Death By Proxy

Death By Proxy

Photo courtesy of NFL.com

Photo courtesy of NFL.com

On November 15th, Sean McDermott sledgehammered the existing wedge in the Buffalo Bills fan base by announcing that rookie Nathan Peterman would replace Tyrod Taylor as starting quarterback for the massive road game against the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday. For the biggest game of the season, yet another one perilously close to breaking hearts of #BillsMafia, the Bills will have a signal caller seeing his first significant action of his career.

Few shrugged at this decision and said Well, let’s wait and see. Either you loved the boldness and think Buffalo had to bring in Peterman to win now and preserve a playoff spot, or you think that benching Taylor will result in the death of the season and continue the longest postseason draught of the big four sports leagues in North America.

On November 13th, not 36 hours before the decision came down, we at 716 Sports Podcast recorded a show that featured a contentious debate. Of the five in the room, three felt Peterman should come in, and two of us felt Taylor should remain the starter. I defended Taylor, and in the time since have come to realize what it is that made T-Mobile so attractive for me.

photo courtesy of DemocratAndChronicle.com

photo courtesy of DemocratAndChronicle.com

We’ve all seen the stats for and against Tyrod Taylor. He protects the ball from turnovers, but he held on to the ball too long, but he was a rushing threat, but he couldn’t lead teams coming from behind, but he extended plays, but he didn’t throw to certain positions well, but…whatever you want to pull out, you would ignore the other side, because that’s human nature.

The reason I loved Tyrod Taylor as Buffalo Bills starting quarterback was because he was unconventional and tried to be successful unconventionally. In Taylor, the Bills took a chance on a shorter thrower who wouldn’t just stand in the pocket and take a sack or throw it away. He looked different in stature and in style.

Sometimes I feel like a bit of a square peg in a round hole. I always am overanalyzing situations and thinking, Is this how most people do this or no? There was a comfort in seeing Tyrod in 2015, the least known of the three quarterbacks in the preseason race (EJ Manuel and Cardale Jones being the others) win the job and just be different out there. It often wasn’t pretty, but it happened. Paired with LeSean McCoy, Taylor and Shady made a formidable duo from the backfield, and for some reason, it clicked.

Then, in the span of two games, everything changed. In losses to the Jets and Saints, Taylor fell out of favor with the coaches, fan frustrations grew, and 13 days after having a chance to move to 6-2 and closer to that elusive playoff spot, the Bills career of the most unique quarterbacking weapon in Western New York in a generation is over.

Will Tyrod Taylor play again in Buffalo? Maybe, but the relationship is severed. The Bills have conformed, for better or worse, to the traditional norms of the quarterback position. Nathan Peterman could throw for 300 yards or 55 yards, and Team Peterman will be happy to explain away whatever because he is comfortable. Tyrod challenged everyone on what a successful quarterback could be. He ultimately lost that challenge, and now, we root as one for the local football team to finally deliver on the promise of football into January.

Thanks for the memories, Tyrod Taylor, from all of us square pegs in round holes.

Bills drop a Tyrod, but the Process rolls on with Peterman

Bills drop a Tyrod, but the Process rolls on with Peterman

These sneaky Bills. 

The Bills surprised everyone this morning with the news that Nathan Peterman will be the starting quarterback over Tyrod Taylor on Sunday in Los Angeles. This was shocking because Sean McDermott insisted on both Sunday and Monday at his press conferences that Tyrod would be the starting quarterback going forward. 

How should fans feel about the decision? Tyrod has underperformed, to say the least. Through 56 minutes of NFL football on Sunday, Taylor managed just 56 yards, 3 points & an interception. It's the second time this year he only helped the offense score 3 points (Carolina, the 9-3 loss where he threw for only 125 yards.)

Opposing teams have begun to strategize his ineptitude, saying, "We're going to make Tyrod Taylor play quarterback." That's never a compliment to a QB's play. It implies that you struggle to throw the ball consistently. It means that as long as they can stop the run and force you to throw, they think they can beat you. That has happened in the losses to Cincinnati, Carolina and New Orleans. In the Jets loss, the offensive line's inability to block would've made it difficult for any quarterback to have success. 

Is Tyrod a bad quarterback? No. But what makes Tyrod a good quarterback? Is it his ability to lead his team to wins? He's hovering right around .500 for his career. Is it his ability to throw the ball all over the yard? Far from it; he averages 152.7 yards per game. Before the Tampa Bay win, Tyrod had never won a game when he was forced to throw the ball more than 30 times: he was 0-11. It isn’t his ability to extend plays and run the ball, either; teams have figured out how to stop him from breaking the pocket and it's nearly eliminated his ability to scramble. 

But he protects the ball, right? He's thrown 10 TDs and just 3 INTs. That's like saying a running back is good because they don't fumble. Not fumbling is important, but if you only average 1.5 yards per carry, you're not a good running back at any level. 

Tyrod Taylor's best feature has been to extend plays with his feet and aid the offense in their rushing attack, but neither of those things have added up to too many big plays this year. How many times does Taylor run or throw for only 5 yards after extending a play? Most NFL QBs can find a receiver 50 yards downfield who has gotten open with all the time they were bought. 

Fans have said that Peterman isn't ready to be a starter. How does anyone know? We've seen him play four minutes of quarterback in a regular season NFL game and he threw for 79 yards and a touchdown. He outperformed Taylor in every statistical aspect in just four minutes. Although that isn't a good indicator of what Peterman is, it doesn't mean the Bills don't need to find out. The coaches must think he's ready to play, and their opinion is a lot more important than any fan's. 

Peterman may be good. He may be terrible. He may be average. In an upcoming offseason in which the bills have a lot of draft currency, it's imperative to know what you have in him. Do you need to draft a first round QB, or can you use those picks for linemen or weapons? If they don't find out what Peterman can do, they may foolishly pick in the wrong direction. 

Is the timing strange? Possibly. The Bills still sit in a playoff spot, so it is weird to make a change, but the Bills also can't afford these two losses to turn into a longer streak. Tyrod may not have been the problem in both of the losses, but he certainly hasn't been a solution either. 

None of this is to say that Peterman is really good. It does say, that after two and a half years, Tyrod may not be very good. 

 

What if Peterman is good? What if he shows the ability to deliver the ball on time? What if he throws for 300 yards and 3 TDs a game. What if he takes the Bills to the playoffs this year? These are all things Tyrod hasn't done in his time as a starter.

One thing is for certain, no matter what side of the aisle you're on, Sunday's game just got a lot more interesting. 

GO BILLS. 

 

The Evolution of Trusting the Process

The Evolution of Trusting the Process

For a generation of Buffalo Bills fans, trust in the franchise has been a foreign concept.

I was 14 when, on January 8th, 2000, the Music City Miracle happened, and with it went the last playoff appearance for Buffalo. The playoff streak can now drive, buy a ticket to a R-rated movie, and in a few scant months can serve in the military, buy a pack of smokes and get a porno mag (the last two are such a foreign concept for anyone actually turning 18 this winter thanks to logic and the internet). In that time, Ralph Wilson and the Pegulas have brought in a series of coaches and quarterbacks ill equipped to handle the pressures of being a success in Orchard Park, with each compounding upon itself.

Think about it. Coaches like Dick Jauron and Chan Gailey were nice uncle figures in way over their heads. Gregg(gggggggggggggggggg) Williams and Mike Mularkey were not ready to be managing a team as head men. Doug Marone was such an asshole, he called himself Saint Doug for going .500 then took $4 million and a positional coaching role in Jacksonville, because money and quitting was better than being the head man. And Rex Ryan…he talked. A lot. And got his truck wrapped, talked shit and got 31 games.

Quarterback, the glamour position in sports, has been even worse. Between retreads (Drew Bledsoe, Ryan Fitzpatrick), noodle arms (Trent Edwards), OH SWEET JESUS JUST COME IN FOR A YEAR AND MAYBE IT’LL WORK (Kyle Orton) and all the other disasters (Alex Van Pelt, JP Losman, EJ Manuel), Bills fans have been fed a steady diet of nothingness, failing to fulfill on promises that weren’t even lofty to begin with.

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Which brings us to Thursday, November 2nd. The 5-2 Buffalo Bills travel on a short week to the 3-5 New York Jets for the annual Thursday tilt with Gang Green. This game was thought of so lightly in the NFL that its one of just three Thursday Night Football games that are an NFL Network exclusive, which is like complimenting a popsicle on how warm it is. Few believed our hometown team would be in position like this in Week 9, and if you did, good for you and say hi to Santa when he stops by next month.

The truth is, this game will define a generation of Bills fans. If you are currently between the ages of 16 and 35, we deserve a team that’s successful and coming from nowhere. We deserve Tyrod Taylor as the best franchise quarterback since Jim Kelly, and we should be able to tell the old-timers at the bar defending Jack Kemp that Kemp never in a million years could evade a rush and flick it downfield as casually as you toss a Halloween candy wrapper in the garbage. We deserve Sean McDermott, like the coolest gym teacher ever, telling us to #TrustTheProcess and believe when no one else does. We deserve this because seriously goddammit, we’ve put up with a lot since we could consciously choose to root for this team instead of just inheriting this mess from our elders.
 

Thursday night at MetLife Stadium, near the Jersey swamps where so many bodies and dreams are buried in the muck and mire, the Buffalo Freaking Bills have a chance to make an entire new generation say, Holy crap they can do this for real, and its not just the alcohol talking (although maybe it’s a little bit of the alcohol). This is the biggest game in Bills franchise history since Week 17 of 2004. I don’t remember what happened in that game, and it doesn’t matter. Don’t let the old scribes and talking heads tell you how you should act and feel. Scream until you’re hoarse, call in sick and let’s go do this damn thing.

An entire generation needs this.

Broncos Offense A Little Hoarse

Broncos Offense A Little Hoarse

Sometimes in the world of professional sports the deck is truly stacked against you. The Bills came in to week 3 coming off an anemic offensive showing against a struggling Carolina team, while Denver stomped a mudhole on the Dallas Cowboys like mid 90's Stone Cold Steve Austin. Denver and their up-and-coming quarterback were dominant in September while Buffalo's was being dragged in the media as fans called for Peterman. Cordy Glenn was out against one of the best pass rushes in the NFL. Every expert on every media outlet, yours truly included, didn't give the Bills much of a chance. Yet, in spite of all of this, welcome one and all to Victory Monday.

The Bills shocked the system on Sunday with a complete team effort to the tune of a 26-16 victory over the previously unbeaten Broncos. Trevor Siemian lost his first game ever in the month of September. Denver's last seven drives featured no touchdowns and two interceptions. Up is cat. Black is dog. Chaos abounds, and I love every second of it. Being a Buffalo sports fan has conditioned me to never expect the outcome we got yesterday. I'll admit that I spent the majority of the second half steeling myself for the Denver comeback that never came, waiting to be disappointed. That moment never came. Instead we head into week 4 with a strange feeling I haven't had in this team in years. I've googled the symptoms and came up with "pride." This feels foreign, but also nice. I could get used to this.

The Buffalo offense moved the ball in spite of a struggling run game, which was the one thing anyone who laid out a game plan for how the Bills could pull this game out would have said was the number one key to success. Is it concerning that McCoy only had 21 yards rushing? Maybe a little bit, but this was a Denver team that just held Ezekiel Elliot to a worse average than that embarrassing Dallas's top tier offensive line, so it's not the end of the world. Tyrod did a good job of including him in the passing game to get him into that 20-25 touch range that you should see a player of his caliber get in every game.

I hope a lot of Tyrod haters were eating their words at their post-game meals. Watching that first drive sack by Von Miller had me worried for Tyrod's safety, but the line did a pretty good job at giving him time, all things considered. Four sacks allowed to that defense is a victory in my book. Too often we try to evaluate Tyrod without looking at what he's dealing with. He has the quickest time from snap to release in the NFL for a reason, and I'll give you a hint, it's not because everyone is super open at the snap. It was also refreshing to see a few passes fly for more than 10 yards downfield. Both Kaelin Clay and Nick O'Leary had 25+ yard catches, which I hope sets the tone for this offense moving forward. It felt like they were finally willing to be aggressive and go for it on at least some of their drives yesterday, and it seems to energize the team.

