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Bills Beat Blog

By Joe Buscaglia
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Posts from September 2014

Time to prove it is now for Bills' Marrone
The events that unfolded on the Monday after the Buffalo Bills’ second straight loss all lead to one clear and concise conclusion: 

This is Doug Marrone’s show now. There’s no other way around it.

On Monday, the Bills made the decision to move on from the team’s first-round pick from 2013 after just 14 total starts. And the move, as stark as it was, wasn’t even the sole reason for heightened expectations from Marrone for the remainder of 2014. 

It’s how the coach went about it. 

Most times when a team makes a franchise altering decision like this one, the head coach will more or less say that it was a group decision. We learned that Marrone isn’t most head coaches, and he put himself on a limb without anyone to grab on to in the event he falls.

General manager Doug Whaley isn’t there with him, neither is Team President and CEO Russ Brandon and the same goes with the entire front office as well. Marrone stands alone after delivering a borderline defiant statement during his press conference to announce that Manuel had been benched for Kyle Orton.

He made it abundantly clear that this was his call, and in the way he termed it to the media, that he didn’t care what Whaley or anyone else thought of his decision.

“I didn’t ask for an agreement,” Marrone said Monday. “I just went in there and said ‘This is the direction that I’m going.’”

For a second-year head coach in his first stop, that’s quite the bold power play. 

He later revealed that after explaining his thought process to Whaley, that both sides were in agreement. While that’s still important, it’s trumped by Marrone’s first words to the media about the genesis of the decision.

The success or failure of 2014 — which will be defined by the Bills making the playoffs this season and nothing else — has been laid at the feet of the head coach.

So the question is, why? Why did Marrone feel like it was necessary to pull the rip cord on Manuel after only 14 starts and put this season on himself?

The answer is simple:

Pressure. And it’s not just the normal pressure that every head coach in the NFL faces, either. This kind of pressure is a bit different.

Marrone knows he has to win this year and throw aside the normal, preconceived notions of what is expected of a head coach in only his second year. A new pair of owners are on the way in one week and he knows he only has one chance to make an impression on Terry and Kim Pegula.

Had the situations been different and things stayed the way they were, perhaps the Bills and Marrone aren’t in the spot that they’re in. Perhaps they could have gone with Manuel through thick and thin in 2014 and established a firm answer on their former first-round pick.

As we all know, that’s just not how it has played out. And what we witnessed today was an over correction by Marrone. 

The head coach has essentially made a declaration that yells, ‘the future be damned!’ He is all in on 2014 because he might not have a 2015 to rely on. For him it’s all about self-preservation, which many can identify with in situations where a new boss is brought in.

Is sacrificing what could be a clear and definitive answer on their first-round quarterback for a journeyman backup with some success in the league going to be worth it?

Marrone, and only Marrone, better hope so. Otherwise, one of the first edicts of the Pegulas could be for those in charge to find a new head coach for 2015.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press
Tags :  
Topics: Sports
People: Doug MarroneDoug WhaleyKim PegulaKyle OrtonRuss Brandon

So, what's next for EJ Manuel?
The day Buffalo Bills quarterback EJ Manuel never wanted to face is here. Just 523 days after the Bills used their first round selection to take the Florida State quarterback, the very head coach that drafted him stepped up to the podium and announced that Manuel had been benched for poor play.

The reasons for the decision, along with the explanations of that very line of thinking, will be discussed thoroughly for the remainder of the 2014 NFL season. However, what does this mean for Manuel as it stands?

Head coach Doug Marrone laid it all out: the former Bills starting quarterback has one of two choices.

“Now, he has a tough road ahead of him. It’s going to be tough. It’s going to be reported, things are going to come at him and he has to fight through this thing,” Marrone said. “If he fights through it, he’ll be fine. If he doesn’t then he’s not. That’s not any different than a lot of players that this happens to, it just becomes more magnified when it’s the quarterback position.”

In the short-term, the decision handed down from the head coach was something Manuel never wanted to hear in his time in the NFL. If he looks at it from a longterm perspective, one could argue that this could be the best thing for Manuel’s career.

First, he’ll need to endure the scrutiny of being labeled as a failed first-round pick so early into his career. If he can, as Marrone alluded, he has a chance to take a step back out of the public eye and work on all the things during the season that he wouldn’t have been able to as the starter.

Manuel is far from a finished product, as the news of the day amply suggests. So, as Marrone said, it’s now the quarterback’s job to battle through the rest of it and focus on becoming the player they hoped he could when they initially drafted him.

“Well I think there are things that are going on right now that we discussed today, that it gives him a chance to just step back for a moment, look at things that, you know, we can work on and correct,” the head coach remarked. “And again, he'll have to have some thick skin through this. And you've got to fight, and that's usually what happens in life to get what you want, you're going to have to fight for it. I think that he'll be able to grow, I think he'll be able to handle it well from my conversation with him. And he'll be able to continue to grow as a quarterback.”

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press
Tags :  
Topics: Sports
People: Doug Marrone

Marrone benches Manuel, Bills to start Orton Sunday
The move that many were calling for has happened in Orchard Park. Buffalo Bills head coach Doug Marrone announced Monday afternoon that he has decided to bench second-year quarterback EJ Manuel, and the team will start veteran Kyle Orton on Sunday in Detroit.

Marrone stepped up to the podium on Monday and delivered the news that dramatically changed the course of Manuel's career.

"Obviously as a head coach, you've got to evaluate everything. At the end of the day, you've got to make the right decisions. Obviously with your mind and you're able to see things. Obviously with your heart, you know, things like that. The one thing is, when you go to bed at night, you have to make sure that you're making the best decisions to help our football team win," the coach started. "And in saying that, we're going to make a change at quarterback. Kyle Orton will go in there."

Orton, 31, will make his first start for the Bills after he signed with the team on August 30. With the team's Week Five contest in Detroit, it will also be his 71st career start after previous stints with Chicago, Denver, Kansas City and Dallas.

With the decision to put Orton in the starting lineup, it comes as a high profile manuever for Marrone to bench the team's former first round pick of a quarterback. Manuel is only the third player of that position selected in the first round by the franchise, but the head coach felt it was the correct approach to take.

"It's not all EJ's fault, but we need to get better production, obviously, out of that position. We have to make adjustments. We've got to make some changes, because we can't keep going in the direction that we're going," Marrone remarked. "The one thing I've said before, and you guys have heard me, is you need to get better every week. And if we're not, the onus goes on me as the leader to make changes that can help our team win."

There was one point that the head coach made abundantly clear on Monday: the decision was his and his alone. He made the ultimate call and then informed general manager Doug Whaley and the rest of the coaching staff of his intentions.

With how Marrone spoke on Monday, the choice to bench Manuel for Orton will be one of his most defining moments as the head coach of the Bills.

"I didn’t ask for an agreement. I just went in there and said ‘This is the direction that I’m going,'" Marrone said of his conversations with Whaley and his staff. "I went to Doug, I said look, this gives us the best opportunity to win. We talked about it. We looked at some things, and we were in full agreement on it."

The move comes with one lingering principle in mind for Marrone in the Bills: to get to the playoffs in 2014. Manuel's play over the past two weeks, specifically in his inaccuracy to his wide receivers, left the head coach with no other options.

Orton takes over for the former first-round pick, and while it's not a permanent move, it's the one that left Marrone with what he felt was his best option. Even at 2-2, the head coach believes that his team is capable of doing something that they haven't in quite some time. He feels the Bills can get to the postseason with Kyle Orton as their starting quarterback.

"Absolutely. I believe that we have a playoff caliber team," he said. "I think that we have to play better than we did the last two weeks, though."

The first test for the Orton-led Bills will be Sunday on the road against the Lions.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press
Tags :  
Topics: Sports
Locations: Detroit
People: Doug MarroneKyle Orton

Graham gets 8 snaps: Bills' playtime percentages vs. Houston
The Buffalo Bills couldn't find a way to hang on to the lead against the Houston Texans and lost for the second straight week. The Bills are now 2-2 on the season after they lost to former quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium.

Who was on the field the most? Here are some notes from the recently released playtime percentages:

- Cornerback Corey Graham, who had been the best cornerback on the team's roster through the first three weeks, received only 12-percent of snaps against the Houston Texans. The three-man rotation that head coach Doug Marrone had been referring to was not evident on Sunday.

- On Friday, Marrone said that the team was toying with the idea of giving both rookie Cyril Richardson and backup center Kraig Urbik time at left guard against Houston. The prevailing thought all week was that Richardson would get the start, and that was ultimately what happened. Richardson took all 70 snaps at left guard, whereas Urbik didn't receive one.

- Brandon Spikes received a combined 33 snaps over the last two games, but against Houston, the linebacker was back to his old usage. Spikes played 42 total snaps on Sunday and was one of the key pieces of the swarming run defense. The Texans played a lot of two tight end sets which likely contributed to the high snap count, as did the injury to Nigel Bradham in the third quarter.

The playtime percentages in full:


QB EJ Manuel - 70 (100%)
LT Cordy Glenn - 70 (100%)
LG Cyril Richardson - 70 (100%)
C Eric Wood - 70 (100%)
RG Erik Pears - 70 (100%)
RT Seantrel Henderson - 70 (100%)
WR Sammy Watkins - 70 (100%)
WR Robert Woods - 69 (99%)
TE Scott Chandler - 54 (77%)
WR Mike Williams - 43 (61%)
HB Fred Jackson - 39 (56%)
HB C.J. Spiller - 31 (44%)
TE Lee Smith - 16 (23%)
WR Chris Hogan - 11 (16%)
TE Chris Gragg - 10 (14%)
FB Frank Summers - 6 (9%)
OL Chris Hairston - 1 (1%)


S Aaron Williams - 68 (100%)
CB Stephon Gilmore - 68 (100%)
LB Keith Rivers - 58 (85%)
CB Leodis McKelvin - 56 (82%)
DT Marcell Dareus - 55 (81%)
DE Mario Williams - 52 (76%)
LB Preston Brown - 51 (75%)
LB Brandon Spikes - 42 (62%)
S Duke Williams - 39 (57%)
DE Jerry Hughes - 35 (51%)
DT Corbin Bryant - 31 (46%)
DE Jarius Wynn - 30 (44%)
S Da'Norris Searcy - 28 (41%)
CB Nickell Robey - 27 (40%)
DT Kyle Williams - 27 (40%)
LB Nigel Bradham - 27 (40%)
DT Stefan Charles - 23 (34%)
DE Manny Lawson - 19 (28%)
CB Corey Graham - 8 (12%)
LB Ty Powell - 4 (6%)

Season Playtime Percentages
  1. QB EJ Manuel - 100.00%
  2. LT Cordy Glenn - 100.00%
  3. C Eric Wood - 100.00%
  4. RG Erik Pears - 100.00%
  5. RT Seantrel Henderson - 100.00%
  6. S Aaron Williams - 96.52%
  7. WR Sammy Watkins - 95.31%
  8. LB Preston Brown - 94.08%
  9. WR Robert Woods - 91.02%
  10. TE Scott Chandler - 73.05%
  11. CB Leodis McKelvin - 72.47%
  12. DT Marcell Dareus - 71.08%
  13. DE Mario Williams - 70.73%
  14. S Da’Norris Searcy - 66.20%
  15. DT Kyle Williams - 65.85%
  16. CB Corey Graham - 63.76%
  17. CB Nickell Robey - 59.93%
  18. CB Stephon Gilmore - 59.23%
  19. DE Jerry Hughes - 58.19%
  20. HB Fred Jackson - 55.08%
  21. WR Mike Williams - 54.30%
  22. LB Nigel Bradham - 53.31%
  23. LG Chris Williams - 51.17%
  24. LB Brandon Spikes - 44.25%
  25. HB C.J. Spiller - 43.36%
  26. S Duke Williams - 43.21%
  27. DE Jarius Wynn - 39.37%
  28. DT Corbin Bryant - 35.19%
  29. LB Keith Rivers - 33.45%
  30. DE Manny Lawson - 32.06%
  31. OL Cyril Richardson - 27.34%
  32. FB Frank Summers - 25.00%
  33. TE Chris Gragg - 25.00%
  34. DT Stefan Charles - 24.74%
  35. OL Kraig Urbik - 21.48%
  36. TE Lee Smith - 12.11%
  37. WR Marquise Goodwin - 11.33%
  38. CB Ron Brooks - 9.76%
  39. LB Ty Powell - 6.27%
  40. OL Chris Hairston - 5.86%
  41. WR Chris Hogan - 4.30%
  42. HB Anthony Dixon - 3.52%
Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Observations: Texans 23 - Bills 17
They came, they saw and they almost conquered.

In a cruel twist of fate at the beginning of the second half, the Buffalo Bills saw their 3-1 start evaporate as quickly as it took the 289-pound J.J. Watt to run the ball 80 yards for a touchdown. With so many opportunities to put the Houston Texans away, the Bills have no one to blame but themselves for poor execution on Sunday.

The Bills lost to Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Texans 23-17, and at the same time, painted an even bigger bullseye on their young quarterback — the same one that drew a multitude of criticism after his performance in Week Three. Where did it go wrong?

Some observations from the game:

Manuel prevents the Bills from stepping forward
- Before the dissection of EJ Manuel’s game begins, one simple thing must be observed: the outcome of the contest was not entirely his fault. He will take the brunt of the criticism — most of which will be warranted — but the Bills didn’t give him help in certain areas on Sunday. With that disclaimer out of the way, there is another simple truth from the team’s loss to Houston: the Bills should have won that game, and the poorly timed and inaccurate passes from Manuel’s arm played a big role in preventing the team from starting the season 3-1. There were a pair of key plays made on third down by the quarterback, and of course, the 80-yard touchdown to Mike Williams was as big a play as any. The Bills also didn’t do him any favors with some drops along the way. However, the numbers over Manuel’s last two games — specifically to his receivers — are horrid. Over the Bills’ past two losses, Manuel completed only 16-of-48 attempts (9-of-27 against Houston) to receivers for 180 yards. That’s a completion percentage of 33.3-percent, and a yards per attempt average of 3.75 — which includes the 80-yard touchdown pass from Sunday. There were many opportunities that were squandered by Manuel with errant throws and poor ball placement being the main reason for the overall inefficiency of the offense. With the lead, the Bills couldn’t capitalize on chances to extend it and blow out a team that should have been on the losing end. To begin the second half, the Bills had only 19 yards to go for another touchdown after an interception by Nigel Bradham. If they converted, they would have gone up 17-7 and took a major step forward in securing their third victory of the season. The result? J.J. Watt picks off a predetermined throw to the flat and returns it 80 yards for a touchdown. The Texans took the lead, snatched away the Bills’ confidence and never looked back. Manuel’s struggles had many among the fan base clamoring for his removal from the game. Head coach Doug Marrone said he never considered benching Manuel for Kyle Orton, but as the anxiety and restlessness among the fans grow, the message will only get louder. Marrone and the Bills are at a very critical stage of the season. They still have a .500 record and playoff hopes are very much alive. How much longer will they be if Manuel continues to play this way, and more importantly for Marrone, will he make it to 2015 if they don’t get to the postseason? If that thought grows within the head coach, the fans might not be the only ones with restlessness.

Watt dominates the entire offensive line
- Against San Diego, the Buffalo Bills were unable to establish the line of scrimmage on offense and Manuel wasn’t able to get comfortable in the pocket. It happened once again against Houston, but it was all because of one man: J.J. Watt. He is one of the most dominant defenders in all the NFL, and regardless of where he lined up against the Bills, he made his presence felt. Watt had nine separate quarterback hits, forced the pocket to move into his teammates and even brought in an interception, and, of course, returned it for a touchdown. Name a starting offensive lineman for the Bills, and he was beat by Watt at some point in the game. If it weren’t for him, perhaps Manuel would have had a bit of a better time throwing the ball. Because of Watt, Manuel couldn’t step into his throws and the quarterback’s accuracy dipped significantly. The Bills, simply put, had no answer for the defensive end.

WR Drops
- Manuel wasn’t helped by his receivers early in the game. On catchable passes, both Sammy Watkins and Mike Williams dropped passes that were in their mitts, only to further the frustration of the Bills offense. There were even some instances, just like against San Diego, that the Bills did not turn their head in time to see the pass headed toward them. As that frustration grew, as did some demonstrative displays after plays that went awry. Robert Woods was spotted growing frustrated with the lack of success on the offense, as was the rookie Watkins. Just like Manuel, the entire offense needed to be much better than they were, including the high profile wide receiver group.

Sterling run defense
- Even though the offense couldn’t help but get in their own way, the run defense showed once again why they are one of the best in the league. It’s a stark difference from what was witnessed in 2013, but the Bills front seven proved over the first four weeks that opposing offenses won’t be able to run all over them like they did in the past. Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams, Mario Williams, Nigel Bradham, 
Brandon Spikes and Preston Brown have all contributed to a stout run defense that allowed Houston’s running backs only 23 yards on 18 carries. It doesn’t get much more dominant than 1.3 yards per carry. They have shown over the first quarter of the season that their talent and potential has been realized, and when fully healthy, will continue to be a tough out for any team they’re up against.

Graham loses his shine
- To begin the game, the Bills went with the peculiar decision to start Leodis McKelvin over Corey Graham. In three weeks, Graham had multiple pass breakups and limited what opposing receivers did when he was in one-on-one coverage. He was their best cover corner to begin the season. McKelvin even struggled out of the gate and allowed some big pass plays against the Texans that set them up in Buffalo territory. McKelvin left the game after his acrobatic interception that ended with him ripping the ball from DeAndre Hopkins’ hands in midair. Graham came in and did something that he hadn’t done before: he got beat deep, and it went for a touchdown. With that one play, Graham didn’t erase the first three games of great performances, but it certainly quelled the critics of the three-man rotation at cornerback. It still isn’t an ideal situation for three cornerbacks to be shuffled in whenever the coaching staff deems a ‘turn’ to be necessary. Instead, with what they believe to be three capable starting cornerbacks, they should go with the hot hand and use the two top performers at the position. If one starts to struggle, then they have the flexibility to replace that player. Cornerback is one of those positions, though, that players prefer to have a lot of time and be in the flow of the game. Who should start next week? That’s for the coaches to decide after watching the tape but Stephon Gilmore, who had the most consistent and lowest yielding day of the three, should be one of them.

Injury to insult of loss
- The Bills were simply outstanding against the run, but the team lost two separate starters to injury that directly impact the run front. Linebacker Nigel Bradham and defensive tackle Kyle Williams each suffered a knee injury that made it so neither one could continue. The severity of both injuries are unknown to this point, but Bradham was carted off the field. The linebacker really came into his own over the past few months, and if he has to miss any extended time, he will be sorely missed for his athleticism against both the run and the pass. Williams has been the team’s best player regardless of position. An extended absence is something the team can ill-afford.

Bills’ MVP: DT Marcell Dareus
- He ate up blockers, fired through the line of scrimmage and was a thorn in the side of the Texans all day long. He was one of the biggest reasons for the Texans’ running backs gaining only 23 yards on 18 carries.

Bills’ LVP: QB EJ Manuel
- Inaccuracy, predetermined throws and the inability to make a big play when the team needed it kept the Bills from getting into the win column for their third victory of 2014.

Up Next: Sunday, October 5 at Detroit.

Final Thoughts:
- Up against an inferior opponent, the Bills had every opportunity to come away with a victory. If you count the J.J. Watt interception for a touchdown (which came on the third play of that drive), Buffalo had five separate three-and-out drives in the second half. They had multiple chances to put points on the board to either build on their lead or take the lead back, but EJ Manuel and the offense weren’t up to the task. If the Bills get close to a playoff berth, they’ll look back and see the Houston game as the one that got away. Will anything change from Week Four to Week Five? Will Marrone feel the heat a bit more and be more apt to make a very high profile change? His answers over the past week indicate that it might not be in the cards. As the anxiety grows in an upcoming critical part of the season, perhaps more consideration to the alternative will be given. Regardless, it’s going to make for a very interesting week at One Bills Drive.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

5 things to watch for during Bills - Texans
By the end of the weekend, the Buffalo Bills could send some shockwaves through the rest of the National Football League by beginning their season with a 3-1 record. Or, the Bills could lose the game to their former failed quarterback, drop their second straight contest and potentially cause panic throughout the fan base because of who they lost to.

When the Bills play the Houston Texans Sunday, a great deal is on the line in what has been widely thought of as a winnable matchup for Buffalo. How do the Bills and Texans compare?

Some keys to the game to keep an eye on:

1) The plan to stop Watt
- The best player on the Texans roster — and one of the best in the entire National Football League —will be up against a Bills offensive line that had trouble getting out of their own way last weekend. Defensive end J.J. Watt is one of the most dominant players in the league and Houston does a superb job at lining him up at different spots throughout the game. Wherever he is, expect at least a double team on each play that requires a bit of time to set up, whether it’s for a pass or a run. The focus might be placed on rookie Cyril Richardson, who is likely to make his first career start at left guard. The Texans may choose to have Watt line up over him, but they also might try to attack the right side of the offensive line (Erik Pears and Seantrel Henderson) which has left a lot to be desired through the first three weeks. Nose tackle Jerrell Powe and defensive end Jared Crick, the other two starting defensive linemen for Houston, do not invoke a lot of fear from opponents. Due to that, the Bills will do whatever they can to keep Watt away from making an impact on the game. As many before the Bills have found, that task is easier written than accomplished.

2) Fearful of Fitz?
- To this point in the season, the Houston Texans have seen the many sides of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick that Bills fans witnessed for years. He’ll get into some rhythm during the season and the offense can operate at a somewhat high level, but then Fitzpatrick has the tendency to try and do too much if his team is up against adversity. The quarterback had a season-high three interceptions in Week Three against the New York Giants, but there was a big reason for it. Houston was without starting running back Arian Foster and that put a lot more pressure on Fitzpatrick and the passing game. If Foster (questionable, hamstring) can’t play again, the Bills will have their share of opportunities to force turnovers like the Giants did last week. If Foster does play, it won’t tip the Texans’ hand as much because the running back is an accomplished pass protector. There’s also the underlying story that if Ftizpatrick is able to both outperform and defeat an EJ Manuel-led Bills team, the fan base could be sent into panic mode.

3) Texans subpar OL
- To help the Bills and their fans away from the temptation to succumb to that mode so early into the season, the Bills defensive line could have another big day. It’s a combination of their talent, and because the Houston Texans offensive line is very beatable from left to right. The three players that have shown to be taken advantage of this season are left guard Ben Jones, right guard Brandon Brooks and right tackle Derek Newton. The trio struggled in both pass blocking and in establishing enough of a push for the running game. The strength of the Bills is along their defensive line, and with so many holes along the offensive line for Houston, the superb seasons of Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus and Mario Williams may very well continue. The heat will likely be on Fitzpatrick from three of his former teammates.

4) Jackson, Spiller are vital
- With the exception of J.J. Watt, the Houston front seven is not a very good unit. They have a big name player in Brian Cushing, but he has not looked like the Cushing of old -- the one that was dominant when he first stepped into the league. The inside linebacker has gotten covered up quite easily in the run game and isn’t crashing through the run lanes as much as he did before his most recent injury. Justin Tuggle, the son of former Pro Bowl linebacker Jesse, is the other inside linebacker that starts by name. The Texans are usually in nickel which drops safety D.J. Swearinger down to play in the box as a linebacker, and Houston then sends in Danieal Manning to take Swearinger’s vacated safety spot. Either way, the whole combination of six players (other than Watt) could lead to a big day both inside and outside the tackles. Spiller could see more open running room than he has in any of the three weeks, but Jackson can be the one to march right over Crick and Powe. This game serves as a chance for the offensive line, despite a rookie starting Sunday, to get back on track.

5) Active corners
- The Bills could be in line to run the ball quite a bit against Houston, and they’re probably going to be less encouraged to throw the ball too. Houston has a solid pair of cornerbacks in Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson, which could lead to less targets for Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods. On three wide receiver formations, Houston shifts Jackson to cover the slot player and then brings in one of A.J. Bouye, Darryl Morris or Andre Hal to play as a boundary corner. That, and the Texans’ porous run defense will lead to many expectations that the Bills would like to run the ball as much as possible. That is just more evidence that Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller could be the large majority of the offense on Sunday.

OUT: G Chris Williams (back), WR Marquise Goodwin (concussion), LB Randell Johnson (knee), WR Marcus Easley (knee)
PROBABLE: CB Ron Brooks (illness), QB EJ Manuel (abdomen), HB C.J. Spiller (chest), WR Sammy Watkins (ribs), WR Robert Woods (ankle), LB Keith Rivers (groin), S Da’Norris Searcy (ankle)

OUT: LB Jadeveon Clowney (knee), S Shilioh Keo (calf), S Eddie Pleasant (ankle)
QUESTIONABLE: CB A.J. Bouye (groin), P Shane Lechler (left hip), HB Arian Foster (hamstring)
PROBABLE: DE Jared Crick (neck), CB Kareem Jackson (thigh), DE Tim Jamison (groin), WR Andre Johnson (ankle), G Ben Jones (knee), CB Johnathan Joseph (foot, neck, knee), S D.J. Swearinger (elbow, hip)

Prediction: Bills over Texans
- With so many advantages at key spots, the Bills have the talent to pull out another victory on the road. The Texans are a well-coached team with very good players at defensive end, running back, wide receiver and cornerback, but they lack an overwhelming amount of talent throughout their roster. It gets to the point where this game should be a victory for Buffalo, regardless of the struggles the offense had in Week Three against San Diego. The Bills have the superior team and now they need to be able to prove it. The sting of last week’s loss resides with the team, which would make it fair to expect a much more mentally strong approach. If they don’t, they could be staring at a ‘should have had that one’ style of game once the season wraps up and people look back on what could have been.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Bills' Goodwin, C. Williams doubtful vs. Texans
The Buffalo Bills will attempt to close out the first quarter of the 2014 NFL season with a winning record, but they’ll likely need to do so without a starting offensive lineman and a deep threat. After both left guard Chris Williams and wide receiver Marquise Goodwin did not participate in Friday’s practice, both players were listed as doubtful for the team’s upcoming contest with the Houston Texans.

