A Decade Removed: How The '09 Bills Compare to the '99 Playoff Team

Chris Trapasso@ChrisTrapassoAnalyst IAugust 8, 2009

Anyone watch the Music City Miracle replay on NFL Network's "Classic Games" yesterday? I did. Classic alright. Classic if your a Tennessee Titans fan or if you hate the Buffalo Bills. I wanted to turn it off, but for some reason couldn't, even though I knew the epic catastrophe that was about to ensue.

Anyways, enough of me whining. Sitting on my couch afterwards, disgusted with the shots of ecstatic Titans' fans, and the realization that I just finished watching the Bills' last trip to the playoffs, I tried to rejuvenate my spirits.

Most remember the Tennessee Tragedy as another wonderfully creative way the Bills found how to lose a game...myself included.

In my meager attempt to find any light in a game surrounded by so much darkness from a Bills' standpoint, I couldn't.

But thinking about it, today's Bills aren't much different in comparison to the group from a decade ago: a solid 11-5 team that essentially should have advanced to the Divisional Round. Which may bring more hope on this season.

Breaking down the team in sections made the most sense to me so here it goes.


Doug Flutie started 15 games that year, and impressed at age 37. His 19 touchdowns and 16 interceptions showed he wasn't capable of lighting up a statbook anymore, but he certainly had Flutie Flakes flying off the shelves at the local Tops' Friendly Markets.

His nearly 1:1 touchdown to interception ratio is where his comparison to Trent Edwards ends. He was a wily veteran, who could make something out of nothing. A lot.

Now to Rob Johnson, (wonder what he's doing right now). We only saw him in action twice, but he managed both games surprisingly well.

He nearly reached the 300 yard mark through the air against a permeable Colts' secondary in Week 17, and basically led the Bills to victory in Tennessee, a place where the Titans hadn't lost all year.

His arm never wowed anyone and at times he looked a bit shaken in the pocket. More of the "cerebral quarterback." Sound similar to Trent Edwards? Does to me.

The only difference between the two is positive for today's Bills: Trent Edwards is much more gifted athletically and is complete with many more quarterback intangibles than Rob Johnson was.

Just watching Johnson throw the short underneath passes, progressing through his reads while connecting on the occasional deep pass, made me think of the Bills' current quarterback right away.

Who knows, if Bobby April was the Special Teams Coach then, things may have gone in a different direction for Johnson. Probably not.

Running Backs

The 1999 Buffalo Bills featured a two-back look...before they were trendy in the NFL. Antowain Smith was considered the starter, but Johnathon Linton (remember him?) had more rushes and rushing yards on the year.

The two combined for over 1,200 yards rushing which isn't terrible, but remember Marshawn Lynch has run for over 1,000 by himself in his first two seasons, and we all know what Fred Jackson contributes to the run game.

Both Linton and Smith were bigger backs; the Bills didn't use the "Thunder and Lightning" tactic of one bruising back coupled with a shifty speedy runner as a changeup, like many clubs do today.

This year's Bills won't, either.

Lynch and Jackson are known as downhill yet nimble runners, and Dominic Rhodes' addition creates a frightening trio. Give the edge to the 2009 Buffalo Bills.

Wide Receivers

Andre Reed was at the end of his illustrious career, although he grabbed 52 balls for a respectable 536 yards. Close to a season I envision Josh Reed having while working behind Terrell Owens and  Lee Evans.

Eric Moulds represented the dominating, physical, possession wideout and put together a great year. He nearly reached the 1,000 yard mark and gathered in 60-plus balls.

He jammed cornerbacks at the line before they jammed him. Moulds brought an intimidation factor to Buffalo that they've dearly missed since he departed.

Until now.

Owens is bigger and even more daunting to opposing defenses. A more experienced version of the Bills go to target in the late 90's through the mid 2000's, Eric Moulds.

Kevin Williams and Peerless Price combined for 60 catches, clearly an attainable goal for backups Roscoe Parrish and Steve Johnson. Williams returned kicks just like Roscoe, but I think we know who's got the better special teams. 

Lee Evans is the man who puts this year's group above the receivers from '99. They missed a true deep threat and we're well aware that's Evans' forte. Expect a lot of double moves and go-routes to be called Evans' way.

