The Jets 22-17 loss to Buffalo that kept Gang Green out of the playoffs also served as one of the most meaningful games between the two teams in a series that dates back to 1960. This is primarily because both teams are rarely good at the same time, so when they face late in the season someone is usually playing out the string. Buffalo and New York have only made the playoffs in the same season three times.
Buffalo has usually won the important matchups. There was the Bills victory over the Jets that gave Buffalo the 1988 AFC East title. And the win over the Jets that gave Buffalo the 1989 East title. And the win over New York that gave Buffalo the 1991 division title. And the 16-14 win that gave Buffalo the 1993 division title. Cary Blanchard missed three field goals that day, including one in the final minute that would have put the Jets in the playoffs.
Even the one win Bills of 1968 defeated the Jets that went on to win Super Bowl III, intercepting Joe Namath five times in a 37-35 win. The final game of the 1972 saw O.J. Simpson become the first player to rush for 2,000 yards in a season in Buffalo’s 34-14 win at Shea Stadium.
In fairness to Gang Green, the Jets clinched the 1998 AFC East title with a 17-10 win in Buffalo. And there was Chad Morton returning a kickoff in overtime on Opening Day 2002 to spoil Drew Bledsoe’s Buffalo debut.
Only one of the 111 meetings between the Jets and Bills took place in the postseason. That was on December 27, 1981 at Shea Stadium. New York had clinched a playoff spot with a win in the regular season finale over Green Bay. The win also eliminated the Packers and put the Giants in the playoffs.
Walt Michaels’ Jets had come a long way since starting 0-3, which included a 31-0 week 1 loss in Buffalo. Gang Green finished 10-2-1, including a 33-14 win over the Bills in October. Buffalo also entered the playoffs strong, winning four of its last five games.
“That game was special to me because there was such a familiarity between the two teams,” said running back Joe Cribbs, who was named to his second straight Pro Bowl in 1981. “We knew each other well and what we like to do. For me it was extra special because my wife was due with our first child any day and I really wanted to be with her back in Buffalo.”
New York’s first playoff game in 12 years began with Bruce Harper fumbling the opening kickoff and Charles Romes going the other way for a shocking Buffalo touchdown. Things didn’t get better for the Jets when Joe Ferguson connected Frank Lewis for a 50-yard touchdown. Lewis finished the game with seven catches for 158 yards. The Shea Stadium crowd was silenced as the Bills led 17-0 after one quarter.
Early in the second quarter Ferguson found Lewis again and the Bills led 24-0. Richard Todd threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to Mickey Schuler to get the Jets on the scoreboard, and a Pat Leahy field goal made it 24-10 going into halftime. Schuler finished the day with six catches for 116 yards.
Leahy kicked another field goal but a 45-yard touchdown run by Cribbs with 10 minutes remaining gave the Bills a seemingly insurmountable 31-13 lead. Todd threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to Bobby Jones, Buffalo punted, and Todd led another touchdown drive cutting the lead to 31-27.
The Jets got the ball back and drove to the Bills 11-yard line with 10 seconds remaining. Todd’s 51st pass of the afternoon was intercepted at the one-yard line by free safety Bill Simpson. Both Todd and Ferguson finished the day with two touchdowns and four interceptions. Simpson had two picks, and Jets linebacker Greg Buttle had two. The Bills moved on to the Divisional round and an eventual loss to the Bengals.
“I had a helpless feeling on their last drive,” said Cribbs, who had 15 rushes for 83 yards. Cribbs also caught four passes for 64 yards. “It felt like we were going to lose until the interception. Such relief! It was great to escape out of Shea with the win and later that morning my wife delivered our baby girl. One of the best two days of my life.”