It's refreshing to have a kicker that I feel gives us a chance from 50+. Stephen Hauschka was great yesterday. All of those Dan Carpenter misses (spiked helmets and all) feel like they're firmly in the past now. I'll never grasp why the Seahawks let him go in favor of shank machine Blair Walsh, who has already won a playoff game for the Seahawks...the only issue is that he did so while kicking for Minnesota. Special teams is the facet of the game that no one wants to talk about until it's gone south, but Buffalo football has been sullied more than most by bad special teams play. Looking at you, Carpenter, McKelvin, everyone involved in that kickoff fumble against the Jets last year, etc. He was named a team captain and is already being called a great teammate. Let us enjoy having one of the best in the game.

The story of this team's success continues to be the defense. Siemian looked more like a seventh round pick yesterday than he ever has in the month of September, where he was previously undefeated. He looked rattled by the pass rush at times, and threw high on a number of catchable balls as a result. Shaq Lawson continues to look more and more comfortable out there. Kyle Williams keeps looking five years younger than he is. All of these successes were had against a solid Denver line without our highest paid defender. It's too early to say if that is sustainable, but yesterday was a big step. The best Denver offensive player was Jamaal Charles, whose knees are being held together by rubber bands and a lever and pulley system.

With Darby and Gilmore gone, it was unclear how this secondary would look coming into this season. Three games in, it has been a rousing success. EJ Gaines is doing his best to make the Sammy trade look better each week. Both he and Poyer seem to be very much at home here in this system. White has played like a rookie at times, but he shows flashes of why he was a first round talent. Denver has some elite receivers in Thomas and Sanders, but they never had tons of room to work. In the passing league of today, this is something a successful team will have to be able to do consistently.

Yesterday's game was refreshing for a couple of reasons. First, it's always great to see all the bounces go Buffalo's way. Andre Holmes had no business catching that tip drill touchdown pass, but it counts all the same. Holmes only really has a job because Anquan Boldin retired to work on his humanitarian efforts unless Tom Brady needs a guy and Rod Streeter got hurt, but it's good to see him get in on the action regardless. The drought has brought out statistical anomalies of a number of receivers over the course of it's existence from players who haven't been good for anything once they left here. Be sure to file your Holmes jersey next to Roscoe Parrish, David Nelson, and beloved local media star Donald Jones. I also discovered while writing this question that CJ Spiller is #40 all time in receiving for this franchise. As of the writing of this column, he has been cut by the 3-0 Chiefs more times than the Bills have won.

We still won even with the trademark drive where the other team scores while we commit two personal foul penalties. If you were hoping Jerry hughes had learned a lesson at any point, those hopes were dashed like a dingy in a hurricane when he torpedoed himself into Siemian for a roughing the passer call. Hughes has the cleanest reputation amongst guys who take as many 15 yard penalties as he does. Meanwhile, in New York yesterday, Ndamukong Suh has referees reaching for their flags when he lines up for the snap. No one will remember this flag though, because von Miller got 15 yards for psyching Tyrod with the classic "down low, too slow" hand motion while Taylor looked for help getting up. This is the best penalty caught on camera since Marquette King spiked a penalty flag last year.

Where does the team go from here? It was hard to see a light at the end of week 2, but now the Bills are once again tied for the division lead. If it wasn't for Tom Brady somehow pulling a comeback out of thin air again, we could have the lead outright. None of the teams who were supposed to be top of the league really seem all that good. New England barely beat a Texans team that has a rookie QB. Oakland just got run into the turf by Washington in prime time. The Steelers just lost to the Bears. meanwhile in the AFC East, Miami just got taken apart by the Jets, who are awful at tanking. Suddenly you look at the division, and winning three more games there isn't out of the question. Winning two more in the AFC West doesn't seem ridiculous anymore either. Playing Atlanta on the road is a tough task, but they are one terrible NFL rule away from losing last week to Detroit. Suddenly the whole NFL feels wide open. In a world where Blake Bortles has thrown fewer interceptions through three weeks than Aaron Rodgers, is anything truly impossible. I know I'm setting myself up for disappointment, but maybe, just maybe, the Bills are onto something here.

 

Welp...

Welp...

Each NFL season consists of 256 regular season games. Some of these games will produce moments which will live on forever in highlight reels, blooper reels, and in the memories of those who watched and attended the games. That being said, for the sake of the Buffalo and Charlotte residents who were subjected to yesterday's contest, I hope we all forget about this game faster than Doug Marrone sends out the punt team on fourth down.

What a truly terrible football game. Any matchup that goes on for that long and has no offensive highlights should be deleted from the NFL archives and never spoken of again. Ince next week’s games start, any reporter who wants film of it should find their search ending in a dark room full of people talking about how they made the footage disappear, "for the greater good." The greater good for the NFL is to forget this game ever happened. The Jets, who are trying to go 0-16, and are well on their way, outscored Buffalo and Carolina combined against a team that is making a good case for being top 5 in the NFL. Kevin Hogan came off the bench for Cleveland and threw a touchdown. This game set football back five years.

The passing game is horrendous. I mean, I don't know what I expected when Tyrod lost his top three receivers from last year (four if you count the illustrious Bills career of Justin Hunter), but I never envisioned it being as bad as it was Sunday. This team has regressed from being second-last in passing offense last year, which is a sentence deemed offensive to the word "regressed." Tyrod is a quarterback most comfortable sitting in the pocket and throwing downfield, so we've given him all the tools to succeed by taking away his favorite vertical passing target, continuing to never have a good amount of offensive line talent, and changing the offense on him again. I've seen and heard a ton of Bills fans wanting to move on from Tyrod to Peterman, but I don't know what more Tyrod could have done yesterday. It felt like he was pressed for time every time he dropped back with the galloping ghost of Julius Peppers hot on his trail.

These fires were fueled further by the game clinching play where he looked to connect with Zay Jones as the Bills drove down the field as time was running out. I know we want to point fingers, but does scapegoating Tyrod or Zay make it better? The fact of the matter is that this offense went out yesterday and just got beat into submission for the better part of 60 minutes. McCoy had 9 rushing yards on 12 carries. We had one first down in the entire half. This isn't all on Tyrod.

We like to vaunt the quarterback in the NFL like they're the be all and end all of a team winning. To a degree this can be true - your quarterback handles the ball every play and is in charge of breaking down the defense to give his team the best chance of success in the chess game at the line of scrimmage. At the same time, it's hard to win a chess game with one king, a couple of multi-directional pieces, and a bunch of pawns. Tom Brady doesn't walk into Charlotte on Sunday and throw for 447 running for his life and trying to throw bombs to Charles Clay and Andre Holmes.

Does this excuse Tyrod? Not at all. He leaves plays out there, more some weeks than others. There are throws you want him to make that he doesn't...or can't. I just don't see where throwing Peterman into the fire makes things better. Nate looked pretty good at points in the preseason, but so did the 0-16 Lions team (4-0 preseason champs). It's easy to look ready when half the guys you line up against are out of the NFL or on practice squads right now. This isn't to say that we should never give him the chance to start, but the second you hand the ball over to him, you admit that you're desperate and that the season is a loss. If their response to the Watkins and Darby trades speaks to how Beane and McDermott feel about throwing in the towel, then they'll ride with Tyrod until they can't justify it, and then maybe a couple weeks longer.

I had a slightly different game day experience than usual this week, as I was driving to Toronto during the entirety of the game, and had the radio on instead of my normal comatose pose on the couch with two screens of football and some wings and beer. The first thing I heard turning on my car was talk about how Brandon Tate was benched for the game. Tate has earned the title "return specialist" because he isn't good enough to suit-up frequently at wide receiver, but is still here. I don't get how this man has a job at all in the NFL. In his career as a punt and kick returner, Tate has three returned touchdowns, and has fumbled the ball 12 times. He is four times as likely to cost you a possession than to score. Dante Hall and Devin Hester were return specialists. Brandon Tate is a returner. There's nothing special about it. This comes from a team that also had a kick-off specialist. These are code words for "we only had 52 players with enough talent to make the NFL roster." This is why people were mad Brandon Reilly got put on the practice squad. At least he can run routes.

That being said, let's take a step back and enjoy the defense for a moment. The pass rush was alive and well on Sunday. Jerry Hughes was mentioned on the broadcast more than any other Bill. Kyle Williams, black eye and all, continues to be a warrior. Shaq Lawson got in on the action with a sack and a big hit on a goal line run stop, which was encouraging to see as he continues to get more comfortable at this level of competition. Eddie Yarborough continues to be a feel-good story in a sea of sorrows.

Even with all of that, Jordan "how was I rated a 68 overall in Madden" Poyer was the best Bill out there Sunday. It seems that he has truly found a scheme that he can thrive in. His 11 tackles and one sack has won me over. This guy is playing his heart out on the field and it shows. For as bad as the Bills have been at drafting, they have found some quality free agent defenders over the last couple years.

The thing I'm glad to put behind me is all the radio talk about how unique of an athlete Cam Newton is. At best it makes me jealous that he's better than any Bills QB who has suited up since Jim Kelly. At worst, it becomes ridiculous because he's not an elite level passer. He makes up for some of that with his mobility, but that gets limited every time a lineman launches themselves into him while the officials look the other way while telling Cam he hasn't earned those calls yet. It's amazing he can still formulate sentences the way people dent his helmet. Heaven forbid we be graced with a guy who smiles and has a personality in the NFL these days. Tune in next week when Al Michaels buries Cam while praising human robot Matt Ryan.

Next up is the Denver Broncos, who just stomped on the throats of the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday. If you thought McCoy had a rough day, go watch Zeke Elliot try and run against Denver to the tune of 8 yards, This is not a good sign. Denver, led by vaunted pass rusher and guy taken one pick ahead of Marcell Dareus, Von Miller, looked killer on the defensive side of the ball. Meanwhile on offense their seventh round pick QB has looked real good so far. This has a chance to get bad early if the Bills don't show up offensively. This will be the biggest test of this team yet by far. Come next Monday, we'll have a good idea how this season will play out.


Pre-Season: Week 5

Pre-Season: Week 5

When I prepared for the return of this column, I did not think I would get to open it with stating that the Bills are leading the AFC East; not today, nor at any point of the season. But due to an act of God - namely, Alex Smith throwing more than a bunch of checkdowns - a category five hurricane, and the assembled cast of green jerseys we'll discuss at length later, here we are. Truly miraculous. Turn off your tv's folks. Stop reading the news. It will only get sadder from here. This is like reading the opening acts of Julius Ceasar where he and Brutus are still pals. Read this, and turn back forever.

The return of the NFL season can be signalled by a few traditional signs.

  • -Your local pizza place has an atmosphere of pure chaos likened only to the scramble for a fumbled ball
  • -You have seen at least one, if not multiple shaky vertical videos of people jumping off vehicles through a table in Orchard Park
  • -Local zubaz viewings rise 700%

Sunday I buckled in for the Bills season opener, only to be greeted with what surely must have been a fifth preseason game. Because there's no way an NFL team in 2017 would be rolling out the series of starters that the New York Jets went with on Sunday.

Except they totally did. Tuning in to watch competitive NFL action and getting this football game is like ordering a UFC PPV but instead getting a video of two kittens pawing at each other.

The captain of the USS Darnold is none other than long-standing NFL punching bag Josh "Don't call me Luke" McCown, who is a whopping 1-17 in his last 18 NFL starts. Josh McCown is the poster child for any argument against why Colin Kaepernick isn't a free agent for talent reasons. The Jets’ passing attack against the Bills secondary that has less established talent on it than at any point in recent memory was for McCown to throw the ball as quickly as humanly possible in the direction of the nearest receiver equivalent. Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker are both long gone, jettisoned in the off-season because they're established talents with no value on a team dead set on picking first. Instead we have...Robbie Anderson? Jermaine Kearse? Oh boy. The best receiver on their roster was inactive because he was just cut by the 49ers, who drafted second last year.

