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Howard Simon's Blog

Posts from September 2012

Bills Humbled by Pats
And you thought the season opening loss to the New York Jets was deflating?  A complete collapse by the defense, a self destruction by the offense and two new injuries to the unit that had been the best part of the team in the first quarter of the season all added up in yet another miserable day at the hands of the hated New England Patriots.
So much for closing the gap on the Patriots, huh?  In the last five games against the kings of the division, the Bills have given up point totals of 52, 49, 31, 38 and 38.  That is a grand total of 208 points or an average of 41 a game.
For me, this matchup was all about the Bills defense.  If they are indeed going to close that gap or maybe I should say gulf  between themselves and the Pats, Buffalo needs to have a strong defense that can at the very least keep Tom Brady in check or beat him from time to time.
In fact, when the Bills took a 21-7 lead with 11:08 left in the third quarter, I wrote in my notes that a strong defense closes this game out and this is what could make the 2012 Bills different than so many other Bills teams. 
The defense was then torched by Brady and company who scored touchdowns on their next six possessions.  Here’s the rundown:
8 plays, 80 yards, 2:58
How bad was the defense in that stretch?  Only two times in those six possessions did the Bills ever get the Pats to a third down.  New England converted both, a TD pass to Danny Woodhead on one drive and a third and nine conversion on a pass play to Wes Welker on another.
The Bills defense gave up 580 total yards, the second worst day in franchise history. Amazing when you think about all the times Brady and company put a hurting on this organization.
Shockingly, the Bills run defense looked like the 2011 edition as they were shredded by Stevan Ridley and Brandon Bolden.  Both topped 100 yards, the first time the Pats had two backs top the century mark in the same game since 1982.  Buffalo gave up nine rushes of at least ten yards.
Mario Williams, the big ticket free agent pickup was invisible and don’t tell me about how he gets double teamed.  I’m guessing defensive ends like Jared Allen and J.J. Watt and even a linebacker/pass rusher like Clay Mathews face double teams but they find a way to get to quarterbacks.
The Bills linebackers were completely useless and second year cornerback Justin Rogers was schooled by Wes Welker.
The offense had its issues as well, as six turnovers would attest.  The Bills running game was a non factor on a day when both Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller returned to the lineup.  Buffalo came into the game averaging 178 yards a game but were limited to 98 by New England.  They had averaged 5.6 yards per carry but it was 3.6 in this game.
Fitzpatrick, who was picked off three times by the Jets in week one, had four passes caught by Patriots players meaning he’s tossed 10 interceptions in the last three meetings with New England.
If this wasn’t enough bad news for you, the offensive line which had been superb up until this game, lost two starters in Cordy Glenn and Kraig Urbik for “a while” to ankle injuries according to Chan Gailey.
If the Bills are ever going to make the playoffs again, they have to start beating their division rivals and yet in both AFC East games this season,  Gailey’s team has failed miserably.  In case you were wondering, they have given up 100 points while losing to the Jets and Pats and dropping their record in division games to 4-22 since 2008.
Yes, its only one game but this was the Bills chance to step it up and show they had closed the gap with the “beasts of the east” and make a statement as they opened the toughest part of their schedule.
It was looking good at 21-7 early in the third quarter but then a fun day at the Ralph turned into another depressing disaster as the Pats went on a 35-0 romp over 15 ½ minutes of actual game time.
What’s that old saying? The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Playing With The Big Boys
Wins the last two weeks by the Buffalo Bills have calmed the collective nerves of Bills nation. Nerves that were frayed by the opening day shellacking at the hands of the New York Jets.
But now its time to find out if the 2012 Bills can play with the big boys.  Sunday’s game with AFC East kingpin New England kicks off the toughest part of the schedule.
After the week four contest with the Pats(1-2), Chan Gailey’s squad heads out west for matchups with San Francisco(2-1) and Arizona(3-0). A home game with Tennessee(1-2) will precede the bye week.
Out of the bye, its back to back road games with Houston(3-0) and the rematch with the Pats.  Four of the next six opponents were playoff teams last season and their combined record of the six was 66-30.
Of the two non playoff clubs, Arizona  is one of the early season surprises but they did finish 2011 by winning seven of their last nine so maybe they’re picking up where they left off.  The Cards perfect start includes a shocking win at New England, something the Bills have yet to do after ten trips to Gillette Stadium.
