Oakland heads to Buffalo after a dramatic victory over the Chiefs to face a solid Bills squad who has had great success against the run. But what can history tell us about this matchup?
The Oakland Raiders (3-4) embark on yet another East Coast road trip to face the Buffalo Bills (4-2) in a game that is shaping up to have playoff implications for both teams this season. The Bills are a surprising early contender and the Raiders are approaching their third game this season on the East Coast with a must-win mindset. With that said, looking back historically at the Raiders vs. Bills, the matchup does have some interesting history.
Being two of the original founding members of the American Football League, a good place to start with a look at the rivalry starts right at the quarterback position.
This week, Raiders all-everything quarterback Derek Carr will face off against the Bills lightning-rod quarterback Tyrod Taylor. But if you go back to the beginning, the quarterback matchup for the Raiders and bills including two AFL/NFL legends in Oakland’s Tom Flores and Buffalo’s Johnny Green. The very first Raiders vs. Bills throwdown unfolded at the old Buffalo War Memorial Stadium back in the days before corporate sponsorships and naming rights.
During the AFL years, the Raiders and Bills faced each other twice a year. The Bills were a powerhouse defense and won two AFL Titles in the infant days of the fledgling pro football league. However, by the time the Raiders rose to prominence, the Bills fizzled into mediocrity.
After the AFL-NFL merger, the teams would not face each other every season due to division alignment in the new, larger NFL. In fact, the tomorrow’s meeting will mark only the 39th time in the regular season Oakland and Buffalo have met on the gridiron. While there was some heat in the early years, the most exciting period was in a span of three years between the 1990 and 1993 season. In both years, the Raiders faced the Bills in regular season game and a playoff game. It is the only two times the Raiders have faced the Bills in postseason play.
The 1990 Season
In 1990, the Los Angeles Raiders had a resurgent year largely due to a tenacious defense and the running of superhuman running back Bo Jackson. The Raiders were 5-1 before Bo Jackson joined the team mid-season after his season with the Kansas City Royals had concluded. The Oakland defense was mauling opponents while scoring almost as much as the offense during that stretch. The one loss up until that point was to talented and deep Bills team.
The Raiders took an early lead and added to it to begin the 4th quarter with a 24-14 score. Raiders defensive back Eddie Anderson had two picks of Bills quarterback Jim Kelly and the Raiders seemed to have all the momentum.
Then all hell broke loose.
First, Kelly found wide receiver James Lofton for a 42-yard bomb. The Raiders, on their next series, were forced to punt. The ensuing punt was not only blocked, but returned for a another Bills touchdown after Oakland’s special teams couldn’t hold the Bills. The momentum stayed on the Bill side as the Raiders bogged down again on offense during the next series. That led to another Bills offensive possession and they were able to add three more points on a Scott Norwood field goal making the advantage 31-24. The Raiders chance to tie the game ended with a Nate Odemes fumble return for a touchdown, as the Bills won going away with 24 unanswered points in the 4th quarter to seal the 38-24 victory.
The 1990 AFC Championship Game
In the 1990 AFC Championship game it would be an absolute, unabated slaughter. The week before the game Bo Jackson pulled his leg out of his hip socket in the AFC Divisional playoffs against the Cincinnati Bengals – effectively ending his career. Arguably one of the most explosive and exciting running backs to ever play the game would not be suiting up for the Raiders. Losing a player like Jackson thwarted a very talented Raiders team that finished 12-4 that season. Despite the phenomenal season record, Oakland would not host the AFC Championship game. The Bills also finished 12-4 and had the head-to-head tiebreaker sealing the home field advantage for Buffalo.
Because it was a straight-out bloodbath, there’s no need to go into great detail regarding this 51-3 demolition of the Raiders . The team never got over losing Jackson and faced a Bills team that was hell bent on trying to establish themselves as a Super Bowl Champion. Despite their talent and drive, the Bills would be the only team in history to win four-straight conference championships and lose four-straight Super Bowls.
