Bills end longest playoff drought in North American pro sports

Buffalo Bills celebrate a big playThe Buffalo Bills are in the playoffs for the first time since the 1999 season. Buffalo had a little help ending its lengthy drought—the longest active drought of any professional sports franchise in North America—from the Cincinnati Bengals, who defeated the Baltimore Ravens to open a wild card spot for the Bills. The good fortune was a welcome change for a Buffalo franchise that has had every right to feel cursed ever since its last playoff game in January of 2000.

The Bills appeared headed to another disappointing finish when they squandered a strong start to 2017 with a three-game losing skid, falling to 5-5 by the beginning of November. Buffalo’s struggles coincided with a quarterback controversy, as Tyrod Taylor was benched for rookie Nathan Peterman, who set a dubious NFL record with five interceptions in the first half of his first start. The Bills’ season appeared to be unravelling, but the offense rallied around Taylor and the defense regained enough of its elite early-season form to win four of their final six games, with the only two losses coming against AFC East powerhouse the New England Patriots.

Defeating the Miami Dolphins in Week 17 wasn’t quite enough to secure the playoff berth for the Bills, who had to watch the back-and-forth conclusion of the Bengals-Ravens game to learn their fate. Cincinnati built a sizeable early lead but Baltimore slowly chipped away, eventually taking the lead late in the fourth quarter. A last-minute touchdown drive by Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton eliminated the Ravens from playoff contention, and saved the day for Buffalo. Bills fans responded by flooding Dalton’s charitable foundation with donations, raising more than $57,000 in 24 hours with donations in $17 incriments—a reference to the length of Buffalo’s playoff drought.

The Bills’ previous playoff appearance is still fresh in the minds of the fanbase after nearly two decades. Buffalo lost that game on a play that became known as the Music City Miracle, and until now the Bills haven’t had another opportunity to work some postseason magic of their own. Their opportunity arrives in Sunday’s wild card game against another unexpected postseason participant in the Jacksonville Jaguars. Jacksonville is coached by former Bills head coach Doug Marrone, who was fired by Buffalo in 2014 after two seasons with the team. The Bills could be without leading rusher LeSean McCoy in the wild card game after McCoy sprained his ankle against Miami.