When the Bills take on the New York Jets today, it will mark the 12th time in 58 years that the teams have played on opening day. Some of those contests were quite exciting. Let’s take a look back at some of the good and the not so good openers between Buffalo and their rivals in the green jerseys.
In 2012, the Bills under Chan Gailey came out sleepwalking against Rex Ryan’s Jets at the Meadowlands. New York built 21-0 and 41-7 leads en route to a 48-28 victory. At the time, the Jets were still being considered a team that could compete for a championship and on that day, they looked the part. Mark Sanchez was efficient and effective, Shonn Greene rushed 27 times for 94 yards, and the Jets scored on interception and punt returns.
The one positive on the day for Buffalo was the brilliant performance by CJ Spiller who rushed for 169 yards and a long TD. New York won, 48-28. Interestingly, the teams concluded the season in Buffalo. On that occasion, the Bills got their revenge and crushed NY, 28-9. Both teams finished 2012 at the unfulfilled 6-10 mark and the listless Chan Gailey era was over.
Back in 2002, the Bills hosted the Jets in Drew Bledsoe’s first game in a Buffalo uniform. Buffalo played very good on offense and good enough on defense. But, they could not stop a player named Chad Morton. Morton (pictured above) finished his career with 5 touchdowns. It just so happened that 2 came on kickoff returns that day. The second of those returns was the opening play of overtime. This turned out to be a critical game in the standings as New York finished a division-leading 9-7 and Buffalo ended up 8-8.
When the teams played in November, the Jets triumphed 31-13. Herm Edwards and Chad Pennington led the Jets to some huge wins late in the 2002 season. They defeated Brady and Manning before finally giving way to the AFC champion Raiders.
Another opener that stands out in Bills’ lore goes back to 1986. Why? The great Jim Kelly played in his first game for Buffalo in Buffalo. The Bills were coming off back to back 2-win seasons. So, even though the Jets won on this day, Bills’ fans were blown away by the potential they were witnessing. Kelly and second year stars Andre Reed and Bruce Smith captivated the Rich Stadium crowd on that beautiful September afternoon. Hence, it was a sign of good times to come.
In the end, however, and what was the theme of the 1986 season, the Bills lost an excruciatingly close game to a very good team. The Jets were one of the 5 best teams in the entire NFL that season featuring Ken O’Brien, Wesley Walker, Freeman McNeil and the great Al Toon on offense. In week 5, the Jets scored on a late TD by Mickey Shuler to sweep the season series. Buffalo finished 4-12 in 1986. But, from 1987-1996, Buffalo won 105 games to the Jets’ 54 during the same time period.
Let’s go back to 1981 for one more highlight. Buffalo opened the season by obliterating the Jets 31-0 at Rich Stadium. Buffalo managed 182 yards on the ground, 236 in the air, and coasted all the way. QB Joe Ferguson threw for two scores, while Joe Cribbs ran in two of his own. On defense, the Bills were living up to their previous season’s #1 overall ranking, shutting out the Jets and limiting them to 231 yards.
Coincidentally, Buffalo ended the Jets’ season 4 months later at Shea Stadium in the AFC wild card game in a much more exciting contest, 31-27. Here’s a peak at the 1981 Bills!
What can we expect from 2017? All signs point to Buffalo finishing ahead of New York this season, but we might be able to say that about every team in the NFL. Enjoy the game!
Brandon Fazzolari (aka Dr. Super Bowl) writes about the Buffalo Bills for Pro Football Spot. @spot_bills