There's not a corner in the league who can keep up.

Very similar corp of wideouts. Not a First Team All-Pro lineup, but not a group you'd wanna fall asleep on.

Offensive Line

The '99 trenchmen are what the '09 men are dying to be. John Fina was the lone starter from the tail end of the glory years, but Ruben Brown and Robert Hicks were big boys, coming into their own as great blockers.

Jerry Ostrowski and Dusty Zeigler rounded out a good but not overwhelmingly great offensive line.

Not a ton of glaring similarities, but shooting to be like the '99 unit is a good start.


Henry Jones and Kurt Schulz played strong safety and free safety respectively, and although their names are held in high regard in Buffalo, they only combined for three interceptions, all coming from Schulz.

Jones was more of the veteran leader at the closing stages of his career, but he was durable enough to start every game.

Ken Irvin and Thomas Smith, who to me, played like Antoine Winfield before Antoine Winfield, matched up on the outside against team's best receivers. Neither were household names, but did enough to help the Bills to the league's best pass defense.

McGee probably has a leg up on Smith, as a pure cover corner and tackler, and Leodis McKelvin has a reminds me a lot of what I remember of Irvin.

The secondary this season has more depth, but saying the 2009 group is better than it was a decade ago would be incorrect, because there was no one better in the NFL defending the pass that year.

Hard to believe the Bills were that solid.


Sam Cowart led the team in tackles with 79, but Sam Rogers and John Holeck didn't even combine for 100 tackles together. The Bills ran a 3-4 scheme at times, (something I won't be against now) and Gabe Northern played the outside spot, without much contribution. 

It's tough to link the two linebacking corps together because of the system differences, but terms of age, both were rather young, with Sam Rogers being 99's eldest at 29, Kawika Mitchell's age today. 

In 1999 they were four hard-working, hard-hitting, average players that got the job done. 

With Paul Posluszny entering his second year as the middle linebacker, he's told reporters he's coming into 2009 with more aggressiveness because he feels more comfortable manning the middle, with a full year under his belt. 

Keith Ellison may be the weak link out of all seven players, but last year he was able to stay away from looking terrible for long stretches during any game. 

Fairly similar.


Defensive Line

Bruce Smith was on the line, and although there's minimal comparison between him and the Bills' "supposed" best pass rusher of today, Aaron Schobel, Bruuuuce was on the verge of retiring.

He played in Washington a few years after, but he took down quarterbacks seven times in '99, and was 36, so Buffalo realized he was nearly finished with his Hall of Fame career.

Not out of the question for Schobel to return to Pro Bowl form with 7.0 sacks.

Phil Hansen had a reputable season with 6.0 sacks, and if this season's Bills can get 6 from Aaron Maybin and Chris Kelsay, Perry Fewell would be all smiles.

In 1999 the D-line was great at stopping the run. Wonder why? The twin mountains of Pat Williams and Ted Washington ate opposing running backs for lunch and commanded double teams on nearly ever play. When the Bills needed to, they converted to a 4-3 with ease.

Marcus Stroud compares close enough to Williams, and if Kyle Williams continues to overachieve due to his fiendish work ethic, this year's run pluggers remind me a lot of '99s.

Just a lot smaller in stature and width.

Don't forget about John McCargo, either.

The type of season the 1999 Bills' defense put together was stellar. First in passing defense, second in points allowed, and fourth in rushing yards allowed. Not bad. Can this year's defensive unit attain such Raven-esque statistics?

Probably not, but they aren't far away.

In summation, I think these teams are spitting images of each other. Both had quarterbacks with more brains than arm strength, both highlighted a multiple running back system, and the sets of receivers are nearly identical.

The 1999's defense was fabulous but the secondaries and linebackers are mirror images of one another.

We always spend time referencing similarities between the late 80's Bills to today's  team. Take it easy. Those teams went on to four consecutive AFC championships. Dominated.

Reminder: the 1999 team beat New England in both meetings. That'd be nice for a change.

The Bills have set a goal to reach the post-season, and the 1999 team was the last Buffalo squad to get there. So shouldn't we look there for questions on how to play into January?



The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.