Williams, who has dealt with a back injury since August, missed all three days of practice during the week due to the ailment. Head coach Doug Marrone said the team has been trying to rest the left guard for each of the last three days while holding on to hope that he could be able to play. If he can’t, however, rookie Cyril Richardson is the likeliest candidate to start in his place.

Marrone also said the team is considering backup center Kraig Urbik, and may even split time between both him and Richardson depending on how the game unfolds.

Goodwin suffered a concussion at practice on Wednesday, was placed into the league’s mandatory protocol on Thursday and did not practice each of the final two days. The wide receiver complained that he felt sick during Wednesday’s practice, and then the team’s medical staff checked him for a concussion.

With the ‘doubtful’ designation the duo has, at most, a 25-percent chance to play in the upcoming contest.

Wide receiver Sammy Watkins (ribs), quarterback EJ Manuel (abdominal), wide receiver Robert Woods (ankle), safety Da’Norris Searcy (ankle), linebacker Keith Rivers (groin), running back C.J. Spiller (chest) and cornerback Ron Brooks (illness) have all been declared as probable against the Texans. Rivers will likely make his return to the starting lineup after a two-game stint on the inactive list due to his ailment.

The only two players to be declared out were wide receiver Marcus Easley (knee) and linebacker Randell Johnson (knee). The Bills will travel to Houston on Saturday for their Sunday showdown with the Texans at NRG Stadium. Kickoff is set for 1 pm.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Bills' Richardson likely to start where it all began
For Cyril Richardson, all of the biggest events of his football life occurred in the state of Texas. He was a star offensive tackle at North Crowley High School in Fort Worth, he got recruited by the best the Big 12 had to offer and, after he made his decision, he started four out of his five seasons on campus at Baylor University in Waco.

It’s only fitting that he crosses off his next major football milestone in the state where it all began: making his first career start for the Buffalo Bills on the road against the Houston Texans.

Richardson, a fifth-round pick and backup guard on the Bills roster, will likely take the place of the injured Chris Williams in the starting lineup at left guard if he is unable to play. It might be a four hour drive from Fort Worth, but the offensive lineman is excited about the location of the game.

“A little bit,” Richardson said coyly. “Might see some familiar faces down there, it'll be good to go back and see a couple people. Be able to actually have my first start in the place where I really started to get into football.”

How it started, was an unusual path that was brought on by a natural disaster. It's one that is still a vivid moment in history to the minds of many Americans. 

Back in 2005, Richardson and his parents were among the millions of people affected by Hurricane Katrina. He was born and raised in New Orleans, but he and his family relocated after the storm ravaged the city.

At that point in time he was a freshman, Richardson spent his first year of high school in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, traveling back to his family’s house in New Orleans every Sunday to clean up the damage that was caused by the storm. All the black mold, wind damage and everything else that happened because of Katrina forced them to look elsewhere.

In 2006, the Richardson family found a place in Fort Worth and decided to make a move. At that point in his life, Cyril was a 285-pound sophomore that didn’t really get into football until he arrived to Texas. He started training during his first year at North Crowley, continued to do so in his junior year and then finally got into a full season for the first time as a senior.

The events that unfolded in Richardson’s life led him to the point that he’s at now. He’s on the verge of making his first career start in the National Football League, and a strong close to training camp helped him earn high praise from Bills head coach Doug Marrone.

"There's some things that he showed that I have no doubt, having coached that position before, to say that he's a future starter," Marrone remarked.

The future may have happened a bit too quickly for the coach’s taste, but due to the injury to Williams, the time is likely now. Regardless of the circumstances, Richardson believes that he’s ready.

“I'm really excited,” the rookie said. “We've been putting in a lot of good work in this week. We've got a good plan against these guys. I'm feeling really confident in my game today.”

To prepare since the end of training camp, Richardson said he’s been working to fine-tune his technique and he has followed along with every single play on the sidelines during the first three games, all with one goal in mind: to be ready when he gets the call.

“That's what the coaches wanted me to do and that's what I had to do,” he said. “I've been biding my time working on it, doing what they ask me to do and when just waiting until whenever they needed me. I guess they needed me now, so, I'm getting ready to go.”

The Bills and Texans, both 2-1, square off Sunday at NRG Stadium.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Bills not toying with Kouandjio at guard
In the first three games of the regular season, the poor play of the Buffalo Bills' starting guards has been well documented. Both Chris Williams and Erik Pears have struggled in their first three weeks, as did Kraig Urbik when he came in for the injured Williams last Sunday.

It has led some to call for fifth-round pick and rookie Cyril Richardson to get a look at the starting lineup -- which very well could happen Sunday due to Williams' injury. Other fans are even campaigning for second-round pick Cyrus Kouandjio to be moved inside and train to take over at guard at some point.

There is a fair degree of logic that goes into it, too.

The Bills are clearly happy with both left tackle Cordy Glenn and right tackle Seantrel Henderson, two young and promising talents that aren't likely to have their jobs jeopardized by Kouandjio at any point during the season. For Kouandjio, he has been inactive all three games, is behind backup Chris Hairston on the depth chart and struggled with edge rushers all throughout training camp and the preseason.

Perhaps a move to guard, even if not permanent, might be a good one. The Bills and head coach Doug Marrone don't agree, and identified the focus for Kouandjio both now and moving forward.

"Tackle. And I’ll tell you what; he’s really gotten a lot better. He really has," Marrone said. "We talk about cross-training some, but we’re more thinking about cross training tackle-to-tackle. It’s much more difficult for anyone to go from an outside player to an inside player. It’s easier, not to say that it’s not difficult, to go from the inside to the outside. Any one of our inside guys can go outside. There’s a little bit more space. Everything happens quite quick, quick fast inside and sometimes the length and the build of how you are can affect your play on the inside."

So for now, you can likely expect Kouandjio's name to keep popping up on the seven-man inactive list an hour before kickoff.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Bills without LG Williams yet again
With each passing day that Buffalo Bills starting left guard Chris Williams isn't able to practice, the chances for rookie fifth-round pick Cyril Richardson to make his first start in the National Football League increase. For the second straight day, Williams was unable to participate in practice due to a lingering back injury.

The left guard re-aggravated the back during the first half of the team's loss to the San Diego Chargers and could only play on 15 of the team's 70 total offensive snaps. Williams first was listed with a back injury in August at St. John Fisher College for training camp, but is in jeopardy of missing a regular season game for the first time.

Head coach Doug Marrone said after Thursday's practice that Williams has yet to be ruled out for Sunday's clash with the Houston Texans. He'll be re-evaluated shortly before Friday's practice.

Richardson did not come in for Williams against the Chargers because he wasn't among the 46 active players on game day. Instead, backup center Kraig Urbik entered the game and took the remaining 55 snaps at left guard.

In addition to Williams, wide receiver Marquise Goodwin (head), linebacker Randell Johnson (knee) and wide receiver Marcus Easley (knee) were not on the practice field at the opening portion of Thursday.

Goodwin's injury was changed from 'illness' to 'head' on Thursday, and has been placed into the NFL's concussion protocol. The wide receiver suffered the head injury during Wednesday's practice, and will need to go through a workout and then be cleared by doctors in order to play on Sunday.

Linebacker Keith Rivers (groin) and safety Da'Norris Searcy (ankle) were both limited participants on Thursday. The Bills are expecting to have Rivers back for Sunday's game and the same can be said for Searcy as well, barring any setbacks.

Wide receiver Sammy Watkins (ribs), quarterback EJ Manuel (abdominal), wide receiver Robert Woods (ankle) and running back C.J. Spiller (chest) were all full participants at the ADPRO Sports Training Center. All four are expected to play on Sunday, despite Spiller's recent addition to the injury report.

The Bills and Texans square off in Houston at NRG Stadium at 1 pm.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of

Texans' Fitzpatrick admits Bills game is "special"
The last time the Buffalo Bills started a season with two straight victories was back in 2011. It’s fitting that the Bills would be able to match their first 3-1 start against the man that led them to their last one in that same season.

For the first time since his departure in the 2013 offseason, the Bills will be up against Ryan Fitzpatrick as the opposing team’s starting quarterback. And as usual, Fitzpatrick provided the dry sense of humor that fans and teammates embraced during his time in Buffalo.

“Even watching the film, I think it's amazing that there are now more 14 jerseys that there were when I was there. I just think the support for me has really grown, especially in the last year for some reason since the draft, with all those 14 jerseys. I think that's really cool,” Fitzpatrick joked, before spitting out the punch line. “Wait, is there a new 14 on the team?”

The Bills were the first team that gave the quarterback a chance to be an every week starter-- and not just in case of an injury like in his previous stops. Former head coach Chan Gailey entrusted him with the offense, and really his job, for most of the three seasons the pair were together.

Fitzpatrick is still talked about fondly by some fans, while others were ready to move on. The latter got their wish, but that didn’t remove any significance for the Houston Texans starting quarterback.

“This is a special game for me. I think partly just because I've got so many great friends still that are over on the other side of the ball,” Fitzpatrick said on his Wednesday conference call with the Buffalo media. “Guys that I'm gonna be excited to watch, I'm sure they're gonna be excited to hit me and to watch me play.”

There has been a considerable amount of turnover since he left Buffalo first for Tennessee, and now for Houston. A few of his core teammates and friends are still gainfully employed at One Bills Drive though, which will make Sunday into an experience Fitzpatrick won’t soon forget.

Shortly after head coach Doug Marrone got the job in Buffalo, Fitzpatrick was released and had to move on to the next chapter of his career. Even though things happened the way that they did, the Texans quarterback didn’t take it personally.

“There's definitely no hard feelings with the way that it went down,” Fitzpatrick remarked. “I think the little added extra whatever it is I'm gonna feel in this game is more so because of the guys I'm playing against, and just having so many good buddies. That's what's gonna give me that extra fuel, that extra competitiveness in this game.”

The quarterback certainly isn’t short of friends inside the locker room in Orchard Park. To write that he was fondly thought of by his teammates, well, would be an understatement.

“He said it and I said it, definitely my favorite teammate to play with,” running back Fred Jackson said. “It was always that way and he's still a good friend. We've talked probably six, seven times already this week. We understand that that's part of the game, but we'll always be friends outside of this.”

Defensive tackle Kyle Williams is also among the Fitzpatrick fan club.

“Fitz is one of my all-time favorite teammates,” he said. “Love the guy. He's a great teammate, good family man, love his family. I have a great relationship with him and I think that's what most guys would say that were here with him.”

The relationships between Fitzpatrick and his former teammates hasn’t ended, nor has his admiration and respect for the city that he called home for four years. It’s a similar refrain by many professional athletes that come to Buffalo, but Fitzpatrick will always recount his time in western New York as one he’ll never forget.

“We were so comfortable and really did enjoy it. I remember when I first signed to go to Buffalo, everybody was scratching their head that I knew. 'Why would you ever want to live there?!,’” he said. “But as soon as you get there, I was welcomed with open arms right away and fell in love with the people. We did, we really loved our four years though. Outside of football, made a lot of lifelong friends that we'll keep in touch with forever.”

Jackson said on Wednesday that he was ecstatic for Fitzpatrick as soon as he heard the news that the quarterback would be the starting quarterback in Houston. The running back wishes every bit of success to his former quarterback, with one glaring exception:

“Not this week, nope. He's gotta have the worst game of his career against us this week. And I'll be okay with that,” Jackson said. “On the sideline I'm sure he'll be yelling at me and I'll be yelling at him. It'll be a lot of fun to participate in, and hopefully we go out there and get a win, and I can continue to talk noise to him.”

The Bills and Texans will square off Sunday in Houston at 1 pm.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Manuel pops up on Bills' injury list
To start off the week of practice, the Buffalo Bills had a peculiar addition to the injury report. EJ Manuel was listed, but both head coach Doug Marrone and the young quarterback said there is nothing to worry about.

Manuel was designated as a ‘full participant’ due to an abdominal injury, but said he isn’t fearful of missing any time.

“I'm fine,” the quarterback said. “I think anytime you bring something to a trainer they have put it up there. But I'm good to go.”

“He came in and he had some soreness,” Marrone remarked. “Since it's a high profile player, you've gotta put him down [on the injury report}. It's more for that.”

The Bills weren’t as fortunate with some of the other players on the roster. Wide receiver Marcus Easley could not participate in practice and the head coach declared that the special teams ace would not be available against the Houston Texans because of a knee injury, and would be evaluated week-to-week.

Easley, along with left guard Chris Williams and linebacker Randell Johnson were the only three unable to practice. A lingering back injury has plagued Williams since training camp and forced him to exit the Bills’ Week Three loss to the Chargers in the first half.

“We're gonna see how it goes. We're hoping tomorrow to get him out there and see where he's at,” Marrone replied about the team’s starting left guard. “And then seeing how it progresses all the way until Sunday.”

If Williams cannot play, rookie Cyril Richardson will likely get his first career start in the National Football League. Johnson, the rookie linebacker, was sidelined all of last week with a knee injury.

Linebacker Keith Rivers (groin), safety Da’Norris Searcy (ankle) and wide receiver Marquise Goodwin (illness) were all limited participants in practice Wednesday. The Bills revealed on Monday that Rivers would likely be available against Houston after he missed the previous two contests.

Wide receivers Sammy Watkins (ribs) and Robert Woods (ankle) rounded out the injury report but are both expected to play versus the Texans.

The Bills will resume practice on Thursday afternoon at the ADPRO Sports Training Center.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Pres

Upon Further Review: Bills vs. Chargers
The Buffalo Bills couldn’t take the positive vibes they accrued over the first two weeks of the season and bring them into their Week Three contest. The Bills suffered their first loss of the year: a 22-10 decision against the impressive San Diego Chargers.

The Bills will get back on the road for their fourth game of the season against another 2-1 team, but before they do, the page must be turned on last week’s loss to the Chargers. With the help of’s Game Rewind package and the All-22 film available with it, ‘Upon Further Review’ brings you a detailed review at how each player on the Bills fared in that specific game.

Every week, WGR will provide you with the standouts, the duds and everything in between.

For each player that appeared in the game on offense or defense, you'll see their name in bold, with a set of numbers after it. Example: Ryan Manalac (54, -2, 2.7). The first number (54) represents the snap count of that game, the second (-2) represents the individual player’s plus-minus of positive plays to negative plays in that game. The third number (2.7) represents the weighted Grade Point Average assigned to that player by the author.

OFFENSE (70 total plays)

- After the first two weeks, most looked at EJ Manuel’s (70, -7, 1.7) performances and came away with a cautiously optimistic viewpoint. He was getting time, making a few nice throws and limiting his mistakes. It helped that the Bills weren’t trailing for more than five minutes combined in the first two games, but Manuel looked in control.

That was all blown up against the San Diego Chargers. For the first time in 2014, Manuel had to attempt to bring the Bills back from a large deficit… and didn’t come close to completing the task.

It was rare that the second-year quarterback had a lot of time to operate in the pocket, and that was exactly by design. The Chargers wanted to push Manuel to see how he would react to the pressure, and as they probably thought, the young player struggled to respond in a positive way.

In the first half of the contest Manuel was nearly picked off twice and failed to step up and make a big throw when the team needed him to do so. 

In the first quarter he had a rare instance where he had time and wideout Marquise Goodwin was running an out-and-up route. Manuel stepped into the throw but the ball placement was woefully short and the defender had a chance at an interception.

Ball placement was really the biggest issue through the first half. He threw a swing pass to Robert Woods that was high and behind the wideout, giving him no real chance of breaking the play for a solid gain. Manuel was way short of a deep post to Sammy Watkins, and then again on a deep route that was nearly intercepted to the rookie wide receiver in the second quarter.

The only positive play Manuel had in the first half was on his Harry Houdini-esque escape from a muddied pocket to find Scott Chandler for a 37-yard gain. Once he got to the second half, it didn’t get much easier for him.

He opened up the third quarter with a clutch throw to Robert Woods that converted a 3rd-and-14 situation. It helped keep the drive alive and the Bills ended up capitalizing for the only touchdown they would score that afternoon.

Past that, Manuel really struggled to establish anything in the passing game, other than short throws that yielded yards after the catch. When he saw pressure, the inaccuracy came back in a large way, too. The final tally to his receivers: seven completions on 21 attempts for only 49 yards.

The lingering problem, through all the missed throws and opportunities, was that when a defender got into the backfield, panic ensued. He failed to uphold the proper footwork, stopped going through his reads and instead either tried to escape the pocket, or throw the ball without much chance of a completion.

Until he proves he can perform under the pressure of a defense and when the Bills are trailing their opponents, teams are just going to do the same thing to Manuel. And as long as he keeps doing the same things in those situations, the inaccuracy will continue and he won’t be as lucky to not be picked off as he was against San Diego.

Running Back
- The role of the running back was not a big one for the Bills on Sunday, but that didn’t necessarily come as a surprise due to deficit they faced. The best offensive player on the field against the Chargers, without a doubt, was Fred Jackson (45, 4, 3.0). On their only touchdown drive of the game, Jackson was the offense. He used a 17-yard run and an 11-yard touchdown reception to get the Bills back within two scores. C.J. Spiller (25, 0, 2.3) proved once again Sunday why he’s so infuriating and enthralling all at the same time. He can bounce off defenders and gain additional yardage with his speed, and also can be devastating on a screen play, but at least once per game he’ll leave yards on the field by bouncing a play outside. This week’s shining example came along in the first quarter on an excellent cutback run. Spiller had a huge lane down the middle of the field with only two defenders to beat, and rather than running it straight upfield, he inexplicably tried to bounce it to the sidelines and ran into a blocked defender. No matter how many times it gets brought up, sometimes a tiger just can’t change his stripes. Frank Summers (16, 0, 2.0) didn’t have a good day blocking, but was able to convert on a 3rd-and-2 rushing attempt to secure a first down in the third quarter.

Wide Receiver
- With only 49 yards between them, there wasn’t much to dissect with the wide receivers. Rookie Sammy Watkins (70 -2, 2.3) really didn’t have a big contribution until the final Bills drive in garbage time, when he managed to rope in a 16-yard reception. Before that play, Watkins didn’t give full effort on a throw over the middle of the field for fear of taking a big hit. It’s an act that he acknowledged, and one that he knows cannot be duplicated. Robert Woods (65, 0, 2.3) could only contribute with a third-down catch during the Bills’ lone touchdown drive, while Mike Williams (40, -1, 2.3) and Marquise Goodwin (8, 0, 2.3) were basically invisible to the importance of the game.

Tight End
- With so much of a need for moving the ball through the air, Scott Chandler (62, 1, 2.7) received the most playing time he’s had in 2014 and rewarded the Bills with a heads up play in the second quarter. Chandler saw EJ Manuel under duress and spinning out of tackles, released from the line of scrimmage and found a wide open spot in the middle of the field. Manuel spotted him and quickly threw the pass that the tight end turned into a 37-yard gain. That play helped erase an earlier gaffe by Chandler, in which he was called for a holding penalty during a C.J. Spiller 29-yard run. The tight end basically tackled Manti Te’o after Spiller had already passed by. Lee Smith (15, 0, 2.3) got into a game for the first time in 2014, but didn’t do much more than serve as a sixth blocker for the Bills.

Offensive Line
- The Bills didn’t receive many positive plays from their young quarterback, but he wasn’t helped by the men paid to protect him. Out of the six offensive linemen that played, only center Eric Wood (70, 3, 3.0) graded out with a positive plus-minus. His work, specifically on two big gains in the fourth quarter on screen plays, stood out from the rest of the pack. The biggest problem for the Bills on the offensive line was the play of their guards. Right guard Erik Pears (70, -6, 1.7) had as bad a start to a game as you’ll find, having been the reason three separate plays failed on the team’s opening possession. It’s clear that Pears is struggling with one specific technique used by a defense: stunting. It’s a very basic principle that guards will deal with quite regularly, but Pears was slow to react and burned by it on three separate occasions. The back injury for left guard Chris Williams (15, -1, 2.0) flared up in the first half, which allowed him to be replaced by former starter Kraig Urbik (55, -4, 1.7). On EJ Manuel’s magic act to escape a sack and complete a pass that went for 37 yards, Urbik was the one responsible. He was thrown aside by Corey Liuget on the play and ended up flat on his front side. One of the most surprising developments on Sunday was how poorly left tackle Cordy Glenn (70, -2, 2.3) performed. He didn’t surrender any sacks, but he was beat soundly by edge rushers twice in the game. Rookie right tackle Seantrel Henderson (70, -4, 2.0) is still learning the position and was picked on by Dwight Freeney in pass protection. Henderson even struggled in run blocking early in the first quarter, which has been a strong part of his game. Chris Hairston (2, 0, 2.3) was declared as eligible on two separate plays, but wasn’t noticed for much else.

DEFENSE (66 total plays)

Defensive Ends
- As many would expect, the play of the defensive line was not the reason for the downfall of the Bills on Sunday. Mario Williams (49, 6, 3.3) looked more impressive as an all-around player than in any of the other two games this season. He was stout against the run and got pressure on Rivers a pair of times. His individual work limited four separate runs throughout the game for a net yardage total of minus-2. On the opposite side of the spectrum, Jerry Hughes (32, -1, 2.3) has had an incredibly slow start to the 2014 season. He’s losing out on snaps because he’s not as effective of a run defender as any of the other defensive ends on the roster. It was somewhat surprising to learn that Jarius Wynn (32, 1, 2.7) had an equal amount of snaps as Hughes. And even more surprising, Wynn graded out as the superior player against the Chargers. He had a key pass rush in the third quarter that negated a potential big play to tight end Ladarius Green. It forced Philip Rivers to readjust and throw the ball out of bounds. Manny Lawson (20, 1, 2.7) contributed a sack of Rivers that he didn’t have to do much to attain. Kyle Williams drove the quarterback wide and he essentially walked right into Lawson’s grasp.

Defensive Tackles
- Speaking of Kyle Williams (53, 9, 4.0), his game against the Chargers was as dominant as he’s been in the past three years. He was a nuisance to the San Diego offense against both the run and the pass and was the key for the Bills offense to get as many opportunities to come back in the game as they did. It’s truly a fun thing to watch against the best of competition, but when he’s up against an inferior opponent, it’s not even fair. Williams is always a step ahead of the offensive lineman, and part of that is because of the work that Marcell Dareus (53, 5, 3.3) does next to him. Dareus also got his 1-on-1 opportunities that he made the most of, but faced far more double teams than Williams. As long as one of the two are freed up, the Bills have perhaps the most potent combination in the NFL. Corbin Bryant (17, -1, 2.3) and Stefan Charles (11, 0, 2.3) didn’t get too much time on the field because the Williams-Dareus combination was playing so well. The only discernible play between the two came from Bryant, who was cleared out far too easily during Branden Oliver’s six-yard run in the third quarter. Other than that, there wasn’t much.

- Against Miami, Preston Brown (66, -2, 2.3) righted the wrongs from his first ever start in Chicago. The problem for him versus San Diego was he was their target in the passing game. Brown has shown to be somewhat of a liability in coverage and the Chargers chose to expose that on a few separate occasions. They knew the Bills were young and inexperienced in the back seven of the defense and ran a lot of motion and pick plays to facilitate advantageous matchups. It happened to Brown more than once, having to chase after Eddie Royal around and then being one-on-one against the freakishly talented Ladarius Green. His hold on the starting position likely won’t be strong with Keith Rivers set to return in Week Four. Nigel Bradham (60, 4, 3.0) had an underrated, yet altogether solid performance against the Chargers. Twice in the first half, Bradham was too ahead of both himself and the play by plugging the designated run lane too early, which led to running back Donald Brown to change running courses and get a big gain. Other than that, he was outstanding against the run and forced numerous plays to end within one yard of the original line of scrimmage. His athleticism and power is quite noticeable. Brandon Spikes (18, 1, 2.7) once again spent the majority of time on the sidelines due to the opposition running three-wide receiver sets. When he was in, Spikes was good against the run and forced a couple of plays that stopped well short of where San Diego wanted them to get to. For the second straight week though, Spikes took a personal foul penalty which could have been avoided with a cooler head. Ty Powell (2, 0, 2.3) was on the field minimally and didn’t do anything to stand out.