The ghost of Matt Forte is still here, in no small part because they couldn't trade him. Forte has reportedly assured (WHO) the trade rumors swirling around him were false. They were not. this is Marc Bergevin totally not trading PK Subban levels of obvious. Unfortunately for the Jets, Forte is an old dog in a young pups corps, and people would rather have their sixth round pick start than pay Matt Forte the kind of money he makes. It's a shame really. Forte has been a top five back for most of his career on a Bears team that never got him the glory he deserved. Now he's out there seeing eight Bills in the box because the passing attack is a laugher. I wonder if the Jets pictured McCown starting for them when they knocked him out of a game in Cleveland last year.

For as bad as the Jets are, and in spite of the fact that the Bills won, I'm still not inspired by this win. We had every chance to put this game away, and it never really felt like it was over until the sealing interception came through. This is the type of game that we blow all of the time, only the Jets are far too bad to take advantage of it.

The passing game was more or less what we expected it to be. The Jets’ one strong point is their defensive line, but I felt Tyrod looked pretty comfortable, for the most part. His mobility bails him out when things start to break down, which I have a suspicion may happen a lot this season. There was some of the miscommunication that comes with having your top three receivers from last year all gone and getting a concussion in the preseason, but nothing is perfect. The renewed focus on using Charles Clay as more than a multi-million dollar false flag was a pleasant surprise. The play design on the Holmes touchdown was excellent. Ultimately, Tyrod never had to push the envelope too much, and other than an untimely interception in the red zone, I think he's happy with how that game played out.

LeSean McCoy was the true star of Week 1. I have to admit I started writing his season off the second he went to the sidelines banged up, because this is Buffalo, and the players on this team are cursed to never be healthy. Ronald Darby forgot he didn't play here anymore before he lined up his ankle parallel to the ground. If you haven't seen it and are moderately squeamish, don't watch the slo-mo replay.

That being said, Shady looks great in this zone blocking scheme. The way he sees the field is truly impressive. With David Johnson slowed and Leveon Bell just now reporting to Pittsburgh, he has a strong case as being the best runner in the league at this moment. If the Bills are going to surprise people, it will be because of the reliability of McCoy. Secondary shout out to Mike Tolbert, who ran so aggressively I already forgot the name of the running back we cut at the end of the preseason. Jehuu Caulcrick? Cierre Wood? Ronnie Wingo? Whoever he is, he probably has Tolbert's face on a dartboard today.

The defense played pretty well, without being pushed to their limits. Apparently Ramon Humber can tackle pretty well, so that's neat. Hyde and Poyer both got interceptions in their Bills debuts, which allows us to forget that our secondary is young and inexperienced. There was no sustained pass rush, in part because McCown was getting rid of it ASAP.

Marcell Dareus was a non-factor, and more than that, didn't seem to factor in on late downs. When they were in 3rd and longs, they went with one DT, and that was Kyle Williams. I know Dareus was banged up a bit this week, so we'll have to see if this is an ongoing theme. For a player being paid as much as he is on the heels of being sent home for a preseason game - this is not a good sign for things to come.

On a side note, because I have little to no respect for myself as a human being, I watched about a half of the Rams/Colts game yesterday. It was weird to see Sammy playing for another team, but good to see him getting touches without limping back to the huddle at the same time. I know we as a fanbase like to hate on him because he never produced like a top 5 pick, but it isn't his fault the powers that were reached on him like that. I hope he finds his form out there.

Up next is the Carolina Panthers, or as I like to call them - Buffalo Bills South. They're an actual football team with talent that is hoping to win, so this should be a much better test of your first place Buffalo Bills. Who knows; maybe I, the oddsmakers, historical data, people smarter than I, people dumber than I, and the elephant at the zoo who picks games based on arbitrary ancient elephant secrets are all wrong and the Bills are good enough to contend this year. I guess only time will tell

In the immortal words of Yosemite Sam...

In the immortal words of Yosemite Sam...

2016 will probably go down as one of the worst years ever socially. We lost a lot of good celebrities, and we had one of the worst elections in the history of elections (which, regardless of how it went, would have ended up with one of the most hated candidates of all time being elected.)

Despite what happens in the outside world, Buffalo generally can keep its head down and continue to push through – as long as it’s not steel mills and factories closing. One thing that’s been consistent, however, has been our Buffalo Bills; and by consistent, I mean that we can trust them not to make the playoffs…consistently.

 A lot of this feels like the 70s. We LITERALLY didn’t beat the Miami Dolphins  in the entire decade. Much like that era, we have another team we can’t seem to beat in the Patriots. The only difference is that the Patriots’ dominance is going on almost two decades.

 The Bills tend to lose in the “Billsiest” ways. Everyone remembers the Leodis McKelvin prime time fumbling debacle and the 2004 Pittsburgh game when we couldn’t beat scrubs and saw Willie Parker’s breakout performance. The problem always seemed to be the coach. They were never fired up enough, intelligent enough, either too strict or too relaxed. The Bills were blessed with a great dynasty team in the 90s, But even that team was marred by turmoil. The Bills drafted Jim Kelly, who decided he was too good to play for Buffalo and went to the USFL. If it wasn’t for a strange series of events in which its owner died and our current president-elect drove it into the ground, Jim Kelly may not have ever come to the Bills. We may not have had those four super bowls to hang our hat on.

 Is there a curse for the Bills? Was if giving us four super bowls, but losing each one, some retribution for sins of the past? You would have thought just one…right? Scott Norwood’s wide right (which, if Thurman would have gotten out of bounds and Jim could have gotten him three more yards would have been in his range on grass to make that field goal.)

 If we won one, would we have gotten to four? What if Don Beebe doesn’t run down Leon Lett? What if Frank Reich doesn’t play against the Oilers, who had whooped us the week before? Every team has its issues but the Bills are an interesting case. One owner for 50+ years and no NFL championships. He has scouts and player personnel people who have been around since the glory days but have never won – scouts who can’t hit on first round picks but seem to do fine in the later rounds. Where exactly does the change need to happen to change the path of a team? Is it the coach? The GM? The Owner? The Scouts? The player personnel staff? Should we fire anyone and everyone who has some impact on the Bills roster decisions and start over? Do we need to burn down the Ralph – I mean New Era Field – and start anew? Cleanse the demons so to speak?

 This finally brings me to the news today in which the Bills have fired their eighth coach since Marv Levy retired in 1997. The Bills have had 13 QB’s who’ve played meaningful time. Pittsburgh has had three coaches in 50 years and have won six super bowls with 27 playoff appearances since Chuck Knoll took over. They’ve had three franchise QBs and nine different QBs play meaningful time since 1969, to put the Bills problem in perspective.

 Now that Rex is gone what’s next? What kind of coach are we going to get this time? Tom Coughlin’s name has been thrown around but he’s a retread coach who has two rings because of two lucky catches. I think he did well with the Jaguars in the 90s, basically turning an expansion team in a playoff team in three years, and he maintained a good team for three more before it dipped back to mediocrity. He took the Giants to the super bowl twice and had four seasons out of 12 with 10 wins or more. Most other years he was 9-7 or less. Are we going to an offensive minded coach? Or defense? Are we going after Mike Pettine again? Can we lure Jim Schwartz from the Eagles? Are we going to hit the college ranks?

 A new coach means new staff, new play book, new communication, new QB, etc. The law of Probability gives us hope that at some point we will have a series of events occur that will be in our favor. I’m willing to give Doug Whaley another chance. I believe the roster is better since he took over. We have depth, which is something we spent years without. There are guys like Keith Ellison and Coy Wire who were backups to starters who wouldn’t be starters on other teams. At least now there’s not a noticeable drop off. We also seem to have more questions at positions we thought were locked down after Rex was hired than before.

Our entire defense seemed locked and had depth. Now, there appears to be holes at safety, corner, defensive end and linebacker.

 The offense still needs another wide receiver. Woods is a good slot guy but shouldn’t be on the outside. Hunter was barely used but showed us the importance of a big body in the red zone, as he usually scored when he did play. Then there’s Tyrod Taylor. He recently had his first 300 yard passing game of his career. He’s very Michael Vick-like in that he has the ability to scramble and make something from nothing, and he can hit a deep ball like no one in the league, but he can’t make all the throws on the field. However even Drew Bree’s wasn’t Drew Brees his first few years and even when he did finally have a good year, the Chargers still drafted a guy to take his place. 

 Regardless of who the Bills get, at least there will be something to talk about this offseason.

 The Pegulas being in charge of two Buffalo teams have yet to produce a winner. The Sabres are still struggling even after tanking and getting a lot of top draft talent. They made bold moves and spent a lot of money on the Bills roster only to have that not pan out either. They’ve changed the coach, they’ve changed the name of the field, they brought in a new QB, shipped out some unhappy talent and we’re still no better off.

 I think we need to blow it all up. Build a new stadium downtown with a dome or retractable roof. Make it an event down there with shops and bars that surround the stadium. Designate parking lots near the base of the Skyway that are vacant for tailgaters and run shuttles. I think we just need to change it all. Leave nothing to remind us of the past – just like breaking up with a girlfriend in high school when you burned all the pictures and notes. What do you think Bills fans? Where do we go from here? Who do you want to see brought in? Anyone else fired? How about the QB and many free agents we have? Hope you all had a Merry Christmas or whatever holiday you celebrate as long as you celebrated the hell out of it and have a happy New Year! 

 

Week 7 Rant

Week 7 Rant

Hope is a fleeting feeling, especially for a Buffalo football fan. It's hard to nail down the exact source of this hope that keeps creeping into our consciousness every once in a blue moon, but, no matter what the history books say about winning streaks, trap games, injuries, or the Indian burial ground that Ralph Wilson built his stadium on, we still find ourselves flirting with it cautiously, like that girl at the bar you're pretty sure is there with her boyfriend but is still eyeing you up.

Following the Bills’ week six domination of a San Francisco team that was just begging to be put out of its misery, I could hear the hope in the voices of Bills fans. I could hear it in my voice. People were even confident, which is a feeling normally saved for Browns games. At the end of week seven, however, a lot of that hope has left the building.

The fish remained thoroughly unsquished as the Bills went into Miami and found themselves between a Hard Rock and a hard place in a 28-25 loss. The Dolphins alumni came back to checkered endzones, throwback uniforms, and frequent looks at the back of Jay Ajayi as he ran through arm tackles like he was covered in grease.

If you were to have told me last Monday that Miami would outrun the Bills by almost 200 yards,I would have enjoyed a sensible chuckle. Seriously though, where has this Miami running game come from? Two weeks ago, the Miami Dolphins cut two of their starting offensive linemen. Not demoted, cut them. The team couldn't block for anyone, and the coaching staff decided to go in a completely different direction, figuring that a couple of cheaper replacements literally could not be any worse.

Compound that with the fact that Ajayi wasn't even being considered as a feature back by the Dolphins coaching staff until there were so many injuries they literally had to play him. They scratched him in week one because of attitude issues, but thankfully for him and the Dolphins, Arian Foster's legs are actually carefully intertwined twizzlers that are about to collapse upon themselves like a neutron star at any moment. Now this second year man is the fourth running back EVER to have back to back 200 yard games.

It wasn't even like Miami was really being creative with their running game either. For the most part, they just hammered the same stretch play over and over. The Dolphins coaching staff was probably crafting another play for Ajayi, figuring that the Bills defense would have to stop it eventually, but that day never came. Backed up at one point to their own one yard line, Ajayi ripped off a 53 yard run. What did we expect, a pass from Ryan Tannehill?

Tannehill is a tall drink of terrible quarterback. I used to frequently call him the worst starter in the NFL, but we live in a time where Landry Jones, although on an injury basis, is getting snaps, so I've upgraded Tannehill to 31st. Has anyone ever done less with the talent around them consistently then Tannehill? He might not have AJ Green or Julio Jones out there, but Jarvis Landry is the most wasted talent in the NFL, forced to play duck hunt on a series of Tannehill wobblers week in and week out.

The lone saving grace on that statsheet for Tannehill (did you know he played receiver on college?) was a fourth quarter touchdown pass to Kenny Stills. If you watch as much football as I do, you may remember Kenny Stills as the guy who dropped a game winning 80 yard bomb all alone 20 yards behind the nearest Seahawk week one.

