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Buffalo Bills Review: Week 2

These Bills took the phrase "Squish the Fish" quite literally! The Defense was dominant in Week 2 against Miami.

These Bills took the phrase “Squish the Fish” quite literally! The Defense was dominant in Week 2 against Miami.

Good Stuff

The Bills were dominant on Sunday. I predicted as much, but it was nice to see it actually happen. The defense was stifling, only giving up ten points (and that, aided by questionable calls by the officials) to a team who scored 33 points one week earlier!

Special teams was also dominant: punt block, kick return TD, punts downed inside the 20-yard-line, and 17 points from the kicker! CJ Spiller was named the AFC Special Teams player of the week (Dan Carpenter received that honor in Week One!).

The offense is not half-bad, either, with EJ Manuel leading the league in completion percentage of passes of 20 yards or more in the air. (Yes, leading the league!) Sammy Watkins was wide open much of the day, and looked very worth the trade up to get him. (He was also named Rookie of the Week for Week 2!)

Another good thing about this Bills team is the way they respond. In the Bears game, whenever Chicago would come back to tie up the score, the Bills had an answer. Miami scored two times in the second half to get within six points of the Bills, but both times the Bills answered to extend their lead. (The second time they never looked back.)

This all happened on a day when Ralph Wilson Jr. was immortalized on his Wall of Fame in gold letters, Jim Kelly received a 90-second standing ovation, and every Buffalo football fan was euphoric from the news that a local family (with loads of cash) will be buying the team and keeping them here forever! (Or close to it…)

It was a GOOD week.

Bad Stuff

The Bills were dominant for the whole game, but they still had some trouble scoring in the Red Zone. The plays were there (two passes that could have, should have, gone for scores were missed or dropped). It will happen, but settling for field goals will not work against better offensive teams.

The only other bad might be injuries, but the good news there is that the Bills are one of the healthiest teams in the NFL so far this season. (When was the last time we said that?!) Sammy Watkins looks hurt every time he touches the ball, but he’s still making lots of plays. So it’s not that bad, right?

The Refs deserve honorable mention here with many questionable calls on the Dolphins only scoring drive. But… we won. So who cares?

Newsy Stuff


The nominees for the 2015 NFL Hall of Fame class were announced this week. More than a hundred names from football’s near and distant past, and several of them have ties to the Buffalo Bills. All-time favorites like Cornelius “Biscuit” Bennett, Darryl Talley, Steve Tasker and Fred Smerlas made the list, as did the late Kent Hull, who does not receive as much credit as perhaps he should for the success of those Bills teams of the 1990s. (Maybe he now will?)

Here are the nominees with Buffalo connections:

  • LB Cornelius Bennett
  • C Kent Hull
  • HC Chuck Knox
  • HC Lou Saban
  • NT Fred Smerlas
  • LB Chris Spielman
  • LB Darryl Talley
  • ST Steve Tasker
  • CB Troy Vincent
  • NT Ted Washington

In other news:

  1. The Bills are favored by 2.5 points over the “apparent favorite” Chargers. Due to their much greater success over the recent past, as well as last week’s win over Seattle (by 9 points) most are picking the visiting Chargers to win over the also-undefeated Buffalo Bills. But Las Vegas had them as 1-point favorites to start the week, and that has only increased all week, to the 2.5-point spread here on Friday night.
  2. The Chargers lost their starting RB Ryan Matthews for a few weeks, and have a list of players who were limited or did not practice this week that include several starters on the offensive line. The Bills on the other hand will be missing only two or three players this week, and have been relatively injury-free so far this season. That’s a welcome change from the past decade, or so, where it seems Buffalo generally has the worst of the injury bug in the whole of the NFL!

Crazy Stuff

Speaking of injuries… how crazy is it that Eric Wood was once thought of as injury-prone, but now we don’t give him a second thought as the rock, the core of the Bills rather solid offensive line? Crazy!

And how about all the hullaballoo regarding the ineptitude of the Bills starting QB before this season. Calls for EJ Manuel‘s head (or at least his position on the roster) were frequently and vociferously shouted wherever they might be heard. But after two weeks of arguably much more than “game management” (see stat above, and his 7.8 yards/attempt) Manuel has almost completely silenced his critics—after just two weeks! Crazy!

Up Next: San Diego Chargers

369px-San_Diego_Chargers_logo.svgThe Chargers just beat the Seahawks. (Yes, those Seahawks.) It took a nearly-perfect game from their offense, but it worked, and they won. Can they do that here? They were 5-3 on the road last year, including many wins in the Eastern US. And they won a playoff game in Cincy. They’re not afraid of the eastern time zone.

The Chargers will definitely be a challenge. Philip Rivers has a greater than two to one touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio over his career, and I believe last year threw 32 TDs to only 11 INTs. That’s impressive. He is definitely no Jay Cutler (who is happy to share the ball with his opponents). But the bottom line from my view of their win last week: they were nearly flawless. Seattle didn’t play badly, San Diego made every play they had a chance to make. That does not happen every week. It really can’t.

