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1978 Buffalo Bills – Ground Chuck

by Bill Choinski

Chuck Knox was released by the Los Angeles Rams after 5 straight NFC West division titles, and a stellar 54-15-1 record. While posting double digit victories in each of his 5 seasons, he could never get his team out of the playoffs, losing 3 straight NFC championship games in a row. Rams owner Caroll Rosenbloom desperately wanted to win a Super Bowl, and his impatience cost Knox his job. Ralph Wilson wasted no time at the conclusion of the 1977 season and hired Knox on January 10th.

One major change in the NFL for the 1978 season was the dropping 2 exhibition games (going from 6 to 4) and adding 2 additional games to the regular season, extending it to 16 games.

Knox immediately went to work. One of Knox’s first moves, as coach of the Bills, was the trade of Simpson to the San Francisco 49ers for five draft choices, including a first rounder in 1979. Simpson, it turned out, would never regain his All-Pro form and the trade turned out to be a steal, for Knox and the Bills. In another deal, Knox sent TE Paul Seymour to the Steelers for veteran WR Frank Lewis. 37 year old journeyman backup QB Bill Munson was brought in for his 14th season. Knox also brought with him from LA his FG kicker, Tom Dempsey- the NFL record holder with a 64 yard FG.

To replace Simpson, the Buffalo Bills selected RB Terry Miller from Oklahoma St. with the 5th overall pick in the 1977 NFL draft. In the 2nd Rd, Knox picked a pair of DE’s, Dee Hardison and Scott Hutchinson. FB Dennis Johnson was picked in Rd 3 and LB Luscius Sanford came out of Rd 4. Center Will Grant was a late round find, in the 10th.

Chuck Knox began the season losing the first 3 games to Pittsburgh (28-17), The New York Jets (21-20), and for the 17th consecutive game, the Miami Dolphins (31-24). The big difference was that the Bills were competitive in each game. Persistence paid off, and Buffalo would capture victories over Baltimore (24-17) and Kansas City (28-13) at home.

After the worse loss of the season against the Jets, Knox made another trade. Popular FB Jim Braxton was shipped to the Miami Dolphins for another draft pick. Knox again tasted victory in week 8, with a defensive 5-0 win over the Cincinnati Bengals. Over the second half of the season, the Bills would only post 2 more wins. Terry Miller filled the shoes of OJ Simpson admirably.

In November, Miller broke the team rookie rushing record with a 206-yard effort against the New York Giants in a 41-17 Bills win. In the final game of the year, Miller did what no Buffalo Bills rookie was able to do- his 126 yard effort against the Colts propelled the Bills to 21-14 win and put him over 1,000 yards for the season.

The Bills finished the year 5-11 under Knox, with 6 of the losses coming by a margin of 7 points or less. Knox’s young defense was coming together. The team finished 4th in the AFC East. Meanwhile, OJ Simpson struggled in San Francisco, with injuries plaguing him all season long. The 49ers would finish the season at 2-14, giving Buffalo the 1st overall pick in the draft for the 3rd time in 10 years.

Terry Miller led the team with 1,060 yards and 7 TDs. Second year FB Curtis Brown supplanted Jim Braxton and had a solid year, with 591 yards and 7 TDs, with an 8th TD on a kickoff return. Bobby Chandler led the team with 44 receptions for 581 yards and 3 TDs , and newcomer Frank Lewis established himself as the deep threat, wit 41 catches, 735 yards, an 18 yard per catch average, and 7 TDs. Joe Ferguson bounced back from his injury in 1977 by completing 53% of his passes for 2,136 yards and 16 TDs, with 15 interceptions. Keith Moody again was a threat on Punt returns with 1 TD on a return.

On defense, Mario Clark stepped forward leading the team with 5 picks, followed by LB Shane Nelson and S Tony Greene with 3 apiece.

Guard Joe Delamielleure and Tony Greene rerturned to the Pro Bowl.

1978 Buffalo Bills Statistics     1978 Team Results