The home game with Tennessee looks like the “easiest” game on paper but the Titans just knocked off Detroit, a 2011 playoff team. 
Of course you can flip it around and say what looked like a sure loss to the 49ers might not be since they just got beat by a Minnesota team that is supposed to be the worst in the NFC North.
If the Bills can get through this part of the schedule with at least two wins, they should still be in good shape to take advantage of the soft part of the 2012 slate. Two wins would leave them below .500 at 4-5 but none of their final seven opponents made the playoffs last season.
If you’d like to assume the Bills beat the Titans(not considered one of the big boys) then Buffalo will need one more win somewhere else.  Sunday would be a great place to get it because:
A)   It is the hated Patriots
B)   It is a division game and the Bills are a pathetic 4-21 in division tilts since 2008
C)   The Bills would be two games up on the Pats and own the tiebreaker edge
D)   Even though the Bills just won in Cleveland to snap an eight game road losing streak, they will be the underdog in the next four road games
As far as Sunday’s matchup, the most intriguing story line is whether or not the Bills improved pass rush can get pressure on Tom Brady. In 20 career games against the Bills, Brady is 18-2 with a  65% completion rate and has thrown for 4,380 yards, 46 touchdowns and just 17 interceptions.
When Buffalo has picked off Brady at least twice in a game, they are 2-1.  When Brady has thrown just one interception or none, the Bills are 0-17.
Interceptions can be lucky(a ball going off the helmet of Marcell Dareus and into the hands of Drayton Florence for example) but interceptions are also the result of pass rush and pressure on the quarterback.
When the Bills handed out the massive contract to Mario Williams and a not as massive but still pretty darn large deal to Mark Anderson they had this matchup in mind.  A consistent rush from a four man front allows you to drop seven into coverage and gives you a better chance of beating Brady and company.  Go ask the New York Giants about that.
What if Brady doesn’t drop back to throw as often as you might anticipate? For some reason, despite the presence of the franchise player under center, New England is actually running the ball more often this season.  Through three games the Pats have averaged 32 rushing attempts a game after averaging 27 last season.
That’s not the only reason why Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels has many Pats fans scratching their heads. Wes Welker was briefly demoted and dropped behind Julian Edelman on the depth chart and monster tight end Rob Gronkowski has seen his role in the offense  diminished.
The Amherst native was targeted just three times in last week’s loss at Baltimore and in the week two upset by Arizona, “Gronk” was targeted just twice in the first half.  Hopefully McDaniels doesn’t pop in tapes of last season’s games with the Bills. If he does he’ll see the freakish tight end catch a combined 15 balls for 217 yards and 4 touchdowns.
Part of the problem is pass protection issues.  The offensive line has had some struggles early on. Brady has been sacked seven times.  Gronkowski has been asked to stay in and help with pass protection.
The injury to Aaron Hernandez is a factor as well.  Not only did it take the Pats away from their favorite personnel grouping, the two tight end formation,it also meant teams can zero in on Gronkowski since Hernandez isn’t on the field.
The loss to the Ravens has pushed the focus back on a Pats defense that gave up a ton of yards last season. How about an average of more than 400 a game? It was actually more than a porous Bills defense yielded and was the second worst total in the league.  But New England took the ball away to stop drives and did the whole bend but don’t break thing.  They ended up middle of the pack in scoring defense.
Also keep in mind the Bills did put 55 points up on the scoreboard while splitting the season series in 2011.  Ryan Fitzpatrick completed 65% of his passes for 676 yards with four touchdowns and six interceptions.
New England took a big hit to their pass rush when they lost Anderson to the Bills and let Andre Carter go since both men reached double digits in sacks last season.  But the Pats answered by moving up in the draft to get defensive end Chandler Jones(1st round-Syracuse) and linebacker Dont’a Hightower(1st round-Alabama).  They also brought in Steve Gregory to shore up the safety position but questions remain at cornerback where Devin McCourty’s play has been spotty.
With respect to special teams, we get our first chance to see if the Bills decision to dump veteran punter Brian Moorman was the correct one as Shawn Powell makes his NFL debut.  Edelman handles the returns and averages 10 yards.
Despite his miss from 42 yards at the end of the Arizona game, Stephen Gostkowski is one of the more reliable field goal kickers in the NFL.
In a season where their beloved Red Sox have been an embarrassment, a loss by the Pats on Sunday might send the Boston fans into a deep depression.  After all, they haven’t seen their football team lose three straight games in 10 years.