This game is important. Later in the year, we might be kicking ourselves if we don’t get this win at home against a team we will likely be battling for a wild card spot. (Unless we win our division of course!)

Buffalo’s defense, at home, with a mistake-free offense… (the Chargers apparently have a very good run defense, so it will be interesting to see what Buffalo’s very good run offense can do against them) the Bills have a great chance of taking advantage of this September game on their home field and finishing with the victory, going 3-0 for the second time since 2011.

(More on the differences between 2011 and 2014 next week, if in fact my prediction is accurate…)

Bills Win: 31-27

This may be a weekly series of very short reviews of the Buffalo Bills 2014 season, game by game. Or it may not. Stay tuned!

Games Opinion

An Open Letter to One Bills Drive

To Whom It May Concern,

I am writing to you today on behalf of Bills fans everywhere. I feel both compelled and qualified to speak as a representative of this great collection of people scattered across the globe. First I am compelled by great frustration with what has now seemingly become the tradition of losing and mediocrity that surrounds and defines this once proud organization. The length of time that those under the Buffalo Bills’ banner have wallowed in this squaller of ineptitude, and a general mentality of losing has long since become too much for loyal fans to bear. Second, my qualification is simply that I have not met many other fans of any team quite as optimistically devoted to their home town team. (Though, admittedly, there are a good percentage more amongst Bills fans than any other team’s following.)

What is so perplexing to me is this annual routine that we seem to be mired in, which (understandably) produces the same results. First, following another below average (to downright dismal) season, we dip into the free agent market, but only manage to pull out a few lesser-known players whom you might designate “role players” on a team that already has its building blocks and stars. Then, as the draft approaches and all the professionals and amateurs discuss their various mock drafts, excitement builds for the possibility of landing even half of these future greats. Only, excitement wanes as the first pick is announced… then the second… then the third. And the draft comes and goes with questions like, “Why didn’t they trade up to get [insert great prospect name here],” or, “Who are these guys???”

Now, to be fair, there have been some gems in the past decade of drafts. (And some remain to be seen of course, since you really can’t fairly assess the success of players drafted until a few years into their professional career.) But overall, we still do not make a so-called “big splash” in free agency or the draft.

(Save the Terrell Owens experiment, of course. That was slightly out of character for our Buffalo Bills, and sadly, did not work out as hoped due to the previous methods for building the foundation of the team.)

And once the mediocre team is in place, Bills fans begin to see all the “up sides” of their new players. Certainly there are good things about each of these players, and they should be noticed. However, somewhere early in the regular seasons, our improperly inflated hopes surrounding these players that (rightfully) no one else in the NFL has heard of are quickly deflated … leaving us again in nearly utter sports-fan despair.

So this is my proposal. Please grab a pen and paper. (Or a laptop, or other note-taking device.) I will only say this once, so you must listen closely. And it can be completely trusted due to my impeccable record as a GM for two separate Buffalo Bills franchises in Madden ’08.


FIRST MOVE: Start at the top.
First, you need “football guys” running the show. You already did this! Good work! Buddy Nix has been a scout and an assistant GM and seems to know his stuff about football players. Chan Gailey has only been a winner everywhere he goes (though he’s slightly “off the radar” in terms of name recognition) and his toughness and hard work ethic will rub off on these young guys, as I believe it already is doing. So, nice job.

SECOND MOVE: Build the Foundations
The previous administration had begun doing some of this with the drafting of two rookie offensive linemen last year, but it is just not cutting it to have such inexperience in the most crucial part of the team. A great offensive line can make anyone a great running back, and even make an average QB look great. Right now we have a very poor (and porous) offensive line, and they are making our offensive play makers look, well… offensive.

Wood and Levitre may indeed be the answer on the interior of the line eventually, and I have no complaints about the center, Geoff Hangartner. But the cornerstones of an offensive line are its ends. Left and right tackle. You signed a RT in the offseason, Cornell Green, but I’m not seeing him as a brick wall, or a “House” (whom we Bills fans grew accustomed to seeing as a fixture during the 1990s in Howard “House” Ballard).

There are options. Bell may end up being a fantastic athlete and a great tackle. Why not move him to right tackle and make a trade for San Diego’s disgruntled LT, Marcus McNeill? McNeill was a Pro Bowl player last year, and is currently holding out. My proposal is that we trade Marshawn Lynch and either a draft pick or one of our generic wide receivers for Marcus McNeill, and immediately improve our offensive line.

Then, we need to deal another decent player for a first round draft pick in 2011 (so we have at least two 1st round picks) and grab a high-profile tackle in next year’s draft. The foundational piece of the offense is the line, and ours has way too many cracks and holes that need immediate attention.

On the defense, while all of our players have heart, it’s not clear that they have enough talent. Nearly every team that dictates play on defense has a play maker on the defensive line. If there is an option right now for a trade, make it. If not, then trade Chris Kelsay for as high a draft pick as possible. Then in 2011 or 2012 draft a play maker defensive end. Such as Mario Williams is becoming for the Houston Texans. (#1 overall pick a few years back.)

