On Sunday I attended the Bills final game of the 2019 regular season, a 13-6 loss to the New York Jets.
It marked the first season I have attended every home game since 1967. The Bills opened the season against the Jets in Buffalo in 1967, and they closed the season in 2019 at home against the Jets. The similarity of the two seasons ends there.
In 1967, the Bills came into the season having gone to three straight American Football League championship games. They’d won the first two against the Chargers and lost the third to the Chiefs, who went on to lose to the Packers in the first Super Bowl.
The Bills had decided after the 1966 season that they needed a revitalized offense to go along with their usually stout defense, and they had made a bold move to do so. They traded the ever popular backup quarterback Daryl Lamonica and wideout Glenn Bass to the Raiders for quarterback Tom Flores and wideout Art Powell. Powell had been a top 10 receiver in the league for a few years, and Flores was well known as a cerebral game manager in an era when being a game manager, like Bart Starr, was a good thing.
Through three quarters, the Bills were held scoreless and the Jets scored 17. Then Flores and Powell exploded for two TDs, the Bills got two field goals, and we all went home happy with a 20-17 win. The Bills opened the following game with a first quarter field goal, then went scoreless for seven quarters. Flores was soon benched and Jack Kemp returned to the starting lineup, but the change didn’t help. The once powerful Bills stumbled to a 4-10 season, went 1-12-1 the following season and wouldn’t be a serious force again in the NFL for another 20 years.
Two years later, the Jets went to their only Super Bowl and won. Twenty years after that, the Bills went to four consecutive Super Bowls, losing each. Other than those glory years, both teams lost more than they won. Over the years, the Bills have had a 63-55 series advantage over the Jets.
Coming into the 2019 season, both teams had high hopes, each with talented young QB, the Jets with LeVeon Bell in the backfield, and the Bills with their stellar defense. The Bills opened the season in New Jersey, where the Jets scored the first 16 points before the Bills rallied for a 17-16 win. That game foretold the season for both teams. The Jets lost eight more times coming into the season finale, and the Bills had surprised the league with nine more wins and had clinched the number five seed in the playoffs.
And so it was that they met for the 118th time on Sunday at New Era Field. The game was meaningless in terms of the playoffs. The Jets had been eliminated a few weeks earlier, and the Bills had clinched the 5th seed. It was raining slightly as the game began, and the rain picked up in the second quarter. The Bills played Josh Allen for only two series, and several other regular starters played little or not at all. The Bills offense could do nothing in the first half, the defense was okay, and at the half the Jets led 3-0.
It was clear that Sean McDermott had packed it in, trying to save his team for the playoffs. Winning would be nice, but it wasn’t the objective. It looked like a pre-season game. Despite my best efforts, I was getting wet. The game wasn’t entertaining. I’d already seen Levi Wallace injured and I didn’t want to see any other injuries. I left.
What did I miss? Well, the offense woke up but still had trouble scoring. As dominant as the Jets had been, statistically, in the first half, the Bills were dominant in the second half. The stat sheet ended pretty even across the board.
During pre-game warmups, I looked for and found Duke Williams. I’d assumed that the Bills would activate him for this game, to give him a chance to show what he can do and to give some receiver a day off. In the first half he didn’t do much. He wasn’t getting much separation, but then again, none of the Bills receivers were. He was a ferocious blocker; he took it seriously, delivering blows whenever he could. Apparently in the second half, Duke came alive, finishing with six receptions for 108 yards.
There are reasons we haven’t seen Duke on the field more this season. I don’t know what those reasons are. We will see if Duke earned a spot on the game-day roster for the playoffs.
Ed Oliver was active in the first half. It appears the NFL light has gone on for him over the past few weeks.
At halftime, I walked to my car, got out of some of my wet clothes, started my car and got stuck in the mud. The football gods were punishing me for leaving early, really early. Forty-five minutes later, a few good Samaritans arrived to push me out. People in Buffalo are always ready to help. Thanks, folks!
On to the playoffs.
The Rockpile Review is written to share the passion we have for the Buffalo Bills. That passion was born in the Rockpile; its parents were everyday people of western New York who translated their dedication to a full day’s hard work and simple pleasures into love for a pro football team.
Editor’s babble: As always, thanks to Mark Korber for his contributions to our blog. You won’t find Mark on Twitter but you can find him posting on twobillsdrive.com’s Stadium Wall message board.