Redemption time came on a third down in the fourth quarter when Stills was able to adjust on an underthrown ball, losing Darby on a move to the inside. Still, Darby had time and room to recover. Or rather, he would have, if Jonathon Meeks hadn't come in and taken him out at the knees after also being unable to adjust. That play counted for 66 of Tannehill’s 204 total yards on the day.

Let's stay on Meeks though, because normally, he wouldn't be the guy coming to help over the top in that situation. Unfortunately, Aaron Williams wasn't available, because Jarvis Landry decided to launch himself into Williams’ jaw with a blindside block that earned him all of fifteen yards in penalties.

The punishments and discipline of the NFL were being thoroughly dissected after a series of taunting and excessive celebration calls, capped off by another botched investigation into the Josh Brown allegations. With each passing week, the hierarchy gets weirder and weirder for a league that's so conscious of its image at all times that they once denied DeAngelo Williams the ability to dye his dreadlocks pink in support of his mother's fight with breast cancer during breast cancer awareness month.

Here's an updates chart of what will get you in trouble with the NFL:

            -       Wear some cleats that show you have personality - Just a fine

-       Leave your feet and lower your shoulder into someone's head - 15 yards

-       Celebrate by shooting the football through the uprights like Vernon Davis - 15 yards

-       Aggressively inform the other team you got a first down - 15 yards

-       Domestic violence incident - 1 game, until the public gets a hold of more evidence,        then Goodell will act shocked and banhammer you, albeit with full pay

-       Smoke weed - 4 games the first time

-       Be Josh Gordon - well, he had a good run

The fact that Jarvis Landry was able to continue playing in that game yesterday after knocking Williams out was a joke. I get that he felt bad after the fact, and he did look to be remorseful. But we have to set up a system that punishes the action, not the intent. In the same way that Vontaze Burfict escaped punishment for diving at the knees of a player with his back turned away from the ball, the NFL shows yet again they have no interest in discipline if it involves taking a big name off the field.

We're in an age where healthy players are retiring because they can't justify the health risk any more. I have a feeling Calvin Johnson won't be the last guy to hang up his cleats because he's scared of being on the receiving end of the ever growing list of quality of life threatening injuries that a guy like Aaron Williams has.

At the very least, the NFL has to look into implementing a version of the targeting foul that the NCAA has. It is far from perfect in its current form, but there has to be some detraction to a player and a team for headhunting that is more than 15 yards. Aaron Williams might never play again, and it costs the Dolphins 15 yards.

LeSean McCoy was not ready to go Sunday. I appreciate the fact that he was willing to go, but if he did not have his normal burst, which hamstrung him with regards to what he excels at. At some point during the week, someone in charge, whether it's Rex, or whoever, needed to weigh the pros and cons of trotting a limited version of Shady out there. He's been incredible this season, no two ways about it, but risking further injury when you have an able backup isn't the best long term plan.

Tyrod is running out of people to throw to at an alarming pace. With Goodwin getting hurt yet again, Watkins on IR, and Woods in a walking boot, Justin Hunter Endzone Hunter has rapidly gone from being cut by the Titans to having a legitimate shot of being a number one receiver this week. This is terrifying. We're going to play the Patriots! Brady is angry! Belichek hates losing! Gronk really wants touchdown number 69! And in the midst of all this, Tyrod is going to have to try and march this team up the field with a possibly injured Shady and the island of misfit receivers.

It's a sad commentary on your game when your punter is likely the best player on the field. Any kicker should never be the best player. Albeit it's better than the alternative, which is watching your kicker miss a 30 yarder in overtime to win the game. Looking at you, Seattle and Arizona. When's the next debate of why ratings are down?

That hope I mentioned early on has been replaced with dread as I look at the schedule and see New England up next. This isn't your newborn baby cousin's Jacoby Brissett led Patriots. This is the real deal. This is the ultimate test. Give me something to believe in.

Tuna Time

Tuna Time


            Prosperity can be difficult to handle when one is not used to it. Expectations and attitudes change, because human nature is fickle. It’s easy to get complacent and lose that one extra unit of focus.

            The Buffalo Bills have not dealt with prosperity in a long time. Oh sure, they’ve had some minor successes in recent season, including the first consecutive non-losing seasons since the 1990s. But even bigger than that, the experts in the Nevada desert expect them to win on Sunday for the first time in a road division game since…drumroll…2007, when they were favored (and defeated) the worst Miami Dolphins team in franchise history.

            The fact its been essentially a decade is remarkable. But here we are, staring down a 2-4 Fins squad riding high off of an upset win last week over Pittsburgh. Bovada has the Bills -3. Fans expect a victory in South Florida, as does every player and coach in the locker room. What are the keys come reckoning?

1.                    Attack Ryan Tannehill. There’s no reason to let up on defense. Rex Ryan’s attacking style has worked wonders against the Miami QB in the past, including twice last season in Bills victories. Tannehill doesn’t fare well against pressure, and a QBR of 43.4 ranks last amongst the 31 qualified candidates. Attack the head of the snake, and the body dies.

2.                    Shut down the rushing attack. Hello, let’s meet Jay Ajayi. The second year man from Boise State exploded for 204 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries last week against the Steelers, officially announcing his superiority over the broke down Arian Foster. Ajayi shouldn’t have that performance against the Bills, however. The run defense (hey Zach Brown from the second tier) will need to stiffen up, but they’ve done a nice job this season against superior talent.

3.                    Touchdowns, not field goals. Buffalo showed a killer instinct last week, scoring 21 points in the 4thquarter and knocking out San Francisco 45-16. Dan Carpenter is still shaky in the kicking game, so scoring six points is key. The red zone attack has been efficient this season (73 percent touchdown percentage, 6th in the league), and to pick up the road win, that will have to continue.

So it is truly a new era (that was horrible and I apologize) for the Buffalo Bills in 2016. After a slow start, the expectations are to march into Hard Rock Stadium and win, period. No excuses will be acceptable. 5-2 is the goal, and its reasonable to assume that even with a potentially limited LeSean McCoy on offense, the Bills should roll. Bills 27-14.


The Real McCoy and other puns

The Real McCoy and other puns

When I was young, I tried a variety of sports, trying to find that niche set of skills that would allow me to be slightly above average at something, and therefore slightly proud of myself. One of my failed experiments was a pair of seasons of youth soccer. My lone memory came in one of the last games I played, when I got a breakaway from midfield, and ran in on the goalkeeper. I could see my parents cheering in the stands as I wound up with all the might I could muster, and struck the goalie square in the chest without them so much as moving. That ended my soccer career.

Not all was lost, however, because even if I had to relive that every day, while everyone I’ve ever looked up to watched and jeered at the fact that I managed to flounder away what anyone with an iota of talent would have succeeded with, it would still be better than being Chip Kelly, the man who traded away LeSean McCoy.

The Buffalo Bills, powered by McCoy’s skills, determination, and highly publicized dislike of the opposing coach, to a 45-16 victory over the San Francisco 49ers. The McCoy/Kelly divorce began dramatically with the trade that sent Kiko Alonso (legend and all) to Philadelphia for a flabbergasted McCoy, and continues to make its candidacy as the steal of a lifetime for Doug Whaley. Yesterday’s game was the football equivalent of running into your ex-wife who you moved on from because you thought she wasn’t good enough for you, only to find her more successful, happier, and somehow more attractive, while Jed York is constantly reaching out to you about buying Cutco knives and going around throwing grapefruits at small children on the street for fun.

Here’s a series of things I was told unironically by friends and family in the 24 hours following the game.

-The Bills are going to beat New England twice this year

- Anthony Lynn is a genius, and future coach of this team

- LeSean McCoy is a candidate for NFL MVP

- This is a playoff team

- Tyrod Taylor is a franchise quarterback

- Jar Jar Binks is my favorite Star Wars character


Put yourself back in the mindset Bills fans were in after that week one loss to the Ravens. Everything was on fire and everyone deserved to be fired; we were taking down Bills flags and giving up on the year because that game was awful and we were awful. Imagine someone telling you any of the things listed above then. I personally would have laughed in your face.

Photo courtesy of FOX Sports.

Photo courtesy of FOX Sports.

Now, if you look at that list, it’s harder to shoot it all down outright. Sure, a couple of those things are bound to fall apart, because this is Buffalo, after all. What are we masters of, if not finding creative ways of building ourselves up as sports fans before having the rug pulled out from under us, sliding off a cliff into an avalanche, and striking a few trees on our way down? But is it really all that crazy to think that this season could finish on a high note?

Crazy things happen when a team goes out and wins four games in a row. A significant portion – 25 percent –  of your season goes into the win column, just like that. The “Victory Monday” feeling has become something that you begin to look forward to. The team goes out with confidence and wins a game that they’re supposed to, instead of falling into the classic trap game that sneaks up on unprepared teams. National reporters take notice and start calling your team “sneaky good.” Local reporters are forced to write new articles about how great McCoy is to replace the one from the offseason saying we should cut him.

You may have noticed I’ve mentioned McCoy a lot already. I have. And I will continue to do so because he was the best player to take the field in the entire NFL in Week 6. Four weeks into the Anthony Lynn offense, and McCoy looks like the star we were promised when he came here before last season. He’s seeing his blocking better, he’s making sharper cuts, and he’s exuding confidence that comes with knowing that he’s at the top of his game.

300 rushing yards doesn’t come from just one man, though. Tyrod continues to have a great sense of when to escape pressure and the pocket. On top of that, he continues to make smart decisions at the end of plays, by getting out of bounds and not leaving himself open to the type of hits we see a lot of running quarterbacks get hurt on. Mike Gillislee looks great, Jonathon Williams looked great; hell, I might have been able to look great behind that line. As banged up as it has been, the offensive line continues to give their playmakers as much time as they need to make decisions. In theory, this will only get better as the missing pieces fall back into place.

The passing game gets overshadowed, in part because of the prominence of the running game, and in part because it didn’t put up eye-popping numbers. That being said, the passing game did everything it was asked to do. The quarterback position isn’t always about being the best statistical position on the field. There are games where all you need to do is go out there and control the game, limit mistakes, and pounce on opportunities. Tyrod executed all those points to perfection. That pass to Justin Hunter, Endzone Hunter was picture perfect. Other than getting ambushed on a handoff, Tyrod did a great job of securing the ball as well.

While we’re on the subject of quarterbacks, let’s talk about Colin Kaepernick. Before we start, put your beer cans down, angry patriots, and stay away from those tackling dummies. That was some of the worst form I’ve ever seen from Bills fans executing professional wrestling moves in the parking lot. A spear involves leading with the shoulder, not with your fist, head, or gut. It looked like amateur hour out there.

Kaepernick has been all over the media because of his protest of the anthem and ESPN’s need to remind us of that fact at every possible opportunity, because they don’t know what to report on when Lebron isn’t playing. I had to read so many hot takes on the internet that my keyboard melted and I’m actually on fire. The burning…oh god the burning.

To sum up my thoughts on everyone who has anything hateful to say about Kaepernick, whether a blog post, slur hurled his way, or t-shirt advocating shooting him purchased, I give the universal response “get the fuck over it.” He played yesterday and the terrorists didn’t suddenly invade and wipe away our freedoms. The world is still spinning on its axis. OBJ and the kicking net are still madly in love.

You know who else didn’t stand for the anthem? Jim Kelly. Thurman Thomas. Marv Levy. This is because the NFL didn’t play anthems before games with teams out on the field until 2005. Teams would be in their locker rooms sitting, or perhaps kneeling while the fanfare played. And no one cared. The NFL fines people for wearing cleats commemorating 9/11. They charge to US Military for any sort of celebration of our armed forces. This isn’t some high and mighty pure-bred American organization that he’s casting a light on because he hates America. This is a man who has taken on a ton of hatred from all sides to try and cast a light on something he feels passionate about. While I may not walk the same path he does, I respect him and his right to do so.

As far as his quarterback play, it was pretty average. He under-threw a lot of his targets. He tried to underthrow Torrey Smith on the touchdown as well, but he had enough time to turn around, stop, adjust, read War and Peace, and then catch that ball, because Stephon Gilmore and Aaron Williams thought it was week two again. Kaep is a good runner, but the blocking isn’t good enough to open holes. It also wasn’t great at pass protection. Or run blocking.