THIRD MOVE: Get Your Play Makers
Once the foundation is in place, then you add your stars. I believe that one was added this year in C. J. Spiller. That kid looks great. (Of course, no one can see how great he is, thanks to the defense being in the backfield with him when he gets the ball. See above.) And, Fred Jackson has proven to be quite a productive player as well. Nice job.

However, one position that once seemed a strength (if only due to the sheer number of roster spots taken by these players) is now currently a great liability. It is my belief that the Buffalo Bills have not only need for a #2 wide receiver, but also a #1 wide receiver. While I think that Lee Evans has incredible hands, and is equally incredibly fast, he can not dominate a game. He simply can not. He has had chances, and has never done it. Good teams have at least two threats, and we really have none. (Again, part of the blame must go to the lack of an offensive line—not giving Evans enough time to get open.) I’m not even sure that Evans is a good route runner. When there is any time for our QB to throw, the receivers are not open!

So starting right now, decide who you think are the top two game-breaking WRs in the game (pro or college level) and go get them. Spare no expense. Trade Lee Evans for a high draft pick if it’s a college player you want. Move Roscoe Parrish. Trade Brian Moorman if you think it will help! Great, game-changing WRs can make an offense unstoppable. And they need to be at least in pairs. Steve Johnson, David Nelson, and Donald Jones are all just fine. But that’s all they are. Fine. We need game breakers.

Then, I am sure you have noticed that other teams have game changers at the tight end position, right? How about last game’s performance by Jermichael Finley? Yes, you’re right. That was really good! Most good-to-great teams have a large, physical, fast, pass-catching TE who can change the game. Keep the chains moving, and put points on the board (to use a few football cliches…) Trade any or all of our current tight ends for one game-changing tight end. Throw in a few hundred chicken wings to sweeten the deal.

And lastly, quarterback.

I am actually a supporter of Trent Edwards. He is the best option on the roster currently, and he actually does (by my estimation) possess all the physical and mental skills of a good to even great quarterback in the NFL. He can make every throw. He is accurate. He has the strong arm. He is intelligent, and knows and understands football. He can even (most times) read defenses and make the right call.

Sadly… he is not he answer.

I have seen it all through the off-season, and during these past two regular season games. He does not want to win. The one piece he is missing is an intangible, that all great QBs have. The competitive drive/fire to win. Just win. No matter what it takes, and don’t ever settle for less. Anything less is a complete failure. (Granted, there will be clashes between two great teams where one team wins and one loses… and that can still be the bitter/sour taste of a loss, but the reality is that one team does lose.) The problem with Trent is that he is too accustomed to losing (through his entire life of playing football) and it doesn’t seem to bother him. At least, not as much as it should.

So, there must be a shake-up, and it should come from the draft. One of the two (or more) first round picks we have and/or acquire via trade need to be used on a big-name QB, who has always won. Don’t get cute, just do what it takes to land the guy who will want to win, and has the talent to make it happen. The next Peyton Manning is out there. Find him. And get him. At any cost.

The 2011 draft is said to be a quarterback-rich draft. Study them, and with no preconceived limitations, decide who is the best and get him. No exceptions.

FOURTH MOVE: Add depth
Honestly, there will be some depth when the above moves are made and some of the current players take their rightful place as “role players” and roster depth. Aside from running back and defensive back, there are no stars on this team. (Poz may be, but we can’t ever know because he’s always getting hurt. In fact, he should be on the list of potential trade fodder.)

Depth can be added via mid-to-late round draft choices and free agency. But the first three moves must be made first.


  1. Make some moves! No one is untouchable. Build the foundation, and begin adding real play makers by trading players like Marshawn Lynch, Lee Evans, Chris Kelsay, Paul Posluszny, Roscoe Parrish… really anyone!
  2. Specifically, trade Marshawn Lynch and a draft pick (or a WR) to San Diego for LT Marcus McNeill (or if he’s not available, someone of a similar caliber)
  3. Stockpile draft picks by trading the above players—really anyone with any value—and then spend those draft picks on TWO game-breaker WRs, an all-star OT, and a QB that has a proven record of winning at all levels.
  4. Use later draft picks and free agency to keep adding depth and role players.

All of these steps can be made in a maximum of three seasons. It can likely be done in two seasons. So what is keeping you from doing it? Is it just that we loyal Bills fans keep buying tickets, despite the your apparent lack of commitment to excellence and a championship in Buffalo? Perhaps. And I’m not sure how to fix that, since we Bills fans are clearly loyal to a fault.

But for the sake of those loyal fans. For the sake of Ralph Wilson. For the sake of the great Bills teams of the past… make these moves!. Start this week. Use the tools at your disposal and build a great team starting now.

Then you, One Bills Drive, will make a name for yourself as the first to bring a championship to Western New York. Then the prestige that was once known by all associated with this team will once again return. Then there will no longer be a chuckle at the mention of our team or the sight of our charging Buffalo.

