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1984

1984 Buffalo Bills – Bottoming Out

by Bill Choinski

 
The USFL was going into their second season. Two players, Buffalo Bills RB Joe Cribbs and #1 1983 draft pick Jim Kelly started their USFL Careers. After winning a lawsuit, Cribbs joined the Birmingham Stallions. Playing an 18 game season, Cribbs amassed close to 2,000 rushing and receiving yards with 13 TDs. Jim Kelly meanwhile posted mind boggling numbers. Running a new offense called the “Run and Shoot”, Kelly threw 587 passes, completing 370 of them, an incredible 63% completion rate. He shattered the professional football record for passing yardage with 5,219 and a mind numbing 44 TDs, and ran away with the USFL MVP award.

Buffalo was a team on the decline. Long time DE Sherman White was released and WR Frank Lewis retired. Jerry Butler received the bad news that his badly injured knee would require a season of rehab to get back into any playing shape. Mario Clark was dealt to San Francisco in the offseason, and starting LB Ervin Parker was released in favor of Darryl Talley. WR Perry Tuttle, the #1 selection from two years before, was officially labeled a bust and was dealt to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a 7th round pick. FB Roosevelt Leaks was waived during preseason. WR Preston Dennard , a veteran from the Los Angeles Rams, was brought in to fill the void left by the departed Tuttle, Lewis, and Butler.

The Buffalo Bills went into the 1984 draft looking to rebuild and find a replacement for Cribbs. After trading down with Miami for 2 3rd round picks, Buffalo selected RB Greg Bell of Notre Dame in round 1. They selected WR Eric Richardson with their 2nd round selection. With their triple 3rd rounders, they grabbed RB Speedy Neil, DE Sean McNanie, and CB Rodney Bellinger. Punter John Kidd made the team as a 6th round pick. A second supplemental draft was held by the NFL for USFL players. Buffalo picked up CB Dwight Drane.

Off the field, Buffalo tried a cosmetic change with their helmets, trading in the white helmet for a red one, with blue facemasks. The logo and uniform went unchanged.

Buffalo’s home opener to the Patriots was a harbinger of the season to come. Just 51 seconds into the game, Steve Grogan connected with Stephan Starring on a 65 yard TD. The Patriots would ring up 21 points on Buffalo in the first half before the Bills responded. Joe Ferguson led a spirited comeback, registering 17 straight points. Connecting with Tony Hunter with 3:55 remaining, the Bills were unable to ge the ball back, falling to the Patriots 21- 17. Greg Bell had an inauspicious start as the Bills starting RB with a mere 29 yards on 12 carries.

Bell and the Bills had a worse day travelling to St Louis. The following Sunday. Buffalo was out-gained 171 to 486 in yards and managed a meager 9 first downs. Joe Ferguson suffered a bruised and bloodied nose in the contest and was relieved by Matt Kofler. Greg Bell gained 3 yards on 4 carries. Rookie CB Rodney Bellinger was lost for 10 weeks with a neck injury. DB’s Brian Carpenter and Martin Bayless were brought in to shore up the secondary.

On Monday night in week 3, Dan Marino took care of business pushing them to an early 21-3 lead. Just like the Patriot’s game inte opener, Ferguson again rallied the Bills with 2 TD drives only to fall short. Buffalo continued to mount the losses. The Bills lost again when the Jets came to town. Playing his best game of the year, Ferguson went 31-46 for 304 yards and 2 TDs only to be lost in the final 3 minutes due to a severely sprained ankle. Matt Kofler threw a drive killing interception in relief as the Bills fell 26-24.

Joe Ferguson’s ankle would not allow him to start game 5 against the newly relocated Indianapolis Colts. Sharing the NFL’s longest active starting streak with Philadelphia’s Ron Jaworski, the string of 107 games as the Buffalo Bill’s starting QB came to and end. Joe Dufek would earn the start in his place. After 4 games and a total of 77 yards, Greg Bell finally had his breakout performance the team had hoped for when they made him the top choice. Gaining 144 yards on the day on 24 carries, Buffalo rode the back of Bell in a very close to the vest conservative game plan. For 3 quarters, the plan worked. Dufek ran one in from 11 yards out and threw another to Preston Dennard to put Buffalo up 17-10 in the third. But the Colts would reel off 3 straight TDs, the third a 59 yard return of a Dufek interception to seal the Bills fate.

Ferguson remained out of action in week 6 against the Eagles. His understudy, Joe Dufek, was also lost with an injury and the Bills went back to Matt Kofler. Greg Bell registered his first TD with 77 yards on the day, but again the Bills were overwhelmed by a superior opponent. A paltry crowd of 37,555 saw Lackawana’s Ron Jaworski, the
“Polish Rifle” lead his team to a 27-17 win.