- The debate about the cornerbacks will rage on, but the one constant is that the best player through three games in the season has been Corey Graham (33, 2, 2.7). For some inexplicable reason, he did not start and only played half of the game, which is a trend that will surely change as the Bills move forward. Graham showed his ability to not only cover and breakup passes, but to make an important tackle in the open field. Stephon Gilmore (49, 1, 2.7) was the target of some running calls by the Chargers. He tried to tackle the ball carriers too high and it led to some broken tackles. From a coverage perspective, however, Gilmore was on point when in man coverage. The same cannot be said for Leodis McKelvin (46, -2, 2.3) who was beat for a 49-yard reception, and then again on a play that resulted in him being flagged for a defensive pass interference penalty. While Gilmore has his warts in tackling, McKelvin has given up way too many big plays to stay on the field as much as he does. There also could be a change in store at nickel corner. Along with Preston Brown, Nickell Robey (28, -3, 2.0) was San Diego’s target on pick plays. Robey took the wrong approach around the pick and lost his man, which led to a 49-yard reception and a touchdown. He was replaced by Ron Brooks (23, 0, 2.3) for parts of the second half, and that could be a trend that continues against the Houston Texans, too. Brooks offers more size than Robey, but he was beat on a pick play as well by San Diego.

- The other constant of the secondary, besides the play of Corey Graham, has been how well Aaron Williams (65, 4, 3.3) has performed as the top safety on the roster. He hasn’t gotten many opportunities to make plays against an opponent’s passing attack, but his recognition skills and speed to make tackles are obvious to even an untrained eye. There were four separate plays against San Diego that featured Williams flying up the field from his original deep position to make a tackle of the ball carrier. He had to overcompensate a bit for the play of second-year safety Duke Williams (40, -3, 2.0), who was woefully inefficient. He just seemed lost and failed to recognize pre-snap details that resulted in big plays for the Chargers. With both poor communication and missed assignments, it was a recipe for disaster once he replaced Da’Norris Searcy (28, 0, 2.3) in the lineup. Searcy injured his ankle and had to come out of the game two separate times because of it. 

Year to date grades, ranked by aggregate GPA (Last week’s rank)
  1. DT Kyle Williams - 3.66 (1)
  2. CB Corey Graham - 3.34 (2)
  3. DT Marcell Dareus - 3.29 (3)
  4. S Aaron Williams - 3.11 (4)
  5. DE Mario Williams - 2.99 (11)
  6. HB Fred Jackson - 2.91 (13)
  7. LB Nigel Bradham - 2.84 (14)
  8. LB Brandon Spikes - 2.81 (12)
  9. HB C.J. Spiller - 2.78 (5)
  10. S Da’Norris Searcy - 2.77 (7)
  11. WR Sammy Watkins - 2.71 (6)
  12. C Eric Wood - 2.69 (19)
  13. WR Robert Woods - 2.64 (8)
  14. LT Cordy Glenn - 2.64 (10)
  15. TE Chris Gragg - 2.56 (17)
  16. WR Mike Williams - 2.52 (15)
  17. CB Stephon Gilmore - 2.49 (23)
  18. DE Jarius Wynn - 2.48 (22)
  19. DT Stefan Charles - 2.48 (18)
  20. CB Nickell Robey - 2.48 (16)
  21. DE Jerry Hughes - 2.45 (20)
  22. QB EJ Manuel - 2.42 (9)
  23. TE Scott Chandler - 2.42 (30)
  24. DE Manny Lawson - 2.41 (27)
  25. DT Corbin Bryant - 2.24 (28)
  26. RT Seantrel Henderson - 2.22 (21)
  27. FB Frank Summers - 2.22 (24)
  28. LG Chris Williams - 2.17 (29)
  29. S Duke Williams - 2.16 (26)
  30. LB Preston Brown - 2.11 (31)
  31. CB Leodis McKelvin - 2.10 (32)
  32. RG Erik Pears - 1.89 (33)
  33. C/G Kraig Urbik - 1.70 (NR)
**Minimum 45 plays

Previous Installments:
Week 1 - Bills 23, Bears 20
Week 2 - Bills 29, Dolphins 10

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Bills believe Rivers should be ready for Houston
The Buffalo Bills were greeted at the end of their 22-10 loss to San Diego by three new injuries to their active roster. The good news for them, though, is that they’ll likely have one starter that missed the Chargers game back for the team’s next contest.

Linebacker Keith Rivers missed each of the last two weeks due to a groin injury, but is closing in on a return. Bills head coach Doug Marrone felt confident that Rivers would be back in time for their Week Four contest in Houston.

“We're gonna put him back and see how he is moving around the field first,” Marrone said. “I think he should be ready to come back.”

Rivers was a free agent acquisition by the team in the offseason, but could only play into the second half against Chicago before he suffered the injury to his groin. He participated in all three practices leading up to the contest with the Chargers, but was deemed to be too injured to play by the team's medical staff.

In his stead the Bills have used Preston Brown in the starting lineup to keep afloat at the position, but the rookie linebacker struggled to establish himself in two of the first three weeks. When Rivers does come back, does that spell the end for Brown as a starter?

“I think it depends on exactly what we want to get accomplished defensively and who we want to stop, and how we want to match up,” Marrone vaguely replied.

Even with Rivers on the way back in, the Bills will still need to deal with the three injuries suffered on Sunday. Left guard Chris Williams re-aggravated a lingering back injury against the Chargers and could only take 15 total snaps. If he is forced to miss any time, the Bills head coach said rookie fifth-round pick Cyril Richardson will start in his place.

Wide receiver and special teams ace Marcus Easley couldn’t continue in the game due to a knee injury, which ESPN’s Adam Caplan reported to be a sprained MCL that would keep him out four-to-six weeks. Marrone wouldn’t confirm the report during his Monday press conference and instead insinuated that there has yet to be a decision made on Easley.

“I talked to the doctors today. We're just gonna keep looking at him and evaluating it,” he said before being asked if it’s a longterm injury. “I have no idea. The only reason why I don't is because it's obviously under evaluation.”

Safety Da’Norris Searcy also had to leave the San Diego game prematurely. He suffered an ankle injury and could not continue. The ailing trio will join rookie linebacker Randell Johnson as the focal points for participation at the team’s next practice.

The Bills will take Tuesday off and start preparations for the 2-1 Houston Texans on Wednesday afternoon at the ADPRO Sports Training Center.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Robey's time takes a hit: Bills' playtime percentages vs. San Diego
The Buffalo Bills followed up a dominant Week Two victory over Miami with a performance that left much to be desired. The Bills dropped to 2-1 on the season after Sunday’s 22-10 loss to the San Diego Chargers at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

As the game went on, there were different players brought on due to injuries, rotations and even poor play. Who got the most time on the field? Some highlights from the official playtime percentages:

- Cornerback Nickell Robey was benched for, what it seemed to be, poor play against the San Diego offense. Robey accounted for only 42-percent of the snaps, even though the Chargers were in three-wide receiver sets a majority of the time. Robey was replaced by Ron Brooks, who received 35-percent of snaps on defense.

- Likely due to the lack of protection for EJ Manuel, Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller had the most stark disparity of the season in playing time. Jackson was on the field 64-percent of the time, while Spiller was on for 36-percent.

- Despite playing better than any other cornerback on the roster, Corey Graham received only 50-percent of snaps on defense.

The playtime percentages in full:


QB EJ Manuel - 70 (100%)
LT Cordy Glenn - 70 (100%)
C Eric Wood - 70 (100%)
RG Erik Pears - 70 (100%)
RT Seantrel Henderson - 70 (100%)
WR Sammy Watkins - 70 (100%)
WR Robert Woods - 65 (93%)
TE Scott Chandler - 62 (89%)
LG Kraig Urbik - 55 (79%)
HB Fred Jackson - 45 (64%)
WR Mike Williams - 40 (60%)
HB C.J. Spiller - 25 (36%)
FB Frank Summers - 16 (23%)
TE Lee Smith - 15 (21%)
LG Chris Williams - 15 (21%)
WR Marquise Goodwin - 8 (11%)
OT Chris Hairston - 2 (3%)


LB Preston Brown - 66 (100%)
S Aaron Williams - 65 (98%)
LB Nigel Bradham - 60 (91%)
DT Marcell Dareus - 53 (80%)
DT Kyle Williams - 53 (80%)
DE Mario Williams - 49 (74%)
CB Stephon Gilmore - 49 (74%)
CB Leodis McKelvin - 46 (70%)
S Duke Williams - 40 (61%)
CB Corey Graham - 33 (50%)
DE Jarius Wynn - 32 (48%)
DE Jerry Hughes - 32 (48%)
CB Nickell Robey - 28 (42%)
S Da’Norris Searcy - 28 (42%)
CB Ron Brooks - 23 (35%)
DE Manny Lawson - 20 (30%)
LB Brandon Spikes - 18 (27%)
DT Corbin Bryant - 17 (26%)
DT Stefan Charles - 11 (17%)
LB Ty Powell - 2 (3%)

Season Playtime Percentages
  1. QB EJ Manuel - 100.00%
  2. LT Cordy Glenn - 100.00%
  3. C Eric Wood - 100.00%
  4. RG Erik Pears - 100.00%
  5. RT Seantrel Henderson - 100.00%
  6. LB Preston Brown - 100.00%
  7. S Aaron Williams - 95.43%
  8. WR Sammy Watkins - 93.55%
  9. WR Robert Woods - 88.17%
  10. CB Corey Graham - 79.91%
  11. DT Kyle Williams - 73.97%
  12. S Da’Norris Searcy - 73.97%
  13. TE Scott Chandler - 71.51%
  14. LG Chris Williams - 70.43%
  15. CB Leodis McKelvin - 69.41%
  16. DE Mario Williams - 68.95%
  17. DT Marcell Dareus - 68.04%
  18. CB Nickell Robey - 66.21%
  19. DE Jerry Hughes - 60.27%
  20. LB Nigel Bradham - 57.53%
  21. HB Fred Jackson - 54.85%
  22. WR Mike Williams - 51.61%
  23. CB Stephon Gilmore - 46.58%
  24. HB C.J. Spiller - 43.01%
  25. S Duke Williams - 38.81%
  26. LB Brandon Spikes - 38.41%
  27. DE Jarius Wynn - 37.90%
  28. DE Manny Lawson - 33.33%
  29. DT Corbin Bryant - 31.96%
  30. FB Frank Summers - 31.18%
  31. OL Kraig Urbik - 29.57%
  32. TE Chris Gragg - 29.03%
  33. DT Stefan Charles - 21.92%
  34. LB Keith Rivers - 17.35%
  35. WR Marquise Goodwin - 15.59%
  36. CB Ron Brooks - 12.79%
  37. TE Lee Smith - 8.06%
  38. OL Chris Hairston - 7.53%
  39. LB Ty Powell - 6.39%
  40. HB Anthony Dixon - 4.84%
Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Observations: Chargers 22 - Bills 10
Through two weeks of the season the Buffalo Bills had their fans believing that the preseason, which largely tormented them incessantly, was merely a mirage and that the team had more than what met the eye. That still may be true, but after the Bills laid an egg at home against San Diego, the shine from the start of the season has faded just a bit.

Buffalo couldn’t match San Diego in any phase of the game and suffered their first defeat of the season, a 22-10 loss at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The Bills had their fair share of issues, but where did it all go wrong?

Some observations from the game:

Manuel’s latest test earns a failing grade
- The Bills did an efficient job through the first two weeks of the season in both the concoction and execution of a winning formula with EJ Manuel as the starting quarterback. Buffalo’s defense yielded turnovers, the run game was working and the offense didn’t need to rely on Manuel to win them the game. For as long as the NFL season is, everyone knew that it wouldn’t always be so easy. Eventually, Manuel would be forced into a situation where he would have to be the one to bring the team back from a deficit. The inevitable scenario met the Bills for the first time on Sunday. Before the bad, there were parts to his day that went right. Not surprisingly, both came on the only two scoring drives that the Bills could muster against the Chargers. First, his ability to keep a play alive and his eyes downfield amidst a multitude of defensive pressure single-handedly helped yield the Bills a field goal. Scott Chandler sat down in the middle of the field, received the pass, and marched it down 37 yards and put the Bills in Chargers' territory. Second, Manuel went 4-of-5 for 40 yards and a touchdown on a drive in the third quarter. Even more impressive, he overcame an offensive penalty call on a long pass play and a sack on consecutive downs to connect with Robert Woods for 15 yards on a 3rd-and-14. Now, the bad: the accuracy issues of old popped up for Manuel and became a problem for offensive efficiency when the Bills needed a play. His stat line looks respectable for those that only stick to the box score: 23-of-39, 238 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. There are some misleading parts to the numbers that really don’t paint the picture the correct way. First, 75 of his 238 passing yards came in garbage time, with under two minutes to go and the Chargers in prevent defense. Second, the relatively pedestrian completion percentage (59-percent) was aided by dump-offs and safe throws to running backs and tight ends. Of his 39 throws, 21 were to wide receivers. Only seven were completed, which equates to a 33.3-percent completion rate. A few of the incompletions were not his fault, due to the wideouts not looking for the passes early enough. However, it wasn’t enough to make a large difference in the game or Manuel’s overall performance in dispersing the ball to his boundary targets. The accuracy has been a consistent issue since taking over as the starting quarterback last year, and will be the thing that holds the offense back from their true potential if they don’t rectify the problem.

O-Line problems
- All across the offensive line, the Bills got their butts handed to them by the San Diego Chargers. Corey Liuget, Kendall Reyes and Dwight Freeney all presented problems for Buffalo’s front five, which didn’t allow Manuel to get comfortable, or for the rushing attack to take pressure off of their young quarterback. Cordy Glenn had as disappointing a performance as he’s had in his career and the problems at both guard spots continued. A normally potent rushing team, the Bills managed just 63 yards on 17 carries by the running backs. The unit has performed quite poorly for two weeks straight, which lead to some questions moving forward. Do the Bills have the talent up front to help their young quarterback get to the level they aspire to have him reach? It’s a long season and the book has yet to be written, but two out of three performances suggest that they may not.

Pre and post-snap recognition
- One of the biggest problems throughout the game was the Bills in coverage. Ahead of the snap, the Chargers would use motion against Buffalo’s man-to-man defense to create mismatches in bunch formations. On more than one occasion, the Bills found themselves with linebacker Preston Brown on wide receiver Eddie Royal, cornerback Stephon Gilmore on tight end Ladarius Green and others that resulted in big gains for the San Diego offense. Not only was that a problem, but Buffalo also couldn’t get a handle on how to defend pick plays. As safety Aaron Williams astutely pointed out in his post-game comments, San Diego was not going to throw the ball deep all that often with how much the wind was blowing, and instead ran pick plays to get their receivers open underneath. The strategy was effective, as Rivers had only seven incompletions all day.

The confusing CB rotation
- As poorly as the Bills played on those pick plays and in matching up, the Bills had another perplexing start to their afternoon. When the defense took the field, cornerback Corey Graham was nowhere to be found. In two weeks, Graham established himself as the cornerback that has played at the highest level. Even when he was beat on a route, Graham displayed both recovery and ball skills to keep a big play from being completed. Instead, the Bills went with Stephon Gilmore and Leodis McKelvin to start the game and held true to the three-man rotation head coach Doug Marrone had been referring to. Both Gilmore and McKelvin had their share of struggles against the Chargers. Gilmore had a poor tackling performance, while McKelvin was exposed on big plays for the second time in three weeks. It makes little sense to keep the cornerback that is playing at the highest level on the bench, just to uphold a silly three-man rotation. It is clear that McKelvin is better served as an option off the bench, in case one of Graham or Gilmore struggles or suffers an injury, but the Bills refuse to operate that way. When McKelvin is on the field, opposing quarterbacks have shown that they will target him. Even if the want to keep McKelvin in the mix, they’d be better off by just rotating him in the game occasionally for Gilmore and keeping Graham in the game until the latter shows them reason to change things up. Forget egos, the goal is to win and put the best players on the field. Ride the hot hand.

Questionable, conservative decisions by Marrone
- The Buffalo Bills did not bring their A-game in any way, shape or form on Sunday, but their head coach continued a lack of confidence in his offense to gain a yard in a situation that actually favors them. The scenario came in the first quarter after the Bills stalled on their second drive of the game. They faced a 4th-and-6 from the San Diego 48-yard line and decided to punt. On that punt, the Chargers were called for an offsides penalty that would have given them a 4th-and-1 from the San Diego 43-yard line. Marrone decided he didn’t want a part of it, went with the result of the punt (and the subsequent penalty call on the Chargers) and chose to play the field position battle. Had the Bills accepted the penalty and went for it in that situation, advanced statistics indicate that the very situation they were facing historically yielded a 65-percent success rate. For win probability, it was an essential coin flip between that and punting, that favored the Bills to convert for a first down by a 30-percent margin. The Bills instead gave the ball to the Chargers, and they used a 17-play, 89-yard drive that lasted 7:51 to give them a 10-point lead. Later in the game, after Buffalo had surrendered the safety to make it 22-10, they had to perform a free kick. Down two scores with 3:23 to play, the Bills neglected to do the rare onside free kick attempt and surrendered possession to the Chargers without a fight. If they tried the onside kick and didn’t convert, the Chargers would have won. They didn’t, allowed another minute on the game clock to elapse with San Diego’s possession, and still lost. Sometimes taking “chances” is the best approach, even if those chances are actually the statistically smarter decision.

Bright spots
- The Bills weren’t very efficient in most facets of the game, but they did have some individual performances that stood out. Defensive tackle Marcell Dareus could not be blocked in one-on-one opportunities, much like he has for the entirety of the season. Safety Aaron Williams also provided a strong individual effort due to his instincts and athleticism. He seemed to always be around the ball and ended the game with 14 tackles. Punter Colton Schmidt has had a strong start to his Bills career as well, averaging a net of 44 yards against the Chargers. Other than that trio, with honorable mentions to both Mario and Kyle Williams, the Bills were wildly ineffective.

Bills’ MVP: DT Marcell Dareus
- Five tackles, one quarterback hit and a lot of pressure up the middle. Dareus is turning into the player they envisioned when the team selected him third overall in 2011.

Bills’ LVP: QB EJ Manuel
- The accuracy issue reared its ugly head on Sunday, resulting in a 33.3-percent completion rate to his wide receivers. Those seven completions yielded 49 yards, and on 21 attempts to his receivers, that comes out to 2.3 yards per play. Yuck.

Up Next: The Bills will travel to Houston to square off against the 2-1 Texans, led by quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Final Thoughts:
- The Bills had their first test of the season in which they had to come back from a deficit... and failed miserably. Luckily for the Bills it’s only the third week of the season, and they are still a 2-1 football team. The season wasn’t bound to be perfect and no one should have expected it to go quite as smoothly as it did in the first two weeks. With that written, it would have been much more tolerable if the Bills had more of a graceful fall from their big Week Two win. It was a precipitous drop from their dominant victory over Miami, but it’s not the end of the world. A big opportunity exists for them against a Houston team that was exposed Sunday by the New York Giants, and if they can convert, they’ll have a 3-1 start to the season. It was a bad loss, but it was the first of its kind in 2014. Unless it becomes a habit, there isn’t any reason to panic just yet.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Bills streak skids to halt, lose to Chargers 22-10
Through two weeks, the Buffalo Bills were feeling pretty good about the way that their season had started. The Bills began the year in impressive fashion with a defeat of a heavily favored home team, and then, a blowout win over their division rival.

All the positivity built over the first two weeks had the door slammed in its face Sunday, losing to the San Diego Chargers 22-10 at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

“Give them credit, they did a good job,” head coach Doug Marrone said. “It's a long season. We're just gonna have to keep getting better each week, and learning from the mistakes that we make.”

The mistakes were plenty for the Bills, whether it was accuracy issues from their quarterback, poor coverage from their secondary or getting called on 11 penalties for 101 yards. No matter how close the score was at times throughout the game, Buffalo continued to shoot themselves in the foot.

San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers had no issues, even on a windy day, with getting the ball to his receivers at a high rate. Rivers’ 18-of-25, 256-yard and two touchdown performance was one of the biggest downfalls for a defense that played well in their first two wins.

“It's one of those games where it just wasn't going our way, and we're going to do a better job next week,” safety Aaron Williams remarked. “I think we just got out there and tried to rely on our athletic ability than actually being smart, mentally of the game. I think we made it a lot harder for ourselves in the secondary. We can't do that.”

Even with all the poor play, the Bills had an opportunity during the second half to pull the score within one possession. Down 20-10 in the fourth quarter, EJ Manuel and the Bills' offense fell flat on three straight drives that yielded a net of 57 yards and zero points.

Outside of the Bills’ first drive of the second half, the offense had a hard time establishing itself through both the air and on the ground. Manuel ended the day completing 23-of-39 passes for 238 yards and one touchdown, but could only connect with his wide receivers on 7-of-21 pass attempts.

“I think my accuracy is fine,” Manuel said. “I noticed a few throws that I could stick on guys but at the same time we just have to go out there and make plays. That’s the biggest thing, making plays when they’re there and just trying to hit those home runs. You can’t miss those.”

The Bills escaped injuries for much of the first two weeks, only losing linebacker Keith Rivers, tight end Lee Smith and linebacker Randell Johnson. Buffalo added three more new injuries to their ledger, with safety Da’Norris Searcy (ankle), wide receiver Marcus Easley (knee) and guard Chris Williams (back) all having left the contest prematurely.

With the loss, the Bills are still atop the AFC East with a 2-1 record. The team will next travel to Houston for their fourth game of the season against the 2-1 Texans.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

5 things to watch for during Bills - Chargers
The start to the 2014 regular season couldn’t have gone much better for the Buffalo Bills. They won each of their first two games, which gave them their best start since 2011.

If they can pull off another victory, they’ll match the 2011 team’s record through three games. The next opponents for the Bills? A home date versus the 1-1 San Diego Chargers.

Some keys to the contest:

1) Disrupting Rivers
- When the Chargers take the field at Ralph Wilson Stadium, the Bills will be up against the best quarterback they’ve faced in this young season. Philip Rivers has gotten back to what makes him one of the better quarterbacks in the league: the ability to move around in the pocket. Rivers can keep plays alive, sidestep pressure and keeps his eyes down the field. He’s prone to a mistake every now and again, but even under duress his ability shines. The Bills have been quite successful with bringing sustained pressure at the opposing quarterback, but it’s quite important to have more than one player applying that pressure on Sunday. If they can, that would yield less room to move around in the pocket and less time that the slippery San Diego wideouts have to get open down the field.

2) Who guards Gates?
- Antonio Gates is getting closer to the end of his playing career, but he isn’t allowing age and a slower first step to ruin his production. Gates took over in the Chargers’ win over the Seattle Seahawks, catching seven passes for 96 yards and three touchdowns. He is clearly the favorite target of Rivers, and even though he isn’t quite as athletic as he once was, he still needs to be one of the focal points for Buffalo’s defense. The Bills have a few different options in how to defend Gates, but they may be best served using Aaron Williams to shadow the tight end. It would take Williams out of his normal role as a roaming safety over the top, but he has the size, coverage abilities and ball skills to make receptions harder to come by for Gates. The Bills could also use a linebacker or a different safety, but the range of Williams would provide them with their best chance at limiting the former All-Pro tight end.

3) Targeting Troutman
- Over the first two games, the Bills have exploited pedestrian performances of their opponent’s interior offensive line — and that trend could certainly continue Sunday. Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus, like they did many times throughout 2013, were simply dominant against the Miami front five. The Chargers may have similar problems due to a struggling starting guard. Right guard Johnnie Troutman got walked back into the pocket quite a few times against Seattle, and depending on who lines up in front of him, that defender will be expected to win the matchup more often than not. If they can combine the pressure from that interior spot with a rush from either Mario Williams or Jerry Hughes, the Bills defense could have another strong day.

4) Defending Watkins
- Against the Miami Dolphins, rookie wide receiver Sammy Watkins officially declared to the NFL that he needs to be game planned for by the opposition. The Bills and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett did an outstanding job at clearing out space for Watkins to utilize his extraordinary run after catch skills, leading to an eight catch, 117-yard and one touchdown performance versus the Dolphins. The Chargers have to identify a strategy to try and keep the young wide receiver from having similar results. It could be more zone coverage or it could be using one of their cornerbacks to trail the rookie everywhere. Whatever approach they go with, stopping Watkins will be one of the focal points for San Diego.

5) Ladarius unleashed?
- In addition to Gates and wide receiver Keenan Allen, there is a monster on the San Diego offense that is lurking and waiting to make a splash. The Chargers just haven’t let tight end Ladarius Green loose at this point of the regular season, but he is a dangerous player. Someone with his size (6-foot-6, 240-pounds), speed (4.45 40-yard dash) and combination of pass-catching abilities will not be used for blocking purposes only all season long. A dual tight end look could be an Achilles heel for a Bills defense that is quite inexperienced at the positions that would have to account for that offensive personnel grouping. He could end up being a non-factor like he was in the first two games. Or, if matched up against Preston Brown, Nigel Bradham or Da’Norris Searcy, he could be the X-factor for the San Diego attack. The potential is there.