Then this team will once again be a proud representative of the most loyal fans in all of sports.

It’s within your power, within your reach.

Now get it done.

Games News Opinion

The Buffalo Bills’ Strategy

C.J. Spiller of the Buffalo Bills

I am a big Buffalo Bills fan. Yes, believe it or not, there are still some of us out here. Though I may be ridiculed, though I may see little reward for my undying loyalty and eternal optimism, yet to do persist.

Many have puzzled over the operational decisions of our team in the past decade or more. I think it started when then head coach Wade Phillips decided to start QB Rob Johnson instead of the city’s favorite quarterback, Doug Flutie, who had been a huge part of a mid-to-late-season surge to get the Bills to the playoffs. The fans were in an uproar, and the Bills did lose the game—although, of course, that’s debatable, since the win for Tennessee came by way of the infamous “Home Run Throwback” play in the “Music City Miracle” game… IT WAS A FORWARD PASS!!!! Ahem… Ironically, that was the last time the Bills made the playoffs.

More recent years have seen several wasted 1st round draft choices—Mike Williams and J. P. Losman being chief amongst the busts. A slightly below average, mundane (and disappointing in the end) coaching choice: Dick Jauron. (Of course that followed several mediocre choices the years prior who amounted to almost nothing.)

Another piece is that the Bills rarely make the moves that seem necessary to build a championship team. They do alright in the draft overall, but there remain large holes to be filled on the roster. There are very rarely any “big moves” in the offseason, or otherwise. Likely the biggest splash the Bills made in the decade of the 00s was signing free agent wide reciever Terrell Owens. (And, other than setting the Buffalo Bills record for longest TD catch, Owens did not really amount to much either.)

So what is this team’s plan?

After a fairly encouraging pre-season, where Bills fans saw their team actually moving the ball and scoring points (as well as glimmers of brilliance from a few good players on defense and special teams) we have once again been jolted back to reality by an offensive offensive performance in game one against the Dolphins last week: this team is not that good.

And it gets worse. Today the Bills will play in Green Bay (not an easy place to get a win!) and then the next four opponents are New England, New York Jets, Jacksonville, and Baltimore. Ouch.

There are some really encouraging signs, still, despite the high probability that our favorite team might go 0-6 to start this 2010 NFL season. (Again… ouch.)

Young players like Buffalo’s new favorite running back, C. J. Spiller, our defensive backfield including Terrence McGee, Jairus Byrd, Leodis McKelvin and even Donte Whitner… not to mention a few players who have been around and whom we already know are capable of big plays: Roscoe Parrish, Lee Evans, and Fred Jackson.

The biggest questions are still our offensive line (they are, in general, VERY young an inexperienced still), our defensive line, our wide receivers, our line backers, and our quarterback(s).

Wow. Guess we’re still at the beginning of this rebuild, eh?

If the offensive linemen actually do have the talent, then the Bills will be set for years to come. Three of the five starters have only 1 or 2 years of NFL experience. (And not full seasons, due to injuries.) I think they still need to bring in more talent, but if most or all of these guys develop, then they’ll be in good shape. The problem is, it’s still a very big unknown.

Defensive line, line backers, and wide receivers are all positions where the Bills just need to bring in more talent. They still don’t have a reliable #2 receiver. I’m not even sure they have a reliable, game-breaking #1 receiver. Lee Evans is very talented, but I’m not sure he’s a #1 guy. The line backers have potential, but are also unproven. The Bills did bring in a few veterans at this position in the off-season (and recently added Akin Ayodele due to Kawika Mitchell’s injury) but again, this unit does not strike fear in their opponent’s hearts just yet. The defensive line has heart, but they may be lacking in talent, and surely the team is lacking depth there.

That brings us to quarterback. Bills fans were outraged when the team decided to keep the three players from last year’s team who all failed to impress, given a good number of opportunities to do so. Why not get a free agent like Jake Delhomme? Why not trade for Mike Vick or Donovan McNabb? Why not draft a hot-shot rookie like Jimmy Claussen (who was available at the #9 pick this year…) I think the answer is that the Bills wanted to add talent and depth at other positions, and wait for the 2011 draft to grab their QB for the future. (Hoping against hope that one of the three guys they already have might flip some magic switch and be “the guy” before they have to start over again.)

Blame the QB (Trent Edwards) if you want, but QB is not the team’s biggest issue. Trent Edwards has talent, toughness, and football intelligence. He just lacks that intangible piece: the insatiable desire to win. More of the blame for poor QB play should be placed on the broad shoulders of his offensive line. They were awful in week one.

If the Bills can get their running game established this year, they’ll do alright. They have some play makers on defense and special teams. And if they get the other team on their heels with the running game’s success, then they can also have success in the passing game. Unfortunately, this team has way too many “ifs”.

Bills fans wonder “if” that will ever end.

The Bills strategy seems to be very long-term. The best we can hope for this season, fellow Bills fan, is that our team is competitive (technically, even in a dismal performance by the offense last week, they were competitive right to the end of the game) and that we sneak out a couple of wins en route to a high draft pick for the 2011 NFL Draft next April.