Bills Gut One Out
Boy, do I have a bone to pick with the football gods. The Bills explode out to a 14-0 first quarter lead in Cleveland and it looks like a second straight “put your feet up, relax and enjoy the blowout victory” day is on the way.
Then the collective air is taken out of Western New York as C.J. Spiller goes down with an injury.  I personally went into a funk that lasted until the  fourth quarter when a Bills touchdown allowed me to exhale and start breathing normally again.
The Bills offense was thrown for a loop too and it took a while for them to recover. But give the Bills credit as the team overcame that adversity and hung on for their first road win since week one of the 2011 season.
The victory also meant the Bills did exactly what they HAD to do after the week one dismantling by the Jets.  Buffalo faced two very winnable games on the schedule and they took care of business. 2-1 is a whole lot better than 1-2 going into the next three games with New England, San Francisco and a surprising 3-0 Arizona Cardinals team.
The offense persevered when challenged by the loss of Spiller. It meant the Bills had to make due without their top two running backs(both of whom play key roles in the passing game) and their second best wide receiver(David Nelson).
Ryan Fitzpatrick wasn’t perfect but he was good, throwing for 208 yards and 3 touchdowns(he now has 8 on the season). More importantly, Fitzpatrick was interception-free for the second week in a row.  As he said in the post game interviews, all he had to do was hit the layups but he still finished off TD drives by getting the ball to open receivers, Stevie Johnson and T.J. Graham.
I think we should be talking about the Bills offensive line as one of the best in the game. Fitzpatrick had a clean pocket and time to throw most of the game.
As far as the run game goes, even with third stringer Tashard Choice in there, the Bills ground game was still effective. Choice totaled 91 yards on 20 carries and his 22 yard burst was a tone setter on the TD drive that gave the Bills a 24-14 fourth quarter lead.
The defense did their part as well.  While the offense was trying to get back off the canvas after the knock down that was the Spiller injury, the defense helped Buffalo maintain the lead.
They stuffed rookie running back Trent Richardson most of the day. He finished with just 27 yards on 12 carries.  They also got pressure on rookie QB Brandon Weedon and ended up with four sacks and two interceptions.
After giving up an 80 yard touchdown drive that pulled Cleveland within three points, Dave Wannstedt’s group came up with stops on the next four possessions and took the ball away twice.
Some young players came up big.  In addition to his TD catch, Graham had a huge third down conversion on the drive that put the Bills up 24-14.  He took a short pass from Fitzpatrick, then used a dipsy doodle move and some get in the way blocking from Scott Chandler for the all important yards after catch.
I thought linebacker Arthur Moats had one of his best games as a Bill, making a handful of stops on Richardson.
Aaron Williams was beaten on a couple of pass plays but showed the ability to close while the ball was coming down and he ended up breaking up both of the passes.  One break up came on the next play after a questionable illegal contact penalty on him. He showed good focus by shaking it off and bouncing back.
Kickoff specialist John Potter had a good day too.  He helped keep Browns big play return man Joshua Cribbs in check. Two of his kickoffs were touchbacks and the others were in the back of the end zone giving the kick team time to get down and keep Cribbs from breaking off a long return.
It might not have been an electrifying triumph but as my WGR colleague Bulldog stated, the Bills have held serve the last two weeks.  If you want to win a tennis match, you need to hold serve.  If you want to make the playoffs or at least be in the race, you need to beat the “easy” opponents on your schedule and the Bills did just that.
Now its New England week and I wish it was game day already.  Three games in and its still hard to figure out who the Bills are and whether they are good enough to compete with the big boys.  I can’t wait for Sunday, to see how the Bills handle the big test.
Hey football gods…I hope you didn’t mind that “bone to pick with you” comment. If it isn’t too much trouble, can you make sure Fred Jackson is 100% by Sunday? Please heal up Spiller as soon as possible too. Hey, you owe us!