1993 and a Shot at Redemption
Raiders Head Coach Art Shell had guided the 1990 team to the AFC Championship only to be humiliated by Buffalo. Shell never had the luxury of a great signal caller like Raiders coaches before him. He didn’t have a Daryl Lamonica, Kenny Stabler or Jim Plunkett. But, in 1993 that would change for the coach. Superbowl XXV hero Jeff Hostetler was signed by the Raiders in the off-season and under his leadership the 1993 Raiders team became one for the ages. Hostetler was born to be a Raider. With his lunch pail demeanor, and working class attitude, he looked the part all the way down to his “bristling black mustache.”
Oakland and Buffalo collided in Week 14. The Raiders were 6-5 (that’s not a typo – there were two bye weeks that year) and the Bills were heavily favored at 8-3. This was an epic showdown and a legendary game – the first of two between the two teams. The scoring opened with the Raiders taking a 3-0 lead in the first quarter, but by the late 4th quarter, the Bills would be up 24-19.
In what would cap off a 10-reception, 185 yard display, future Hall of Fame wideout Tim Brown would split the defense on a nice grab for the go ahead score. The Raiders would miss the extra point and lead 25-24. Unfortunately, that left time enough on the clock for one last Bills drive.
Jim Kelly and the Bills looked to be marching effortlessly towards another victory when Raiders defensive tackle Nolan Harrison forced a Thurman Thomas fumble. The Raiders recovered and then killed the clock leaving Buffalo with an epic win in hand.
The 1993 Divisional Playoff Game
January 15th, 1994 is still the coldest game in Buffalo Bills history. In an area of the country where well over 110 inches of snow is the norm during the winter, that’s saying something. The Raiders and Bills game would be played at a numbing 0 degrees Fahrenheit. That was -32 below factoring in the wind chill. One fan holding a sign in the stands in Buffalo captured the mood perfectly: “Just Freeze Baby.”
The first tackle of the game was made by Nolan Harrison who told me he was playing in an air cast that game. Each team started the game with a punt, and after a Bruce Smith strip sack, the Raiders tried and missed a 47-yard field goal. Raiders Legend and Hall of Fame defensive tackle Howie Long sacked Jim Kelly on the next drive, and the Bills would turn over the ball on downs later in the series. This miserable, inhospitable environment, would be the site of Long’s last game in the NFL.
The first quarter would end without a score, only to lead to a 30-point explosion in the second. The Raiders would kick a field goal, and then add two touchdowns from running back Napoleon McCallum. The same McCallum, who would later initiate the talks between Mark Davis and Sheldon Adelson about moving the team to Las Vegas, was a key player that day. Buffalo would tack on two touchdowns of their own but miss the first extra point meaning the game went into halftime with the Raiders holding on to a slim 17-13 lead.
After the intermission, the third quarter would be all Bills. Buffalo scored nine points after another missed extra point, to take a 19-17 lead of Oakland. The Raiders would then end the 3rd with the longest play in Raiders postseason history. The Raiders began their drive on their own 14 yard line. After a deflected pass lead to an incompletion, Hostetler found Brown breaking open on a slant for an 86 yard touchdown on the very next play.
The Bills would answer back – and do it convincingly. Buffalo took the opening drive of the fourth quarter down the field and put another touchdown on the board to grab the lead – and the game – 29-23.
Oakland could never get anything else going on offense after that drive. In fact, the Raiders only had one first down the entire second half. It was a great game though. Consider this: the lead changed hands five times, but the defending AFC Champion Bills defense lead by Bruce Smith, and the horrific weather, were just too much for the Raiders to overcome.
Recent Raiders vs. Bills Storylines
Carr and the Raiders have won the last two against Buffalo but both were home games. When it comes to winning on the road in Buffalo, Oakland has not done so in over a decade. The Bills strength is their run defense the +10 turnover ratio they take into Week 8. The Raiders look to lean on the arm of Carr, hoping for a similar type outing like the one he had versus the Kansas City Chiefs.
If the Raiders protect the ball, and exploit the Bills secondary, they should “Shuffle off to Buffalo” and return with a win.