Chip Kelly got to be known as an offensive mastermind for his schemes in Oregon, a moniker he kept alive for a while after he debuted on Monday Night Football and had the Redskins confused by his elaborate formations and schemes. The thing about schemes, though, is that they’re only as good as the personnel you have available to run them. The 49ers team that goes out on the field on Sundays, especially considering the Navorro Bowman injury, is quite arguably the least talented group in the NFL. Week one drubbing of the Rams aside, there hasn’t been a whole lot the Kelly can put on his resume when Jed York inevitably fires him, because Jed York is incompetent. That’s probably being generous, considering the location of their stadium, and the fact that he took a NFC Championship winning team, fired the coach, destroyed the talent around a young quarterback, and still expects people to park on a golf course to watch Christian Ponder take snaps in a couple weeks. We all know that it’s going to happen.

All of a sudden the Bills are 4 and 2. The Dolphins, who have been floundering (I’ll pause here for a laugh at the pun) are up next, and it’s another game that the team should win. I can’t help but be optimistic that this team can pull it out and make it to five in a row. Let’s go Pummel the Mammals.

Fishing For Answers

Fishing For Answers

Somewhere in the bowels of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Jeff Fisher sits at his desk, lit by the flame of a single candle. In one hand, a half empty bottle of Keystone Light: in the other, a picture of Tyrod Taylor's look of bewilderment after throwing a touchdown pass. Splayed in front of him are local newspapers detailing how his coaching threw the game away. “That's some 7-9 bullshit,” chant the voices in his head. A single tear runs down his cheek. A call comes in from Jared Goff, sent to voicemail.

It wasn't pretty, or encouraging...or...impressive...but the Buffalo Bills have their first three game win streak since 2011, thanks to their 30-19 victory over the Los Angeles Rams. You may remember 2011 as the season the Bills beat the Patriots to go 3-0, and marched to a 5-2 start, before losing 8 of their last 9 to finish 6-10; a season that football insiders refer to as “Bills-esque.”

I'd be remiss if I didn't start with reflecting on the history that we saw yesterday. First, the Rams scored their first touchdown in Los Angeles since the Carter administration. More importantly, though, we saw Tyrod Taylor line up behind left guard and call for a snap, causing a wild scramble and an 18 yard loss because this whole quarterback thing is just chock full of surprises in this crazy world we live in.

Tyrod seemed mentally absent for 99% of yesterday's game. The snap was one thing, and that alone will power SportsCenter’s Not Top 10 for a while. On top of that he looked incredibly confused after throwing a touchdown to Justin Hunter to cap off that drive, as if Hunter had dropkicked a puppy into the stands directly afterwards. Having flown from Buffalo to Los Angeles before, I know the jet lag can be tough, and I sympathize, but I also am not allegedly one of the greatest physical specimens in the most violent sport in the world.

The passing game itself was a tire fire on top of it. Charlie Whitehurst, the fifth quarterback to play for the Browns this year, had more yardage and big plays than Tyrod in a quarter less of action. Before you tell me that's not a fair comparison, go and find a good play Tyrod made yesterday. I'll wait here. I know you can't see my through this text based medium, but I'm twiddling my thumbs.

The Rams were missing ¾ of their starting defensive line and Tyrod still looked like his mental clock was set on panic and scramble, which doesn't help the whole “overthrowing receivers” thing that seems to be going on. Take away the 22 yard scramble on the first drive and Tyrod was responsible for 130 yards of offense. I'll give you the scramble back if you want, but that number still isn't good. While the Rams have a pretty good defense when healthy, the strength of it was standing on the sidelines yesterday while forming a circle and chanting to transfer their energy to Aaron Donald, who is essentially a bipedal hippopotamus that human beings are expected to block.

The running game, on the other hand, is getting better by the week. It might get lost in the shuffle of offseason fights with cops at a nightclub, trying to throw a party for only female guests, and Buffalo sportswriters bashing his contract (1v1 me irl, Bucky Gleason), but LeSean McCoy looks every bit the part of a featured back in a league where running back by committee is becoming the norm. He's now the sixth active running back to reach 8000 yards in his career, which puts him in pretty elite company: Adrian Peterson, Chris Johnson, DeAngelo Williams, Frank Gore, and Matt Forte if you were wondering. It's amazing what an offensive coordinator who understands how to play to his strengths has made such a difference. Not gonna act like Anthony Lynn has been a cure-all, but the running game is night and day.

Three things in life are certain; death, taxes, and Jeff Fisher being unable to resist the urge to fake a punt. Thanks for being you, Jeff Fisher, because if it wasn't you at the helm of the Rams yesterday, maybe the team would have gone for it instead of kicking a fourth field goal, in lieu of relying on Jonny Hekker’s sneaky athleticism.

For the record, I don't feel bad for Rams fans in the least bit that they're saddled with Fisher as their head coach. Their owner is a crook who played into Roger Goodell’s singular fixation that their needs to be a football team in Los Angeles - even though two other teams have already left for greener pastures before - to rip the hearts out of St. Louis. They undid the brains of taking a slew of picks for the draft pick that became RG3 by trading up for a quarterback they don't have any intention of using. Now when the Rams bottom out we get to see their top 5 draft pick get used by Tennessee to pick another Big 10 lineman who will try and make sure Marcus Mariota lives to see 30.

More important than all of that, is the fact that Case Keenum is their starting quarterback. I refuse to believe that Keenum is one of the 40 best quaterbacks available to an NFL team, and the fact that the Rams trot him out there week after week shows they just don't care about winning a game that doesn't come entirely from defensive touchdowns and 50+ yard Legatron field goals. Todd Gurley is getting hit behind the line of scrimmage on over half his carries because opposing defensive coordinators look at Keenum, laugh derisively, and then put 8 guys in the box every play. That is also part of the reason Keenum’s yardage totals are average, instead of awful. Not to go unnoticed were Nickell Robey-Coleman and Lorenzo Alexander, who championed the defense yesterday in holding the Rams to four field goals, while tacking on three takeaways and 4 sacks.

What does an NFL player do when they’re suspended? My extensive research has turned up the answer “it depends.” If you're Tom Brady, you work out a ton, and throw passes to old teammates and your supermodel wife. If you're Marcell Dareus, you claim to go to rehab, go partying instead, and apparently don't keep peak physical form, allowing you to get hurt on your first day at practice in a month. Enjoy your millions Marcell. You're on your way to an amazing Jamarcus Russell territory of bad contracts in another bad decision’s time.

All that being said, a win is a win. We head to week six against San Francisco with ever mounting questions.

Can the Bills push their win streak to four? Is Justin Hunter good at anything but being tall? Will Reggie Bush be active two weeks in a row? Stay tuned Bills fans, different bat-time, different bat-channel, same bat-division.

Just Cracking the Surface

Just Cracking the Surface

If you were to have written a script before the Bills traveled to Foxboro on Sunday to face the Patriots, and based said script on past results, you would have gotten a lot of it right. A top rusher was largely shut down by an under-appreciated linebacker group. A young quarterback struggled beneath the weight of carrying his offense, without help from his top target. The losing side had a missed field goal, had a questionable 'roughing the passer' call go against them, and a 90 yard play called back on a hold. The one difference this time, though, came in the role reversal between the two sidelines.

Out of all the early drafts of this article that existed, none of them dealt with the Bills doing what they did - namely, shutting out the Patriots at home, 16-0. It still feels foreign to think that I watched that game in real life, and not some sort of euphoric trance in an alternate universe where we go into pods and traverse the world of our dreams so that the we can experience playoff football again. The Patriots haven't been shut out at home since 1993. Twenty-three years ago, Bill Belichick was coaching in Cleveland, and some young hotshot named Drew Bledsoe was a rookie quarterback. I was two years old at the time, and missed the game.

But, here we are. All the stress and conversation amongst friends, co-workers, and sports radio hosts that go into your traditional Patriots week feels worth it, for once. We're barely two weeks removed from people jumping on the tank bandwagon after the Greg Roman firing, and suddenly this team is 2-2 when every pundit who has a weekly picks column had us at 0-4.

The biggest shift from the Fitzmagic show in week two has been in the defense. I hadn't realized that Greg Roman was calling the plays on both sides of the ball, but I'm failing to find another reason why this group has all of the sudden become a black hole of first downs. It feels like a whole offseason of progress happened before Arizona rolled into town.

The Patriots went one for 12 on third downs yesterday. LeGarrette Blount was leading the league in rushing before the game, but was held to only 54 yards. I usually make it through a Bills v. Pats game challenging people to name the New England punter who hasn't made an appearance yet, so this felt like a welcome change.

After Reggie Ragland went down with a season ending injury, the linebacking core looked like a weak spot for the Bills. Apparently no one told Zach Brown. 18 tackles, a sack, and two forced fumbles? People have sold their dignity in the parking lot for jerseys of linebackers who had that level of success around here. Brown has silently become the biggest offseason addition to this team, and he's not surrounded by slouches either; Preston Brown has been a tackling machine in his own right, and Jerry Hughes seems to have reverted back to his 2014 “you can't stop my speed rush” form.

On the offensive side of the ball, it was a mixed bag. The best showing came from the offensive line, who managed to give Tyrod plenty of time on the majority of his dropbacks. Tyrod did a good job of avoiding the rush when it existed, and using his mobility to extend plays without forcing anything that led to a turnover. The distribution of the ball in the passing game also felt much more in line with the playmaking ability of the receivers. Robert Woods awoke from hibernation to have his best game of the season, McCoy had another 100-plus all purpose yards game, and even Charles Clay - who has been much maligned - looked like a contributing piece of the offense yesterday.

With that being said, there is still room to improve. After an opening drive in which the Bills employed a number of vaired looks and incorporated different playmakers on a march right down to the endzone, none of their other drives were able to net them six points. You can be as mad at Dan Carpenter as you want for missing another field goal, but he didn't go on the field for the third down that didn't convert. Tyrod made strides, bu he still lacked accuracy on some of his throws, with a number of them sailing high. In the end, 16 points was enough to win this game, but as far as scores go in the NFL (where the average winning score is 29), you see that number on the losing side more often than not.

A lot will be said in the post game reviews this week about who suited up under center for the Patriots in week four. Belichek and his staff were not handing the full playbook over to Brissett, and it became evident right around the time he attempted three passes in the first half. The most fire New England got out of their starting quarterback came in the pregame shoving match with Robert Blanton.

Does the absence of Tom Brady make this loss more palatable for Patriots fans? I would assume it does. Going 3-1 without him would have sounded really good before the season started. Should it likewise cheapen the win for Bills fans? Absolutely not.

The notion that Brady’s abscence means the Bills proved nothing is absurd at the core. Teams have to deal with injuries and suspensions all the time, and no matter how it came about or who it is, each team features the top players in the world up and down their rosters. If Brady plays yesterday, it might have been a different game, but “maybes” and “could haves” don't have a column in the standings. I doubt we'll see many apologists next week when the Patriots play the Browns because it's Cody Kessler in at quarterback instead of RG3 or Josh McCown.

I'm almost scared to feel the hope that is creeping up on me, because as Buffalo sports fans, we know that hope is followed by a crushing and inevitable cartoon piano on a rope-esque plummet back down to earth, but here it is. This is the football team we hoped we would see when the Rex Ryan era began. Does this team still have problems? Of course they do, but this is something that we can build on. This is something that the players can look back on proudly. This is something this fanbase needed to see. Now it's time to take this spirit and put it into next week's gameplan - to keep the momentum going.

Love or hate Rex Ryan, there's nothing the can be said or done that will ever convince him he can't do something. The entire Bills roster could be shrunk down with a ray gun and he'd go out to the media saying “If you can't see it you can't stop it.”

Up next is LA Rams, Spanish for “The Rams.” Let's go for three. Let's go crazy. Let's Billeve again.