OUT: LB Randell Johnson (knee)
DOUBTFUL: LB Keith Rivers (groin)
PROBABLE:  TE Lee Smith (toe), WR Sammy Watkins (ribs), DT Stefan Charles (hip), G Chris Williams (back), WR Robert Woods (ankle)

San Diego
OUT: OLB Melvin Ingram (hamstring, hip), HB Ryan Mathews (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: OLB Jeremiah Attaochu (hamstring), S Jahleel Addae (hamstring), WR Keenan Allen (groin)
PROBABLE: CB Chris Davis (ankle), CB Brandon Flowers (groin), TE Antonio Gates (hamstring), DE Corey Liuget (ankle), C Rich Ohrnberger (back), G Johnnie Troutman (back)

Prediction: Bills over Chargers
- It won’t be a walk in the park for the Bills this weekend against a potent Chargers offensive attack. If they have a relapse of their red zone woes again in Week Three, they could be in trouble. However, the San Diego defense isn’t as good as the one that Buffalo faced last week against the Dolphins and there will be more opportunities for the offense to capitalize on. Expect the run game to play a much bigger role for Buffalo, which could be the key to the Bills’ first 3-0 start since 2011.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

How often does Jim Schwartz call a Bills blitz?
The Buffalo Bills are off to their fastest start since 2011 and the defense is playing as well as they could have hoped. Many feared that when Mike Pettine left the team to become the head coach of the Cleveland Browns, that the aggressive and blitz-happy defense would leave with him.

Enter defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, who in his time in Tennessee and Detroit boasted some of the best front four's in all the National Football League. He was given the gift of a similar setup in Buffalo, but would the pass rushing success of 2013 help change his mind on how often to blitz?

If you go by the first two games of the season, the answer is simple: not at all.

As the head coach of the Detroit Lions in 2013, Schwartz's defense was among the lowest percentages for sending more than four defenders on pass plays. Last season, the Lions blitzed on only 115 of 627 (18.34-percent) pass plays they faced according to They ranked 31st in the league, with only the Jacksonville Jaguars having a lower percentage.

For a point of reference, Pettine's 2013 defense in Buffalo had more than double the blitz attempts than Schwartz did in Detroit. The Bills defense blitzed on 245 of 631 (38.33-percent) passing plays.

So just how much, or little, is Schwartz blitzing with the Bills in 2014?

At Chicago
Total Dropbacks - 56
4-man rush - 42
5-man rush - 11
6-man rush - 3

Total blitz percentage at Chicago: 25-percent

Vs. Miami
Total Dropbacks - 59
4-man rush - 51
5-man rush - 7
6-man rush - 1

Total blitz percentage vs. Miami: 13.56-percent

It's fair to note that there were multiple plays in the fourth quarter of the Miami game that were four-man rushes, mainly because the Bills were up by more than one possession could yield and were simply playing a prevent defense. However, those situations happened in Detroit in 2013 as well.

Schwartz Blitz Totals in 2014:
Total Dropbacks - 115
4-man rush - 93
5-man rush - 18
6-man rush - 4

Total blitz percentage in 2014: 19.13-percent

In relation to the 2013 figures, the Bills' current blitz percentage would be the third-lowest in the NFL.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press
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Topics: Sports
Locations: BuffaloChicagoDetroitMiamiTennessee
People: Jim SchwartzMike Pettine

Bills' Woods probable, confident he'll play
A midweek injury provided a minor scare for the Buffalo Bills and starting wide receiver Robert Woods. Luckily for the Bills, it may end up being only that.

Woods injured his right ankle near the end of Wednesday’s practice at the ADPRO Sports Training Center and could not return. The wideout said he rolled it when trying to make a cut during practice, and took a few more snaps. He sensed something wasn’t right, and he and the training staff took him off the field.

The Bills erred to the side of caution and gave Woods the day off from practice on Thursday to rest the ankle. He returned to practice Friday as a limited participant, and made it seem like his ‘probable’ listing was a mere formality.

“Felt good. Able to participate and be back out there, and just get ready to take on San Diego,” he said, before being asked if he thinks he’ll play on Sunday.

“Yeah, I believe so. It feels pretty good,” he replied.

Woods is one of five different players deemed as ‘probable’ for the game, which means they all have at least a 75-percent chance of playing on Sunday. Wide receiver Sammy Watkins (ribs), guard Chris Williams (back), tight end Lee Smith (toe) and defensive tackle Stefan Charles (hip) all received that specific designation.

The Bills were holding out hope for linebacker Keith Rivers to make a return to the lineup on Sunday, but his chances are a bit more slim than Woods. The team labeled Rivers, who has a groin injury, as ‘doubtful’ for the contest.

The linebacker missed Week Two against Miami with the same injury and appears to be in jeopardy of missing Week Three versus San Diego. Rookie Preston Brown started in Rivers’ place last weekend.

The Bills and Chargers are set to square off on Sunday, 1 pm, at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Bills-Chargers sold out
If you wanted to make it to Ralph Wilson Stadium for the Buffalo Bills' second home game of the 2014 season and didn't buy a regular ticket through the team already, you're out of luck. The Bills announced Thursday afternoon that Sunday's game against the San Diego Chargers has sold out and will be televised locally.

The Bills still have club level seats available for the Chargers contest, but all other tickets have been sold. There are said to be only club level seats available for the October 12 matchup with New England and the October 19 game against Minnesota as well.

For standard tickets, the next available game is November 9 versus Kansas City, but those are going fast as well. The remaining home games past that date are November 23 against the New York Jets, a November 30 matchup with the Cleveland Browns and December 14 versus the Green Bay Packers.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press
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Topics: Sports
Locations: Kansas CityMinnesotaNew England

Bills without Woods at Thursday's practice
The Buffalo Bills escaped their Week Two matchup with Miami without any serious injuries. Their fortunes did not last long, however, as starting wide receiver Robert Woods missed practice on Thursday due to an injury.

Woods was a surprise entrant to the injury report on Wednesday after being a limited participant in the session. An ankle injury was the reason for his inclusion and was also the reason for his absence on Thursday.

Head coach Doug Marrone raised some eyebrows when asked if Woods might be in jeopardy of missing Sunday's game against the San Diego Chargers.

"Right now, he wouldn't be able to play," the coach said.

Woods injured the ankle during near the end of Wednesday's practice and couldn't finish the workout. If you ask his teammate Sammy Watkins, though, he expects his fellow wideout to be available on Sunday.

"I think he's fine," Watkins said. "They just wanted to rest him today, he tweaked his ankle the other day. He went through walkthrough pretty fine, but I think it was kind of sore a little bit, but he's gonna be fine."

In addition to Woods, rookie linebacker Randell Johnson was unable to practice Thursday. Johnson suffered a knee injury against Miami and did not practice on Wednesday either.

Linebacker Keith Rivers (groin), defensive tackle Stefan Charles (hip) and left guard Chris Williams (back) were all limited participants for Thursday's session. Williams wasn't injured in the actual practice, the Bills just wanted to limit some of his work during the week after having missed some time in training camp with the same injury.

For the second straight day, wide receiver Sammy Watkins (ribs) and tight end Lee Smith (toe) rounded out the injury report as full participants in practice. The Bills will resume practice on Friday morning for their final day of on-field work before squaring off against the San Diego Chargers.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press
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Topics: Sports
Locations: Miami
People: Doug MarroneRandell JohnsonRobert Woods

LB Rivers returns to Bills practice Wednesday
When we last left the Buffalo Bills, head coach Doug Marrone said that the team would test linebacker Keith Rivers early in the week to see just how close he could be to a potential return. So far, so good for the 2-0 Bills, as Rivers returned to practice for the first time since he sustained an injury.

During their Week One contest against the Chicago Bears, the starting linebacker injured his groin in the second half on an attempt to change directions with running back Matt Forte in the open field. Rivers immediately hobbled to the sideline and could not return to action.

On Wednesday, the Bills allowed him to participate in their practice session on a limited basis.

"I felt pretty good. Moving around pretty well and just keeping it day by day," Rivers said following the workout. "We'll see how it goes as a progression. Hopefully we're ready to go."

Late last week, ESPN's James Walker reported that the linebacker would miss two weeks due to the groin injury. It appears that Rivers and the Bills are trying to push for an earlier return than the recovery time that was originially prescribed.

Rookie linebacker Preston Brown started in his place against Miami.

Wide receiver Robert Woods is the newest addition to the Bills' injury report. The team announced that Woods could only take a limited amount of snaps in practice due to an ankle injury. The second-year wide receiver played in 80-percent of the team's snaps on offense Sunday.

The only player not to participate in practice was rookie linebacker Randell Johnson, who suffered a knee injury on Sunday. Defensive tackle Stefan Charles was limited due to a hip injury, meanwhile both wide receiver Sammy Watkins (ribs) and tight end Lee Smith (toe) were full participants on Wednesday.

Smith has missed each of the first two games due to the toe injury, but appears to be poised for a return on Sunday. Quarterback EJ Manuel let slip during his press conference that they're expecting to have Smith back on the field for Week Three.

The Bills will square off against the 1-1 San Diego Chargers Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Practice resumes at the ADPRO Sports Training Center on Thursday afternoon.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of

Pegulas approved by NFL finance committee
By this time next month, the Buffalo Bills will likely have their new owners in place. In what was the first of two big steps in the post-sale process, Terry and Kim Pegula were unanimously approved by the National Football League's finance committee to become the next owners of the franchise.

In a statement to the media following the finance meeting, Terry Pegula stated that they didn't consider themselves to be NFL owners just yet. In three weeks time that could, and likely will, change on a permanent basis.

On Wednesday, October 8, the NFL will conduct a vote at the fall owner's meetings in New York City. If 24 out of 31 current owners approve the Pegulas, they will receive the required ratification and will take control of the Bills franchise.

The Pegulas paid a record-breaking $1.4 billion to secure the purchase of the team. They were announced as the winners of the bidding process on Tuesday September 9, 2014.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press
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Topics: Business_FinanceSports
Locations: New York City
People: Kim PegulaTerry Pegula

Upon Further Review: Bills vs. Dolphins
To cap the celebration of the week leading up and all the good things that happened to the franchise, the Buffalo Bills declared their second victory of the young season on Sunday. A 29-10 win over the rival Miami Dolphins kept the Bills atop the AFC East and simultaneously shocked many around the NFL.

The Bills will move on Sunday and will attempt to obtain their third straight win, but before they do, the book must first be closed on their victory over the Dolphins. With the help of’s Game Rewind package and the All-22 film available with it, ‘Upon Further Review’ brings you a detailed review at how each player on the Bills fared in that specific game.

Every week, WGR will provide you with the standouts, the duds and everything in between.

For each player that appeared in the game on offense or defense, you'll see their name in bold, with a set of numbers after it. Example: Kiwaukee Thomas (54, -2, 2.7). The first number (54) represents the snap count of that game, the second (-2) represents the individual player’s plus-minus of positive plays to negative plays in that game. The third number (2.7) represents the weighted Grade Point Average assigned to that player by the author.

OFFENSE (59 total plays)

- The Bills opened up their season with second-year quarterback EJ Manuel (59, 0, 2.7) able to play, for the most part, mistake-free football. Manuel and the rest of the offense committed only one turnover and squeaked out a 23-20 win over the Chicago Bears in overtime.

In Week Two, Manuel and the Bills one-upped themselves from the previous week. They didn’t commit a single turnover against the Miami Dolphins and claimed a dominant victory as a result.

A big part of that was due to the team’s offensive game plan, and, how well their young quarterback did with executing the approach. Manuel’s lack of turnovers kept the Bills ahead of their opponents, but the inability to make a big play in the red zone held them back from breaking the game open.

The Bills had three separate red zone opportunities in the first half and failed to convert on all of them. Manuel helped lead the offense down to that area of the field, but once within the 20, both he and the offense stalled.

On their first drive Manuel spotted a busted coverage in the secondary and connected with Sammy Watkins for a 28-yard gain, and then again with Watkins on a key third down pickup to put the Bills in striking distance of the end zone. The drive ended with a missed slant throw to Robert Woods, in which Manuel didn’t step into it because of pressure, which caused him to miss badly. If he had connected, the Bills would have had their first touchdown.

That same drive, a perfect touchdown throw down the right sideline was prevented by cornerback Brent Grimes. Manuel looked deep for Watkins and dropped the ball right where it needed to be. As the wideout secured it in his hands, Grimes reached out with his arm and knocked it loose.

The Bills' next drive featured an outstanding throw to a toe-tapping Scott Chandler along the left sideline to put them in scoring position once more. Like the first drive, though, it ended with more failed opportunities and  another Dan Carpenter field goal.

Even more encouraging than the previous two, the Bills featured Watkins on their third scoring drive. Marquise Goodwin cleared out a defensive back in zone coverage by running a fly route, and Watkins ran a deep crossing route to the vacated area of the field and caught the 30-yard pass from Manuel. Two plays later, Watkins put a fantastic move on his cornerback and was wide open in the end zone, but Manuel misfired on the throw for six points. Just as you could guess, Dan Carpenter ran out for his third field goal on the afternoon.

Manuel didn’t have many scares with turnovers until the end of the first half. He fluttered one pass behind Woods, and on the next play, he tipped off a cornerback in zone by eyeing down Watkins, which allowed the defender to drop back for a pass breakup. Both plays could have easily been interceptions.

In the second half, the Bills essentially took the ball out of Manuel’s hands. The quarterback attempted 19 passes in the first half, and because his team was in the lead, he only threw seven more the rest of the way. His touchdown pass came in the second half on a YAC-friendly short crossing route that Watkins was able to run into the end zone from 14 yards out.

Despite some of the flaws, the Bills know who they are with Manuel as the starting quarterback. He made some big throws early on in the game and it helped the team into scoring situations. Now, they need to work on developing a killer instinct in Manuel to convert drives into touchdowns. Their defense won’t be able to bail them out every single week like they did against Miami. Despite that, it was another step forward to deliver in a game without turning the ball over.

Running Back
The rushing attack for the Bills really struggled to get going at all in the first half. Against a fantastic Dolphins defensive line, the team’s first run of the contest ended up being their best for a full thirty-minute stretch. Fred Jackson (31, 1, 2.7) pushed forward for an 11-yard gain on the team’s first offensive play of the afternoon, and after that, Miami gave them nothing. For the rest of the half, the Bills gained only 31 yards on 16 carries. The veteran running back’s biggest contribution in the game was a 28-yard reception in the first half that came right after he chipped and stopped Cameron Wake dead in his tracks on a stunt. While the rest of the day for Jackson (12 rushes, 24 yards) was mostly frustrating, C.J. Spiller (25, 2, 3.0) found his afternoon to be a bit more fruitful. Besides the 102-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, Spiller ripped off a 47-yard run that highlighted his elite speed and explosiveness. He is known for bouncing runs outside, which he did again Sunday, but he also hit the hole right as he was supposed to on a fourth quarter play. The result? A nine-yard gain between right guard Erik Pears and right tackle Seantrel Henderson. Frank Summers (25, -1, 2.3) had more snaps than he did against Chicago and even carried the ball twice. He was mostly invisible the rest of the time. Anthony Dixon (3, -1, 2.3) only had a few snaps early on and didn’t see the field for the rest of the game.

Wide Receiver
- In his Ralph Wilson Stadium debut, Sammy Watkins (50, 5, 3.3) showed fans that he already is an asset to the offense as a rookie. Watkins was targeted 11 times by Manuel and brought in eight passes for 117 yards and a touchdown. His two longest receptions were both products of busted coverage and a good read by his quarterback, but the most impressive part to his day was in his route running, hands and vision. Watkins caught a pass that was behind him, he broke down a couple of defensive backs and his touchdown was a product of all three of the aforementioned assets. The other receivers on the roster, though, weren’t anywhere near as impactful. Robert Woods (47, 1, 2.7), Mike Williams (26, 0, 2.3) and Marquise Goodwin (10, 1, 2.7) all had time on the field, but managed two catches for eight yards between them.

Tight End
- It may be time to accept that the tight end position just isn’t a big part of the team’s offense in 2014. At least not yet, anyway. Through two games, the Bills have targeted a tight end five times, resulting in only three catches for 41 yards. Scott Chandler (34, 1, 2.7) is the starter and has accounted for three of those five targets, but isn’t nearly as depended on as he was last season. Chandler made one of the prettiest receptions of the day, bringing in a perfectly placed throw from Manuel on the left sideline. The tight end caught the ball over his shoulder and stamped his feet down in bounds as he was falling out. Without Lee Smith, Chris Gragg (35, 1, 2.7) has been the key blocking tight end for the Bills. He provided a block that sealed off Cameron Wake, which allowed Spiller to get upfield for a six-yard gain. As the opponent’s change, so might the team’s philosophy on targeting their tight ends in the passing game. In two weeks, though, the Bills seem like they’re content with having their offense go through the running backs and wide receivers almost exclusively.

Offensive Line
- The Miami Dolphins had something in common with the Buffalo Bills when the two teams entered the game: both had extremely talented players along their defensive lines. When charged with their individual assignments, the offensive line of the Bills had their problems dealing with some of the players on the Miami roster. Right tackle Seantrel Henderson (59, 1, 2.7) had the biggest responsibility of everyone, up against defensive end Cameron Wake almost every single time. Henderson was the only lineman on the Bills to grade out with a positive plus-minus, but he had a lot of help along the way. Buffalo used a tight end or a running back to provide a chip on Wake, which let the rookie right tackle know that help was usually there for him. In one-on-one's against Wake, though, Henderson made a key block on Spiller’s 47-yard run, and then again on a 9-yard gain in the fourth quarter. Left guard Chris Williams (59, -6, 1.7) didn’t fare as well against the powerful Dolphins defensive line. Williams made one of the key blocks on Fred Jackson’s 11-yard run to start the game, but couldn’t regain that form for the rest of the afternoon. Whether it was against Jared Odrick, Randy Starks, Olivier Vernon or others, Williams couldn’t find the consistency that he did against Chicago. Right guard Erik Pears (59, -4, 2.0) had more individual wins than Williams, but still struggled for much of the game. The Bills struggled to establish their running game from the interior of their offensive line, which made center Eric Wood (59, -1, 2.3) one of the targets as well. The Dolphins didn’t catch the Bills center off guard all that often, but just enough to make their presence felt. Wood was beaten off the snap on two consecutive plays in the first quarter — one by Earl Mitchell and the other by Derrick Shelby —but also helped on a lot of double teams throughout the game. Left tackle Cordy Glenn (59, -1, 2.7) had a mostly quiet afternoon, but kept Vernon from putting a hit on quarterback EJ Manuel. For the second straight week the Bills decided to use Chris Hairston (9, -1, 2.3) as a sixth offensive lineman for certain running formations

DEFENSE (79 total plays)

Defensive Line
- Historically in a defense led by Jim Schwartz, the play of the defensive line sets the tone for the other seven players on the field. As was the case for the Bills against the Dolphins, the defensive line took hold of the game and never allowed Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill to get comfortable. The most dominant player in the game, without a doubt, was Marcell Dareus (38, 4, 3.7). The defensive tackle occupied double teams to allow his teammates to make big plays around him, and when the Dolphins rarely didn’t double team him, Dareus made them pay. His combination of speed, size and power makes him a nightmare matchup for anyone, but especially against only average interior linemen like Daryn Colledge, Samson Satele and Shelley Smith. Dareus showed an ability to rip blockers away from him and the speed to either bring down the ball carrier or send him wide. Just like usual, he had quite the running mate in Kyle Williams (56, 4, 3.3). Williams was a terror for any members of the Miami interior line, but there wasn’t much they could do. Both he and Dareus were on their game, and they could only double-team one of them. Mario Williams (54, 2, 2.7) had a sack, a pressure and good edge contain on the speedy running back Lamar Miller. Williams was able to push rookie right tackle Ja’Wuan James back into the pocket often. Jerry Hughes (51, 0, 2.7) collected his first sack of the 2014 season on an inside stunt and rush at Tannehill. The edge contain and offsides penalty were his only downfalls against Miami. Defensive end Manny Lawson (28, -1, 2.3) isn’t much of a pass rusher, but it worked to his benefit on what could have been a big play for Miami in the fourth quarter. The Dolphins had a perfectly executed screen play on the way with blockers and free passage ahead of Miller. The long-limbed Lawson raised his left arm and swatted the pass before the Bills were burned. Defensive tackle Stefan Charles (22, 0 , 2.7) used his power to rush forward in the fourth quarter and claim one of Buffalo’s four sacks of Tannehill. Defensive tackle Corbin Bryant (39, 0, 2.3) and defensive end Jarius Wynn (25, 1, 2.3) didn’t impact the game too greatly, although Wynn’s rush off the edge forced Tannehill up into the pocket and helped Charles with his quarterback takedown.

- It’s hard to imagine that the Bills would not only be able to survive, but to flourish in a game without Kiko Alonso, Keith Rivers and for the most part, Brandon Spikes (15, -1, 2.3). Both Alonso and Rivers were injured, which paved the way for Preston Brown (79, 2, 2.7) and Nigel Bradham (66, 0, 2.7) to be the primary linebackers last Sunday. Miami used a three-wide receiver set quite often in the contest, which took Spikes off the field because of his woes in coverage. Spikes failed to make an impact even in his short time on the field. Against Chicago, Brown, who was making his first career start, performed poorly and was picked on by the Bears. The rookie still has a ways to go in coverage, but vastly improved against the run on Sunday. His best play came in the third quarter when Lamar Miller was trying to get him to commit to a running lane. Instead, Brown hid behind a defender being blocked and shadowed Miller wherever he went, limiting the run to just a three-yard gain. It was an up-and-down game for Bradham that stood out to the crowd because of his energy and big hits. The linebacker did make his fair share of mistakes, too, specifically against the run. Bradham got a bit ahead of himself a few times and reacted too quickly to some plays, which resulted in bigger gains than some should have been allowed to. In Ty Powell’s (1, -1, 1.7) only snap, he lost leverage and was pushed down to one knee by a blocker, which allowed Lamar Miller to gain six yards on a rush attempt.

- The play of Corey Graham (72, 4, 3.0) in Week One warranted another start at cornerback, and the Bills obliged. It wasn’t the same type of performance that Graham put in against Chicago, but he was clearly the top cornerback on the field once again. He had some key pass breakups on what could have been big plays for the Miami passing attack, specifically on a deep post to Mike Wallace in the first quarter and against a post in the end zone to Rishard Matthews. Graham was slow to react on a couple of plays that had him playing off his man before the snap, but it was too infrequent for Tannehill to pick on. Stephon Gilmore (53, -2, 2.3) “allowed” the Dolphins only touchdown, but there wasn’t much he could do. He played Wallace the correct way in the red zone and Tannehill used a quick throw to the perfect spot for his receiver to rope in the reception. It was a perfect throw and an outstanding one-handed catch by the wideout. His most frustrating snap came in the third quarter against wideout Brian Hartline. On a 3rd-and-7, Hartline ran a quick in route and Gilmore was too slow to react. The wideout gained eight yards and extended the drive. Nickell Robey (68, -2, 2.3) wasn’t targeted all that much by the Dolphins despite being on the field as much as he was. The crossing route, one to Brandon Gibson in the first quarter and another to Jarvis Landry in the third quarter, was the biggest issue for Robey against the Dolphins. Leodis McKelvin (33, 1, 2.7) didn’t start but held his own when asked to play. He displayed good coverage in the fourth quarter and was rewarded with an interception, in which he correctly undercut an out route to Landry, to end the game.

- In Week One versus Chicago, top safety Aaron Williams (79, 4, 3.3) was limited in his impact on the game. He didn’t cause any turnovers against Miami either, but his skills in reading a play and reacting to it were notable. Williams was a nuisance to Dolphins tight end Charles Clay on a play that normally yields positive yardage. Miami ran a play action rollout pass to the flat to Clay on two separate occasions, but both times, Williams was there breathing down the tight end’s neck. Those two plays resulted in a loss of six yards. Da’Norris Searcy (74, 2, 3.0) showed well against the run, as is expected for someone with his skill set. The individual effort he made on a read-option keep attempt by Tannehill during a 4th-and-1 try in the fourth quarter was exemplary. Searcy was the only player that could have made the tackle and rushed upfield to bring down Tannehill not only before he could gain the necessary yard, but the safety dropped the quarterback for a four-yard loss. Duke Williams (16, 0, 2.3) didn’t see much playing time for the Bills, but had a pass breakup on a third down attempt to Hartline in the fourth quarter. Williams also missed a tackle that led to a 10-yard gain for running back Orleans Darkwa.

Year to date grades, ranked by aggregate GPA (minimum 30 plays)
  1. DT Kyle Williams - 3.49
  2. CB Corey Graham - 3.49
  3. DT Marcell Dareus - 3.28
  4. S Aaron Williams - 3.03
  5. HB C.J. Spiller - 3.00
  6. WR Sammy Watkins - 2.99
  7. S Da’Norris Searcy - 2.87
  8. WR Robert Woods - 2.86
  9. QB EJ Manuel - 2.85
  10. LT Cordy Glenn - 2.85
  11. DE Mario Williams - 2.84
  12. LB Brandon Spikes - 2.84
  13. HB Fred Jackson - 2.84
  14. LB Nigel Bradham - 2.70
  15. WR Mike Williams - 2.68
  16. CB Nickell Robey - 2.59
  17. TE Chris Gragg - 2.56
  18. DT Stefan Charles - 2.54
  19. C Eric Wood - 2.50
  20. DE Jerry Hughes - 2.50
  21. RT Seantrel Henderson - 2.36
  22. DE Jarius Wynn - 2.34
  23. CB Stephon Gilmore - 2.30
  24. FB Frank Summers - 2.30
  25. LB Keith Rivers - 2.30
  26. S Duke Williams - 2.30
  27. DE Manny Lawson - 2.34
  28. DT Corbin Bryant - 2.22
  29. LG Chris Williams - 2.19
  30. TE Scott Chandler - 2.18
  31. LB Preston Brown - 2.02
  32. CB Leodis McKelvin - 2.01
  33. RG Erik Pears - 2.00
Previous Installments:
Week 1 - Bills 23, Bears 20

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Bills to test LB Rivers next two days
The Buffalo Bills are fresh off their second straight win to open the 2014 NFL regular season, but they had to accomplish it without starting strongside linebacker Keith Rivers. The veteran Rivers, who injured his groin against Chicago in Week One, could not practice at all last week and subsequently sat out on Sunday against Miami.

