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Bills-Dolphins Flashback: From Kelly-Marino To Losman-Rosenfels, And Beyond

Filed under: Buffalo Bills, Sports



Since last week’s pre-game attempt at abject homerism went south pretty quickly, a different approach seems in order with Buffalo visiting Miami late this afternoon.

As a kid, the Dolphins were to the Bills what the Patriots are today — the omnipotent, evil tormentors of the valiant good guys, who quite possibly used nefarious means to maintain their dominance.
No one ever accused Miami overlord Don Shula of blatant Belichick-esque cheating, but his presence on the National Football League’s Competition Committee (and resulting presumptive control over every official’s call that went against the Bills) was a popular talking point through much of the Dolphins’ 20-game winning streak — a whole decade of Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris running wild, while Bob Griese completed infuriatingly dinky play-action passes and Joe Ferguson threw interceptions.
I witnessed that run nearly end at 18. A second-half monsoon in Orchard Park helped keep the opening game of 1979 close, and a botched snap on a Miami punt in the final minutes put Buffalo in range for a seemingly point-blank field goal.
Tom Dempsey, who had held the record for the longest field goal ever at 63 yards for nearly a decade, wasn’t so good at the short ones. I can still see his kick floating, floating, floating, drifting just outside of the goalpost directly in front of us, at the tunnel end of Rich Stadium.
The original Wide Right.
Joe Ferguson, Joe Cribbs and The Bermuda Triangle finally broke Miami’s spell a year later, and the teams reversed roles later in the ’80s, after Marv Levy Jim Kelly arrived and started getting the better of Shula and Dan Marino in just about every game that mattered, and most that didn’t.
Not only did Buffalo bear primary responsibility for keeping the Hall-of-Fame glove pimp from making it to a second Super Bowl, the Bills ended Shula’s coaching career with a pair of beat-downs, the second in the playoffs, in Orchard Park in 1995.
The last truly epic Bills-Dolphins meeting came a few years later in a first-round playoff game, when Doug Flutie held the ball too long after leading Buffalo within 5 yards of forcing overtime and got splattered by Trace Armstrong, fumbling away what was shaping up as the most magical moment of his comeback 1998 season.
Since then, both franchises have cycled through coaches and quarterbacks while aspiring to league-wide relevancy. Instead of Shula and Marino v. Levy and Kelly, we’ve been treated to such epic pairings as Cam Cameron and Cleo Lemon v. Dick Jauron and Trent Edwards.
In the interim, as the New England Patriots established unprecedented supremacy in the AFC East, Miami has reached the postseason four times — the next three years, and 2008, which, not coincidentally, Tom Brady missed with a knee injury. Buffalo, of course, has been back to the playoffs just once, the year following Flutie’s fumble.
No game better embodies what the Buffalo-Miami rivalry has become than their meeting in South Florida 10 years ago. The Bills were staggering through the second and final season of the Mike Mularkey era, while the Dolphins were beginning to get the idea that Nick Saban was probably much better suited to the college game.
The erstwhile rivals each came in at 4-7. J.P. Losman had recently reclaimed his lost starting job from Kelly Holcomb, and opened the game as if he had finally figured out this quarterback thing, throwing three touchdown passes to Lee Evans, all in the first quarter.
Things didn’t go so well from there.
In the interest of providing a little perspective following last week’s rather, well, deflating 40-32 loss to New England, We Want Marangi goes into the archives for the following account of that December 2005 game in Miami.
With both teams coming in at 1-1, today could be a turning point for one, a launching pad out of mediocrity and toward that elusive postseason. Or it could be more of the same.
No matter how Tyrod Taylor and Rex Ryan perform later today in their first road game as the distant successors to Losman and Mularkey, things can’t get more soul-crushing than getting beaten by Sage Rosenfels.
by David Staba
According to published reports and common sense, Tom Donahoe’s job security was ebbing weekly even before Buffalo’s annual trip to South Florida.
This isn’t going to help.
The Bills Donahoe built disintegrated in spectacular fashion Sunday, matching the biggest come-from-ahead loss in franchise history with a true team effort — everybody stunk equally over the final 20 minutes of game time, as Buffalo violently backslid from the verge of a blowout to the depths of humiliation.
There’s so much blame to go around, you hardly know where to start.
You can point to the moment that Miami quarterback Gus Frerotte left the game after becoming concussed on the safety-producing sack by London Fletcher that gave Buffalo a 23-3 lead with a little more than 10 minutes left in the third quarter, since that brought Sage Rosenfels — the career scrub whom the Bills promptly turned into an All-Pro, if only for a few moments — into the game.
Rosenfels’ epiphany wouldn’t have mattered much, though, if the Bills hadn’t done so much enabling immediately thereafter.
Buffalo took the free kick following the safety and drove to Miami’s 3-yard line. It wasn’t hard to figure what was coming next. Pound Willis McGahee into the sagging Dolphins defense until he traversed those 9 feet, and take a 30-3 lead.
But no. This is Mike Mularkey’s offense, devised by the highest-paid coach in team history to trick and baffle, shock and amaze.
It sort of worked. A collective gasp rose from the assemblage at Culbert’s Hotel on Buffalo Avenue in the LaSalle neighborhood of Niagara Falls as J.P. Losman, who had thrown three touchdown passes to Lee Evans in the first quarter and not much since, drifted back from the line. When he threw the riskiest pass possible, with the possible exception of turning his back to the line and blindly lobbing it over his shoulder, you knew somebody wearing the wrong colors would catch it.
