The Buffalo Bills franchise is a far cry from what they used to be in the early 1990s.
Led by quarterback Jim Kelly, running back Thurman Thomas and receiver Andre Reed, Buffalo did something unprecedented that will likely never be repeated again.
From 1990 to 1993, the Bills captured four straight AFC titles, thus advancing to the Super Bowl in the process. Unfortunately, they lost all four Super Bowls with the image of Scott Norwood still etched in most Bills fans' minds.
After their amazing streak, the Bills have failed to get back to the promised land, much less return to the upper echelon of NFL teams.
Kelly retired at the conclusion of the 1996 season and was elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2002. Thomas and Reed both left Buffalo at the end of the 1999 season. Thomas went on to spend one uneventful year in Miami, in which he accumulated just 136 rushing yards and was used very seldom. Reed took his talents to Washington and like Thomas, his 2000 season was just as prosaic.
During his 2000 campaign, Reed didn't start a single for the first time in his career and recorded just ten receptions for 103 yards.
Once these three marquee players were finally done playing professionally, the Bills were left with nothing but a rebuilding process.
What is the "Doug Flutie Curse"?
Following the conclusion of the 1997 season, the Bills went out and signed a young quarterback by the name of Rob Johnson. Johnson was relatively unknown by the NFL community until he had a phenomenal game for his Jaguars against the Ravens in their 1997 Week 1 matchup.
In that contest, Johnson completed 20 of 24 passes for 294 yards and two touchdowns. Because of his performance, the Jaguars narrowly won 28-27. Johnson's performance set a record, that still stands, for the highest completion-percentage in a game for a quarterback in his debut game. The following week, Johnson suffered a high ankle sprain and Mark Brunell soon returned to the starting lineup.
After another solid season by the left-handed quarterback, the Jaguars placed Johnson on the trading block.
Because of his stellar play in that one single game, a number of teams around the NFL were clamoring over Johnson's services. The Bills thought they had found their man, as they dealt their first and fourth round picks in the 1998 draft to the Bills. The Jaguars would then subsequently select running back Fred Taylor with the eighth overall pick they had acquired from Buffalo.
Immediately after the acquisition of Johnson, the Bills announced that they had signed him to a five-year, $25 million contract. Then-head coach Wade Phillips also announced that Johnson would be the team's starting quarterback.
However, Rob Johnson wasn't the only quarterback that the Bills acquired that offseason.
The team also went out and signed Doug Flutie, which came as quite a surprise to most fans. Flutie hadn't taken a snap in the NFL since 1989 when he was a member of the Patriots. He had spent eight years in the Canadian Football League where he would have humongous success. He has since been named the greatest player in CFL history.
During the offseason, the Bills were very uninterested in signing Flutie. Like most people, they viewed him as too short, as he is only 5'10". However, then-pro personnel director A.J. Smith somehow convinced the franchise that Flutie was worth the shot. The team eventually gave in to Smith and signed Flutie to a contract and immediately placed him as the No. 2 quarterback behind Johnson.
In a Week 5 matchup against the Indianapolis Colts, Flutie replaced an injured Rob Johnson and passed for two touchdowns, while leading the Bills to a fourth quarter comeback with a 31-24 win.
The following week, Flutie started for the first time since Oct. 15, 1989, as his Bills took on the unbeated Jacksonville Jaguars. For the second straight week, Flutie led his team to another fourth quarter comeback, as they narrowly defeated the Jaguars 17-16.
After those two great performances, Flutie was named the week-to-week starter for the rest of the season. In 1998, he led Buffalo to an 8-3 record, as he threw for 2,711 yards with 20 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Because of that, he was selected to the Pro Bowl for the first time in his professional career.
The Bills finished the season with a 10-6 record and were matched up against the Miami Dolphins in the first round of the playoffs. Flutie was brilliant, as he threw for 360 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Unfortunately, his Bills still lost the game, 24-17.
Once the season concluded, the Bills headed into the offseason with a quarterback controversy still on their hands. They eventually still gave Flutie the starting reins and it appeared to be the right choice. Flutie started every game that season for Buffalo, as he threw for a then-career high 3,171 yards, 19 touchdowns and 16 interceptions.
Buffalo finished the regular season with a 10-5 record because of the play of Flutie. However, prior to their postseason matchup against the Tennessee Titans, head coach Wade Phillips made the controversial call of enlisting Rob Johnson as the starting quarterback for the game.
The Bills would go on to lose the game, 22-16, as the game has come to be known as the "Music City Miracle." It has been named so because it appeared that the Bills had kicked the game-clinching field goal in the waning seconds. However, on the following kickoff, a couple of laterals led to a touchdown by Tennessee. The Titans would eventually go on to make the Super Bowl to face off against the high-powered Rams.
Regardless, Johnson was exceedingly pedestrian during the game. He completed just 10 of 22 passes for 131 yards with zero touchdowns. It has been widely thought that if Flutie had started the game, the Bills would have won and advanced further into the playoffs.
Despite solid results from Flutie and lackluster performances by Johnson, they were still mired in a quarterback battle. Based on the recent history of the two, Flutie should have earned the No. 1 spot ahead of Johnson.