The Bills don't know exactly how much they can push Rivers in practice this week, but they intend on gauging that as early into the week as possible.

"We're gonna see how he is these first two days," Bills head coach Doug Marrone said on Monday. "They're working him out and seeing if we can get him back on that field. I think from there, then we'll be able to progress and see where he's at."

Rivers was brought in by the team in the offseason to start alongside middle linebacker Brandon Spikes and weakside linebacker Kiko Alonso, but injuries to two of those three left the Bills to make different plans. Third-year linebacker Nigel Bradham has since stepped in for Alonso, while rookie Preston Brown filled in for Rivers against Miami.

ESPN's James Walker reported last week that Rivers would miss two weeks of action with the injury.

The Bills escaped the win over Miami without any large injury concerns. The team reported only two new injuries to start the week: defensive tackle Stefan Charles (hip) and linebacker Randell Johnson (knee) were both announced by the Bills Monday. Wide receiver Sammy Watkins had been playing with an injury to his ribs, but the Bills said he just has general soreness from "usual bumps and bruises."

The Bills have Tuesday off and are scheduled to resume practice at the ADPRO Sports Training Center on Wednesday afternoon.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Not a lot of Spikes: Bills' playtime percentages vs. Miami
The Buffalo Bills are two games into the season and the start to the year has gone as well as they could have hoped. The Bills are 2-0 and by themselves atop the AFC East after Sunday's win against the Miami Dolphins.

Buffalo dominated throughout the game and used different personnel packages than they did the week before. Who got the most time on the field? Some highlights from the official playtime percentages:

- LB Brandon Spikes finished the game with just 15 total snaps on defense, which accounted for a time on the field of just 19-percent. The Dolphins played three wide receivers the majority of the time (Nickell Robey played 86-percent), which could be the basis of why Spikes played so little.

- The tight end with the most snaps on Sunday? It's not Scott Chandler. Second-year player Chris Gragg led the way with 35 snaps to Chandler's 34.

- Leodis McKelvin did not start against the Dolphins but was eventually brought in for a rotation at cornerback. His 42-percent of time on defense was mostly for Stephon Gilmore (67-percent), who missed Week One due to a groin injury.

Want the rest? Here it is in all its glory:


QB EJ Manuel - 59 (100%)
LT Cordy Glenn - 59 (100%)
LG Chris Williams - 59 (100%)
C Eric Wood - 59 (100%)
RG Erik Pears - 59 (100%)
RT Seantrel Henderson - 59 (100%)
WR Sammy Watkins - 50 (85%)
WR Robert Woods - 47 (80%)
TE Chris Gragg - 35 (59%)
TE Scott Chandler - 34 (58%)
HB Fred Jackson - 31 (53%)
WR Mike Williams - 26 (44%)
HB C.J. Spiller - 25 (42%)
FB Frank Summers - 25 (42%)
WR Marquise Goodwin - 10 (17%)
OL Chris Hairston - 9 (15%)
HB Anthony Dixon - 3 (5%)


S Aaron Williams - 79 (100%)
LB Preston Brown - 79 (100%)
S Da'Norris Searcy - 74 (94%)
CB Corey Graham - 72 (91%)
CB Nickell Robey - 68 (86%)
LB Nigel Bradham - 66 (84%)
DT Kyle Williams - 56 (71%)
DE Mario Williams - 54 (68%)
CB Stephon Gilmore - 53 (67%)
DE Jerry Hughes - 51 (65%)
DT Corbin Bryant - 39 (49%)
DT Marcell Dareus - 38 (48%)
CB Leodis McKelvin - 33 (42%)
DE Manny Lawson - 28 (35%)
DE Jarius Wynn - 25 (32%)
DT Stefan Charles - 22 (28%)
S Duke Williams - 16 (20%)
LB Brandon Spikes - 15 (19%)
LB Ty Powell - 1 (1%)

Season Playtime Percentages
  1. QB EJ Manuel - 100.00%
  2. LT Cordy Glenn - 100.00%
  3. LG Chris Williams - 100.00%
  4. C Eric Wood - 100.00%
  5. RG Erik Pears - 100.00%
  6. RT Seantrel Henderson - 100.00%
  7. LB Preston Brown - 100.00%
  8. S Aaron Williams - 94.12%
  9. CB Corey Graham - 92.81%
  10. WR Sammy Watkins - 89.66%
  11. S Da'Norris Searcy - 87.58%
  12. WR Robert Woods - 85.34%
  13. CB Nickell Robey - 76.47%
  14. DT Kyle Williams - 71.24%
  15. CB Leodis McKelvin - 69.28%
  16. DE Mario Williams - 66.67%
  17. DE Jerry Hughes - 65.36%
  18. DT Marcell Dareus - 62.75%
  19. TE Scott Chandler - 61.21%
  20. HB Fred Jackson - 49.14%
  21. WR Mike Williams - 48.28%
  22. HB C.J. Spiller - 47.41%
  23. TE Chris Gragg - 46.55%
  24. LB Brandon Spikes - 43.79%
  25. LB Nigel Bradham - 43.14%
  26. FB Frank Summers - 36.21%
  27. CB Stephon Gilmore - 34.64%
  28. DE Manny Lawson - 34.64%
  29. DT Corbin Bryant - 34.64%
  30. DE Jarius Wynn - 33.33%
  31. S Duke Williams - 29.41%
  32. LB Keith Rivers - 24.84%
  33. DT Stefan Charles - 24.18%
  34. WR Marquise Goodwin - 18.10%
  35. OL Chris Hairston - 10.34%
  36. LB Ty Powell - 7.84%
  37. HB Anthony Dixon - 7.76%
  38. CB Ron Brooks - 3.27%
Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Observations: Bills 29 - Dolphins 10
With the week that the city of Buffalo had, the Bills held up their end of the bargain and kept the non-stop celebration in western New York going with their latest win. The Bills dominated the rival Miami Dolphins from start to finish to cement an early season hold on the AFC East division.

How did it all happen? How did the Bills go from a potential basement dwelling team to 2-0 in a matter of two weeks?

Some observations from the game:

Defensive dominance
- The Bills had a tough time converting opportunities into touchdowns, but the defense made the stress from those unclaimed chances disappear into thin air. It was witnessed in the preseason in little snippets -- a sneak preview if you will -- but the Bills defense that touts so much talent reached a truly dominant level against the Miami Dolphins. In the first half alone the Bills sacked Ryan Tannehill three times, shut out the Miami offense and allowed just 62 yards on 26 total plays — and even those stats were inflated. The Dolphins received the ball back with just 2:21 to play in the half and seemed content with running out the clock. Six straight rushing attempts yielded 29 yards on 6 plays against a Bills defense just trying to prevent a big play. Miami was able to move the ball in the second half, but by that point the slow-starting Bills offense finally woke up and it was too late to mount a comeback. Kyle Williams, Nigel Bradham, Corey Graham, Aaron Williams all had dynamic individual performances that equated to one thing: the defense didn’t let the Dolphins back in when it actually mattered. It has been only two games, but defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has done a great job stepping in for Mike Pettine without many, if any hiccups.

Sammy Show
- The last time Sammy Watkins took the field at Ralph Wilson Stadium, fans were in an uproar about the decision to have him play in the final preseason game. Watkins injured his ribs again and many feared the worst. The hardened rookie was able to return in time for the start of the regular season and made his actual debut at the Bills’ home field one to remember. In just his second game in the NFL, Watkins caught eight passes for 117 yards and his first career touchdown. He is the first rookie wide receiver to obtain a 100-yard game in the franchise since Lee Evans did it for the Bills in 2004. He played through a considerable amount of pain, got the respect of the defense and showed all the talent the Bills believed he had when they traded up to select him in May. He also had the direct eye of his quarterback, too, receiving almost three times as many targets (11) as the next closest receiver (Fred Jackson, 4). The Bills gladly introduced and unleashed Watkins to the rest of the NFL on Sunday.

The EJ Formula
- Did Sunday look familiar to you on offense? That’s probably because it was the same game plan the Bills had for quarterback EJ Manuel and how to attack the Chicago Bears. Buffalo simplified the game enough for Manuel over the last two weeks to the point that the second-year quarterback always looked comfortable when he dropped back to pass. He didn’t have to win them the game, nor did they want him to. The Bills would prefer Manuel to be a bit player that can make a play when called upon, but not one that necessarily needs to set the tone for the rest of the offense. Look at the results: two wins, three total touchdowns, a 187.5-yard passing average and only one turnover. It was the same approach for the Bills and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett as last week. The only difference this week is that Manuel didn’t turn the ball over, which is a result Doug Marrone and company will take every game if they could. Ladies and gentlemen, you are witnessing the formula the Bills have laid out for success with Manuel as their quarterback. And to this point, no one can really argue with the results.

Corner Rotation
- When the Buffalo Bills defense took the field there was one lineup switch that made too much sense for the team to deny. With the return of cornerback Stephon Gilmore from injury, the Bills removed Leodis McKelvin from the lineup and replaced him with Week One standout Corey Graham. The Bills were rewarded once again for putting Graham on the field, as he broke up another three attempts against the Dolphins woeful passing attack. McKelvin did filter in later in the game, but it was clear that Gilmore and Graham were the go-to pair. After the game Marrone said McKelvin’s injury concerns led to the lineup switch, but as long as Graham plays at that level, there isn’t any reason for the Bills to revert back to McKelvin full-time. To his credit, McKelvin pulled in an interception late in the game with the Dolphins trying to get something going, but Graham was once again the superior player.

Red zone woes
- The only real negative from the Bills’ 29-10 win over the Miami Dolphins was their overall inefficiency inside the red zone. The Bills had six separate opportunities inside the Miami 20-yard line and could only convert on one of those chances. Manuel missed on a few throws in the red zone, most notably a slant route to Robert Woods and on a ball down the seam to Sammy Watkins. Their defense won’t always play as dominant as they did, which makes it vital for the Bills to convert those chances into six points rather than settling for a field goal. Buffalo could have buried Miami quite early in the game, but the offense just couldn’t get the job done in tight spaces. Marrone, Hackett and company will need to go back to the drawing board and make it a focal point this week, especially considering their next opponent's penchant for offensive potency.

Where was Wake?
- The team effort from the Bills on offense to limit what hell-raising defensive end Cameron Wake could do to them in the game was truly commendable. Wake was up against rookie right tackle Seantrel Henderson, but the game plan made that perceived mismatch a non-factor. Wake ended the game with one assisted tackle, no sacks and no quarterback hits. How did the Bills do it? Marrone made a concerted effort to always provide help in the form of a chipping tight end, fullback or running back to Henderson, so that way Wake wouldn’t take over the game in the way that he did in Week One against New England. It was a well-executed game plan all the way around.

Bills MVP: DT Kyle Williams
- For the second straight week, Kyle Williams was one of the best players on the field for the Bills in a winning effort. When he was healthy and still playing in the game, Miami right guard Shelley Smith was being terrorized by Williams and his quick reaction to the snap. The defensive tackle ended the game with only four tackles and a sack, but he set the table for so many of his teammates to make plays all game long.

Bills LVP: Inactive TE Lee Smith
- In the most peculiar moment of the game for the Bills, the injured and inactive tight end Lee Smith was flagged for a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty call during C.J. Spiller’s 102-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Smith was on the white part of the sidelines watching Spiller as he ran by, and the referee was backpedaling down the field in the same area. Neither were looking, the referee ran into Smith, went tumbling and promptly threw the flag. In a game that was as good as it could get for the Bills, that’s really one of the only negatives — and it came on one of the biggest plays of the contest.

Up Next: The Bills stay home to take on the San Diego Chargers at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday at 1 pm.

Final Thoughts:
- It was a fitting end to one of the most memorable weeks in Buffalo sports history. The combination of all the good news from Jim Kelly’s latest cancer scans and the Pegulas purchasing the team with the promise of keeping the franchise in western New York for the longterm, there wasn’t much that the Dolphins could do to stop that train from chugging along. A truly dominant win against a good football team will be what the players remember from this week, but it meant so much more to so many people. The Bills are here to stay, the team is 2-0 and as Russ Brandon said after the game: “It's gonna be a pretty good party in this town tonight, for sure.” No arguments here, Russ.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Bills honor Wilson with ceremony, 2-0 start to season
To end the ceremony that remembered the late founder and former Buffalo Bills owner Ralph C. Wilson, Jr., ahead of Sunday’s game, Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly loudly proclaimed a loud message to the crowd:

“Now, let’s go squish the fish!”

To wrap up one of the most feel-good weeks in team history, the players on the current roster made good on the cancer-free Kelly’s battle cry. The Bills used a dominant defensive effort and the first 100-yard game from their rookie receiver to squish said fish, besting the Miami Dolphins 29-10 at Ralph Wilson Stadium Sunday.

With the victory, the Bills clinched their first 2-0 start since the 2011 regular season, which also encapsulated the positivity from the sale of the franchise that wrapped up on Tuesday.

As for that rookie wide receiver, first-round pick Sammy Watkins became the first rookie on the Bills to gain 100 yards receiving in a game since Lee Evans accomplished the feat in 2004. He finished the game with eight catches for 117 yards and a touchdown in his home debut.

"It was great. The coaches had a great game plan, the offense played well, they helped me out a lot," Watkins said. "Just to see how the fans got involved and to have my first TD at the Ralph was amazing."

The Bills defense, armed by the return of the once suspended linebacker Nigel Bradham, frustrated Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill and the offensive attack throughout the afternoon. After just one half, the Dolphins were limited to zero points and just 62 yards on 26 plays.

"I think that we had good done a good job of keeping them off track," head coach Doug Marrone said. "They're a dangerous football team, they're a very good football team. Just like any team, once you get them off track and pass rushers start taking over the game, you can get some pressure on the quarterback."

The Bills surrendered a higher per play average in the second half. At that point, following a C.J. Spiller 102-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, it was much too late for a Miami comeback.

The crowd at One Bills Drive were frenzied early on following the ceremony to honor the late Wilson. Kelly, Bills controlling owner Mary Wilson, Hall of Fame running back Thurman Thomas and many more were on the field as the Bills begin the transition from the only owner they’ve ever known. Most in attendance stood for the entire game.

Pending league approval in early October, the team shifts from the Wilson family to Terry and Kim Pegula, owners of the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres in a reported $1.4 billion transaction taking place last Tuesday.

"It's a great time to be a Buffalonian," Bills president and CEO Russ Brandon said. "Football is the ultimate team game, and the teamwork that went into this all to culminate to the sale this week, and to cap it off, today... it's gonna be a pretty good party in this town tonight, for sure."

Quarterback EJ Manuel played a mistake-free game for the Bills, having completed 16-of-26 passes for 202 yards and the touchdown throw to Watkins. Manuel targeted the rookie early and often, sending a game-high 11 passes his way against the Dolphins. The next closest Bills receiver, Fred Jackson, had only four targets from Manuel.

The Bills escaped the game against the Dolphins without suffering any serious injuries, but did survive scares from Watkins, Spiller and defensive tackle Marcell Dareus having to miss some time due to injury. All three players returned to the field after being checked on by the team’s training staff.

The team will stay home for their next matchup, a Week Three contest against the San Diego Chargers.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

The rebirth of Nigel Bradham: Bills LB eager for debut
When the Buffalo Bills take the field on Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium, the atmosphere will likely feature one of the most charged up crowds in recent memory. The team’s Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly was said to be cancer free, the Bills will honor the late Ralph C. Wilson, Jr., with a pre-game ceremony, and not to mention, there was that fairly large story regarding the sale of the team to a husband and wife, Terry and Kim Pegula, that will keep the franchise in town for the long haul.

There are many reasons for the crowd to be one of the loudest one will hear, and in turn, for the Bills players to react accordingly. For many different reasons, the game might not feature a member of the Bills active roster that wants to make as much of an impact as third-year linebacker Nigel Bradham.

To tell the story of the upcoming game’s importance to Bradham, one must first travel back to his rookie season.

A fourth-round pick out of Florida State in the 2012 NFL Draft, the linebacker had the reputation as an explosive, fast and big-hitting player for one of the nation’s top defensive units. His hit on Miami wide receiver Laron Byrd turned him into one of the most feared hitters in college football that season.

The Bills brought Bradham to town to eventually compete for a starting role, and he got off to a fast start. Displaying the quickness he was initially billed with coming out of school, the linebacker started getting first-team snaps as early as the spring’s Organized Team Activities in his rookie season.

Locked in a battle all throughout training camp, the Bills and then head coach Chan Gailey went with the more practiced hand and elected to start Arthur Moats at strongside linebacker to start the season. It wasn’t long until the Bills realized they couldn’t keep Bradham off the field.

Moats displayed all the effort the coaching staff wanted, but he was beaten in coverage a few too many times for the team’s liking. As the Bills were getting blown out by San Francisco in Week Five, the team made the switch to Bradham and didn’t look back.

He took over as the starting strongside linebacker for the final 11 games of the season and thought his career was on the way up and couldn’t be stopped. Then, the vicious nature of the NFL took over.

Gailey was fired, defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt was fired and general manager Buddy Nix was on the way to stepping down which all meant one thing for Bradham: the people that were most committed to him as a player were gone.

The 3-4 defense, one that he had never played in before, was on the way with defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. Head coach Doug Marrone was brand new and allowed all the players on the roster to start fresh under his watch.

Bradham was owed nothing but still had a hold on one of the inside linebacker starting positions. That was, until, August 17, 2013 happened.

In the hours after a home preseason game, the linebacker was pulled over in Tonawanda, New York and charged with marijuana possession. It didn’t cost him any games through a suspension in 2013, but it cost him his reputation with the new coaching staff.

Bradham went from an 11-game starter on the cusp of becoming a quality player in the NFL, to a spot starter in the doghouse for his conduct off the field.

So what happened? Where did it go wrong?

“I feel like I had lost my passion,” Bradham said candidly. “And then last year, I honestly I felt like my mentality... I had lost something and I didn't feel right. It hurt me not to be able to play and not to be able to start and not playing, because I wasn't used to that.”

Going back to his days at Florida State, Bradham had been a starter against top competition since 2009. To hear that his passion had left him, though, was a peculiar thing for such a young player with so much potential. 

How did that happen? Bradham admitted that the success of his first season may have played a negative role.

“[The passion] was definitely there in my rookie year. You know what, I wanna probably say I probably got comfortable my second year,” he said. “Early on, that whole [2013] offseason I was starting, I had a lot of hype and everything. Then when the season came, that's when I had the little incident with what I just dealt with and the suspension that came back this year. It's pretty much just me hanging around the wrong people for the wrong reasons.”

As Bradham pointed out, he was forced to serve a one-game suspension in 2014 due to surrounding himself with the wrong crowd. That bad crowd, he says, has been removed from his life for good. Now, the linebacker has a renewed sense of self and his fire to get back to the way that he started his career has returned.

Having endured the early adversity that he has, some of which that was self-induced, might have been the best thing to happen to Bradham.

“My whole life I've been playing and being one of the key players, so when I wasn't, it found something in me and it made my desire come back. I pretty much just base it off that,” he said. “It's just motivation and adrenaline, man, and knowing what I can do in this league and what I want to be as a player in this league.”

Bradham’s self-motivation didn’t end there.

“It's pretty much just getting myself back together and knowing what I want to do and be able to play in this league because I love this game. So when you've got an opportunity like that, where it could all be gone in flames, you realize that you kind of took it granted for a second. You can't take this league for granted.”

A big part of that very motivation to be both a better player and person, he admits, is a life-changing event set to happen within the next month. He knows what happened in August of 2013 can never, ever occur again.

“You've just gotta learn from situations like that. I've got a son coming on the way,” Bradham said. “I don't want him to be able to see stuff like that on the Internet, because at the end of the day, I've got to be his role model.”

Putting the past behind him, the linebacker is on the cusp of having what could be the biggest opportunity of his career. With the addition of defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, the switch back to the 4-3 defense and the season-ending injury to Kiko Alonso, Bradham finds himself back in the role that made him one of college football’s elite linebackers: he’s a starting weakside linebacker once again.

Marrone and Schwartz have raved about him all offseason, citing his work ethic and renewed attitude since he stepped foot in the building for offseason workouts in the spring. Even the one-game suspension, which cost him a start last week in Chicago, isn’t going to prevent the Bills from reinserting him into the starting lineup straight away.

The team hopes he has learned from his errors, and Bradham drove that point home as well.

“That's one of them feelings you never want to experience again... especially when you know it's going to be more than one game. One week felt long to me -- it felt way too long. So I can only imagine an extension of weeks for a suspension,” he said. “You'd much rather be out here playing with your team and being with your teammates.”

With all the things he has encountered: the success, the pitfalls, the adversity and everything in between, Bradham is ready to reintroduce himself to the NFL.

“Yeah, most definitely. I would say it's something like a rebirth.”

The new and improved Nigel Bradham will be on display for Bills fans for the first time against the Miami Dolphins.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

5 things to watch for during Bills - Dolphins
When the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins take the field, AFC East supremacy will be on the line at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday.

OK, perhaps that could be getting a little too ahead of things, but with the New York Jets on the road in Green Bay, and with New England already down a game in 2014, the likelihood is that the winner of the Bills-Dolphins matchup will be in sole possession of first place in the division.

Both teams are improved from what they showed in 2013, but where will the matchup be won? Some keys to the game:

1) Miami OL revamped, but still has holes
- A big push for the Dolphins in the offseason was to correct the trash heap of an offensive line that they had in 2013. Four of the Dolphins five starting offensive linemen in Week One were new additions from the offseason: left tackle Branden Albert, left guard Daryn Colledge, right guard Shelley Smith and right tackle Ja’Wuan James. The only holdover is center Mike Pouncey, but he missed the team’s first game (and will miss Sunday) due to an injury. The group got off to a good start against the New England Patriots in opening the run game for running backs Knowshon Moreno and Lamar Miller. However, that unit did not go up against the defensive line that the Bills boast. Even against New England, Miami’s starting guards showed poorly at points throughout the game and could be exploited by a duo like Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus. This could also be a big opportunity for defensive end Jerry Hughes against Albert. The left tackle struggles with speed rushers, which Hughes has shown to be in the past. It would also be remiss to not mention Mario Williams — who dominated against Miami last season — and will be going up against a rookie right tackle in James. The key matchup could end up being Hughes versus Albert, but the rest of the Bills defensive line looks like they can be dominant against the Miami line.

2) Beware of third-and-long versus Miami
- Just like the Bills, the Dolphins boast an impressive front four that can all get after the quarterback. Defensive end Cameron Wake was one of the key components to Miami’s victory over New England, but the play of defensive end Olivier Vernon and defensive tackles Randy Starks, Earl Mitchell and Jared Odrick all stood out. The offensive line of the Bills still have questions of their own which could lead to a Miami advantage on that side of the ball. Wake will be up against rookie right tackle Seantrel Henderson, which will likely call for the Bills to help with a tight end, fullback or running back to chip the edge rusher on passing downs. Keep an eye on one specific look the Dolphins go with on third down, which has Wake, Vernon and Odrick all on the field at once. Odrick has the speed in the middle to give either Erik Pears or Chris Williams problems. The Bills and Dolphins both have the ability to dominate with their defensive line on Sunday.

3) Watch Wallace
- The Miami Dolphins spent the offseason trying to revamp their offense from a schematic perspective, and they believe they did so by hiring offensive coordinator Bill Lazor. Coming to Miami from the explosive Philadelphia offense, Lazor has attempted to install some of those principles into the Miami attack, and a key of that is to siphon the offense through wide receiver Mike Wallace. In their Week One win, Wallace nearly doubled the next closest Miami receiver for targets in the game with 11. They had him move pre-snap, they took shots down the field and tried to manufacture as many touches for the speedy wide receiver as possible. It won’t matter which cornerback of the Bills he’s lined up against, Lazor and quarterback Ryan Tannehill have tried to make Wallace the focal point of their offense. That trend will likely continue against the Bills.

4) Bradham steps into big role immediately
- In their game against Chicago the Bills had to depend on rookie Preston Brown to be on the field for every single snap. While it was only Brown’s first start in the NFL and nerves are to be expected, he turned in an extremely poor performance that hurt the Bills on numerous occasions. Brown will once again be in the lineup for the injured Keith Rivers, but Buffalo will get weakside linebacker Nigel Bradham back from his one-game suspension. Upon Bradham’s return, it might be fair to expect him to stay on the field for every single defensive snap. The coaches raved about Bradham’s approach when the team returned for offseason workouts last spring, and the third-year player hasn’t let up since. Can he translate it into the regular season? The Bills certainly need him to starting Sunday against Miami.