Patriot Week

Patriot Week

Patriots Week. Ugh. 🙄

It’s that week where fans of the Buffalo Bills go paranoid😬. We’ve made more memes about deflated balls that any group of civilized individuals have in history. We call up the Guinness World Records guys and then fall embarrassingly short of setting a noise record😐. Our coach makes up pseudonyms and asks about the Pats, as if Fort Knox could be penetrated by slapping a fake mustache on and insisting New England ordered pizza🤔. 

But this could all change on Sunday🤗.

WICKED TAWM BRADY is not under center for the Pats this week, as he serves the final of a four-game suspension for (incident redacted). His backup Jimmy Garoppolo - the most handsome SOB in North America - injured his shoulder two weeks ago and may not be ready. Garoppolo’s backup Jacoby Brissett sprained his thumb in a win over Houston and is questionable. The Patriots might have to start Julian Edelman behind center, who last started at quarterback for the mighty Golden Flashes of Kent State back in 2008.

Guys. For real. The Bills will never face a more vulnerable Patriots team until Bill Belichick retires. Here is the way to attack. No, literally - attack. On any passing down, send six guys from any direction. Last week, Carson Palmer struggled mightily against the Bills pass rush, being sacked five times and intercepted four. Keeping the pressure up and getting to whichever guy plays quarterback is a key to confusing and exploiting their inexperience.

When the quarterback throws you the ball, catch it. On both sides. The Bills dropped three interceptions last week, and the wide receivers haven’t exactly had stickum on their gloves, either. Ending Patriots possessions early is important, because when New England gets into an offensive rhythm, they hum more efficiently than just about any other team in the league. Meanwhile, without Sammy Watkins at wideout again, Tyrod Taylor will need the rest of his receivers to hold on when he hits them. Paging Robert Woods and friends: TT can’t do it all by himself.

Run containment: LeGarrette Blount leads the league in yards through three weeks, and stopping him will be important. Notice earlier, the pressure on passing downs is important. But on first and short yardage downs, expect a big dose of the big boy Blount. Staying ahead of the sticks will be necessary. Linebacker help will be needed, so the Browns will be big for the defense to succeed.

Special teams success: Dan Carpenter missed another extra point, and we’ve yet to see Brandon Tate bust out that game breaking return. No points can be left on the field in Foxborough.

It sounds basic, and it is. New England barely ever loses at Gillette Stadium, and they never fall for gimmicks. Can the Bills pull off the upset? If we get that defensive effort again from the Arizona game, yes. And they will again. Bills 19-17.

😎


Published before Sammy Watkins went to IR -_-


Listen below as we tell you how the Bills will dismantle the Pats! #Liner

Bills roast Cardinals, avoid regional riot

Bills roast Cardinals, avoid regional riot

Kyle Williams putting the kids to bed. -Photo courtesy of FOX Sports/

Kyle Williams putting the kids to bed. -Photo courtesy of FOX Sports/

Within minutes of me pressing the send key on the email containing my thoughts about the Fitz-tragic Bills loss to the Jets in week two, they fired offensive coordinator Greg Roman – which is what you usually do when your defense plays poorly. I panned this move as the rough equivalent of re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, and it seemed like a desperation move by whoever made the call (don't you tell Rex he didn't get the final say) to try and salvage something out of the season following an 0-2 start with losses to the Ravens (who followed with a struggle with the Browns) and Mr. Six Picks and co.

But just when it looked like the wheels were about to fall off of the Rex Express, the Cardinals came to town, and the Bills wake up from their Greg Roman-induced coma to send them back to the west coast with their tail feathers between their legs.

It feels so refreshing waking up on a Monday and not having to deal with the harsh reality that being a Buffalo sports fan is likely taking years off of my life. The sun shines a little brighter, the birds sing a little louder, and the fact that the Patriots routed a playoff team on the road with their third quarterback in three weeks seems a little less bitter.

When Anthony Lynn took over as offensive coordinator this week, it was met by a cacophonic chorus of "who is this jabroni?” from the general public. Early returns, however, were pretty promising. The running game struggled mightily in the first two games, but made a huge impact yesterday. McCoy almost matched his rushing total from the first two games combined, and looked much more comfortable in his blocking and decision making out there. Tyrod reverted back to T-mobile in his own right and racked up some good carries himself. It looked like Lynn knew his personnel well from his work as the running backs coach and applied that knowledge to the game plan. Running with that efficiency would be a huge plus to this team moving forward.

The passing game struggled for the most part, but there were a couple of mitigating factors that cause me not to worry too much. First off, the Cardinals have the best secondary in the NFL, as was partially evidenced by that incredible Patrick Peterson interception. No other team out there tracks the ball as well as they do. Secondly, Sammy Watkins and his foot (also the name of a fanfiction saved to Rex's office computer) were absent from the field, and Walter Powell isn't going to be able to replace that level of talent by himself. That being said, the Bills are 1-0 in games following someone stepping on Sammy's foot in practice. I smell a new pre-game tradition.

The biggest shift in the team from the week before came on the defensive end, where they came out of the locker room and forced five straight three-and-outs to start the game, and ended with four picks of gunslinger Carson Palmer. As bad as the secondary was against Harvard graduate Ryan Fitzpatrick, they were that much better this week. This Cardinals receiving squad is no joke, led by a surefire Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald. He was held to 60 yards and kept out of the endzone, which is a definite win for anyone lining up across from him. For the most part that was Cory White – in for the injured Darby – and he deserves all the credit he'll get in the film room for his performance.

Other than the Jerry Hughes personal foul (tm), the front seven held their own as well. They got to Palmer six times and kept David Johnson contained for the most part. Part of this success came in the 1-3-7 formation that seemed to confuse the Arizona's pass protection. I'll be interested to see how that formation works with Marcell Dareus up front, when he returns from his spiritual quest through the Amazon, or whatever he's doing with his free time since he can't keep his nose clean long enough to play football. I'm not bitter.

It always seems that the bounces in a Bills game go to the opponent, especially in key situations. Maybe the football gods deemed we'd paid our dues, because this week, everything that could have gone wrong and undone the team's success…didn't. There was the fumble on the bad snap from the injured long snapper to the injured holder that Aaron Williams took to the house. There was the Robert Woods catch that was definitely not a catch that Bruce Arians did not challenge, quickly followed by a Bills touchdown. Perhaps most glaringly, there was Tyrann Matthieu kicking a fumble, if not a touchdown, out of bounds with plenty of time in the fourth quarter. It felt vindicating to have luck on the home side for once.

The biggest concern watching that fourth quarter was the inability to put the game away. The Bills held a two score lead for the entire final frame, but they couldn't convert third downs to kill the clock, and the Cardinals kept getting the ball back with a good amount of time left. While they couldn't make up for Palmer forcing a few too many passes against a very game Buffalo secondary, there are teams out there that will make you pay for letting them hang around.

Speaking of such teams, it's New England week. There is always an uneasy feeling as a Bills fan leading up to the trip to Foxboro, given recent events. And by recent I mean the entire lifespan of someone who can legally drive.

The Patriots are one bad step in the turf from whoever starts at quarterback to putting Julian Edelman behind center this week. Part of me wants to see that, because it would be a ton of fun to watch him try and recreate his Kent State over UB magic. The other part of me realizes it is a lose-lose for the Bills. You either beat a team with their fourth string QB and impress no one, or you lose and it goes down as the most recent in an ever growing list of Bills gaffes. Deep down, I think Belichek wants to be forced to start Edelman, just for the challenge. He placed some bets in his secret millionaires’ dark cabal that he could pull it off and wants to collect.

The way the Bills played yesterday is exactly the way they're going to have to play for a full sixty minutes if they want to hand the Pats their first loss of the season. We'll just have to wait and see if they can use this week as the catalyst to something even better.

Bills hope to make something from nothing

Photo from ESPN.com

Photo from ESPN.com

In the 2016 NFL season, only one team has had ten days to rest after a loss. The Carolina Panthers, after losing on a last-second missed field goal in Denver, blitzed the San Francisco 49ers 46-27. Is it possible that the Buffalo Bills could do this?

Well…anything is possible, as the recently retired Kevin Garnett waxed in 2008 during a failed attempt at a spontaneous Adidas commercial. But that notion feels as foreign to Bills fans in 2016 as a sober tailgate. Hope is not part of the culture at One Bills Drive, and things keep getting darker. Already, the season feels lost. But the players will be out there on Sunday at New Era Field, and so will the fan base, full-throated and ready to riot at the sound of a train whistle.

So yes, person reading this…the Bills can absolutely beat the Arizona Cardinals, 2015 NFC runners-up and juggernauts on both sides of the ball. But lots of breaks need to happen, and Buffalo straight up needs a smarter game plan than the one deployed against the Jets.

1.    The defensive backfield just needs to perform. Look, if you are reading a preview capsule on the weekend before a professional football game, you aren’t remotely capable of hanging with a professional wideout (and if you can, contact us please...love to get an interview). But even the dumb and common amongst us could see Stephon Gilmore and Ronald Darby getting torched by the New York receivers last week. The law firm of Decker, Marshall and Enunwa combined for 18 catches and 319 yards, which is a real bummer when Chan Gailey exploits your supposed strength. Without the corners providing the ability to stop guys on an island, Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and John Brown could put up similar numbers.

2.     The defensive line has to get more pressure. Lines in a 3-4 philosophy will never rack up a ton of tackles…but Jerry Hughes led the (listed) defensive line players in tackles against the Jets, and those five tackles tied for seventh. Yikes. Combine that with one sack and it’s pretty clear the Bills need to attack the Cardinals’ d-line in a more unique fashion. Sustained pressure is never Carson Palmer’s friend; his immobility is a big deal if you can get to him.

3.     David Johnson is a better Matt Forte. Johnson is the most unique weapon in the NFL right now not being crushed under the inability of Jeff Fisher to understand offense. Thankfully, Bruce Arians is, ya know...good. As a result DJ has 275 yards from scrimmage in two weeks. Could that go over 400 after this week? It certainly seems that way, unless Rex and Rob can figure out a way to attack on multiple levels without leaving big holes open. That said, stopping Johnson stops a big part of the Cards, and can kill the diversity of the attack.

4.     Just give me something unique on offense. Notice this is the first mention of the offense. Offense wasn’t the issue last week, but it could be this week without the illusion of Sammy Watkins on the field. Last week we saw the bomb to Marquise Goodwin, which was cool. We also saw EJ Manuel on a QB sneak…with the same motion…and the same play…three…separate…times. So…Greg Roman may not have been a genius, but he was at least capable of delivering a semi-cohesive offense playbook. We are officially in the unknown with Anthony Lynn, so its impossible to even predict what could happen. If the offensive line can’t open holes, LeSean McCoy is a moot point. If you don’t think about the intermediate areas, Charles Clay and Robert Woods cannot matter. But if Lynn can allow guys to play to their strengths, there are playmakers on this side of the ball, even minus Sammy.

Sunday is truly a cannonball into the unknown for Bills fans. From the beginning of the season, Arizona looked like an opposing goliath. The first two weeks have done nothing to quell this. It’s basically impossible to find a way that Buffalo gets this done. That’s right…all in on the reverse jinx. Cardinals win 24-14.

 

Reliving the horror

Reliving the horror

photo - FOX Sports

photo - FOX Sports

The excitement was tangible yesterday in Western New York for the Bills home opener, and for good reason; a primetime game against a hated rival starting a former Bills QB after a terrible week one showing with all the signs pointing to redemption.

That, combined with eternal optimism had people flocking to New Era Field to tailgate by noon, with what I can only imagine was a forest’s worth of tables to jump through. There was one such gentleman prominently featured on the midnight local news going tailbone first through a table after jumping off the roof of his vehicle. I hope, for his sake, he went to a hospital. Not because he couldn't get up, but because it would have saved him from seeing that trainwreck in person.

If there was one positive about the week one loss, it was the defense. Well, it’s week two now, and apparently three days’ rest was just enough for the secondary to completely forget the basic tenets of coverage. The first Jets offensive series was Exhibit A, as a bailout holding call and a terrible showing by Darby on Enunwa let the Jets get their first of four consecutive scoring drives out of the gates. Buffalo ran three plays in the entire first quarter.