Prior to the season, the recently-hired head coach Gregg Williams listed Johnson as the starter with Flutie becoming the primary back-up. Throughout the season, Flutie would only appear when Johnson was injured or during the latter stages of games.
However, Flutie would go on to start five games during the 2000 season. The last game he started for Buffalo was arguably one of the best quarterback performances in the franchise's history. Against the Seattle Seahawks, Flutie achieved a perfect quarterback rating (158.3), while completing 20 of 25 passes for 366 yards and three touchdowns.
In the five games Flutie started, the Bills went 4-1. In the games Johnson was the main signal-caller, the team compiled a 4-7 record.
At the conclusion of the season, head coach Gregg Williams decided to keep Johnson and cut Flutie. And apparently, they made the wrong decision.
During the 2001 season, Johnson led the Bills to a 1-7 record in his eight starts. Additionally, he threw for just 1,465 yards to go along with five touchdowns and seven interceptions. They would sever ties with him at the end of the season.
Once he left Buffalo, Flutie went on to play a few more years and had a solid season in 2001 with the San Diego Chargers. In fact, during the 2001 season, the Flutie's Chargers were host to Johnson's Bills. Flutie threw for 254 yards and one touchdown, as the Chargers won, 27-24. Johnson, on the other hand, threw for a season-high 310 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
Soon after, Johnson would be benched in favor of Alex Van Pelt. The Bills finished the 2001 season with a paltry 3-13 record.
Since Flutie, a fan favorite during his tenure, left the Bills, the team has had a number of different starting quarterbacks. This list includes the aforementioned Johnson and Van Pelt, along with Drew Bledsoe, Kelly Holcomb, bust J.P. Losman, Trent Edwards, Brian Brohm and Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Bledsoe has undoubtedly been the best of the bunch, as he led the Bills for a few decent seasons. Their best season came under Bledsoe in 2004, as they finished with a decade-best 9-7 season.
Obviously, they have failed to record a 10-win season since Flutie's departure. Since 2001, they have won three, eight, six, nine, five, seven, seven, seven, six, four and six games, respectively. That is just a shade above six wins per season since their 2001 campaign.
They have also been through five head coaches since that 2001 season—Gregg Williams, Mike Mularkey, Dick Jauron, Perry Fewell and Chan Gailey. And obviously, they have failed to take their teams to the playoffs in any of those seasons.
So, what does their future look like? Can they reverse the "curse"?
The Bills appeared to be headed towards the postseason last year after they got off to a surprising 5-2 start. However, they would go on to lose eight of their final nine games and finish with a paltry 6-10 record.
Buffalo's current team has a lot of talent, there's no doubt about that. They already have the aforementioned Fitzpatrick, along with running backs C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson, receiver Stevie Johnson and talented offensive linemen Eric Wood and Andy Levitre.
But, there defense appears to be their bread and butter.
The Bills went out and signed the best free agent available, defensive end/linebacker Mario Williams, to a six-year, $100 million contract. They also signed defensive end Mark Anderson to a four-year, $27.5 million deal. For the Patriots last season, Anderson recorded 10 sacks in his only year with the team.
To go along with Williams and Anderson, they already have defensive tackles Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams, linebackers Nick Barnett and Shawne Merriman, cornerbacks Terrence McGee, Leodis McKelvin, rookie Stephon Gilmore and Aaron Williams and safeties Jairus Byrd and George Wilson.
On paper, the Bills have an unbelievable team that begins and ends with the defense. Their defense has some phenomenal players that have great potential. The problem is that they have to put everything together. They failed to do that last season, but there's a great opportunity that they can turn things around in 2012.
It's a little early to say that the Bills will make the playoffs in 2012. I firmly believe that they could challenge for a playoff spot and possibly finish above .500. Unfortunately for them, they already play in a division that will pit them against the Patriots and Jets twice apiece in the regular season. They were able to win one of their two games against New England in 2011, but were swept in their two matchups with the Jets.
There's no doubt that the Bills have gotten better this offseason. They were able to sign the best free agent available, along with one of the best pass-rushers in the entire free agency class in Anderson. Additionally, they were able to draft one of the best cornerbacks in the draft with their tenth-overall selection of South Carolina's Stephon Gilmore.
The Bills also drafted offensive lineman Cordy Glenn, who has great potential, in the second-round. Glenn has the capabilities of becoming a phenomenal offensive lineman. With their third-round selection, they tabbed North Carolina State receiver T.J. Graham to help alleviate pressure off of Stevie Johnson, David Nelson and Donald Jones. Graham could eventually work his way into the starting lineup if he shows enough promise in training camp and in the preseason.
They also used two fourth round selections and two fifth-round picks on Florida State linebacker Nigel Bradham, LSU cornerback Ron Brooks, Florida State offensive tackle Zebrie Sanders and TCU linebacker Tank Carder. All four players are expected to add some much-needed depth to each of their respective positions, along with eventually becoming solid contributors in the future.
So needless to say, I like the Bills' chances of succeeding within the next couple of years. They have a legitimate offense with a solid offensive line and they have a remarkable defense that appears to be headed to stardom. I definitely like their chances of reversing the relatively-unknown "Doug Flutie Curse".