Bills-Browns Preview
Different week. Different opponent. But it’s the same story for the Buffalo Bills. As was the case against the Kansas City Chiefs in week two, the Bills face their second must win game of the young season in week three at Cleveland.
If the Bills are going to make the playoffs they will likely have to reach at least ten wins. This is one of the games, on paper, that should be one of those wins. As bad as the Bills have been for the last decade, the Browns have been worse.
A win here means the Bills are 2-1 going into the toughest stretch of the schedule starting with a September 30th matchup with New England at Ralph Wilson Stadium. That’s followed by what looks to be a sure fire loss in San Francisco.
With a victory over the Browns, the worst case scenario has the Bills at 2-3 going to Arizona in week 6. A loss to Cleveland not only hurts their record but psychologically it could do some damage as well.  The Browns havent’t won more than five games in any of the last four seasons and are 18-46 over that stretch.
Buffalo has lost its last eight games on the road, the longest active road skid in the NFL. If the Bills can’t win in Cleveland, what road games can they win?
They were a train wreck in the road opener with the Jets and in addition to the 49ers and Cards, the Bills travel to Houston(perhaps the best team in the AFC), New England(Buffalo has never won at Gillette Stadium), Indianapolis and Miami(where the Bills were smoked last season.
You can do the math folks.  If you believe it will take at least ten wins to earn a post season berth, even if you are a perfect 8-0 at home, you have to win at least two road games.  Again, that’s if you run the table at home. Cleveland and Indianapolis are the two most winnable road games on the schedule.
The sad thing is the Browns are thinking the same thing.  0-2 after close losses to Philadelphia and Cincinnati, Sunday’s matchup and a December visit from Kansas City look like the “easiest” games on their home schedule.  This game is followed by visits to Baltimore and the defending Super Bowl Champion Giants so the Browns are looking at an 0-5 start if they lose to their Lake Erie neighbors.
This game might be one for fans of “old school” football who believe the key to winning is run and stop the run.  The strength for both offenses is their top running back and both run defenses were ranked near the bottom of the league last season.
For the Bills, C.J. Spiller has picked up where he left off last season and leads the NFL in rushing after the first two weeks.  The Clemson product is averaging an unheard of 10.1 yards per carry. Unheard of since 1963 anyway. That’s the last time a back averaged more than 10 yards a carry after two weeks. Ironically it was Jim Brown and he will be at Cleveland Stadium on Sunday for the Browns Alumni weekend.
As dazzling as Spiller has been, fans in Cleveland are hoping they have an elite running back who will remind them of Jim Brown. First round pick Trent Richardson topped 100 yards rushing in last week’s loss to the Bengals and seems poised to breathe life into a Browns ground game that has been ranked in the bottom five of the NFL in 9 of the last 13 years.
The 5-9, 230 pound Alabama product will provide the season’s first true test for a Bills run defense that has been one of the worst in the league for quite some time. Try bottom 11 for the last 7 years.
In a week where we heard Bills Head Coach Chan Gailey say he would run the ball on every snap if he could, one would think there will be a steady diet of Spiller against a Browns run defense that finished 30th last season.
But there are two things you need to consider. One, Spiller has never carried more than 19 times in a game.  Gailey said he believes Spiller could handle a 25 carry game but he probably wouldn’t ask Spiller to shoulder that load.
Secondly, the Browns pass defense is horrible.  This is where I think NFL Coaches can outsmart themselves. The Bills know Spiller and the team’s run blocking is their best offensive attribute at this point. But the Browns know that too and you would expect they will stack the box in an attempt to keep Spiller in check.
So does Gailey still feed Spiller the ball and make the Browns stop him or since Cleveland is expecting the run, does he surprise them and use a pass heavy game plan?
I hope not since Ryan Fitzpatrick has not gotten off to a good start but keep in mind the Browns pass defense has given up 600 yards in the first two games and five touchdowns. 
Joe Haden, their best cover corner, is out due to a suspension.  11 year veteran Sheldon Brown has lost his starting job to second year pro Buster Skrine who had a nightmarish day last week in Cincinnati.  Maybe Gailey figures its best to test the secondary?
No matter what happens, there will be a streak that will come to an end on Sunday.  Either the Bills will snap that eight game road skid that dates back to the week one romp in Kansas City last season or Cleveland will end an eight game losing streak overall, the longest active streak in the NFL.