Do you know what the worst part about those three plays was? It made Greg Roman look smart. Finally, someone yelled at him loud enough to set something off in his brain and remind him we have an actual Olympic-quality runner on the outside, who was matched up against a guy who got torched last week – maybe we should let him run! Who would have thought? This served to cover up that after last week's horrible showing, especially with the first two plays of losing yards. Why? Because they were the exact same type of behind the line of scrimmage misdirection that won't work against a disciplined defense, which the Jets have.

But; back to the Bills secondary. I know that fall weather has shown up in the 716 this week, but that doesn't mean it's Halloween yet. Stephon Gilmore’s ghost costume needs to go back in the closet, because he plays the part all too well. Rex’s defense depends on their top corners to be able to handle themselves one-on-one while he tries to think of progressively more and more confusing things to do with his front seven until the opposing QB curls up in a ball and waves his all-white color rush jersey in defeat. Last night…was the polar opposite of that. Decker, Marshall, and Enunwa got open with ease, and the defensive backs were barely getting their heads around or a hand up. The only time Gilmore made an impact was when he yanked Brandon Marshall down at a terrible angle that I still can't believe didn't cause a serious knee injury. Teddy Bridgewater’s other knee imploded just watching.

This inability to get off the field because we couldn't stop the passing attack let the Jets drop the hammer on the Bills front seven. Now I know running isn't their forte…But Matt Forte had his best game in a while, partially because he has a much better line than he had recently in Chicago, and partially because there was no one left who had the energy to get off of a block by the end. That last drive’s rushing touchdown was like watching CM Punk’s UFC debut. It was exactly what you expected, but it was still sad to see the fan favorite get beaten down to the ground like that.

The pass rush came out of the gates on fire. The Lorenzo Alexander strip sack (in which the Bills defied conventional physics by not recovering) and the early play of Jerry Hughes (who had a really nice sack called back on a hold) had me almost gave me a positive outlook for a moment. Eventually, those guys got tired from playing almost the whole first half, and after the second series, they couldn't get consistent pressure. This was compounded, of course, by a crippling lack of depth. Thanks for coming back, Brandon Spikes! Hope the press box wasn't too chilly.

This was again (oddly) compounded by Jerry Hughes, who bit his tongue so violently that he had to sit out while the camera showed him spitting blood into a cup for an uncomfortably long time. At least it wasn't noticeable on his jersey. He was much less effective after that. Who knew his tongue was like Samson’s hair?

Harvard graduate Ryan Fitzpatrick could have graduated from ITT Tech and still carved the defense up. It's easy when you have a scheme that utilizes your playmakers and spreads the ball out to all of them. Crazy concept, right?

What made matters worse worse was the fact that Fitzpatrick is…well…Fitzpatrick. Bills fans remember 2011, when he was the starter here and earned that big money contract, only to be run out of town shortly thereafter. Now it’s 2016, and with Tyrod’s contract, the situation feels a little too familiar. Meanwhile Fitzy is at the helm of a playoff caliber team, and it becomes harder and harder to feel right about letting him walk. Before last night, we had the fallback crutch of his failures against Rex, which just goes to show – you can fool him once, you can fool him twice, you can fool him a third time, and a fourth, and a fifth…but no one – and I mean no one! gets the best of Ryan Fitzpatrick six times in a row.

The offense doesn't look terrible on paper because of the two long touchdowns, but outside of those and one refreshingly inspired Mike Gilleslee catch and run at the end, it wasn't a whole lot better than week one. We're still trying to power run with a back who bounces everything outside, where he is promptly dropped for a loss or short gain time after time. He carries to the outside so often that on one run, he spun to the inside and the defender fell over. That was his longest carry of the game.

The Dolphins have to be laughing at us and sending thank you gifts to Whaley for overpaying for Charles Clay. $12 million? While utilizing him on a bunch of poorly blocked screens doesn't help, he just doesn't seem like he cares. There was a route in the fourth – an out he ran to the sideline that he just stopped running. Tyrod hit him in the side. Clay did not make a play for it. Your 2016 Bills, everyone.

Robert Woods, who is the heir apparent to the number one reciever role when Sammy can't go, had one catch yesterday. I don't remember seeing him at all outside of it, either. That catch was on the final play. Skrine was off him by twenty yards, and he lateraled it to Goodwin. Goodwin, outside of the touchdown, had one catch, and fell down cutting a dozen times, and limped off on the last play. Save us Greg Salas.

It's hard to hate on Sammy Watkins going out there and playing a whole game with that injury…wait, really? Oh that's right; I didn't even notice he missed the last two series until well after the fact because he wasn't being looked at while he was out there anyways.

It is a small miracle he is burning all these corners while grimacing and limping the whole way. All of that so that we can check it down to Clay for two yards. You don't give up two first rounders for a receiver. Ever. If you decide to throw caution to the wind and do it anyway, you damn sure better target him more than five times. He was left holding his head in disgust after Tyrod underthrew him on the pick. One has to wonder if he suffers through for one more drive if he has reason to believe he gets a chance to make a play.

All of this was made even worse by the fact it was in primetime. Nothing makes a game more satisfying than seeing all the national reporters who only check in on Buffalo when we powerbomb each other into fire realizing that the team itself is also a fire, of the dumpster variety.

Primetime also meant the league tapped Ed Hochuli to ref the game, since they have to pretend to care about the calls on the nationally televised games. Hochuli is essentially a pro wrestler who got lost on the way to a show and ended up at a stadium by mistake. The intern in charge of the ref uniforms was too intimidated to tell him he couldn't try it out, and the rest is history. He's here to chew bubblegum and overexplain every call, and given his anatomy lesson, I think he's out of the former

For those of you who want a stadium in downtown Buffalo, you were either not stuck in traffic trying to go somewhere yesterday. Or you're a masochist. Or both…I don't judge. If Buffalo were to put a stadium downtown, I'm fairly confident you'd have to leave Saturday to get there on time. My commute home was about five times longer than usual because every available thoroughfare had bumper-to-bumper traffic – and I left early. I don't even live in Orchard Park. A downtown stadium would close down the city for the whole day.

Phil Simms is far worse than anything else to ever happen in a commentary booth. I'm convinced at this point that Simms is a robot being fed a script by a group of monkeys with a typewriter after they finished producing All’s Well That Ends Well. His sentences start and end with no clear direction. I am dumber for listening to him.

Ten days rest is great because that's a nice break from this team. It probably won't help them beat Arizona, but it will help us all.

Can the Bills Land the Jets?

Can the Bills Land the Jets?

So what do you do when all hope is lost, when the best players are missing and the fan base is ready to riot?

You go plan to win the next one.

Just an old friend saying hello to FIzty and his beard - photo credit to UPI.com

Just an old friend saying hello to FIzty and his beard - photo credit to UPI.com

And with that, we put the Ravens game in the rearview mirror. The Buffalo Bills, despite reports to the contrary, are 0-1, not 0-16. Rex Ryan, Rob Ryan and Greg Roman are still the brain trust, despite calls for their heads. And instead of wallowing in self-pity, the winner of Thursday night’s divisional showdown with the New York Jets will be alone in second place, with a 1-0 AFC East record.

So how does this happen? With creativity, intelligence, and eliminating mental errors. Let’s break it down.

Greg Roman Calls A Deep Pass Just Once: The passing game was an abject failure against Baltimore. Tyrod Taylor was 15-22, which is decent, but for only 111 yards, which is bad. Sammy Watkins had just six of those attempts, with four catches for 43 yards and a long of 19. With his status thrown into flux Monday morning (as of press time, he hasn’t been ruled out, but everything from he could play Thursday to he may be out of the season has been put out by smart Twitter accounts), other guys will have to step up. How nice would it be to see Tyrod heave a bomb to Marquise Goodwin or Charles Clay to start the game, even if it’s picked off? Just tease us, Greg. The conservative play calling backfired in a big way, and even potentially took points off the board (Watch the second down play again on 2nd and 8 before Dan Carpenter missed a field goal. I dare you.). Balance is overrated. It doesn’t matter if you call 12 passing plays or 52 passing plays. But the variance within those calls is important, and if you cannot get a defense to even respect the deep passing game, they will cheat up and apply pressure packages that the offensive line cannot handle.

Worst jerseys of EVER - photo credit, LA Times

Worst jerseys of EVER - photo credit, LA Times

Pay Closer Attention To That Slot Receiver: No team last season lined up with three receivers more often than the Jets. You better believe they were thrilled to see a safety (Duke Williams) lined up on Mike Wallace in the slot Sunday afternoon. On the game’s only touchdown, the Bills got caught looking into the backfield on a 3rd and 1, and Joe Flacco took advantage as Wallace ran through the middle of the field for a 66 yard score after coming to the line with trips on the right. Even worse, the Bills played zone in the middle tier and got beat over the top. GEE, THAT WOULD BE NEAT TO SEE BUFFALO DO. Regardless, the Bills need to know the personnel against them at all times and not cost themselves when put into obvious disadvantages.

Pressure Fitz To Make Him Make Decisions: Ryan Fitzpatrick went to Harvard. Also, Fitzpatrick is a guy who has yet to see a hole he can’t fit a football into. This gunslinger mentality is a double-edged sword, and the more times he is forced to make a quick decision, the more opportunities there are to create turnovers and bad decisions. The Brothers Ryan should be looking to make Fitz uncomfortable, flushing him out of the pocket and thinking he can throw across his body 30 yards down field. We’ve seen it before, and if the defense can force at least two turnovers, the Bills will be in good shape.

Drink Lots Before The Game: The Bills last hosted a prime time game at New Era Field in 2012. Every team has hosted at least one since then (seriously, look it up). So go nuts and enjoy the moment. Win or lose, Buffalo sports fans are some of the best in the country. Don’t let anyone tell us differently. Make it loud, make it obnoxious and don’t get arrested.

PREDICTION: No one can cliché…like the Buffalo Bills cliché. 19-17 home team. Go Bills. See you Thursday.


Check out our latest show where we chuckle at the offense from week one and look ahead beating Fitz and the Tantrums.

InstRANT Reaction To Bills vs Ravens

InstRANT Reaction To Bills vs Ravens

Well, football season is officially back in Western New York. In most NFL markets this is the time of year greeted with hope and excitement, but this is Buffalo. All of that was dashed quicker than Ryan Lochte's sponsorships after Rio.

I mean seriously, what in the love of fuck was that?

The Baltimore Ravens, best known for carrying Trent Dilfer "Weekend At Bernie's" style to a championship (and a job at ESPN where he gets to give his opinion on race relations to millions of Americans) controlled the game from the opening snap to the all too late conclusion. Not because they played well – not by a long shot – but because the Buffalo Bills proved yet again that supporting them is akin to being shot in the chest…except it lasts for three hours and the 911 dispatcher won't send help.

First off, the playcalling was the worst performance by a Roman since the Battle of Adrianople. If he booted up Madden ‘17 and just ran the suggested plays, it would have been more effective than what actually went on. I'm convinced he stole Tyrod's wristband before the game and replaced it with a post-it that said "throw 2 shady," because if I had taken a shot for every attempted pass to McCoy in the flat, at least I could have forgotten how it never worked.

We traded up in the draft to get Sammy Watkins and we won't use him for anything. You may as well give me a #14 jersey and put me out there, because I'm very good at standing and watching other people play football, which appears to be his major role in the offense this year. At least give Sammy a beer and some wings so he can enjoy his time out there. He'll have plenty of time to relish the delectable snack between not needing his hands to catch the ball and watching Tyrod run for his life from pass rush after pass rush – let through by our offensive line like a fat revolving door.

Alright, maybe I'm getting ahead of myself on that one. Maybe next week they'll try to get the ball to him downfield after AJ Green singlehandedly beat the Jets.

....Wait what? Seriously? Again? You've got to be shitting me.

Of course he's hurt again. The only three certainties in life are death, taxes, and Sammy Watkins hurting himself while walking on a flat surface while being breathed on by a defender. Remember last year when he hurt himself catching a ball in the end zone with no one around? My niece builds more stable structures out of lego than Sammy Watkins' legs, which I'm convinced at this point are actually foam stuffed into pads.