Miami cornerback Sam Madison obliged and the game started slipping away. No one wearing Bills colors had any idea how to stop it.
Defensive coordinator Jerry Gray couldn’t find a way to get his pass rush anywhere near Rosenfels, even though Miami threw on 37 of the 42 plays after he entered the game. 
Despite knowing exactly what was coming, Gray’s defense couldn’t do anything about it. Rosenfels completed 22 of those throws and wasn’t sacked once.
Nate Clements saw his 2006 salary, whoever winds up paying it, take another serious hit after watching Chris Chambers deliver the most prolific performance ever by a Miami receiver — 15 catches for 238 yards and the winning touchdown with six seconds left. 
Clements helped set up the game-winner by letting Chambers get behind him and turn Rosenfels’ third-and-10 flutterball into a 57-yard gain that resurrected the Dolphins yet again.
Of course, you can’t blame “The Playmaker” for the kill shot, since the free-agent-to-be was on the other side of the field, leaving the immortal Jabari Greer in single coverage on a red-hot receiver. The Dolphins scrambled to the line to get the play off and caught the Bills out of position.
It would have been nice if Buffalo still had a timeout to make sure the defense was ready for the most important play of the game, but all three had long since been frittered away.
The Dolphins wouldn’t have been in position to even think about a last-second win had Buffalo been able to run out the clock like most grown-up football teams. Again, though, Mularkey’s love of quaint play-calling won out.
Ahead 21-0 in the second quarter, Mularkey put rookie wide receiver Roscoe Parrish in the shotgun and had him flutter a screen pass that fooled no one to Lee Evans. Fortunately, it didn’t get intercepted, but that’s an awfully long way to go to gain 3 yards.
The Bills moved to within 15 yards of a 28-0 lead, but cuteness again interfered. After a first-down incompletion, Losman got sacked and fumbled on second.
“(Expletive deleted) it, we could have put them away,” agonized Jim Dokey, who spent the afternoon pacing through the bar at Kelly’s Korner, a block from Culbert’s, where the BillStuff coverage team took in the first three quarters.
Dokey’s worrying seemed excessive, to say the least. Not only did Buffalo lead by three touchdowns, the Dolphins looked like they would have rather been just about any place but on a football field for most of the day.
The Miami defense got torched for those three first-quarter Losman-to-Evans touchdowns. The offensive line got flagged for six false starts, including four in the second quarter and three on consecutive plays. Fullback Darian Barnes sort of fell to the side on one running play, rather than block Buffalo linebacker Angelo Crowell, allowing tailback Ronnie Brown to get creamed.
“I thought the Bills would run for the bus,” said one impressed-for-the-moment Kelly’s Korner patron after Evans’ third score.
“I guess the Dolphins were already on it,” came a response.
By halftime, serious discussion had begun among the faithful about beating New England next week and the potentially intense stretch run that would ensue.
From the looks of it, Buffalo fans weren’t the only ones prematurely gloating and looking ahead. The defensive collapse that ensued was galling enough. The offensive hibernation for the final three quarters was beyond comprehension.
When Mularkey wasn’t getting cute by calling first-down passes, it looked like he was calling the same running play over and over — McGahee up the middle, where the entire Miami defense appeared to have amassed. The offensive line couldn’t make a dent and Mularkey and his assistants again proved incapable of even the slightest adjustment.
It all comes back to Donahoe. Much was made of the responsibility given him by Ralph Wilson when he came to town in 2001 and was named not only general manager, but team president.
That represented a degree of power the owner had never afforded any other football executive. Not Lou Saban, not Chuck Knox, not Bill Polian and not John Butler — all men with records of success that Donahoe can only envy.
And look what he did with it.
BILLS MVP: Hey, how about that Lee Evans? Too bad nobody’s going to remember those three touchdowns because of what came after.
THE OTHER GUYS’ MVP: Look at everything Rosenfels had to overcome. Being named “Sage,” for starters.
KARMA REPORT: BillStuff regrets to admit that, if the superstitions to which the coverage team’s members adhered as kids mean anything, we may have been somewhat responsible for this one.
After an announcer mentioned that a sore thumb might have been hampering Frerotte’s throws in the first half, I cracked, “Well, you know what they say. Gus Frerotte at 80 percent is still better than Sage Rosenfels, ever.”
Not content with having thusly jinxed things, even after Frerotte’s concussion forced Sage into the game, we left Kelly’s Korner at the end of the third quarter for Culbert’s, almost daring the gods to smite the hometown team.
And smite they did.
WING REPORT: Fortunately, we didn’t leave until after consuming a variety of mediums, honey-garlics and “Jay’s Hot-Hot-Hots.”
The first two were excellent, well-cooked and flavorful, and well-deserving of a collective A-minus. The third earned the first pure A of the year from Tim, our senior wing analyst and a notoriously stingy grader.
“Spicy, without being overpowering,” Tim ruled. “A flavor you can savor.”
BS FAN OF THE WEEK: Jim Dokey has become something of an institution at Kelly’s since returning from Texas, particularly on game days. Thoroughly clad in Bills gear, he delivered high-fives from one end of the bar to the other after each Buffalo score and big defensive play, delivering a running commentary that was by turns joyous and agonizing.
“We tried to get rid of him, but it didn’t work,” said Joe, the bartender.
If there was an upside to our potentially momentum-shifting departure, it was that we weren’t around when Chambers caught that last pass.
(NOTE: Join us for more great memories and semi-informed commentary during today’s renewal of the Bills-Dolphins rivalry on the Twitter @DavidStaba.)