Former NHLPA Leader on WGR
Now that pre-season games are being cancelled, the likelihood of the NHL lockout costing regular season contests has increased.  But how much of the season will be lost? WGR posed that question to Paul Kelly, former Executive Director of the National Hockey League Players Association, during his segment with the morning show on Thursday.

Kelly said he doesn’t think this will last the whole season, as was the case back in 2004-2005. He believes it will probably  end around Thanksgiving. “In the last round you were looking to make major, systemic changes(salary cap) and it was not a surprise to lose an entire season” Kelly said. “Here the battle is really over money and frankly there’s a consensus to be had there and there’s no reason why people can’t come together.”

Kelly, who led the NHLPA from October 2007 through August 2009, said one of the challenges facing Don Fehr(current Executive Director) will be to keep the 750 member association unified as the lockout goes on. “It’s a huge challenge keeping PA membership together” Kelly told WGR. “Its not only guys with varying incomes. Its guys from different cultures, different countries with different backgrounds, and different outlooks,  spread out across the globe.  You get guys at the tail end of their careers and guys just beginning their careers. Gary(Bettman) has it much easier to hold his group together of 30(owners).” 

Kelly says the players won’t feel any pressure to settle in October since they will be receiving money through escrow payments which is money that was held back last season. But come November and December when players will have missed four to six paychecks, the dynamics will change and some internal pressure will begin to mount inside the association.

Kelly added the deeper this lockout goes, the more chance you will have veteran players with only one or two years left in their careers, speak out publicly and take positions contrary to the NHLPA as Jeremy Roenick did during the last lockout.

Kelly also talked about the power  the  NHL Commissioner  has when it comes to CBA negotiations. “Gary Bettman has enormous trust and confidence from his ownership group” Kelly said. “He’s a veteran presence, he’s an established labor negotiator, he’s a very smart guy. You’ve got some strong owners out there but Gary will dictate where this goes. Whatever recommendations he makes, my guess is the owners will follow.”

Kelly offered up his idea of a proposal. He thinks it should be a long term deal, 8-10 years in length. Salaries should hold where they are in year 1(players would receive $1.87 billion which Kelly estimates would be around 55% of revenues). The players percentage of revenues would then slide down a point every two years until it reaches 50% and would hold there.

