Underdog Bills come out way ahead in re-simulation
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It's one of those plays. The 13 seconds of pure euphoria in which you felt the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end, or the queasy sensation you experienced like you just had been reassured "it's not you, it's me," is what cements the "Music City Miracle" in NFL lore.
As if Nostradamus set up shop in Nashville for the winter, Tennessee Titans head coach Jeff Fisher had his team prepared for that precise scenario in its January 2000 wild-card playoff game against Buffalo. At the end of practices throughout the season, when his guys were dog tired, in need of a shower, an ice bath and a hot meal, Fisher would implement the lateral pass on kickoffs. Reports say players approached the play with a "when pigs fly" mentality, with little to no belief that a) it would ever need to be called, and b) it would work if it were called.
But lo and behold, with the Titans trailing the Bills in the final seconds, there was Frank Wycheck completing a lateral pass to Kevin Dyson for the 75-yard TD and 22-16 win. No doubt little Jimmies and Johnnies of rural Tennessee re-enacted it in the weeks that followed. Not since Franco Harris and the "Immaculate Reception" had NFL fans witnessed such a dramatic, albeit controversial, conclusion to a game.
With the NFL's wild card weekend on deck, our brain rewinds 11 years to the Bills-Titans game and recalls where we were, whose arm we clung to and our reaction when we heard Mike Keith exclaim, "There are no flags on the field! It's a miracle!"
To commemorate the "Music City Miracle," Whatifsports.com put this question to the test: If the Bills and Titans were to replay their classic game, would Tennessee come away victorious again?
Because of the spectacular finish, story lines surrounding and leading up to the game often are overlooked.
The Titans entered the game as four-point home favorites. Buffalo coach Wade Phillips drew the ire of Bills fans when he announced backup Rob Johnson would be his starting quarterback instead of Doug Flutie, despite the 37-year-olds 10-5 record as the starter. Buffalo's franchise players Thurman Thomas (12 seasons) and Bruce Smith (15 seasons) were on their way out (Thomas left for Miami the following season, Smith for Washington). The Titans were slow to work 25-year-old Derrick Mason into their receiving corps that consisted of guys like Wycheck, Dyson and Yancey Thigpen. Instead, the Michigan State grad made his presence felt as a kick returner during the 1999 season.
Using our NFL simulation engine, we replayed the "Music City Miracle" 1,001 times, with the Bills winning 84.2 percent of the time, by an average score of 30-18.
"Music City Miracle" - 1001 Simulations
|Matchup||Win%||Avg Score||WIS Interactive|
|1999 Buffalo Bills||84.2||30.4||Sample Box Score|
|@ 1999 Tennessee Titans||15.5||18.3||Simulate Game|
Those backers of Tennessee will be quick to question and criticize this simulation process, but if you dig into the Titans' and Bills' statistics from the 1999 season, which all our simulations are based on, Buffalo's resume is quite impressive.
The Bills were second in the NFL in points allowed per game (14.3), first in passing yards allowed (167.2), second in touchdown passes allowed (12), fourth in rushing yards allowed per game (85.6) and third in rushing yards per attempt (3.4).
Clouded by their 13-3 record is the fact the Titans were statistically average compared to the rest of the league. Although their 24.5 points per game ranked seventh, Tennessee was 15th in points allowed per game (20.2), 25th in passing yards allowed per game (231.0), 27th in TD passes allowed (26) and 22nd in rushing yards per attempt (4.0).
When you factor those numbers and feed them to our statistically-based simulation engine, the Bills could have waltzed out of Adelphia Stadium a winner eight out of 10 times.
Buffalo SoldierJohnson finished 10-22 for 133 yds vs TEN
By clicking the link above, you'll be taken to a sample "Music City Miracle" re-simulation box score. The game recap is one of the unique features our sophisticated simulation engine provides. You too can generate a complete box score with play-by-play by simulating any game using our NFL SimMatchup tool.
It took more than 15 minutes for the teams to score 11 years ago. In this simulated rematch, both teams punted on their first possession. But before deja vu set in all over again, Tennessee broke through on offense. Running back Eddie George busted out a 40-yard run before defenders caught up to him on the Bills' 29-yard line. On the next play, Steve McNair found Thigpen over the middle, and he made a few guys miss on his way to the end zone.
Al Del Greco began the second quarter with a 21-yard field goal for a 10-0 cushion before the Bills could mount a threat. On Tennessee's next possession, McNair was picked off in the red zone as Buffalo dodged a six-point bullet.
Starting from his 4-yard line, backup quarterback Rob Johnson marched his team 96 yards on eight plays and hooked up with Jonathan Linton for a 15-yard pass, catch and run that got Buffalo on the scoreboard.
The Bills' defense forced the Titans to punt on their next possession and handed the rock back to Johnson with two minutes and change before the half. In less than 90 seconds, Johnson found Eric Moulds for his second touchdown pass and their first lead at 14-10.
With one minute before recess and 67 yards to travel, McNair managed to rip the lead from Buffalo. With 16 seconds on the clock, the Titans QB went deep and found Chris Sanders in the end zone. The former Ohio State Buckeye had only two catches in the game, but this one gave Tennessee a 17-14 lead at the break.
The Bills answered on their first possession of the third quarter. Starting from their 47-yard line, running back Antowain Smith gobbled up yards and Johnson hooked up with Andre Reed for a 24-yard pass. Four minutes into the second half, Linton scored his second touchdown and handed the lead back to the Bills for good.
The Titans could muster only a field goal in the final 30 minutes, while Thomas ended his Buffalo career with a trip to pay dirt and Steve Christie, who thought he had won the game for Buffalo with his 41-yarder 11 years ago, tacked on a late field goal. Buffalo wins it 31-20.
NFL purists will preach about leaving the "Music City Miracle" alone. It's a fair argument. Perhaps we should leave those 13 seconds alone and just enjoy the chills, the queasiness, the moment. Then again, it was in 1999 that the NFL adopted the instant replay rules we know today. All we are doing is throwing the red flag on a classic NFL playoff game and asking "What if?"
Titans radio announcer Pat Ryan would say, "He's got somethin'."
You too can generate a complete box score with play-by-play by simulating any game using our NFL SimMatchup tool.
Ryan Fowler is the Content Manager for Whatifsports.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.