Till then… grab some pizza and wings… maybe some beef on weck… and…

Go Bills!

Games Players Schedule

Get Your Popcorn Ready

popcornAs anticipated, the signing of Terrell Owens this off-season has increased the national appeal of our small-town gridiron heroes. The formerly uninteresting, middle-of-the-pack nobodies are now one of the teams slated to be showcased on the NFL’s opening weekend. Partly because they are one of the original AFL teams, and the NFL is celebrating the AFL’s 50th anniversary this season, but mostly because of T.O.

Get your popcorn ready, North America.

Think what you will about T.O. – selfishness, “Me Only” attitude, bashing teammates (especially QBs) – he definitely commands attention. Dick Jauron can’t stop parroting his stats in press conferences. His new coach is obviously impressed. And so are season ticket holders. Increased sales and renewals are a direct result of signing just this one player. The Bills Store has also seen an amazing demand for Owens jerseys. The guy commands attention.

The Bills have at least one more showcase game already. They will be on the national stage once again when they play their second game across the border in Toronto, Ontario. (Also known by the locals as, “T.O.” That won’t be exploited at all…) The early talk is that the Bills could play Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts in that game. Other possibilities include Tampa Bay and New Orleans.

But I really don’t think that will be the end of it. Thanks to the T.O. factor, NFL fans across the country (and beyond) should be seeing our Buffalo Bills many times this season.

I really like the first game for Buffalo, too. Think about it. The return of Tom Brady. T.O.’s first game. The losing streak is beginning to rival that dreaded Oh-for-the-70s streak against the hated Miami Dolphins. What better litmus test for this T.O.-powered offense (and the whole team in general) than the one team they just can’t beat? (The one possible flaw being the likely absence of star RB Marshawn Lynch, who should be serving the first game of a suspension whose length – and actuality – is yet to be determined.)

The NFL powers that be have decided the Bills are worth watching. Most Bills fans are equally intrigued. If nothing else, you have to admit, Bills’ GM (and former marketing guy) Russ Brandon really knows how to market his team.

So we now have a date. September 14th at 7:00pm EDT.

Get your popcorn ready.

Games News Players

Lynch Shines (A Little) In Pro Bowl

Marshawn Lynch in the Pro BowlPerhaps next year, Marshawn Lynch will be invited for real. In 2008, serving as an injury replacement for Tennessee’s Chris Johnson, Lynch ended up leading all rushers in the game. Lynch had 48 yards on 6 carries (some were pure “Beast Mode”!) which tied Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson, who had 48 yards on 8 carries. Lynch wasn’t on the field very much, but almost every time he was, he made something happen.

His first appearance was a long run off the left side. Later on that drive, the AFC offense stalled on third down and short, with the RB unable to pick up the necessary yardage. Offensive Coordinator, Cam Cameron (of the Ravens) sent in Marshawn to pick up the yard, knowing that is what he is good at. The TV crew had him mic-ed, and we heard him say, “Marshawn better get this…” (Perhaps Lynch did a little begging to get in there?)

He did indeed, being stopped two yards short of the mark, he fought and fought until he had it. Beast Mode!

Lynch also had a run on a third down where he carried the pile of players – offense and defense – about six or seven yards for the first down.

It was great to see our Buffalo Bills represented well – in play, if not in number – in this year’s Pro Bowl. Hope to see many more there in the years to come!

Current Bills Games

A Game of Inches

Football is a game of inches. Inches turn into feet and feet turn into yards. And yards, of course, turn into what feels like miles.

But it all starts with inches.

Looking back on the Buffalo Bills mid-season slump, it’s easy to see how Bills fans can feel like this team is just plain awful. The turnover difference alone was abysmal. Minus 11 over the six game stretch where they were 1-5. But add to that the apparent ineptitude of the run game, as well as the general lack of production from the offense… and you have some sizable “inches”.

The problem is, from a slightly different perspective, you can see how it really is about the inches.

Take for example, the game against the Jets. If all things were equal – meaning Trent gets injured on play number three of the Cards game, and the Bills are stunned by the Fish, and they remain befuddled by Belichick’s gameplans, and they even lose a very winnable game to the hapless Browns – winning just one game in which they were very competitive, they would be in a tie for first place in the AFC East, instead of two games out. Just by winning that one game.


Remember that game? The Bills had the ball for fifteen straight minutes. Game minutes, not clock minutes. They moved into the red zone once and, thanks to good pressure from the Jets and a receiver slipping, the ball went the other way for seven points. The next time, thanks to a couple very questionable spots, the Bills could not get a first down deep in the Jets territory. Two long drives, zero points.

Add to that the crazy play by Leon Washington to step out of bounds and then touch the ball that was still IN BOUNDS in order to get the Jets the ball at the 40 rather than inside their own 10. Or, the Bills inability to stop the Jets on the final drive of the 4th quarter where they took off a big chunk of time and posted three more points. (Credit the Jets on that one.)

