With NFL's longest playoff drought over, rest is gravy for Bills

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- The Buffalo Bills' playoff drought is over. Done. Gone.

Almost 18 years after the Music City Miracle crushed the spirits of Bills fans, Buffalo can finally turn the page. The Bills' 17-year playoff drought, which began with the 2000 season and extended through 2016, ended Sunday night with a 22-16 win over the Miami Dolphins and a stunning 31-27 win by the Cincinnati Bengals over the Baltimore Ravens.

Regardless of what happens in the postseason for the Bills, the season is a success.

For 17 years, Bills fans watched fans of other teams enjoy the thrill and promise of the playoffs. An entire generation of fans grew up not knowing the feeling of watching their teams play meaningful games in January. The exhilaration and disappointment of quarterback Jim Kelly leading the Bills to four consecutive Super Bowls -- and losing them all -- faded from memory, and a feeling of futility and misery set in.

“It’s very similar to having the anvil that we had for my whole 20-year career about the team staying in Buffalo -- that anvil, I always said we threw into Lake Erie when [owners] Terry and Kim [Pegula] bought the team, and now we have another anvil we can throw in Lake Erie,” team president Russ Brandon, who has been with the Bills since 1997, said after the game. “It’s about the fans and the about the people who have supported us through thick and thin, that they don’t have see that graphic on ESPN anymore about the drought.

“It’s just something that we shouldn’t deal with. The community is in such a great place. Everything that has happened in our community."

Each season of the drought had its own story of failure. From the Steelers' backups eliminating the Bills in the 2004 finale to the two-win Raiders knocking out the Bills in 2014, it never seemed as though the football gods were on Buffalo's side.

Not this Sunday. The Bills entered Sunday with a 12.5 percent chance of making the postseason, according to ESPN's Football Power Index. Getting a win over the six-win Dolphins was not the problem. The unlikely part of the equation was the six-win Bengals beating the Ravens.

From quarterback Tyrod Taylor's second-quarter fumble being erased by a Dolphins penalty to quarterback Joe Flacco throwing a pick-six in the third quarter in Baltimore, to the Bengals' improbable 49-yard touchdown on fourth-and-12 with less than a minute remaining, the chips finally fell Buffalo's way.

"I'll probably have a drink of wine tonight," Terry Pegula said with a smile in the locker room after the game.

LeSean McCoy was not as lucky. After a frustrating game that saw him gain only 10 yards on 11 carries, McCoy suffered an ankle injury that led to him being carted off in the third quarter.

The Bills will travel to play the Jacksonville Jaguars in the wild-card playoffs in a rematch with former Bills coach Doug Marrone. It is safe to say McCoy's ability to play in that game is in jeopardy because of his injury.

The Bills proved Sunday in Miami they could win without McCoy, but repeating the feat in the playoffs will not be nearly as easy.

For Buffalo fans, that should be OK. The drought is dead, and everything else is gravy.