He believes there should be enhanced revenue sharing where the bigger teams give more money to the lesser teams.  In addition, the players shouldn’t give up the rights they earned after the last work stoppage and they should definitely push to maintain participation in the Olympics since that is good for the NHL product.
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Topics: Sports
People: Don FehrGary BettmanJeremy RoenickPaul Kelly

Thank You Bills

Bills fans are dealing with plenty of anxiety these days.  How will the season play out? Can the Bills end their NFL long 12 year playoff drought? Will there be a new, long term lease deal for Ralph Wilson Stadium? Will it be strong enough to keep the team from being moved? What about the Toronto series? Will the Bills move more games north of the border?

I can’t lessen your anxiety about the season or the lease but I can tell you not to worry about more games being moved to the Rogers Center in the soon to be announced series renewal agreement.

That word came from Bills CEO Russ Brandon during his weekly segment on the WGR Morning Show.  Brandon said a story that appeared in The Buffalo News this past Sunday was not accurate.  The report stated there would indeed be more regular season games played in Toronto, perhaps as many as eight over five years.

“We’re coming down towards the end of this agreement” Brandon said. “We’ll get down to the nuts and bolts but the one thing I want to be very clear about is that we will not be playing multiple games(in the same season) up north.”

I think I speak for many fans when I say “thank you very much.” I know for many of you, the Toronto series was an unforgiveable move by the Bills but I’ve come to realize that it was just another part of the critical plan for regionalization of the franchise.

It provided new revenue streams in many ways including the fee paid by Rogers Communications for the games and the exposure of the product in the Greater Toronto Area which is home to nearly five million people.

Five years ago, 11% of the fans in the game day crowd at RWS hailed from Southern Ontario.  This season the number is at 20% which is a larger percentage than the number of fans coming in from the Rochester area, the first target in regionalization.

“We all know the effects of it(regionalization) in Rochester and such” Brandon told WGR. “But you look at the last five years and what the Toronto initiative has done and when we stood up and talked about this, we talked about bringing our fans from Southern Ontario back to Ralph Wilson Stadium. That has been the biggest positive of this agreement.”

While I have learned to accept the reality of the Toronto series and what it means for the long term existence of the franchise in Western New York, I have no stomach whatsoever for any more games to be shifted north of the border.

That is why I was very glad to hear what Russ told us on the show.  If they were to move a second game to Toronto, my first thought would have been “when are they moving three?” and “when does it become four so it would TRULY be a regional franchise?” 

If this team is going to contend for a playoff spot, not only this season but for years to come, the last thing they need is to play fewer games in Orchard Park.

So go ahead, renew your contract, get your money from Rogers Communications and tell them thanks but you can’t have any more games.  It is still after all, the Buffalo Bills.

Now I can get back to stressing out about the season, the lease, the health of the soon to be 94 year old owner and whether or not the Bills will be here long enough to have a third agreement in the Toronto series.

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Topics: Sports
Locations: New YorkRochesterSouthern OntarioTorontoWestern New York
People: Russ Brandon