But for a few key plays, the Bills could have won that game, and been in a much different position than they find themselves in now.

Now they are 0-3 in their division. If they have any hopes of advancing to the playoffs, they will need to win the rest of the games they play in the AFC East. At the New York Jets, “home” against the Dolphins (in Toronto), and then home against the Patriots in the final week of the season. None of those will be easy, but the Bills certainly can compete in each of those games.

If we’re talking inches, don’t forget that the Bills were stunned by Miami’s Ted Ginn Jr. who had the game of his life when they last met. Even with Ginn’s stunning performance, the Bills had clawed back to take a 16-7 lead in the third quarter. But one player – Josh Reed – went down with a serious injury, and the offense began to sputter. One player was hobbled by an injury – Terrance McGee – and that deficiency was exploited… greatly.

But for a few different plays, a different player, a few different calls, an NFL season can look very, very different altogether. Just ask the San Diego Chargers. Losers of four games in the final 26 seconds of those games… they are a pitiful 4-7 this season, but could very well be 8-3. That’s a very big difference.

Every game in the NFL is critical. Wins and losses matter more in football than in any other sport I can think of. With only 16 games per season, and only 6 games total against the other teams in your division, it’s almost essential you win every game! The Bills have been sloppy at points (Miami, Cleveland) and unlucky in others (Arizona, NY Jets) and now they are stuck with a 6-5 record, and still on the outside edge of the proverbial playoff bubble.

Every year, players and fans can look back at “what might have been” but in the end, that really never helps. The Jets game is over, and the Bills lost. The difference is first to last place, from just one game, but you can’t get it back. Now the Bills can only look forward, and hope to win every game they play. 10-6 may not be good enough to make the playoffs this year.

Actually, 11-5 might miss the playoffs!

If the Bills won all the rest of their games – finishing 11-5 – the Jets would lose one, to the Bills, but could win the rest of theirs, to finish 12-4. The Patriots would only be able to finish 11-5, by virtue of of a loss to the Bills, and the Fins could only finish 9-7, again, after a loss to the Bills, and assuming they lose to the Jets in week 17. What could keep the Bills out of the playoffs is if Indy and Baltimore also win the rest of their games, to both go 12-4 and grab the two wild card spots! What a crazy scenario that is!

A better scenario for Bills fans would be for the Jets to lose to the Dolphins, and finish 11-5 at best, and then the Bills would win the division based on the better conference record (would be 8-4). That would send the Bills to the playoffs for the first time since 1999!

But any way you slice it, thanks to this game of inches… the Bills need help. They can’t make the playoffs on their own. They have to do their share (beating all three division opponents at least, and probably Denver, too, if not all five games) but even if they can accomplish that, they won’t be in the playoffs unless other teams falter.

How does it always end up this way?

Somehow, the Bills need to find a way to get on the other side of the ruler. We’re only talking a matter of inches.

Current Bills Games

Open Letter to the Buffalo Bills

To Whom It May Concern
Re: The recent Bills slump
From: A concerned Bills Fan

A recent series of events has led me to compose this letter to you, as it seems you may be in need of some outside guidance. I have been a fan and long-time supporter of your organization, dating back a couple decades now, and though I concede that you have more knowledge and experience in the proverbial “Xs” and “Os” of your profession, I do have a few recommendations that might be worth your consideration, and perhaps would improve the results of your weekly efforts.

First, congratulations on the fantastic beginning to this season. 4-0 is nothing to sneeze at, nor is 5-1 following a superb, complete victory over a very fine football team in the San Diego Chargers. In the first six games, and perhaps that game in particular, what I saw as an outside onlooker seemed to be a never-say-die attitude, and a strong desire (and confidence) on every play and on every series and in every quarter. You looked like winners.

The same can not be said of the past two games.

Every team experiences “slumps.” That is the nature of sport. One team wins, and another loses. The difference between the two is minor in detail, but feels much more “major” on the scoreboard and in the standings. Lately, besides poor execution on a handful of plays (which may or may not have impacted the final score of those games) there has been – to me – a significant shift in attitude.

Mind you, I am not talking about work-ethic or effort put forth on the field each play. I am only talking about the mindset, the “aura”… that apparent confidence and swagger that this team had early in the 2008 season that they were not only good enough to win, and that they could win, but that they were going to win. After a sloppy start in Miami (coupled with a tremendous start by their team) your team – the Bills – seemed to be hesitant, tentative, pushing, and … playing not to lose.

Sometimes, in a slump, no matter how hard you try not to lose, you still lose. In hockey, you can generate all the chances you used to have, but they ring off the goal post, or the goalie stands on his head to make a save he wouldn’t normally make. In baseball, your best hitters grip the bat a little tighter, and end up with stats worse than the guys who are usually at the bottom of your stat sheet. In basketball, even for your best player, the hoop can seemingly shrink to one size smaller than the ball itself.

But every team breaks out of a slump. It usually takes one thing going your way. I honestly thought it might be that ill-advised pass by Brett Favre yesterday. After so many things not going your way, I thought that might turn it around. But, giving credit to them, they put together a drive that finished off the game.