Ferguson returned to action as the Bills had their first game agains former coach Chuck Knox and the Seattle Seahawks. In this game, it was 2 blocked John Kidd punts that lead to a 17-0 Seattle first quarter lead. Lucius Sanford got the Bills back in to the game with a 46 yard fumble return. Later, Donald Wilson’s 65 yard punt return put the Bills within 3. After a Seattle score, Ferguson rallied the Bills t two TDs, a 50 yard bomb to Byron Franklin and a 3 yard Preston Dennard TD catch that put Buffalo up 28-24. David Kreig found Steve Largent open on a 51 yard winning score with 8:07 left. Charles Romes stumbled leaving Largent wide open for the easy score. Bell had another great game with 113 yards in defeat. Seattle 31-Buffalo 28.

The Bills lost 3 more games, getting blown out by the Broncos and Dolphins by a combined score of 75-14. A 13-10 loss to the Cleveland Browns. It was a game that pitted the 0-9 Bills against the equally dreadful 1-8 Browns. Another sparse crowd of 33,000 watched the Browns win it on a bizarre play. Browns RB Ernest Byner scooped up a fumble by teammate WR Willis Adams and raced 55 yards for the winning score.

The Following week, Kofler and Ferguson combined to complete a mere 13 of 48 passes in another pasting by the Patriots, 38-10. The duo absorbed 8 sacks and tossed 3 interceptions in the loss. It was their 13 consecutive loss going back to last season.

A rare treat greeted the Bills in week 12. Suffering an 0-11 start, the Dallas Cowboys were in town. America’s team sold out Rich Stadium months in advance guaranteeing a full house. CBS also made the unusual choice of making the game their national game of the week. At half time, Buffalo would induct former QB Jack Kemp to their Wall of Fame, joining OJ Simpson.

Greg Bell stunned the crowd on the first play of the game, bursting down the sidelines with an electrifying 85 yard run for the game’s first score. The Bills continued to play well, bottling up the NFC East leading Cowboys throughout the game. Buffalo squandered two golden opportunities early. A Donald Wilson 34 yard punt return to the Dallas 21 was wasted away on a bad snap on a FG. Buffalo’s Joe Azelby then blocked a Danny White punt on the ensuing Cowboy drive, but Joe Ferguson gave it right back with one of his 2 interceptions on the game. Dallas converted the turnover into 3 points, and closed the lead to 7-3 at the half.

The second half turned into the Greg Bell show. Bell continued to grind out first downs and kill the clock. Bills DB’s Rod Kush and Brian Carpenter stopped two Dallas drives with timely interceptions. In the 4th quarter, Buffalo ate up 11:45 of the 4th quarter clock, keeping the frustrated Cowboy offense off the field. Ferguson capped off a 9 play 70 yard drive in the 4th quarter with Bell’s second TD on the day, a 4 yard pass into the end zone.Dallas never was able to mount any scoring threat on the Bills as they went on to stun the league with a 14-3 win. Bell finished on the day with 206 yards against the vaunted Dallas “Doomsday” defense.

Buffalo followed up their sweet victory with a thrashing at the hands of the Washington Redskins. Buffalo Managed a paltry 86 yards rushing and 85 yards passing in a 41-14 loss. It would be the last game Joe Ferguson would start for the Bills.

With Joe Dufek back at the helm, Buffalo played their final home game of the season to a record low 20,693 paying customers. The 60,000 that elected to stay away missed Dufek take the Bills to a 21 point first quarter lead on the visiting Indianapolis Colts. QB Art Schliester fumbled on the first drive of the game and after Fred Smerlas recovered, the Bills would score 5 plays later on a Greg Bell run. On the Bills second possession, Dufek led an 89 yard, 10 play drive capped off with an 18 yard TD pass to Tony Hunter. On the last play of the 1st quarter, Dufek struck again finding a wide open Byron Franklin for 65 yards. It was all the scoring the Buffalo offense needed en route to their second home win in a row, 21-15.

Buffalo’s worst season since 1976 came to an inglorious end. A loss to the Jets (21-17) was followed up with an embarrassing 52-21 defeat at the hands of the Cincinnati Bengals. Buffalo finished the year a dismal 2-14, the 14 losses being a team record for defeats in one season. The Bills finished dead last in the NFL and were guaranteed the #1 over al selection in the 1985 draft.

Greg Bell and WR Byron Franklin were the only weapons of note on the Bills offense. Bell became the third rookie in 7 seasons to eclipse 1,000 yards with 1,100 on the year. Bell added 34 receptions (2nd on the team) for 277 yards and added 8 TDs. Franklin led in receptions with 69 for a team high 862 yards and 4 TDs. Preston Dennard added 30 receptions for 417 yards and 7 TDs.

LB Darryl Talley led the team with 5 sacks, followed by Jim Haslett with 3.5. Charlie Romes led the team in interceptions with 5, followed by Steve Freeman with 3. LB Eugene Marve led the team again in tackles with 188, followed by Haslett (148) and Freeman (111).

No Buffalo Bills were selected for the Pro Bowl for the first time since 1971.

1984 Buffalo Bills Statistics    1984 Team Results