5) Quick strike pass plays for Manuel
- The Dolphins have an impressive defensive line, which means the Bills will need to adjust their offense from last week slightly. They may not have as many opportunities as they did against Chicago to take seven-step drops in the passing game. EJ Manuel and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett might be better served to keep everything quick and short against Miami. With players like C.J. Spiller and Sammy Watkins, the Bills have the added advantage of getting more yards after the catch with that type of game plan. They can’t just hide from the defensive line of the Dolphins all game, but they can’t allow them to make the impact they’re capable of either. Using Spiller and Watkins as highlights will help them do just that.

Injury Report
OUT: LB Keith Rivers (groin)
DOUBTFUL: TE Lee Smith (toe), S Jonathan Meeks (neck)
PROBABLE: CB Stephon Gilmore (groin), WR Sammy Watkins (ribs), S Aaron Williams, WR Chris Hogan (ankle)

OUT: DE Terrence Fede (knee), C Mike Pouncey (hip), LB Jordan Tripp (chest)
DOUBTFUL: LB Koa Misi (ankle), G Billy Turner (foot)
PROBABLE: S Walt Aikens (hand), TE Charles Clay (knee), LB Chris McCain (illness), HB Knowshon Moreno (shoulder), DE Derrick Shelby (knee), TE Dion Sims (neck), DT Randy Starks (toe), WR Mike Wallace (hamstring), LB Phillip Wheeler (thumb)

Prediction: Bills over Dolphins
- For what should be one of the most electric home crowds at Ralph Wilson Stadium in recent memory, the Bills have a humongous opportunity to declare that their Week One win wasn’t a fluke. The play of the defensive line will set the tone for the Bills, but the team’s running backs need to be able to get into the second level against the Miami defense in order to have the necessary success for the Bills to obtain a victory. Make no mistake, this will be a tight game between two evenly matched teams. If the Bills get a couple of turnovers early in the contest, the Dolphins might not be able to hear themselves think inside the Pegula-charged crowd inside Ralph Wilson Stadium. If that happens, the Bills could be sitting atop the AFC East by themselves once Sunday is over and done with.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Bills declare LB Rivers out vs. Dolphins
Starting linebacker Nigel Bradham will return to the Buffalo Bills starting lineup this week, and it’s just in the nick of time. Keith Rivers missed all three days of the week’s practices, which led the Bills to officially declare the linebacker 'out' for the team’s Week Two showdown with the 1-0 Miami Dolphins.

Rivers, the normal starting strongside linebacker for the Bills, injured his groin in the third quarter of last Sunday’s win over the Chicago Bears. The linebacker went to tackle Bears running back Matt Forte in the open-field, and once Forte changed directions, Rivers came up lame when he attempted to do the same.

With Bradham due to return from a one-game suspension, he re-enters the starting lineup as the team’s weakside linebacker. The Bills will look to either rookie Preston Brown or Ty Powell to start in Rivers’ place at the strongside position. Brown started for the Bills at that spot in Week One.

Down one starter from the normal 11 on defense, the Bills are likely to have two others that were in question earlier in the week. Cornerback Stephon Gilmore and safety Aaron Williams were each full participants during Friday’s practice, and were labeled by the team as ‘probable’ to play against Miami.

Gilmore had to sit out of the Bills’ Week One victory with a groin injury. He was questionable leading up to the contest, worked out on the field ahead of the game, and was then declared out by the team’s medical staff.

Williams had concussion-like symptoms during the second half in Chicago and could not return. He was a limited participant on both Wednesday and Thursday at practice, but then returned Friday to take all his designated snaps. The probable listing means the players have at least a 75-percent chance to play in the game.

Wide receivers Sammy Watkins (ribs) and Chris Hogan (ankle) were also listed as probable, while tight end Lee Smith (toe) and safety Jonathan Meeks (neck) were said to be doubtful.

The Bills and Dolphins will square off at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Upon Further Review: Bills at Bears
It has certainly been a big week around Buffalo. Jim Kelly was declared cancer free, the Bills were sold to Terry and Kim Pegula which insured the franchise’s safety in western New York, and on top of it all, the team went into Chicago and left with a victory.

The Bills are about to move on to their next opponents, the 1-0 Miami Dolphins, but before they do that the book needs to be closed on the overtime win versus the Bears. Returning for it’s third straight year, WGR’s Upon Further Review is here to grade out every player, in every game.

First, here is an explanation for those that have yet to read the series before this year:

‘Upon Further Review’ is a detailed, weekly look at how each player on the Bills fared in that specific game. With the help of the All-22 film that is available through’s Game Rewind package, WGR is able to provide the standouts, the duds and everything in between from the previous game.

For each player that appeared in the game on offense or defense, you'll see their name in bold, with a set of numbers after it. Example: Pooh Bear Williams (54, -2, 2.7). The first number (54) represents the snap count of that game, the second (-2) represents the individual player’s plus-minus of positive plays to negative plays in that game. The third number (2.7) represents the weighted Grade Point Average assigned to that player by the author.

OFFENSE (57 total plays)

- For the Buffalo Bills, just as it was in 2013, all eyes were on their young quarterback to open up the season. EJ Manuel (57, 3, 3.0), now in his second year, needs to take a significant step in his progress as a quarterback and got off to a good start against the Bears.

After shaking off the nerves of his first throw that was far behind Scott Chandler on a third down attempt, Manuel settled in the rest of the first quarter and helped the team to a solid 17-7 lead at the half. He displayed mostly good ball placement to give his receivers the necessary chances to make plays.

In the first quarter Manuel threw to Robert Woods deep on a third down attempt and placed the ball to his back shoulder on purpose to prevent a big hit from an oncoming safety, resulting in a 32-yard gain. He also extended a drive once again on a crisp and well-timed out route to rookie Sammy Watkins in the Bears’ red zone.

He did well as a threat to run the ball as well. He sold a fake handoff very well, dropped back and delivered a perfect pass to a motioning Woods for a medium-sized gain. Later in the first quarter, Manuel read linebacker Shea McClellin perfectly on a read-option, elected to keep, and scampered into the end zone untouched.

Manuel also collected his first touchdown pass, a simple throw to the flat to a wide open C.J. Spiller, and made some key throws down the stretch. In the third quarter, Manuel executed his best pass play of the afternoon when Watkins broke down his opponent and ran a hard comeback route.

A safety was within striking distance, but Manuel trusted both himself, his receiver and fed the ball into a tighter window than what we’ve become accustomed to with him. He later connected on a pair of big throws on the team’s last two scoring drives, a 25-yard throw to Woods in the fourth quarter and then a 20-yard toss to Mike Williams in overtime.

On one play, Manuel even sensed a play was dead before it started and smartly hit the eject button. A designed read-option blew up, the quarterback sensed it, and rather than trying to gain or lose yardage, he ran outside the tackle box and threw the ball away out of bounds.

Despite the solid performance, Manuel also showed some of his negative tendencies from last year. On a first quarter throw, Manuel failed to look up field after his first read and settled for a dump down to fullback Frank Summers. Had he kept his eyes up, he would have noticed a wide open Woods in the same line of vision.

Some of Manuel’s accuracy issues took yards away from drives and, in turn, the team off the field as well. Two relatively easy throws, a ball to the flat, were high, allowed defenders to rush up to the ball carrier and removed potential yards from the reception.

Manuel displayed some happy feet throughout the game, which sped him up a bit quicker than he should have. They also led to Manuel’s one crucial error.

The quarterback had originally targeted tight end Scott Chandler on a crossing route. Manuel rolled left, expected Chandler to be there and when he wasn’t, he panicked. He immediately scanned down the field to see wide receiver Marquise Goodwin have some space along the sideline. The problem was, as he was spotting Goodwin, Bears safety Chris Conte was watching his eyes from the secondary.

Conte had enough time to react and stepped in front of the pass for an easy interception.

Despite some drawbacks to the game, Manuel’s performance was a good base to build upon throughout the rest of the season. The Bills effectively took the ball out of Manuel’s hand once the run game started winning the battle up front. When they needed a solid throw, though, Manuel was there.

- One blown assignment by Bears linebacker Lance Briggs was the difference between the Bills being mostly irrelevant, as opposed to completely irrelevant, in the run game during the first half. Both C.J. Spiller (30, 4, 3.0) and Fred Jackson (26, 2, 3.0) struggled to get anything going for the entire first half in a combined nine carry, 22-yard effort. Anthony Dixon (6, 3, 3.3) took advantage of Briggs’ poor play and rushed for a 47-yard gain. Dixon was the only thing that worked, rushing for 58 yards on three carries in the first half. Once the game shifted into the second half and overtime, the top two runners started to make their usual marks. Spiller did a better job of reading the correct cutback lanes, and while still bouncing a couple of carries outside when he didn’t need to, had an effective second half. Jackson’s day was frustrating up until his final carry, which then turned into the highlight of the Bills’ shocking victory. He read the lane, got outstanding blocks from four of his teammates (Eric Wood, Chris Williams, Cordy Glenn and Mike Williams) and completed the highlight reel stiff arm on Bears safety Chris Conte. The individual effort set the Bills up for the game-winning field goal in overtime.

- The usage of Frank Summers (17, 0, 2.3) was mostly nondescript, but he did not help proliferate the run game while on the field. He missed a block that led to a premature tackle on Spiller in the first quarter. Summers did have an outstanding snap in pass protection in the third quarter. He first lined up on the left of the formation, noticed Chicago defensive end Lamarr Houston about to come free off the edge and darted over to secure the pocket for Manuel. 

Wide Receiver
- The debut for rookie Sammy Watkins (54, 2, 2.7) offered only a few highlights for both Bills fans and fantasy football owners. Watkins was the recipient of Manuel’s best throw of the day on a comeback route that was expertly run by the rookie. Manuel missed an opportunity to find the wideout deep down the left sideline, but Watkins easily beat his opponent. The rookie’s lone mistake was being called for a false start penalty on a third-and-short, which then turned it into a third-and-long. Robert Woods (52, 2, 3.0), as was the case in a few games last season, turned into Manuel’s most trusted target. He only had one more catch than Watkins, but also gained 47 more yards than the rookie during the game. Woods adjusted to a pair of passes from Manuel that weren’t in the perfect spot and gained 57 yards for the Bills because of it. Mike Williams (30, 3, 3.0) was relatively quiet until the second half and overtime. Both of his catches came at clutch times: one on a third down in the third quarter and the other on a high-pointing opportunity to extend the team’s overtime drive. His effort on Jackson’s game-winning 38-yard run to block Chicago's Charles Tillman went mostly unnoticed, but was essential to the success of the play. Marquise Goodwin (11, 0, 2.3) was the intended target of Manuel’s interception. Other than that, he was virtually nonexistent.

Tight End
- Just like Goodwin, the tight end group was nowhere to be found. Between the two of them, Scott Chandler (37, -3, 1.7) and Chris Gragg (19, 0, 2.3) had zero catches and one total target. Chandler’s blocking struggles from the past two seasons were once again an issue, allowing his assignment to make the play and stop the offense’s runner on two separate plays. Chandler was frustrated about one of those plays, and on the next snap, was flagged for unnecessary roughness. He was targeted only once in the game. Gragg was only used in blocking situations, mostly out of the backfield.

Offensive Line
- Mostly due to injury, it took head coach Doug Marrone a while to settle on a starting group of five offensive linemen. Once left tackle Cordy Glenn (57, 3, 3.0) returned Marrone was able to put, in his opinion, the five best linemen on the team regardless of position. To no surprise, Glenn was the top offensive lineman for the Bills against the Bears. He all but erased defensive end Jared Allen, an accomplished pass rusher, from having an impact on the game. Center Eric Wood (57, 1, 2.7) had a strong start to the game with quality snaps against defensive tackle Stephen Paea. He lost a couple of blocks in the run game during the fourth quarter, but made up for it with his over-the-top effort to get a forearm on a second defender for Jackson’s 38-yard run in overtime. Left guard Chris Williams (57, 0, 2.7) didn’t have a tremendous afternoon at left guard, but having an average player at the position is night-and-day to what the Bills endured in 2013. His lack of athleticism was exposed on a couple of run plays and on a screen attempt to Jackson, but he showed well in one-on-one opportunities in pass protection and was also a key piece to Jackson’s overtime run. Right guard Erik Pears (57, -2, 2.0), like Williams, struggled with athleticism when he was out in space. Pears ended up on the ground a bit too much for an offensive line coach’s liking. When he got a hold of his opponent, though, Pears locked in and helped the Bills to a pair of big runs on the day. Right tackle Seantrel Henderson (57, -3, 2.0) got caught off guard a few too many times, but countered it with flashes of what he could become. As a seventh-round pick, his performance against the Bears is a good first step. Chris Hairston (3, -1, 2.0) reported as an eligible tackle on three plays and missed his block on his first opportunity.

DEFENSE (74 total plays)

Defensive End
- Mario Williams (48, 2, 3.0) found a winnable matchup against right tackle Jordan Mills and turned that into one sack, a pressure and collapsing on the halfback during two separate run attempts. He, like Jerry Hughes (49, 0, 2.3), got caught crashing inside on a designed run play a few too many times, but Williams gave the Bills an advantage more often than not. Hughes hurried Cutler three separate times but showed to be a weakness in the run game against the Bears. He didn’t hold his edge, and was the main reason for Matt Forte’s longest run (14 yards). Manny Lawson (25, 0, 2.3) isn’t much of a pass rusher and depends mostly on his length to either set the edge or to push the offensive tackle back into the pocket, which did not work against left tackle Jermon Bushrod. Jarius Wynn (26, -2, 2.0) cost the defense and forced them to stay on the field twice in the game. Wynn was called for an illegal hands to the face penalty in the second quarter which gave the Bears an automatic first down, then on a 3rd-and-1 in the fourth quarter, he was pushed inside and allowed Forte to get the edge and pick up a worry-free seven yards.

Defensive Tackle
- Eventually, one would think that Kyle Williams (53, 6, 3.7) has to slow down and allow his age and years of experience to affect his performance. Williams showed against the Bears that the start of 2014 would not double as the start of his decline. On top of his eye popping interception in the fourth quarter, the defensive tackle dominated the second half by helping to force two tackles for loss, another run for no yards and then almost getting Jay Cutler to throw a third interception with a hard-charging pass rush. If it weren’t for a member of the secondary, Williams would have resumed his normal role atop the list of player grades. Marcell Dareus (58, 2, 3.0) didn’t make a huge impact on the game from a big play perspective, but he held his own and helped against both the run and the pass. Dareus showed last season he can get to dominant levels, but he wasn’t quite there against Chicago. Stefan Charles (15, 0, 2.3) and Corbin Bryant (14, -2, 2.0) were the two key substitutions for the Bills. Charles had just an average day, while Bryant struggled against the run on two of his 14 snaps.

- Surprisingly, rookie Preston Brown (74, -8, 1.3) was the only defensive player to take every snap for the Bills versus Chicago. Based on Brown’s opening performance, the team should look elsewhere for an every down linebacker for the time being. The Bears picked on Brown in coverage and he overran running plays to allow the opposition to extra yards on numerous occasions. He surely had nerves on his first drive when he fell down on Cutler’s touchdown toss to Martellus Bennett, but the nerves didn’t seem to vanquish over time like they normally do. Brown needs to be a lot better than he was, and he might have to do it again in Week Two with the injury to Keith Rivers (38, -1, 2.3). Rivers showed much more ability in coverage than the rookie, having run step-for-step with Forte on an attempt to get the running back the ball in the end zone deep down the left sideline. He missed on a pair of tackle attempts in space, but he played well enough to not cost the Bills dearly. Brandon Spikes (52, 1, 3.0) is exactly what he was billed to be: a stout run defender and questionable in pass coverage. The middle linebacker had a sack and a tackle for loss, but also got caught flat-footed in coverage and was whistled for a late hit. Basically, from his reputation in New England, it was a typical performance for Spikes. Ty Powell (11, 1, 2.7) entered the game when Rivers left with a groin injury.

- If anyone watches the Bills’ game against the Bears with the All-22 film, most will come to a similar conclusion: with how well Corey Graham (70, 8, 4.0) played, there isn’t any way the Bills can justify keeping him out of the lineup in Week Two. Thought to be the primary backup cornerback, Graham filled in for the injured Stephon Gilmore and was the best player on the field for Buffalo. Whether it was with pass breakups, making tackles in space or by forcing a turnover, Graham was all over the place. His performance earned only the third perfect grade in the three years that ‘Upon Further Review’ has been running. On the Bears’ game-tying drive, Graham single-handedly prevented the opposition from doing anything more than kicking a field goal to force overtime. On two straight plays (2nd-and-1, 3rd-and-1), the Bears targeted him twice and the cornerback came up with a pass breakup each time. Had they just targeted Leodis McKelvin (73, -4, 1.7) on the final drive, the outcome could have been different. McKelvin still might be slowed by offseason hip surgery, but if the Bills have the choice between the pair in Week Two, they should go with Graham. McKelvin tried press coverage and the Bears easily beat him. They tried having him play off, but the corner was slow to react and allowed numerous catches underneath. Cutler picked on him until the final two offensive plays in regulation, and paid for it dearly. Nickell Robey (49, 4, 3.0) showed once again why he’s one of the better nickel cornerbacks in the NFL. Robey displays great ability in both coverage and reaction time, which disallows many completions to his assignment. In addition, he’s a terror when the defensive coordinator dials up a blitz for him. He displayed all those traits against Chicago. Ron Brooks (5, 1, 2.7) entered the game when Graham needed to get his ankle taped up.

- The safeties didn’t get much of a chance to make an impact on the game. Aaron Williams (65, 1, 2.7) showed good instincts against the pass for a couple of would-be breakups. The first resulted in Williams swatting the pass right into the arms of Josh Morgan, and the second was a questionable pass interference call assigned to him in the fourth quarter. Da’Norris Searcy (60, 1, 2.7) was efficient against the run, while Duke Williams (29, -1, 2.3) didn’t make a big impact on the game one way or the other.

Year to Date GPAs (Minimum 15 plays)
  1. CB Corey Graham - 4.00
  2. DT Kyle Williams - 3.70
  3. QB EJ Manuel - 3.00
  4. HB C.J. Spiller - 3.00
  5. HB Fred Jackson - 3.00
  6. WR Robert Woods - 3.00
  7. WR Mike Williams - 3.00
  8. LT Cordy Glenn - 3.00
  9. DE Mario Williams - 3.00
  10. DT Marcell Dareus - 3.00
  11. LB Brandon Spikes - 3.00
  12. CB Nickell Robey - 3.00
  13. WR Sammy Watkins - 2.70
  14. LG Chris Williams - 2.70
  15. C Eric Wood - 2.70
  16. S Aaron Williams - 2.70
  17. S Da’Norris Searcy - 2.70
  18. FB Frank Summers - 2.30
  19. TE Chris Gragg - 2.30
  20. DE Jerry Hughes - 2.30
  21. DE Manny Lawson - 2.30
  22. DT Stefan Charles - 2.30
  23. LB Keith Rivers - 2.30
  24. S Duke Williams - 2.30
  25. RT Seantrel Henderson - 2.00
  26. RG Erik Pears - 2.00
  27. DE Jarius Wynn - 2.00
  28. DT Corbin Bryant - 2.00
  29. TE Scott Chandler - 1.70
  30. CB Leodis McKelvin - 1.70
  31. LB Preston Brown - 1.30
Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Lee Smith returns to Bills practice
The Buffalo Bills have been without their best blocking tight end for nearly three weeks, but that all changed on Thursday. For the first time since the Buffalo Bills played the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in August, tight end Lee Smith was on the field participating with the team.

Smith suffered a toe injury on August 23 and hasn’t been able to practice with the Bills since that day. In that time, he has been improving steadily and at least in his mind, is nearing a return.

“I feel good. I feel like I've improved every day. There's been no setbacks and it's getting better so, I’m really close” the tight end said after practice. “To say it's this week, the next week, the next week, you know, I don't know. But I know I'm close.”

The Bills listed Smith as a limited participant at practice, having put the tight end through individual drills and running sprints in his time on the field. The next step for him is to try his hand at team drills in an attempt to see how close, or far away, he is to a full return.

“I felt good doing the ladder drills and all that, but, ladder drills and running sprints is a little different than [Miami defensive end] Cameron Wake,” he remarked. “Take some team reps. See if a 300-pound guy trying to kick my a**, see if I can handle it. That's the deal.”

Smith’s return meant that the Bills were missing only one player from practice. Linebacker Keith Rivers sat out a second straight day with a groin injury, further putting his status for Sunday’s game against the Miami Dolphins in doubt.

If Rivers is unable to play, rookie Preston Brown is the likeliest candidate to start in his place at strongside linebacker.

Safety Aaron Williams was once again a limited participant at practice. He’s listed with a head injury, or more specifically, a mild traumatic brain injury. Williams entered into the league’s protocol after showing concussion-like symptoms during the team’s Week One win in Chicago. His status for Sunday, like both Smith and Rivers, is unknown.

Second-year safety Jonathan Meeks (neck) was also limited at the team’s practice on Thursday. Wide receiver Sammy Watkins (ribs), cornerback Stephon Gilmore (groin) and wide receiver Chris Hogan (ankle) were all full participants.

The Bills will resume practice late Friday morning at the ADPRO Sports Training Center.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Bills' Rivers still day-to-day, doesn't practice
The Buffalo Bills were forced to play in their Week One contest without linebacker Nigel Bradham available. There's a chance they'll have to do without another starting linebacker in Week Two, as well.

Linebacker Keith Rivers was unable to participate in practice when the team took the field on Wednesday. A groin injury caused Rivers to leave, and not return, to Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears. The same injury kept the linebacker off the field to start the week, and was described by head coach Doug Marrone as a “day-to-day” ailment. His status for the team’s upcoming game has yet to be determined.

The Bills only had one other player from their active roster listed as a non-participant on Wednesday. Tight end Lee Smith, who missed all last week and the game with a toe injury, could not get on the field for practice once more. The injury to Smith leaves only Scott Chandler and Chris Gragg as the healthy tight ends on the roster.

Like Rivers, starting free safety Aaron Williams left the Bears game in the second half with an injury. Williams was cited with having concussion-like symptoms immediately after the contest, and then was said to be entered into the NFL’s concussion protocol on Monday.

The safety was able to participate in practice on Wednesday, but only on a limited basis. As part of the concussion protocol, Williams did not speak with the media after practice.

Safety Jonathan Meeks was the only other Bills player that had to miss time on the field Wednesday due to injury. Meeks was limited by a neck injury, just as he was all last week. Cornerback Stephon Gilmore (groin) and wide receiver Sammy Watkins (ribs) were both full participants.

The Bills resume practice on Thursday afternoon at the ADPRO Sports Training Center in Orchard Park.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

It's official: Sale agreement between Bills and Pegulas announced
Late into the evening Monday, news broke that the Buffalo Bills were on the verge of being sold. A little over 10 hours later, the next owners of the franchise have been identified.

The team has announced that Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula and his wife Kim have reached an agreement with the Bills to become the team's next owners, pending league approval. Binding bids were due to the estate of Ralph Wilson at 5 pm on Monday, and the decision was reached within 24 hours.

“This is a very important day in the history of the Buffalo Bills franchise," said current Bills controlling owner Mary Wilson. "Ralph brought professional football to Buffalo in 1959 and it was his life’s passion. He loved his team and he cherished the fans and his legacy will remain for all-time. Ralph would have been pleased with the sale of the team to the Terry Pegula family, who has been so committed to Buffalo and the Western New York region.”
Wilson continued:

“I sincerely wish Terry and Kim Pegula all the best with the Buffalo Bills and I’m happy for all Bills fans. Our hope is that this great franchise brings them as much excitement and joy as it did for Ralph and that they bring home a Super Bowl championship for Bills fans everywhere. Go Bills!”

According to multiple reports, the Pegula family paid $1.4 billion to secure the franchise. They were deemed the winners by Morgan Stanley, the financial firm selected by the trust to oversee the sale, over both billionaire Donald Trump and the Toronto-based group led by Jon Bon Jovi. Daniel Kaplan of Sports Business Journal reported that there was also an additional two parties that submitted bids by Monday's deadline.

The next step in the approval process will be for the Pegulas to meet with the NFL's finance committee. The Pegulas have a reported net worth of $3.5 billion, and will likely have little trouble in that phase. Once that hurdle has been cleared, the winning bidders will then be put to a vote at one of the league's upcoming owners' meetings and will need to be approved by 24 of 31 franchises accross the league.

The next scheduled owners' meetings are on October 7-8 in New York City. The team announced that they intend to submit the agreement for approval by the NFL owners on October 8. If successful, the Pegula family will be ratified as the new owners of the franchise, effective immediately.

Upon approval and ratification, one report suggests that the principal owner of the Sabres won't be the only man making the decisions. According to's Ian Rapoport, Kim Pegula will be in charge of many decisions and will be "heavily involved in the Bills' executive process."

However, WGR's Paul Hamilton reported that both Terry and Kim Pegula will run the Bills together, much like they do with the Sabres.

Regardless of who is in charge between the two, the Bills are to be sold to the Pegulas who have deep ties to western New York. On February 22, 2011, the pair was announced as the new owners of the Sabres, and have made financial investments to build up the area around First Niagara Center.

The Bills are in the second year of a 10-year lease with Erie County and Ralph Wilson Stadium that runs through the 2022 season.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press
Tags :  
People: KimTerry Pegula

Pegula issues statement on purchase of Buffalo Bills
It's official. Pending league approval, Buffalo Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula will become the next owners of the Buffalo Bills.