Slumps are very difficult to work yourself out of. Often, that makes it worse. In playing to break out of the slump (read: to not lose) your game gets tighter, your attitude shifts to a negative rather than a confident, positive swagger… and in tightening up, you lose.

This week, please remember that you are basically the same team that started this season. Every team deals with injuries, bad calls (both by your staff and the officiating crew) and other “breaks” that eventually balance out. But you can only control yourself. And mainly, you can only control your attitude. That attitude needs to be shifted back to the quiet confidence that you can – and will – win the game.

We’re back to one game at a time (not three division games, not five crucial conference games, just the game in front of you). There is a big game in six days and you all know you can win it. At least, you used to know that.

This week, work on fundamentals to be sure. Work hard in practice and work to correct mistakes from the past two games. Come up with a great game plan that uses your strengths and exploits their weaknesses. Those things all must be done. But most of all, as a team, remember that you can – and will – win the game when you take the field.

Next chance, 1:00pm on Sunday, November 9th.

Current Bills Games Players

Mr. First Down

Josh Reed, Mr. First DownLast week, as the Bills had (somewhat unimpressively) clawed their way to a 16-7 lead in Miami against a charged-up divisional opponent looking to topple the division leaders, they may have discovered just how much #82 brings to the table.

Over the years, Josh Reed has been much-maligned for his under production. After all, he was the Fred Biletnikoff award winner in 2001. When you are proclaimed the nation’s top receiver coming out of college, certainly much is expected.

But not much was seen. Bills fans did not see the numbers you might expect from such an award winner. In fact, the number that might have stood out the most was the number of times he dropped passes. “Don’t throw it to Reed,” shouted Bills’ faithful, “he’ll drop it!!!”

And indeed he did.

Still, #82 persisted on the Buffalo Bills roster. Bills coaches would consistently laud his superior blocking skills. He was an assett to the team’s run game. (But, shouldn’t a receiver be an asset to the passing game?) They would also say he is a great route runner. (OK, that’s a plus for a receiver, but then you have to also catch the ball!!!) Year after year, training camp would come and go and somehow, someway, Josh Reed continued to make the final roster.

But what happened over the last couple years has definitely swung the balance of many Bills fans allegiance in Reed’s favor.

Reed has become (a name I have dubbed him on the Buffalo Bills Review), Mr. First Down.

When the Bills need a clutch catch, Reed makes it. Reed is the one who gets open, makes the tough grab, fights off the tackles, and gets just enough yards for the first down. First, he often runs routes that get him open beyond the first down markers – something many receivers do not seem to understand. Second, he makes the catch – something he did not seem to previously understand. And third, he often gains tough yards after the catch to ensure he gets the first down.

Perhaps we saw his importance to the Bills offense somewhat amplified last week when, in the second half after the team lost him to an injury, the offense was seemingly incapable of sustaining drives. Thinking back to games earlier this season, many of the 4th quarter come from behind victories involved multiple catches by Mr. First Down to keep the chains moving.

Reed is not a big play (meaning long yardage) receiver. He doesn’t score many touchdowns. But he is an essential part of the Bills offense, and when he misses any time it will take a big effort from his replacements to fill his shoes. I’m not certain James Hardy, Justin Jenkins and all three tight ends can really do that.

They’ll get a chance to give it a try this week. Reed has not practiced this week (in fact, he was wearing an immobilizer boot on the ankle with the strained achilles) and looks very doubtful for the game Sunday.

The once-maligned, under-achieving receiver has become an essential (and greatly missed) piece of the Buffalo Bills offense. Nice job, Josh. You are forever in the mind of this Bills fan… the original…

Mr. First Down.

Games Sabres

Buffalo Sabres are “Double Awesome”

Thomas Vanek and the Buffalo Sabres are on a rollThe Buffalo Bills are certainly grabbing many headlines these days as they continue their winning ways with a record of 5-1. They are playing great, and are quite deserving of all the attention they are getting. But the Bills are not the only sports franchise in Buffalo experiencing a very high level of success.

The Sabres are quietly returning to their President Trophy-winning form.

Going into their game last night, the 5-0-1 Sabres faced a tough challenge on the road against a team that was also undefeated in regulation (4-0-0) and is known for being one of the top defensive teams in the league. The Sabres are back to their goal scoring ways, though they have also improved their defense – as well as Ryan Miller leading the league in GAA – but playing in Minnesota was definitely going to be tough.

Because of all that, I told my family before the game began, “If the Sabres can win this one, they are awesome.”

Well, it appeared that we just might have been awesome. After one period, the Sabres had the lone goal. A 1-0 lead on the road against a tough team. Nice! I was getting ready to declare my team “awesome”.

But then we played the second period.

The Sabres looked pretty sloppy to me. A bit slower to the puck than Minnesota. And just a few giveaways let the Wild not only get back in the game, but end the period with a 2-1 lead.

