season. Dolphins wide receiver Jarvis Landry scored on a touchdown run in. All heck broke loose as a fight broke and confusion arose as Richie Incognito, a Bills guard, was thought to have been ejected. This was not possible, however, as he was not on the field at the time. Landry and running back Kenyon Drake were ejected and Buffalo would eventually win 22-16 after a Jordan Poyer interception. The celebration could not begin yet.

 4th quarter at the Bengals-Ravens game, with eight minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Bengals were up 24-20. QB Joe Flacco found Mike Wallace in the end zone for the Ravens TD which gave Baltimore, also fighting for their playoff lives, a 27-24 lead. Late in the fourth, on the Bengals final drive, a sack on Andy Dalton was negated by a holding on the Ravens, setting up a first down. Things didn’t go well, as Cincinnati was stopped on all three trips, leaving them a 4th and 12 with less than a minute to go. Dalton found receiver Tyler Boyd for a 49 yard TD run, putting Cincinnati up 31-27 with the extra point. The Bills fans watching in the concourse at the stadium and the bills locker room went nuts. The game wasn’t over yet. With 44 second left, the Ravens had a chance to win and end Buffalo’s excitement and hope. However, the Ravens lost four  yards on first down and threw two incompletes on both the second and third downs. One down left, 4th and 14, less than thirty seconds left. The Ravens decided to run the ball. One problem: the runner landed one yard short of the first down. The Ravens turned the ball over and the Bengals kneeled. Game Over and the Drought was over. Seventeen consecutive years of pain are over. While it may be a wild card, the Bills are in the playoffs. The locker room went nuts and Bills fans all over the country in their own houses and sports bars went nuts as well. The team celebrated on the flight back from Miami.

At 2:00 a.m on New Years Day, the Bills arrived at Buffalo-Niagara International Airport to a crowd of 1,500-2,000 Bills fans braving the frigid temperatures, holding up signs saying “The Drought is Over” and “We Believe in the Bills.” Some fans even chanted the “Shout” song played at all Bills home games. In return for Cincinnati helping Buffalo get into the playoffs, everyone donated at least $17 (the length of the drought) to Andy Dalton’s foundation. Over $345,000 was donated to his foundation. In addition, Buffalo held up their promise and sent wings to the Bengals. Buffalo turned its attention to Sunday, where they played the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC Wild Card. Almost half of the stadium was full of Bills fans on game day and it was rumored that the city of Jacksonville banned Bills fans from buying tables to the tailgate parties because of what fans do at the tailgates (i.e. getting drunk and throwing themselves through them). The Bills put up a hard fought effort but fell 10-3, ending their playoff run. Fans showed their support to the team. The next question is, what happens during the off-season?

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The Drought…….IS OVER!