Moments after the Bills officially announced the sale of the team, the Sabres issued a statement on behalf of Pegula and his family:

“Kim and I are humbled and honored that the Wilson family has chosen us to be the second owner of the Buffalo Bills.  Pending the NFL approval process, being the next owner of the Buffalo Bills would be a great privilege for our family.  Ralph Wilson left an indelible mark on our community and we will strive every day to honor his legacy.
Our interest in owning the Bills has everything to do with the people of Western New York and our passion for football.  We have knowledgeable, dedicated fans here and along with our ownership of the Buffalo Sabres, it is gratifying to reassure these great fans that two franchises so important to our region are both here to stay.
We are grateful to Senator Chuck Schumer and Governor Andrew Cuomo for their support and desire to keep our Bills in Western New York where they belong and to our team of professional advisors at Allen & Company and Sherrard, German & Kelly.  We would also like to thank the staffs of the NFL and the Bills for helping to guide us through the sale process.  We now look ahead to the NFL review process in accordance with League policy.  If awarded final approval, we will be driven to achieve a singular goal: To win a Super Bowl for our fans.
Out of respect for the continuing sale process, until League approval is attained, we will have no further comment.”

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press
Tags :  
Topics: Sports
Locations: New YorkWestern New York
People: Andrew CuomoChuck SchumerKim PegulaTerry Pegula

Politicians weigh in on Pegula's Bills purchase
The Buffalo Bills are on the verge of being sold to Buffalo Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula, and only need approval from the National Football League to take full control of the franchise. As the news has been piling in, so have the opinions of some heavy-hitting politicians that are familiar with the sale process.

From US Senator Charles Schumer:

"Today’s announcement is great news for Western New York, the Bills, and their passionate fans, who will now be able to breathe a huge sigh of relief. The Pegulas are the perfect choice to carry on Ralph Wilson’s indelible legacy – like Ralph, they have a true commitment to Western New York, are people of serious integrity, and will be excellent owners. Most importantly, based on extensive conversations I have had with Terry over the past few months, he and Kim are deeply committed to keeping the Buffalo Bills in Western New York for generations to come.
I commend the Bills’ leadership, and especially Mrs. Wilson and Jeff Littman, for selecting the Pegulas, and for the thought and care they put into this entire sale process. I look forward to working with Terry and Kim in the weeks, months, and years ahead to ensure a speedy confirmation by the NFL and to help keep the Bills playing – and winning – in Western New York for many, many years to come.”

From Governor Andrew Cuomo:

"From day one, keeping the Bills in Buffalo has been one of our administration’s top priorities, and reports that Terry and Kim Pegula have been chosen as the team’s new owners highlight a tremendous step toward making that goal a reality. The Bills are an integral part of Western New York, from its economy to its culture, and as the team’s new owners the Pegulas will ensure that the Bills remain at the core of the region’s identity – just as the late Ralph Wilson, Jr. did for 54 years. Terry and Kim have already shown their commitment to the region through the Buffalo Sabres and the construction of the HarborCenter development, and I look forward to working with them in the years to come to keep the Bills in Buffalo, where they belong.”

From Congressman Brian Higgins:

"Western New York is cheering the news that Terry and Kim Pegula will be the next owners of the Buffalo Bills.  The Pegulas have been the clear fan-favorite to carry the ball, following the distinguished 55-year tenure of the franchise founder Wilson family.  The Pegulas’ genuine love for this community is palpable.  With their waterfront investment in HarborCenter, Terry and Kim Pegula have been a part of remaking Buffalo.  We welcome their leadership contributing to continued momentum driving pride in our teams and in our community.”

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Report: Bon Jovi concedes in statement
If there was ever any doubt that Buffalo Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula would be named the winners of the sale of the Buffalo Bills, that has since been erased.

The Toronto group led by Jon Bon Jovi, one of the three known parties that submitted binding bids by the 5 pm deadline on Monday, released a statement through the Buffalo News on Tuesday afternoon:

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

Trump issues statement on Bills sale
The Buffalo Bills announced on Tuesday afternoon that the franchise had been purchased by Buffalo Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula. The Pegula family succesfully obtained the franchise as the top bidders, having been chosen over both the Toronto-based group led by Jon Bon Jovi and by billionaire Donald Trump among others.

Bon Jovi had already issued his statement which conceded the franchise to the Pegulas. Shortly after the official announcement had been made, Trump sent along his words as well:

"It was my great honor to have the opportunity to bid on the Buffalo Bills Football Team. A large part of the reason for my bid was to ensure that the team remained in Buffalo. I would like to congratulate the Pegula family on what will be, I am sure, a wonderful purchase. I would also like to congratulate the fans of the Buffalo Bills in that, I have no doubt, that the team will now remain in your wonderful city."

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press
Tags :  
Topics: Sports
Locations: BuffaloToronto
People: Donald TrumpJon Bon JoviKim PegulaTerry Pegula

Source: All signs pointing to Pegula getting Bills
The news Buffalo Bills fans have been waiting for may finally be here.

As the sale of the franchise entered its final stage on Monday, a clear frontrunner has been established and it now appears the Bills may have narrowed their choice down to one. According to a league source, all signs are pointing to Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula and his wife Kim becoming the next owners of the Buffalo Bills.

Tim Graham of The Buffalo News was the first to report that the team is pointing in the direction of Pegula, and an official decision could come as early as Tuesday.

The deadline for finalists to submit binding bids to the team's financial firm in charge of the sale, Morgan Stanley, was 5 pm on Monday. In addition to the Pegulas, billionaire Donald Trump and the Toronto-based group led by Jon Bon Jovi were expected to be the finalists to submit binding bids.

Once the decision on a prospective owner has been reached by the trust, it will then need to go through the league for approval. According to a source, the winning bidder would have to first need to be approved by the finance committee.

Once that has been completed, the rest of the league's owners will vote to ratify the decision at one of the NFL's upcoming owners' meetings. The next set of meetings will take place in early October, but if that is too soon for the sale process to be completed, the league also has another round of meetings in December. The new owner will need 24 of the 31 other owners to approve the decision.

Keep checking back for more as it becomes available.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press
Tags :  
Topics: Sports
Locations: Toronto
People: Donald TrumpJon Bon JoviKimTerry PegulaTim Graham

Bills' Aaron Williams going through concussion protocol
The Buffalo Bills flew back home on Sunday with a victory in tow, but also came back with a pair of injured defensive starters as well. During their 23-20 overtime win over the Chicago Bears, both safety Aaron Williams and linebacker Keith Rivers had to leave the game in the second half.

Williams suffered concussion-like symptoms against the Bears and will be subjected to the National Football League’s protocol for that injury. The safety would be able to return this week if symptoms subside and he is cleared by the team’s medical staff. For a full and detailed explanation of the league’s updated concussion protocol within the week, click here.

Rivers could not return to the contest in Chicago due to a groin injury. The Bills labeled him, cornerback Stephon Gilmore (groin), tight end Lee Smith (toe) and safety Jonathan Meeks as day-to-day.

The team gets back to practice on Wednesday afternoon in Orchard Park.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press
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Topics: Sports
Locations: Chicago
People: Aaron WilliamsJonathan MeeksKeith RiversLee SmithStephon Gilmore

Bills make room for Bradham, release DE Smith
Due to the one-week suspension of linebacker Nigel Bradham, the Buffalo Bills were able to keep one extra player when the initial 53-man rosters were due on August 30. Bradham didn’t count towards the active roster during his week off, but with his impending arrival to practice Wednesday, the Bills needed to make a move.

With Bradham set to return, the franchise made room for him on the roster on Monday with the release of defensive end Jacquies Smith. Smith made the team initially as the fifth defensive end on the depth chart and the ninth of nine total defensive linemen. He still has practice squad eligibility remaining.

The one week could have served as an audition for kickoff specialist Jordan Gay against the Chicago Bears. The young kicker forced five the Bears into a touchback on five out of six kickoff attempts Sunday, which prompted the Bills to keep him on the roster.

Head coach Doug Marrone even went as far as to describe Gay’s performance as “outstanding.”

The Bills have Tuesday off and are scheduled to resume practice on Wednesday afternoon.

Twitter:@ JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press
Tags :  
Topics: Sports
People: Doug MarroneJacquies SmithJordan GayNigel Bradham

Bills' Schmidt: from high school bed to NFL job in one year
For only the second time since the 2001 season, there is a new punter in town. Following a poor preseason for longtime punter Brian Moorman, the Bills made the decision to move on from him and put those duties in the hands and foot of a 23-year old.

On the same day that final roster cuts were due, the Bills flew in three punters for a tryout in an attempt to find Moorman’s replacement before the 4 pm deadline. The Bills found their guy on that very Saturday.

The relatively unknown Colton Schmidt was signed to the active roster and became the heir apparent to the beloved Moorman.

The journey for the 5-foot-11 Schmidt is not unlike other young kickers and punters trying to find a home in the National Football League. Coming from a smaller college program at UC Davis, the punter was merely in search of an opportunity to show the league what he could do.

After he graduated in 2013, the San Francisco 49ers gave him that chance and signed him to the 90-man roster for training camp. Even with that shot, Schmidt knew it would be a longer journey than just that summer to find a job.

“Obviously with two veteran guys like Andy [Lee] and Phil [Dawson] there, it's an 'okay I know I'm gonna get cut' kind of thing, so, what can I do to make myself the best player possible, is my mindset,” the new Bills punter said. “So I just picked their brain every day about every little detail.”

For the past three years, Lee ranked in the top five in net average. In fact, the year Schmidt entered the league was just after Lee had been the top net average punter for two straight seasons.

The deck was clearly stacked against him.

“You just can't let it discourage you, because, what are you going to do about it, right? In knowing the path of a kicker is to put up good game film so you're auditioning for the 31 teams and hope that you get another chance like I was able to,” Schmidt remarked.

That first audition with the 49ers didn’t go as well as he would have hoped. In six preseason punts, Schmidt had a net average of 37.8 yards in 2013 that included a one-week stint with the Cleveland Browns in the final week of preseason. He was released during final cuts by the Browns.

“I just went back home to Bakersfield, California, lived back in my high school room, unemployed and just had time to focus on all the stuff that they told me for the next eight months until I went back to San Francisco,” Schmidt said, in reference to being re-signed by the 49ers in January. “I pretty much did the same thing, knowing that there was a good chance I was going to get released once more.”

Once again, he was right. The 49ers kept him on through the first three preseason games before they made him one of their first cuts on August 25. 

The difference between 2013 and 2014, though, was that he improved his net average by nearly nine yards in the preseason (46.1). Schmidt went back home for five days before he took the call that would change his fortunes in the NFL.

Even after his release, he knew he hadn’t heard the last of the NFL in 2014.

“Just because of the stats alone and this is a statistic based league for the most part, I was going to be very surprised if I didn't get at least an opportunity to compete for a spot,” Schmidt replied. “Just because I was one of the top numbers, and I felt like that should warrant me at least a workout to prove myself once more to get the opportunity for a spot.”

He took full advantage in his chance with the Bills and made his regular season debut Sunday in Chicago. Schmidt admitted to a lot of nerves, but had a quietly spectacular performance. 

In five punts, he pinned the Bears inside the 20-yard line four times. Even though it’s only the first week Schmidt has joined his NFL mentor, Lee, among the top 10 punters with a 43.2 net average on his kicks.

"I thought our specialists, they're both young guys, were outstanding really," head coach Doug Marrone said. "Colton, for the first punt, Marcus Easley made a hell of a play on it. But after that the punts were, that four out of five go inside the 20 is pretty impressive for a guy that's a rookie."

After reflecting on his journey over the past twelve months, Buffalo's new punter is happy with how his debut turned out and the chance he's been given by the organization.

“It's pretty unbelievable to get the first opportunity to play in a regular season game, especially only playing preseason up to this point,” Schmidt remarked. “It's just something you kind of think about. It's nice to see I was able to at least make it a reality. It reaffirms that all the hard work that you put in is going somewhere.”

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Bills' playtime percentages vs. Bears
The Buffalo Bills marched into Soldier Field and shocked the hometown Chicago Bears on Sunday and simultaneously made a statement to the rest of the league. The Bills needed overtime, but they were finally able to put the game away and start their season with a 1-0 record.

In that game, the Bills used some interesting combinations of personnel on the field and some players were used less than expected. The league released the official snap counts for each team, and the Bills had some notable items come from it:

- Only one player on defense played in 100-percent of the team's snaps in Chicago: rookie linebacker Preston Brown.

- Over a week removed from having suffered a second injury to his ribs, rookie wide receiver Sammy Watkins missed only three offensive snaps and participated in 95-percent of the game.

- Second-year tight end Chris Gragg, who was not targeted on offense once throughout the game, was on the field for a third of the game.

Here are the playtime percentages in full:

QB EJ Manuel - 57 (100%)
LT Cordy Glenn - 57 (100%)
LG Chris Williams - 57 (100%)
C Eric Wood - 57 (100%)
RG Erik Pears - 57 (100%)
RT Seantrel Henderson - 57 (100%)
WR Sammy Watkins - 54 (95%)
WR Robert Woods - 52 (91%)
TE Scott Chandler - 37 (65%)
HB C.J. Spiller - 30 (53%)
WR Mike Williams - 30 (53%)
HB Fred Jackson - 26 (46%)
TE Chris Gragg - 19 (33%)
FB Frank Summers - 17 (30%)
WR Marquise Goodwin - 11 (19%)
HB Anthony Dixon - 6 (11%)
OT Chris Hairston - 3 (5%)

LB Preston Brown - 74 (100%)
CB Leodis McKelvin - 73 (99%)
CB Corey Graham - 70 (95%)
S Aaron Williams - 65 (88%)
S Da'Norris Searcy - 60 (81%)
DT Marcell Dareus - 58 (78%)
DT Kyle Williams - 53 (72%)
LB Brandon Spikes - 52 (70%)
CB Nickell Robey - 49 (66%)
DE Jerry Hughes - 49 (66%)
DE Mario Williams - 48 (65%)
LB Keith Rivers - 38 (51%)
S Duke Williams - 29 (39%)
DE Jarius Wynn - 26 (35%)
DE Manny Lawson - 25 (34%)
DT Stefan Charles - 15 (20%)
DT Corbin Bryant - 14 (19%)
LB Ty Powell - 11 (15%)
CB Ron Brooks - 5 (7%)

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Observations: Bills 23 - Bears 20
Raise your hand if you were expecting that.

The Buffalo Bills left the crowd at Soldier Field stunned as they defeated the hometown Chicago Bears 23-20 in overtime. The Bills had a great deal of success in the first half which set the stage for their eventual victory in overtime.

After the training camp and preseason that they had, how did the Bills get to the point to pull one of the shocking upsets of Week One? Here are some observations as to how head coach Doug Marrone and company got the job done:

3 does just enough
- Entering the 2014 regular season, all eyes were directed to second-year quarterback EJ Manuel. His progress through training camp and preseason was well documented, but really, none of that mattered until he actually performed in games that he could ultimately get judged by. He didn't have a huge game statistically, but Manuel's 16-of-22, 173-yard, one touchdown and one interception performance was enough for the Bills to come away with the victory -- and that isn't a bad thing. The beauty of the Bills offense and how they're approaching the season is that the game Manuel had against the Bears is the exact type they're looking for this season. The Bills know what he is -- and more importantly --what he is not at this point in his career. He's not a do-everything style of quarterback that can go out and force the issue against any defense. What he is, though, is a player that can be effective and run the offense the Bills want to as long as he limits his mistakes. Manuel displayed poise and confidence on throws that needed to be made and consistently put his receivers in a position to make a play. At times, he still reverted back to the dump down mode that drives some crazy, but he did a nice job of going through his reads most of the time. Perhaps the most impressive part of his day was how he extended drives with well-placed passes on third downs. He did that four separate times, and of course had the sizable gain to Mike Williams on their lone drive in overtime. He's not where he needs to be yet and the interception he threw in the second half proves that. However, just as it was the case in some of the team's games in 2013, it is a step in the right direction for the young Manuel. Now, it's a matter of sustaining that success for two weeks in a row.

Graham great for gone Gilmore
- The Bills were greeted with bad news a few hours before kickoff: top cornerback Stephon Gilmore was declared unable to play due to a groin injury. Just as it was intended in the offseason, Buffalo got immediate returns on their sizable investment in Buffalo-native Corey Graham. Marrone and general manager Doug Whaley never wanted to get in the same situation that they did at the beginning of last season (Justin Rogers), and supplied a lot of depth at cornerback in case of injury. Up against one of the top pass-catching tandems in all the NFL, Graham delivered. He had three pass breakups, three tackles and a key interception that stopped a driving Chicago offense. The pass breakups and interception will get all the publicity, but it was his tackling ability that really stood out. On two separate occasions Graham was in a one-on-one setting against a receiver and he managed to wrap up the player for a tackle without allowing much additional yardage. Unheralded plays like that make an average cornerback into a good one. With the way that he played against the Bears, should Gilmore be healthy enough next week, the Bills need to heavily consider starting him again in place of Leodis McKelvin.

Versatile Spiller
- Marrone wasn't kidding about getting running back C.J. Spiller close to 20 'touches' rather than 'carries.' The majority of Spiller's work came from the backfield (15 carries), but he also had three catches and one kickoff return in the contest. Many have been advocating for the Bills to use Spiller in more ways than just the backfield, and they debuted that look against the Bears Sunday. Spiller not only lined up in the backfield, but he was split out as a receiver in the slot, he was sent in motion at times and had opportunities to make a play on special teams. He played the role of decoy at some points of the game which is important to the evolution of the play and the overall game plan, too. It wasn't a statistically superior game for Spiller, but the way they used him is encouraging for future outings.

OL penalties, screen game
- The offensive line is still a work in progress for the Bills to get to where they want to go in 2014, and when the pressure ramped up in the second half, the starting five got a little grabby to avoid giving up a sack. Erik Pears, Chris Williams and Seantrel Henderson were all called for holding penalties in the last two quarters of the contest. The ones assigned to Pears and Williams were declined to force a fourth down, but Henderson's was accepted and came at one of the worst times imaginable. The Bills had the ball in Chicago territory on the eventual drive that led to a field goal in the fourth quarter, but Henderson took the penalty on first-and-10, and set the offense back almost to midfield. The Bills offense was able to overcome the first-and-20 look to get them back in field goal range, but it was a mistake by the rookie deep in a game. Pears and Williams both struggled in the first half on screen plays, as well. Both are converted offensive tackles, and both moved inside to guard because they don't move all that well. Each player whiffed on a block attempt during a well set up screen that ended the run after catch far earlier than they should have. That's the one drawback to having a very big offensive line: for the most part those players have a hard time moving around in space.

Chunk runs
- The Bills had to be getting frustrated early on in the game with the lack of success in the running game. Both C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson couldn't establish that part of their game and the Bills were left mostly to pass the ball around. It wasn't until a run at the end of the first half that Buffalo figured out how to gash the maligned Chicago run defense. Anthony Dixon took a handoff from their own 13-yard line for a 47-yard gain and the Bills took it from there. An exclamation point was put on the 33 carry, 193-yard performance by Fred Jackson in overtime. He took a simple handoff over the left side of the line and broke plenty of tackles all the way down to the Bears' two-yard line. The running game was key for the Bills against the Bears, and it will serve as a necessary component to their success all season long.

McKelvin, Brown struggles in coverage
- On Sunday, it wasn't exactly an award-winning day for a pair of defensive starters when the Bills had to drop back into coverage. Cornerback Leodis McKelvin and rookie linebacker Preston Brown were exposed in coverage on multiple occasions. Brown struggled to stay with the tight end, and even when he did, got caught out of position for the tackle and allowed his man to get by him. McKelvin was picked on by the Bears for most of the game. He had at least one pass breakup, but McKelvin couldn't contain either Alshon Jeffery or Brandon Marshall when they were in the game. Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine deserved a lot of credit for how well McKelvin played in 2013. However, McKelvin has to be the one to prove that he is the same player from 2013, and not the one from the five years before it. One game in, he's off to a bad start.

Mario, Kyle key the DL
- The push up front from the defense really helped the Bills stay away from too many shots down the field by the Chicago offense. There were some exceptions -- especially early in the game -- but Mario Williams won his matchup against right tackle Jordan Mills on many different occasions to limit what Jay Cutler could do in the pocket. Williams, along with his fellow defensive lineman Kyle Williams, played the role as the tone-setting line that defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz covets. Kyle Williams showed just how savvy and well-schooled he was on the opposition, too. He dropped back into coverage, recognized Cutler as he was about to throw and undercut a pass for his first career interception. That individual effort helped the Bills to take the lead in the fourth quarter. Williams added yet another reason as to why he's been one of the team's best players since he arrived.

MVP: CB Corey Graham
- Passes defended, one-on-one tackles made and an intercepted pass summed up Graham's day. Keep him in the starting lineup.

LVP: CB Leodis McKelvin
- It wasn't all bad for McKelvin, but he struggled at the start of the game and never really recovered. Again, the Bills should think long and hard about keeping Graham in the starting lineup if Stephon Gilmore is healthy enough to play next week.

Up Next: The Bills will make their regular season debut at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday, September 14 against the Miami Dolphins. The game is scheduled to start at 1pm.

Final Thoughts:
- The Bills didn't have an overwhelming victory, but they did something that they really haven't done a lot of in recent years: they closed out a game. It wasn't even in the traditional sense and the Bills had to hang on a bit in the second half, but the Bills took a lead to halftime and they came away with a victory. EJ Manuel showed poise and limited mistakes, the running game was working in the second half and the defense forced some key turnovers to enable the Bills' claim to victory. Just as it is with a loss, it now hinges on how the team responds to the success from a big win. Marrone and his staff will need to keep his team focused with a big opportunity at hand on Sunday to start the season better than many imagined.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Bills bite back after slow start, claim 23-20 OT victory
The Buffalo Bills finally showed that their offense could put up points in the first half. It took them a while to resume their efforts in the second half and even into overtime, but eventually, the Bills found a way to pull out a victory on the road.

The Bills pulled the upset on the road and defeated the Chicago Bears 23-20 in overtime at Soldier Field Sunday.

"The thing that I'm proud of, you know, we hit adversity there at the end. We weren't moving the ball a little bit and had a couple of things not go our way and all of a sudden it's easy to get down and do all that stuff and 'here we go,'" head coach Doug Marrone said. "But I didn't see any of that from this team. This team was like hey, we're gonna get this thing done."

Quarterback EJ Manuel hit Mike Williams on a key 18-yard pass to get Buffalo in Chicago territory in the extra session, and then running back Fred Jackson put the exclamation point on the game with a 38-yard run to get the Bills down to the one-yard line. Kicker Dan Carpenter connected on the game-winning 27-yard field goal to give the Bills their first win of the season.

All at once, the victory started 2014 on a high note and put to rest the sluggish preseason.

"It's a great statement win to put all that stuff behind us and focus on this season. I think that's what a lot of guys did," Jackson remarked after the game. "Being able to do that gave us a tremendous opportunity to come out here and come in to Chicago and get the first win that we've ever gotten in this stadium."

Despite a slow start to the second stanza, the Bills marched down the field in the fourth quarter and took the lead for a short while in the fourth quarter. Kicker Dan Carpenter lined up from 33-yards away, avoided the pressure of the moment and coolly knocked the field goal through the uprights.

Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler and company didn’t back down even from a late deficit. A game-tying drive, highlighted by the efforts running back Matt Forte, resulted in a 37-yard field goal from kicker Robbie Gould to push the game into overtime.

After a three-and-out and an easy Chicago touchdown drive, Manuel and the Bills then bolted out of the gates, claiming two touchdowns, a field goal and two turnovers to shock the Bears in the first half. The Bills controlled the game all the way up to halftime and went to the locker room with a 17-7 lead.

All of a sudden, when the teams reappeared, the Bills offense disappeared.

The Bears started the second half off with a field goal to bring them within one touchdown. Then, after a nearly flawless first half, Buffalo’s second-year quarterback made another young mistake to set Chicago up with a prime opportunity.

Manuel stared down his intended receiver, Marquise Goodwin, which allowed Bears safety Chris Conte to step in front of the pass for an interception. Five plays later, the ball was in the end zone and the game was tied at 17.

The Bills held on throughout the fourth quarter. Even when it seemed like the Bears were threatening to pull ahead, the defense stepped up when they needed a big play. With Chicago in Buffalo territory, the road team got a game-changing effort from a likely source in the unlikeliest of ways.

Bears tight end Martellus Bennett ran a drag route across the middle of the field and quarterback Jay Cutler spotted him. Much to the dismay of the Bears and their coaches, Cutler didn’t spot defensive tackle Kyle Williams.

Williams stepped in front of the pass, undercut the route and brought the Bills offense back on the field to pull ahead before the Bears eventually tied the game. The rest was history, as the Bills started their season with a victory in Chicago.

"I saw Bennett, or whoever it was, flash his hands like that, so I just took off in his direction the whole time thinking, 'don't screw this up because he's about to throw,'" Williams said. "I'm sure the ball got there in a quarter of a second but it seemed like forever flying through the air. Big play, helped us win, so it was a sweet one."

Williams and cornerback Corey Graham each had an interception to help stymie the Bears efforts on offense.

