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Series History: Bucs-Bills

Posted Dec 4, 2013

Tampa Bay and Buffalo have met only nine times before, almost all of them in Tampa, but the short series is riddled with franchise milestones and very close finishes

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Tampa Bay's .667 winning percentage against Buffalo is their second-best against any opponent
  • The only 10-5 finish in league history and a series of last-second finishes highlight the all-time Bucs-Bills series
  • Buffalo won the last meeting, which is also the only one that was not played in Tampa, strangely
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Buffalo Bills have only met on the playing field nine times, making Buffalo one of the least frequent (non-expansion) opponents in Buccaneer history.  And yet, this is not a series devoid of historical value for Tampa Bay.

For one thing, the Buccaneers' .667 winning percentage against the Bills is their best against any team other than Cincinnati (.700).  For another, Tampa Bay played more than three decades of football before ever venturing into upstate New York.  And for one more, the Bucs and Bills combined to create something wholly unique when they met in 1988.  Read on to find out more.

It actually didn't take long for the Buccaneers and Bills to become acquainted.  Tampa Bay entered the league in 1976 as the NFL's 27th franchise; the Bills were born in 1960 as part of the new AFL and became an NFL team during the 1970 merger.  Just three games into the Buccaneers' inaugural season, the Bills visited Tampa Stadium to take on one of the league's two expansion teams.  At that point, Tampa Bay was still looking for its first point, having been shut out 20-0 by Houston and 23-0 by San Diego.

They got those long-awaited points on a pair of Dave Green field goals in the first quarter, and even held a 9-7 lead over the Bills in the fourth quarter before QB Joe Ferguson (who would end up playing for the Buccaneers a dozen years later) threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to TE Reuben Gant for a 14-9 Buffalo win.  As it turned out, that was about as close as the expansion Bucs would come to victory for almost two full seasons.

Buffalo was on the receiving end of the seventh victory in Tampa Bay franchise history when they came back to Tampa Stadium in November of 1978.  This time, the Bucs' defense picked off Ferguson and his mid-game replacement, Bill Munson, four times in a 31-10 blowout.  The Bucs and Bills hooked up again four years later – once again in Tampa, as a trend began to develop – this time late in the strike-shortened 1982 campaign.  With the schedule trimmed to nine games and the division separations wiped out in each conference, the Bucs and Bills were both fighting for a spot in their respective eight-team playoff fields.  The Bucs won, 24-23, on Dec. 19 and went on to finish 5-4 with one of the NFC playoff berths; the Bills finished 4-5 and one spot out of the AFC field.  Joe Ferguson's 10-yard touchdown run – one of just 11 rushing touchdowns in his 12-year career – pulled the Bills within one with four minutes remaining in regulation.  Since there was no two-point conversion option in the NFL at that time, the Bills had to settle for the extra point and try to get the ball back for one more scoring opportunity.  They managed to do exactly that and even had the ball in range for a winning field goal before Hall of Fame-bound defensive end Lee Roy Selmon forced fullback Roosevelt Leaks to fumble at the 17 and Bucs safety Cedric Brown recovered to seal the victory.

-- RB Cadillac Williams ran wild against the Bills during a Buccaneer win in 2005
As if on cue, the Bills were back in Tampa four years later, this time facing a Buccaneers team that would win just twice all season under Head Coach Leeman Bennett.  One of those wins was a 34-28 over Buffalo in November that featured another missed opportunity by the visitors at the very end.  Despite former USFL quarterback Jim Kelly's first 300-yard passing game as a Bill, the Bucs took a 20-0 lead in the first half off a series of Buffalo fumbles.  In the final seconds of the game, Kelly tried to hit running back Robb Riddick with a fourth-down throw from the Bucs' three but Riddick couldn't hang on.

The next Bucs-Bills meeting, in 1988, was notable not for the way the game ended, but for what the scoreboard displayed when it was over.  When a goal-line stand in the third quarter and a Mark Robinson interception in the final minute preserved a 10-5 Tampa Bay victory, it marked the first NFL game ever to end in that score.  That score has still not been duplicated, as a matter of fact.

That 1988 win was the biggest in the series for Tampa Bay to that point because it was the first time it had faced a Buffalo team that was en route to a winning record.  In fact, the Bills were 11-2 at the time, en route to a 12-4 finish and a playoff berth.  The Bills would lose in the conference championship game that year and the divisional round the following season before beginning their memorable run of reaching – and, unfortunately, losing – the Super Bowl for four straight years.  The Bills would get their first win in the series with Tampa Bay in 1991, a 17-10 decision that was part of an 0-5 start for the Buccaneers under interim-turned-full-time Head Coach Richard Williamson.  Running their famous no-huddle offense, Kelly and the Bills ran up more than 400 yards but still had to fight off the Bucs at the end.  Tampa Bay had time for one play from the Buffalo eight-yard line with two seconds left but a rushed pass by Chris Chandler (in for the injured Vinny Testaverde) didn't quite find wide receiver Mark Carrier in the end zone.

"I tried to go behind the safety and I had him beat," said Carrier after the game.  "If Chris could have had a little more time and a little more air in it, I think it would have been complete."

The Bills went on to the Super Bowl that year, but in 2000 it was the Buccaneers who were playoff-bound when the teams next met – yes, in Tampa, but this time at the new Raymond James Stadium.  The Bucs were actually treading water at 6-5 when the Bills visited in late November, but a 31-17 victory started a four-game winning streak that would earn them a Wild Card berth (but for an overtime loss at Green Bay in Week 17, they would have won the division).  Warren Sapp had two tackles and Karl Williams returned a punt for a touchdown to help the Bucs win despite being out-gained offensively, 433-180.  The Bucs were also on their way to the postseason when the Bills next visited, in 2005, and a 19-3 victory in Week Two was part of a 4-0 start for Tampa Bay.  Rookie running back Cadillac Williams was in the midst of his NFL record-breaking start – 434 rushing yards in his first three pro games – and the Bucs won handily, 19-3.

Finally, in 2009, as a result of the new scheduling format the NFL implemented in 2002, the Buccaneers made their first trip to Buffalo.  It wasn't a particularly enjoyable one, as Tampa Bay's defense gave up 438 yards, including 185 combined rushing and receiving yards by running back Fred Jackson, in a 33-20 loss.

Bucs' Game-by-Game Record vs. Buffalo:

Year

Result

Site

1976

L, 14-9

Tampa

1978

W, 31-10

Tampa

1982

W, 24-23

Tampa

1986

W, 34-28

Tampa

1988

W, 10-5

Tampa

1991

L, 17-10

Tampa

2000

W, 31-17

Tampa

2005

W, 19-3

Tampa

2009

L, 33-20

Buffalo


Series Notes:
  • Overall Season Series: Tampa Bay leads, 6-3
  • Bucs' Home Record: 6-2
  • Bucs' Road Record: 0-1
  • Current Streak: Lose 1 (2009)
  • Buccaneers' Longest Winning Streak: 4 (1978-88)
  • Bills' Longest Winning Streak: 1 (1976, 1991, 2009)
  • Regular Season Point Total: Buccaneers 188, Bills 147
  • Most Points in a Game, Buccaneers: Buccaneers 34-28 (1986)
  • Most Points in a Game, Bills: Bills 33-20 (2009)
  • Most Points, both teams: Buccaneers 34-28 (1986)
  • Fewest Points in a Game, Buccaneers: Bills 14-9 (1976)
  • Fewest Points in a Game, Bills: Buccaneers 19-3 (2005)
  • Fewest Points in a Game, both teams: Buccaneers 10-5 (1988)