Unfortunately, early in the third it got even worse. With Minnesota on a power play, Ryan Miller was attempting to clear the puck when a Minnesota player tipped a poorly aimed clearing attempt by Miller just enough to direct it into the net. Basically, Miller put it in his own net, giving the Wild a seemingly insurmountable 3-1 third period lead.

But these Sabres are nothing if not persistent.

With the team being in such a hole against such an opponent with such little time remaining, I now modified my pre-game declaration. “If the Sabres win the game now, they would be DOUBLE awesome.”

The puck had not been bouncing their way, but with under four minutes to go, Nathan Paetsch threw a puck to the net that Adam Mair tipped just inside the post. I was really glad they scored that goal, just to make it at least somewhat respectable. As I was still celebrating that goal, however, the NHL’s leading goal scorer fired a shot past the Wild goal tender and just like that – the game was tied!

The crowd was stunned. I was stunned. Maybe even the Sabres were stunned.

The game went to overtime, and only 44 seconds into the extra period, the Sabres shoved the puck past Minnesota goalie, Niklas Backstrom. It was Derek Roy’s first goal of the year, and it completed an improbable comeback win, even for the Buffalo Sabres, who have made a habit of that this season.

And it proved that the Sabres were indeed, “Double Awesome”.

It’s a fun year to be a Buffalo sports fan, folks! Enjoy it! Two teams are having some really great success. Still a little early in both seasons to know where it might lead, but you can’t have much better starts than our Bills and Sabres have had.

Go Buffalo!

AFC East Games Schedule

One Very Meaningful Month

10/19 San Diego
10/26 @ Miami
11/2 New York Jets
11/9 @ New England
11/17 Cleveland

This Sunday the Bills host the San Diego Chargers. It’s a surprisingly difficult game to call. The Chargers would seem to have the upper hand talent-wise, but the Bills have many other advantages. Aside from being quite talented themselves, they also have the home field advantage, the time zone advantage (and no cross-country trip), they are coming off the bye, and a handful of other match-ups in their favor.

Still, the game could really go either way. And that doesn’t necessarily hurt the Bills.

Now, you always want to win. And, if they Bills pull off the win against the Chargers, that puts them in pretty good shape in the conference, having victories over the Jags and Chargers – two AFC playoff candidates. But if you take a look at the next month of games for the Bills, they could really put the team in a great position for their first playoff run in nine years.

From October 19th through November 17th, the Bills face five AFC opponents, three of those being their first AFC East contests of the 2008 season. If they can win each of those games, they would be almost a lock for a playoff spot. And of course, the opposite is true. If they should lose all or most of those games, it would be much more difficult, despite their 4-0 start.

Following the first game vs San Diego, the Bills head down to Miami to face the Dolphins in their first of three straight AFC East games. Miami has already beaten the Patriots and the Chargers, and gave Houston a tough game on the road recently. They are certainly improved over the 1-15 team they were last year. It will be a test for the Bills, especially being down in the heat of Miami in November. However, if the Bills are the team we think they are, they go into Miami, and leave with the win.

After that, the Bills host the New York Bretts … uh… Jets. The Jets certainly have a bit more… something? They have a decent receiving corp, a couple decent running backs, and a decent defense. But overall, they are still the Jets. Brett Farve is definitely the “X” factor, and can win any game he goes out to play. But they are still the Jets. The Bills need to win this game at home, and I believe they will.

That leaves the matchup I have been waiting for since the schedule game out. With half a season under their belts, our young, confident Bills will head to Foxboro, Massachusetts to take on the despised division rival, the Patriots. The Pats have won some ridiculous amount of games to the Bills ONE in the past many years. It’s time for that to change, and with Matt Cassell at QB, the Bills are in a much better position to go in and control the game, and leave with a big win over the Pats. The Patriots still have a decent team, but the Bills are better, and I will stick with my prediction that the Bills will win both games against New England this season. (Note: I made that prediction before Tom Brady went down with an injury for the entire season.)

That leaves the big Monday Night Football showdown at The Ralph against the Cleveland Browns. Last season, the Bills needed a win in Cleveland to have any shot at making the playoffs. They were met head on by a crazy blizzard and other such forces of nature, leading to a 8-0 loss to the Brownies. Was not at all what anyone was expecting, but perhaps this Nov 17th contest in Buffalo will turn out differently.

The Browns showed last week that they are still a talented team offensively. The Bills can score points as well. I’d expect a good battle between two up-and-coming AFC playoff hopefuls, and I would also expect the Bills to put on a show for the national audience. Much like they did vs Dallas last year, except this year, they will finish with a ‘W’.

If the Bills can have success as I describe above over the next month of Sundays (and a Monday) then at 9-1, or at least 8-2, they will be in great shape for their first trip tot he playoffs in nearly a decade. Following this 5-game stretch, the next two opponents are Kansas City, and then home against San Francisco.

Things are looking good for Bills fans.

A lot depends on this very meaningful month. How the Bills perform over that month should say a lot about them, and may nearly ensure that they will play in the second season.

That would be welcome news indeed.