Tyrod had the least yards per snap this week in the NFL. His competition included, but was not limited to:

- Dak Prescott, Trevor Seimien, and Carson Wentz in their debuts
- RG3
- Ryan Tannehill - who I've been informed by the CBS broadcasts about 15 times
  a week - played receiver in college
-Shaun fucking Hill. Shaun Hill would have chosen Sam Bradford over himself as the starter. The Vikings, for the record, didn't find the endzone and still outperformed us.

The Bills made a big deal in the offseason about resigning Tyrod, and then treated him like they couldn't trust him as far as they could throw Rob Ryan (which I would imagine isn't very far, given the impressive mass of that man).  Nothing was thrown downfield; probably because Rex was afraid of Eric Weddle's beard. We constantly called repetitive plays while Tyrod was being chased by Terrell Suggs, who they had to bus in from getting his weekly deer antler spray injections at his assisted living facility because the offensive line forgot this wasn't a flag football game. May God have mercy on Tyrod when we play an actual defense. Prepare your eulogies.

The game deciding play was a 67 yard touchdown catch by Mike Wallace. It was his longest catch since 2012, which was also the last time anyone looked at him as an offensive weapon. Sure enough, he burned Duke Williams like he was a bar in the battle of Black Rock . Now, Mike Wallace isn't fast enough to beat anyone with two working legs down a football field these days, so Duke compounded his embarrassment by catching up to Wallace…only to get shoved aside like a fly trying to get in Steve Smith's personal space. He has now gone on Twitter telling haters he's back, but I'll reserve judgment until he outruns someone who will still be in the NFL in two years.

Fun fact: did you know Mike Wallace's first name is actually Burnell?

So now Baltimore fans get to enjoy their week one, call it a gritty win and praise Flacco as a game manager. Flacco - the only remaining proof of the government's failed human/giraffe crossbreeding program - did nothing to deserve this win other than show up to play the Bills. He will get showered with praise from fans that will yet again call him "elite" because they have an inferiority complex. He'll bask in this glory by diving Scrooge McDuck style into a room filled with gummi bears.

On the bright side, we only have to wait until Thursday to go through all of this again – because the Bills always do great in primetime. I hope they wear those red and green color rush unis again for the sake of colorblind Bills fans, so they can get confused and cheer for a team that might make the playoffs for a few seconds until they remember we don't have Fitzpatrick anymore.

(title photo credited to Fox Sports/Getty Images)


716 Sports Podcast is brought to Lockhouse Distillery and Bar located in the Cobblestone District in downtown Buffalo. Tune in tonight as we wrap-up this game the only way we know how.

 

How To Save The Pro Bowl: A Progressive List

How To Save The Pro Bowl: A Progressive List

This past Tuesday it was announced that Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor was added to the Pro Bowl roster. I, being a relatively social person, brought this up the following day at work , to a stunning array of "mehs" and "you watch that nonsense?" that I've come to expect from anyone when they think of the NFL's annual exhibition of their sup[posed top talent. Of course, the fact that Taylor's nomination came on the heels of ESPN's report that this year's Pro Bowl is now officially the most declined invitation probably didn't help the interest level. Quarterbacks alone were so disinterested that Jameis Winston, the eighth alternate to the six selected QBs, will be suiting up Sunday. Not that he doesn't deserve it or anything, but they were roughly two phone calls away from selecting a random fan.

With Pro Bowl ratings down 16% last year, and not trending upwards, it begs the question; What could the NFL do to get an excited Pro Bowl audience? I looked at the All-Star game formats of other sports for inspiration, and then I drank a beer or several for a few more

  • NFL vs College All-Stars - The MLS all-star format may be the most outside of the box one in sports these days. Rather than divide up their players into two squads, they make only one team, and then play a top team from somewhere else in the world (the EPL's Tottenham Hotspur this year). Now, since there isn't another good football team anywhere in the world, they would have to face someone closer to home. For reference, the American World Cup of football team won the championship game 59-12 with no professionals on the team. Get it together, rest of the world.

This could work because it gives both teams something to play for. The collegiate players would be looking to impress potential suitors, and the NFL team would be dead set on not losing to a bunch of college kids. Now the NFL team would be much more talented, but they'd also be much more worn down after their season. Even a one-sided version could be fun.

  • The Refs Play, and the Players Ref - The players have to deal with a progressively more and more criticized set of calls for sixteen games or more, and there's nothing they can do about it unless they coach Texas high school football on the side. In this format, we split the refs into two teams, and give the most penalized players from both conferences the whistles and striped shirts. Nothing says must see TV like Jerry Hughes telling Clete Blakeman that he was celebrating excessively. Also, there's a pretty good chance that Ed Hochuli would have a couple Marshawn Lynch-esque runs, which alone would make this worth our time.
  • Hold It in the Middle of the Season - A few different leagues do this nowadays, and it may actually play into a different concern we've started to hear with regards to player health these days; namely, a second by week. Push week 9 back another week, and give the best of the best a free week in Hawaii to pretend to play defense.

Now this would probably lead to even more declined invites as people clamor to keep themselves in shape or the stretch run, but they could always make it for Super Bowl home field in the same vain that the MLB does these days. Now that means a bit less at a single neutral site game as opposed to a best-of-seven series, but still.

  • Let Kobe Bryant Play - The NBA All-Star rosters were released not too long ago, and Kobe was in a familiar spot at 2 guard in the West. I know it's the Grand Mamba Retirement Tour 2k16, but let's make something clear here; Kobe is playing at an unwatchable level this year. He has the third worst shooting percentage on his own team, the currently 9-38 Lakers. He's behind Marcelo Huertas. Go ahead and Google him, I'll wait.

But hey, the fans clearly want to see the man play, no matter how he's doing, so this could only help Pro Bowl ratings. And if you're thinking that he doesn't play football, you may have me there, but he also isn't really playing anything resembling basketball at this point, and look where that's got him. He may be less qualified to play in his league's All-Star game than John Scott. At least Scott fulfills his role on the team.

  • Play Flag Football - There are a separate set of rules that are applied to defense in the Pro Bowl. I could spell them out here, but I'll save you the time and just say that you can't play defense. No blitzes, and no coverage outside of a basic cover 2 or man is allowed. Now I know the NFL is in the business of protecting their stars in an exhibition game, but since we're one step away from playing touch football at this point, you may as well go all the way.

Can you imagine how aggressively JJ Watt grabs a flag? I can only imagine that it looks like a starved lion seeing an injured gazelle within swiping distance, flared nostrils and all.

  • Adopt a 7 on 7 format - The NHL has embraced their All-Star game's own lack of defense by opening up the ice for more scoring. If you don't want anyone to get hit (except Brian Moorman that one time), then removing more defensive players may be one way to do that. Just imagine what Odell Beckham can do with no one to even try having to run past.
  • Play Arena Football - You guys remember the excitement that surrounded going down to Marine Midland Arena to watch the Buffalo Destroyers? Turns out that league still exists, full of passes off nets, running head starts at the line of scrimmage, and teams owned by Gene Simmons.

With all the torn ACL's we've seen this season, maybe a healthy alternative is a game involving less running, and what says "less running" more than literally cutting the size of the field in half. Seeing players who could easily throw the length of the field would make for the quick score, anything can happen mentality that makes sports fun, unless you hate fun.

  • Players Swap Sides of the Ball - We all know how great of a running back Adrian Peterson is, but can he play bump and run coverage? These players go out all season and are typecast into these set roles, so this format would allow the stars to explore another career path they could have chosen. Minus the terrible passing, route running, and tackling, it'd be hard to take your eyes off the set. Just think about all the crazy hijinks we'd see!
  1. Peyton Manning at Linebacker? Hilarious!
  2. Khalil Mack at Tight End? Probably still a machine!
  3. JJ Watt at Punter? There's literally no rules!
  • Skills Competition - I recently had the chance to cover the National Womens Hockey League's inaugural All-Star game, which was kicked off by a skills competition. Sitting there watching the players having that level of fun trying to out-maneuver each other in the shootout made me wonder why every league doesn't do something like that. Now the NHL and NBA are in on it, and the MLB has the home run derby, but the NFL has nothing of the sort. Now it may be because the NFL believes that having fun is a disease akin to polio, but there's so much money being left on the table here! Here's my list of what I'd propose for a NFL skills competition.
  • Quarterback dodgeball
  • Defensive linemen compete in the hundred yard dash
  • Kickers and punters play soccer
  • Wide receivers try and catch items that the audience found in their trunk
ScreenShot2013-06-06at3.25.37PM_crop_north.jpg

The list is a work in progress, but you get my point. After this I wouldn't even care if they played football, because I would have seen Eli and Peyton get into a fight over whether or not the ball bounced before nicking Tyrod's leg.

Of course, with the game being this Sunday, I don't expect the league to get this list and make the necessary changes in time. But there's always next year, and I work for cheap. Call me, Roger Goodell.

An Open Letter to Mark Poloncarz

An Open Letter to Mark Poloncarz

Dear Mark Poloncarz:

Hi.

As Erie County Executive, you are a busy man, and you have been quite successful. Since election in 2011, Erie County has continued to experience the upward trajectory that has been the greatest story of our region in this decade. You have contributed to this, and that’s why you were re-elected this past fall. 

Just as wonderful to our region as the growth of Buffalo has been the newfound stability of the Buffalo Bills. For many years under the ownership of the late Ralph Wilson, the constant pall of the team leaving was a dark cloud hanging over the organization. In 2014, that cloud was lifted thanks to Terry and Kim Pegula, and we can all breathe easy knowing Bon Jovi songs can grace the jukeboxes of blue collar bars around the region again.

Monday, these two superpowers converged in an article mentioned by you on your twitter feed (@markpoloncarz). In the piece, published on WIVB.com (http://wivb.com/2016/01/04/county-officials-react-to-bills-fan-behavior/), you are quoted as saying “We want our community to cheer for the Bills, which means it would be nice if you could take a ten year old to a football game, but I’m not so certain I’d want to take a ten year old when you’ve got all this stuff going on outside the stadium.”

Mr. Poloncarz, let’s point out a few things. One, not one of these videos in question show a child being put in harm’s way. These appear to be individuals ranging from their early 20’s to late 30’s inflicting harm upon themselves or friends. Two, not at any point does it appear anyone is angry about what is happening. Mostly, people are saying “no way…” or something along those lines. Three, the property being damaged is folding tables or a small dent in an RV. Four…

Actually, I’m done going on about this. The point is that over the course of the past couple of decades, professional sports teams, in an ever-increasing effort to #enhancing the #brand by #interacting on #social #media, have pushed families to come to games. That’s fine, and as a father of two young children, I have thoroughly enjoyed the children’s day game during the preseason the last two years. 

But I’ve also grown to realize that when I attend my two games a year in the regular season, my wife and kids stay at home. And that’s ok, too, because being an adult and doing adult things like drinking, swearing, eating and cheering does not always need to involve every age. If I saw a couple screwing in the parking lot, I would walk the other way. If I didn’t want my son to hear profanity at age four, I wouldn’t bring them to the game.  

Let’s stop acting like every individual is forced to tailgate at 8:30 a.m. and there’s a five-drink minimum before attending, or that they must be powerbombed through an ignited table. Everyone enjoys it the way they do, and that’s cool. You can be sober and have fun; you can drink and have fun. This is not Dodger Stadium, where opposing fans have been stabbed outside, nor is it European soccer stadiums across that continent, where attacks against visiting fans are still prevalent.

Bills fans party hard. The Deadspin videos have given the country a glimpse into the best fan experience in the NFL. Sure, they are laughing. But there is undoubtedly a little jealousy in those comments as well. Buffaloians party hard and have a great time. It’s an unconditional love, and it’s perfectly acceptable. 

So keep on keeping on, Mark. You are doing a great job. Thank you for that. But don’t be a moralist. I’m sorry you don’t feel you can take your ten-year old to a Bills game. If you explained to him that adults do dumb things sometimes, I bet he could handle it. 

And the part where you imply we should use county resources to enforce vague, non-existent laws? Come on, Mark. Be better. Come down to the tailgate next season, and let’s have a beer.


LISTEN TO BILL SAY THANKS FOR READING BELOW!

716 Sports Podcast is brought to you by Lockhouse Distillery and Bar located in the Cobblestone district.