The Bills lost two defensive starters during the win. Linebacker Keith Rivers (groin) and safety Aaron Wiilliams (concussion-like symptoms) were each ruled out for the remainder of the game after they sustained a second-half injury. They were replaced in the lineup by linebacker Ty Powell and safety Duke Williams.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Bills' Gilmore declared inactive vs. Bears
It's merely the first week of the season, but the Buffalo Bills will have to overcome some adversity against the Chicago Bears.

Despite being a full participant in the final two days of practice, cornerback Stephon Gilmore was declared inactive against the Bears on Sunday. Gilmore arrived early to Soldier Field to go through an on-field workout with coaches and trainers there to watch his every move. The cornerback went through about 20 minutes of work, huddled with head coach Doug Marrone and the medical staff, then walked off the field.

Without Gilmore, the Bills will start Corey Graham and Leodis McKelvin against one of the top wide receiver tandems in the National Football League. Nickell Robey will serve as the team's primary nickel cornerback.

In addition to Gilmore, the Bills declared running back Bryce Brown, tight end Lee Smith, offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, offensive guard Cyril Richardson, defensive end Jacquies Smith and safety Jonathan Meeks inactive for the game in Chicago. Lee Smith (toe) and Meeks (neck) were both designated as 'doubtful' on Friday.

On the positive side, the Bills will have two pieces of their offense available to them. Wide receiver Sammy Watkins (ribs) and running back Anthony Dixon (hamstring) are both active and available to play for Buffalo. Watkins will start at wide receiver, while Dixon will serve as the team's third running back and as a key special teams contributor.

For the Bears, cornerback Kelvin Hayden, fullback Tony Fiammetta, linebacker Khaseem Greene, defensive end Cornelius Washington, defensive end David Bass, offensive tackle Charles Leno, Jr. and quarterback David Fales have been declared inactive.

Opening kickoff for the Bills and Bears is set for 1 pm.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

5 things to watch for during Bills - Bears
When the clock strikes 1 pm on Sunday, September 7, the Buffalo Bills can finally put the summer and preseason to rest. All the anxiety, the concern and the budding pessimism from parts of the fan base will subside and the team can start fresh in games that matter

The regular season is on the doorstep, and the Bills have a big opportunity to make a statement around the league with a tough road game on the horizon. What are some of the key story lines for the upcoming contest between Buffalo and the Chicago Bears? Here are some things to watch for:

1) Will EJ show more?
- The Buffalo Bills made it abundantly clear throughout the offseason that second-year quarterback EJ Manuel was the starter heading into 2014. Although it was the preseason, that faith was not rewarded in any of the team’s five games. The first-team offense failed to score a touchdown at any point in the first half of all their games, leading to wild speculation about the immediate future of the Bills quarterback. Manuel, though, has stayed consistent throughout training camp in interviews, having said that he believes he has made progress as a quarterback this summer. Manuel is the source of most the trepidation from fans, but kept with his positive mindset through the end of camp. How much will the coaching staff put on Manuel in 2014? If the way they approached the preseason is any indication, the rushing attack and defense will be the team’s preferred keys to claim a victory. The same issues that Manuel had in 2013 are still a work in progress for the Bills. He needs to fit the tight windows, go through all his progressions and improve on accuracy issues that plagued him last season. The ‘vanilla’ schemes of the preseason didn’t allow Manuel to open things up, which can only mean that all eyes will be on him to see just how much he has learned in one year. 

2) Pound the rock
- To help Manuel through his first start — and likely many of the following starts — the Bills will rely heavily on Fred Jackson, C.J. Spiller and the rest of the running back group that will be available against the Bears. In 2013, Buffalo was among the league leaders in total carries. Both Jackson and Spiller were featured at different times during the season, allowing the Bills to rely on a hot-hand approach when both were available to play. Jackson is the more accomplished of the two between the tackles and, despite his age, could lead the team in carries on any given Sunday. The Bills have built their offensive line to be one of the biggest in the National Football League, which gives more of an advantage to Jackson because he thrives in breaking tackle attempts. It’s especially helpful against a Chicago defense that ranked as one of the worst in the NFL versus the run. If Anthony Dixon cannot play due to a midweek hamstring injury though, it will be an underrated loss for the offense in short yardage and goal line situations. For the Bills to have a chance at a victory, they will likely need to slow down the game and keep the high-powered Bears offense off the field.

3) Spiller’s “touches”
- The role for Fred Jackson is fairly easy to predict. What about C.J. Spiller? Now that he is fully healthy, how much of a role will Spiller have on offense in 2014? The Bills will be using the former first-round pick not only as a runner and a pass catcher, but as a kick returner too. Head coach Doug Marrone wants to get the ball in Spiller’s hands in space, and to them, placing him as the main returner on kickoffs is one of the best ways. It certainly isn’t unprecedented for a starting running back to be one of a team’s key return specialists. However, Spiller’s lack of usage on offense throughout his career, combined with the willingness to put him on a play that has multiple high-impact collisions, could raise some eyebrows. Do the Bills believe in Spiller strongly enough as a runner to give him the most carries of all the backs? Marrone’s distinction about ‘touches’ as opposed to ‘carries’ could be an indication that the offense won’t be running through Spiller as much as originally anticipated.

4) Major height disparity
- When the Bears offense comes up in conversation, one of the first points made is just how tall and physical their top two wide receivers are. Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery make up one of the best wide receiver tandems in the league, and Chicago head coach Marc Trestman is quite adept at getting those two players into advantageous positions. With Marshall, he gets lined up in the slot quite a bit. For the Bills, that means they can have one of two approaches. They could just choose to have Stephon Gilmore shadow Marshall everywhere, or, they can go with the familiar ‘left, right, nickel’ strategy against three-wide sets. However they choose to attack it, one main problem will persist: height. The top nickel corner on the roster is Nickell Robey, but he stands all of 5-foot-7. The Bears will likely use another tall target, Santonio Holmes, as their third receiver which puts the secondary at a disadvantage. Robey is a solid player and one that often makes up for his lack of size. Chicago, however, is recognized for trusting their tall receivers to win ’50-50 balls’ in the air. Perhaps for this week against the current matchup, the Bills might be better served to use Corey Graham in nickel formations rather than Robey.

5) LBs: Who plays the most?
- Without knowing what the future would hold, the smartest thing the Bills did this offseason was to replenish the linebacker group. In late June Buffalo had Kiko Alonso, Brandon Spikes, Keith Rivers and Nigel Bradham all healthy and ready to contribute to the team’s season in 2014. A few days later Alonso suffered a torn ACL, and a few weeks later, Bradham received the news from the NFL that his incident from August of 2013 had been worthy of a one-game suspension. Without both against Chicago, the Bills will likely turn to Rivers more than any of the other projected starters. Spikes is an accomplished run defender but has shown throughout his career to be suspect in pass coverage. The third starter, rookie Preston Brown, will merely be getting his feet wet in the NFL for the first time on Sunday. Rivers is the quickest and most experienced of the three, which makes his role in both base formations and in the nickel vital on Sunday. The veteran is listed as a weakside linebacker for the week which served as another likely indication that Rivers would be on the field for most, if not all, the snaps. When Bradham is available, Rivers is normally the strongside linebacker. Brown will start on the strongside in Rivers’ place.

DOUBTFUL: TE Lee Smith (toe), S Jonathan Meeks (neck)
QUESTIONABLE: CB Stephon Gilmore (groin), HB Anthony Dixon (hamstring)
PROBABLE: WR Sammy Watkins (ribs), LB Brandon Spikes (knee), LB Randell Johnson (ankle)

OUT: QB David Fales (right shoulder)
QUESTIONABLE: FB Tony Fiammetta (hamstring)
PROBABLE: S Chris Conte (concussion), C Brian De La Puente (knee)

Prediction: Bears over Bills
- If the Bills can establish their strengths on the ground — which they probably will against a porous Chicago run defense — this game could be quite a close contest. The trick for the Bills in Week One will be to slow down the Chicago offense in any capacity. Running back Matt Forte is one of the best at his position and serves as a true every down player for the Bears. The combination of Marshall and Jeffery with quarterback Jay Cutler is also an aspect of their offense to be feared, which will make teams act accordingly. The secondary of the Bills will be attacked all game long and it may be too much to expect for them to hold up their end of the bargain without extended pressure on Cutler. Manuel and the offense will likely need to put up a lot of points to be declared the victors. Based on how they appeared in both training camp and the preseason, though, it has only left the door open for lingering doubts about their first matchup.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Bills' Gilmore questionable, Watkins probable vs. Bears
The Buffalo Bills open up their regular season on Sunday in Chicago against one of the best wide receiver tandems in the National Football League. And, according to the definitions of designations that teams give to injured players, their top cornerback has a 50-percent chance of missing the game with an injury.

After practice on Friday, the Bills announced that third-year cornerback Stephon Gilmore was listed as 'questionable' for the team's upcoming game with the Bears. A groin injury kept Gilmore as a limited participant during Wednesday's practice but the cornerback returned in full for the remainder of the team's work on the field.

Chicago boasts the impressive duo of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery as their top receiving targets, which makes the cornerback's game day availability more of an issue. If Gilmore is unable to play, Corey Graham would likely take his place in the starting lineup alongside Leodis McKelvin.

The Sunday status of one of the team's top special teams contributors is in question as well. Third-string running back Anthony Dixon missed the final practice of the week with a hamstring injury and, like Gilmore, has been designated as questionable. Dixon injured his hamstring on Thursday and had to leave the field prematurely.

There is still some doubt with Gilmore and Dixon, but less exists with the team's first-round pick. The Bills will likely have wide receiver Sammy Watkins for the regular season opener after the rookie practiced in full for the entire week. Watkins injured his ribs during the team's preseason finale and did not return to the game.

Two players were listed as doubtful for the game on the team's official injury report. Tight end Lee Smith (toe) and safety Jonathan Meeks (neck) each have at least a 75-percent chance that they will not be able to play. Linebackers Brandon Spikes (knee) and Randell Johnson (ankle) have each been labeled as probable.

The Bills will play their first regular season game of the 2014 season on Sunday at Soldier Field in Chicago. The contest will kickoff at 1:00 pm.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Bills' Marrone responds to report on tension
So much for an average Friday afternoon at One Bills Drive.

The Buffalo Bills took the field for their final day of practice for the week, but the underlying story of the day had nothing to do with what happened between the lines. Shortly before practice started Jason LaCanfora of released a report, that cited multiple sources, of tension between head coach Doug Marrone and members of the Bills front office.

The report indicated that one point of contention was about director of player personnel Jim Monos, as well as differences on how Marrone has handled some of the players on the roster. It also stated that the head coach referred to himself as "Saint Doug," because it took a miracle to win in Syracuse and that it would take another one to win in Buffalo.

Marrone acknowledged the report after practice on Friday and provided his thoughts on the matter. The quotes from Marrone, in full:

Question: Doug, are you familiar with the report that came out today, the CBS report?
Marrone: Yeah. Scott [Berchtold] gave it to me before I came out.

Question: What is your response to it?
Marrone: My response is, I'm glad Mike reported it first a couple of weeks ago. Because I think our own home people, they would know more than someone on the national thing. Hey, did we have a discussion? Absolutely. I confirm that absolutely. Are we great? We talk every day, three times a day. We talk about a lot of things. We're competitive and I couldn't be happier with those guys, I really couldn't. And then the thing about Jim [Monos] is great, too, because I was one of the ones that recommended Jim to come here. So there's a lot of things in that that I think I'll probably catch a lot of heat on from my friends because it's just not true.

Question: So you would characterize it as a bit overblown?
Marrone: A bit? (Laughs) Very much so.

Question: So, you never referred to yourself as "Saint Doug"?
Marrone: I'm gonna get a lot of crap about that. That's the one thing that, when he said it, I said I'm gonna get crushed by the people that know me well.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press
Tags :  
Locations: BuffaloSyracuse
People: Doug MarroneJason LaCanforaJim Monos

Bills' Brown to make first career start Sunday
In the 2014 offseason it was quite evident that the Buffalo Bills were not happy with the state of their linebackers. Even with both Kiko Alonso and Nigel Bradham on the roster, the team signed two free agents with the mentality to start both of them.

The additions of Brandon Spikes and Keith Rivers gave the Bills a starting combination — or so they thought. Before they set foot on the St. John Fisher College campus, the team learned that their best young linebacker would not be available to them in 2014.

Alonso suffered a torn ACL during an offseason workout in Oregon which left the Bills with just another question to answer at linebacker. They found the answer — at least for 2014 — in Bradham, a former fourth-round selection that has yet to crack the starting lineup consistently in his young career.

Midway through training camp, the Bills had yet another query to respond to with their lineup. Bradham, who was cited for a marijuana charge in August of 2013, finally received a suspension from the National Football League for his actions. Banned for the first game of the season, head coach Doug Marrone and defensive coordinator needed to come to a decision on which young player would be entrusted with the vacated responsibilities.

Barring any other setbacks, the Bills have found their man in rookie linebacker Preston Brown.

“Right from the beginning when we were in there, for me when I first watched the film, my impression was that this reminds me of Kiko last year,” Marrone said. “He’s a very good tackler, obviously. He has all those tackles and played very well.”

“It's something that I really probably didn't think of when I first got drafted,” Brown said of making his first start in the first game of his career. “I mean, I'm dreaming every night about the game so it's kind of like a big starting to set in right now that you're gonna be out there the first game.”

Brown won’t be filling in for Alonso and Bradham in the truest sense. The main responsibilities of that duo was as a weakside linebacker, but the Bills plan to utilize a more practiced hand at that specific spot with the veteran Rivers.

Instead, Brown, a bigger and stronger build of linebacker, will take Rivers’ usual role as the strongside linebacker against the Chicago Bears. He’s listed that way on the team’s unofficial depth chart, and he confirmed that it would indeed be his role on Sunday.

“It's more tight end based, but on the strongside of course,” Brown said of the differences. “Just being more physical on the tight end, make sure you set that edge on the strongside.”

It’s a big spot for a rookie on a team that believes they are close to contending for a postseason berth. While Brown admitted that he’s expecting some nervous energy, he also knows it will subside once the game finally gets underway.

“Yeah, it'll start building up,” Brown said of the anticipated bus ride over to Soldier Field. “I only get nervous right before kickoff, that's the big thing with me. I'm cool throughout the whole week right before the kickoff, when I get that first tackle, then I'm good to go.”

Due for a matchup against one of the toughest offensive opponents they’ll encounter all season, the Bills will surely need him to kick the normal rookie nerves to the curb — and quickly.

Brown and the Bills will take on the Bears Sunday at 1 pm.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Jim Kelly update: biopsies clear of cancer
The news that every person wanted to read, both in Buffalo and around the world, came true on Thursday afternoon. Former Buffalo Bills quarterback and Hall of Fame inductee Jim Kelly is free of cancer.

Kelly traveled to New York City and underwent several biopsies to reveal what the next step for him and his family might be. According to Dr. Peter Constantino of the Lenox Hill Manhattan Eye, Ear & Throat Hospital, the quarterback pulled through in the biggest battle of his life.

Tests revealed that Kelly no longer showed any signs of cancer, which concluded months of successful radiation and chemotherapy treatments.

“This is some of the greatest news I’ve ever gotten,” the Hall of Fame quarterback said. “It’s been a long road, and I’m still not back to 100-percent, but I have a lot to be thankful for.”

Kelly was initially diagnosed with cancer in 2013 and most recently dealt with a reappearance of the disease very early on in 2014. Fans of the Bills and many around the country adopted the ‘Kelly Tough’ mantra upon witnessing the struggles that both he and his family endured to start the year.

“I am so thankful for the support and prayers of my family, my friends near and far, and everyone in Western New York and throughout my illness. I also want to thank the medical specialists who have done such amazing work,” Kelly remarked. “Most of all, I want to thank God. Without my faith and God’s constant presence, there would be no such thing as ‘Kelly Tough.’

Hours before the announcement had been made, Kelly was on the field at Bills practice on Thursday afternoon with former teammate Thurman Thomas in support of the team.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Bills' Dixon, Spikes suffer in-practice injuries Thursday
To begin the week of practice, it looked to be smooth sailing for the Buffalo Bills. The team only had one player that could not participate, while the rest looked healthy and ready enough to play on Sunday.

That was the case, until Thursday came around.

The Bills added two more names to their injury report following the most recent session on the field outside the ADPRO Sports Training Center. Running back Anthony Dixon and linebacker Brandon Spikes each earned the tag of “limited participant” after they both sustained separate injuries during practice.

Dixon, the team’s third-string running back and core special teams contributor, injured his hamstring on Thursday and did not return. Is the running back be in danger of missing the team's game on Sunday?

"You always have to be concerned when that happens and they can’t finish, so yes," head coach Doug Marrone said. "Yes, that’s a concern."

Spikes, on the other hand, suffered a knee injury and needed to leave practice during the individual portion. The linebacker did, however, get back on the field for team drills without much delay after working with the trainers to the side.

For the second straight day the Bills were without Lee Smith at practice. The blocking specialist tight end suffered a toe injury during the preseason and hasn’t been able to participate with the team since. His status for Sunday’s regular season opener in Chicago is in doubt.

Two players that were limited on Wednesday, cornerback Stephon Gilmore (groin) and linebacker Randell Johnson (ankle), were upgraded to full participants for Thursday’s practice. Rookie wide receiver Sammy Watkins (ribs) was also a full participant for the second straight day. Safety Jonathan Meeks (neck) was a limited participant once again on Thursday.

The Bills have one more day of preparation to get ready for their first game of the season against the Chicago Bears. Friday’s practice begins at 11:15 am in Orchard Park.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Pres

Bills' Watkins a full participant, Gilmore limited

At long last the Buffalo Bills will get their regular season started this coming weekend and finally put to rest the extended preseason that 2014 provided. Step one in that process was going through their first Wednesday of the regular season, which serves as the lengthiest practice of the work week

The Bills took the field outside the ADPRO Sports Training Center with rookie wide receiver and first-round selection Sammy Watkins back in full. The team announced shortly after the session that Watkins, who suffered a second injury to his ribs last Thursday, was not limited in practice throughout any of the drills.

Watkins, just as he was on Monday, played the part of an optimist when speaking with reporters after practice.

"Yeah, I’m ready to play," he said. "With the ribs you don’t know, whether you feel one hundred percent one day, or eighty, ninety. Until I get that first hit, that will explain it all. Now I know how it feels to get hit, and what the outcome will be. A lot of pain, losing your breath but it’s not going to take me out of the game. Just get a breather and come back in."

Despite his overwhelming positivity, head coach Doug Marrone wasn't as ready to commit to Watkins being available on Sunday in Chicago.

"I think we’re just going to wait and see for the game," Marrone replied. "It’s hard to judge right now."

The Bills are hoping they won't have to exercise the same approach for cornerback Stephon Gilmore for the team's first game of the season. Gilmore was one of three players that had to be limited during Wednesday's practice due to an injury. The starting cornerback was slowed up by a groin injury, but insisted that it won't affect him for the regular season opener in Chicago.

Gilmore, along with rookie linebacker Randell Johnson (ankle) and safety Jonathan Meeks (neck) were the three players that had to skip some reps on Wednesday. The lone non-participant of the day was tight end Lee Smith, who has continued his attempt to come back from an injury to his toe.

The playing status for each of the five players has yet do be determine. The Bills are mandated by NFL rules to disclose all of their injured players with a specific designation for Sunday.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press


Orton, Bills believe backup will be up to speed for Week 1
Just moments before the initial 53-man roster was due into the National Football League offices, the Buffalo Bills announced the signing of quarterback Kyle Orton. The move paved the way for the Bills to release second-year quarterback Jeff Tuel and to entrust Orton with all the responsibilities of being EJ Manuel’s backup.

The big question, though, is will he be ready to step in at a moment’s notice? Both he and Buffalo head coach Doug Marrone seem to think so.

“This week, and I think I'll be ready to go. I’ve really put a lot of work in the last 48-72 hours mentally,” Orton said. “Physically it went really good today and I'll be ready to go on Sunday.”

“I think you'd be surprised of what he can do, and I think we'll just go work during the week and just see how much he feels comfortable with handling,” Marrone remarked. “Probably more than what most people think because of his experience.”

It’s not the first rodeo for Orton in having to get ready in a short amount of time. He was waived by the Denver Broncos in the second half of the 2011 season, only to be claimed by the Kansas City Chiefs on November 24.

Less than a month later — December 18, 2011 to be exact — Orton made his first start for the Chiefs.

The Bills are certainly hoping Orton won’t have to step into action nearly that quickly, given the belief that they’ve placed in Manuel, their second-year starter. It does give them the comfortability that if Manuel does get injured, they now have a competent backup with plenty of starting experience on their roster.

Orton has a total of 70 starts in the NFL, a whopping 64 more than the three men that vied for the backup job behind Manuel all summer long. With Tuel, Thad Lewis and Dennis Dixon now off the active roster, it’s all on the former Bears, Broncos and Chiefs starter to take over in case of injury or otherwise.

“Kyle is much better for us,” Marrone said of his current situation at backup quarterback. “Experienced veteran. He was what we were looking for and we were fortunate enough to get him.”

Given his reported salary — $5 million for 2014 according to’s Ian Rapoport — some will, and have, jumped to the conclusion that the signing puts Manuel on alert in case he struggles. While it’s on the minds of some, it’s not being considered by one of the newest Bills.

“My role on the team is a backup and to be ready to play whenever I need to be, but, probably job number one is to help EJ, and that's what I plan to do,” Orton said.

The Bills have three more days of practice for the week and will then take on the Chicago Bears for the first game of the regular season on Sunday.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press
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Watkins practices, Bills mum on Sunday status
The Buffalo Bills viewed quite a welcomed sight on the practice field Monday. Rookie wide receiver Sammy Watkins was back on the practice field just five days removed from re-injuring his ribs in the team's preseason finale.

The Bills gave no indication after practice on just how much Watkins was able to do during practice, nor did they reveal his playing status for Sunday. When asked if he believed he would play, the first-round pick initially responded in the affirmative: "Of course."

Watkins had to leave the team's final exhibition contest against Detroit on Thursday after Lions linebacker Ashlee Palmer hit the wideout in the midsection with his forearm. He missed the game against Tampa Bay after the initial injury occurred against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The wideout was joined on the field by a few other players returning from injury. Guard Chris Williams, tight end Scott Chandler and cornerback Stephon Gilmore all were able to participate during positional drills Monday.

The Bills were only without tight end Lee Smith (toe) and linebacker Randell Johnson (ankle) during the session. Smith was not on the field in any capacity, but Johnson was at least able to work to the side with members of the training staff.

The team has shifted back into regular season mode and will resume getting Tuesdays off for practice starting this week. The Bills will return back to practice on Wednesday afternoon in preparation for the regular season opener against the Chicago Bears.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Bills practice squad brought up to 9, 1 spot remaining
The Buffalo Bills are taking advantage of the new practice squad allotment rules in the National Football League.

The league announced this summer that each team will be allowed to have 10 practice squad players on their roster at any given time, up from eight for many years before. Following the weekend of final cuts, the Bills announced the signing of nine players to their practice squad.

Buffalo elected to bring back seven of their own that didn't make the initial 53-man roster of the season. Quarterback Jeff Tuel, safety Kenny Ladler, linebacker Jimmy Gaines, safety Deon Broomfield, defensive end Bryan Johnson, wide receiver Caleb Holley and defensive lineman Ikponmwosa Igbinosun were all kept in house by the Bills over the weekend as members of their scout team.

The Bills also added two more players from out-of-house shortly before practice on Monday. The team announced the signing of guard D.J. Morrell and fullback Lonnie Pryor, which leaves only one empty spot on their practice squad.

Morrell entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2014 out of Old Dominion and spent the summer with the St. Louis Rams before the team cut him. Prior to landing in St. Louis, he was originally signed by the Detroit Lions following the NFL Draft.

Pryor is in his second NFL season out of Florida State University, having spent 2013 and the 2014 preseason with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Following the 2013 NFL Draft, the fullback originally signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars out of college.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Moeaki experiment over for Bills: TE released
The Buffalo Bills had high hopes for tight end Tony Moeaki if he could stay healthy. As they, like teams before them found out, Moeaki just could not keep himself on the field.

The Bills relinquished Moeaki from their official roster on Monday with the announcement that the two parties had come to an injury settlement. The tight end was placed on season-ending Injured Reserve on Friday, which led the team to release him outright to start the practice week.

Moeaki missed four of the team's five preseason games with a hamstring injury and also missed the majority of practice time during training camp at St. John Fisher College as well. After coming to a settlement, Moeaki will be free to sign with any team he chooses as an unrestricted free agent.

The Bills originally signed the tight end in December of 2013.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press
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Bills name 6 captains, Manuel not among them

At the start of the regular season, teams around the National Football League will vote players in the locker room to serve as their captains for the year. When put up for a team vote the Buffalo Bills selected six players to be their captains, and quarterback EJ Manuel wasn't one of them.

The team announced that running back Fred Jackson, center Eric Wood, defensive tackle Kyle Williams, defensive end Mario Williams, linebacker Brandon Spikes and cornerback Corey Graham were voted by their peers as a leader of the team. Jackson, Wood and Kyle Williams all served as captains in 2013, while it's the first as a captain with the Bills for Mario Williams, Spikes and Graham.

This will be the fourth season that both Kyle Williams and Jackson have been a captain for the Bills. Each of the six players will have the letter 'C' sewn on to their jerseys for game day.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press


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