Bills Do Complete 180
I don’t know what role this game will play in the outcome of the 2012 season and no, I did not make reservations for New Orleans(site of the Super Bowl) after the Bills romp over Kansas City.
But I do know the team, the fans and sports talk show hosts needed it… badly!
While the opener was about as bad a game as you could have possibly imagined in your worst nightmares, you couldn’t have scripted the follow up much better.
Don’t get me wrong, the opposition was terrible. Imagine how Chiefs fans feel today knowing their team has been outscored by the Bills 76-24 in the last two meetings.
For the fans who believe the Bills will make the playoffs this season, this is exactly the kind of game they had in mind. 
The recipe was one part dominating running game, one part the quarterback just making plays that were there and not killing the team with turnovers and one part an improved defense that got after the quarterback and took the ball away.
Fitzpatrick didn’t have an eye popping day but he didn’t need to.  He ended up 10-19 for 178 yards and 2 touchdowns but most importantly he had no turnovers. His best throws of the day were a 10 yard touchdown pass to Scott Chandler and short throws to Chandler and Stevie Johnson where run after catches produced 33 yards for Chandler and a 49 yard TD for Johnson.
The offense was sparked by the legs of C.J. Spiller.  During an interview on WGR on Friday, Bills General Manager Buddy Nix remarked “there’s something to be said for running the ball and playing good defense.” Must be the team was listening.
Spiller again showed a combination of explosive speed, shifty moves and an ability to break tackles. In his last 7 regular season games, the former first round pick has amassed 683 rushing yards.  He is downright scary when in space.
On his 38 yard TD scamper, he started right, saw nothing, then cut back left and found a big hole to fire through. He became the 4th back in Bills history to top 100 yards rushing in the first two games of the season.
There may be more of that to come.  I was both surprised and heartened to hear Chan Gailey say after the game “we’d rather be a physical run team that throws it on surprise or when we have to throw it.” Honestly I thought Gailey was a pass happy play caller who would live and die with Fitzpatrick.  This may mean the offense is going in a different direction.
The offense wasn’t the only unit that did a complete 180 from last week.  The defense had a pass rush, got consistent pressure, recorded sacks and took the ball away.
Kyle Williams was a beast.  On at least three different plays, he took the man attempting to block him and bullied him into a backpedal.  Remember the scene in the movie “The Blind Side” when Michael Oher pushes the guy all the way downfield and over a fence? I think Williams could have done that if they let him keep going.
The defensive line dominated the Chiefs.  Buffalo got pressure and sacks while only rushing four.  Kyle Williams had two sacks, Marcell Dareus had one and Alex Carrington added another while forcing a fumble.
Mario Williams didn’t get a sack but his pressure forced Cassel towards Dareus on that sack and he drew a holding penalty on Chiefs right tackle Eric Winston on another rush.  He also recovered the fumble that Carrington forced.
The takeaway right before halftime was important.  A Chiefs TD would have made it 21-7 and maybe given them some life.  Instead, they came away with nothing on their best drive of the half.
Kudos to Dareus for playing just days after the tragic shooting death of his younger brother and in more trivial matters, for playing as much as he could after suffering a shoulder injury.
Special teams got caught up in that whole reversal of fortunes theme.  After giving up a punt return for a touchdown against the Jets, the Bills got an 88 yard return for score from Leodis McKelvin, the 2nd longest in franchise history.  I felt good for McKelvin since that came at the end of a week where he lost his nickel job to Justin Rogers(and deservedly so).
As if the day wasn’t good enough already, as the game comes to an end, I get to watch the Pats get a gift from the Arizona Cardinals with a late game fumble that sets them up for what seemed to be a 4th quarter comeback victory. But then I see Stephen Gostkowski miss a 42 yard field goal.  Thank you football gods for that one.
I said the Bills had to win this game and next week’s at Cleveland to restore any faith in this team and where the season can go.  If they are going to take advantage of a weak schedule, you have to beat teams like the Chiefs and Browns.  One down, one to go.

Top College QB's to Watch
Two years ago I spent most of my Saturdays during the fall watching the top quarterbacks in college.  Having seen Trent Edwards be… well…Trent Edwards in the first two games of the season leading to the reins being handed over to Ryan Fitzpatrick, I figured it was a lock the Bills would spend a first or second round pick on a quarterback.
After watching Fitzpatrick look terrible in the season opening loss to the Jets, I got the feeling we’ll be talking about who the best signal callers are in college this season and who the Bills should draft next April.
I culled a list of guys to follow from a number of different areas including: Mel Kiper’s Big Board, Scouts Inc Top 32 at, Nolan Nawrocki of Pro Football Weekly, Rob Rang’s qb rankings at and WGR’s own draft guru, Joe Buscaglia.
The general feeling is there is no Andrew Luck in this year’s group(and maybe we should add no RG3) but there is agreement on the top qb available and that would be Matt Barkley from USC. In fact, he may end up being the number one pick overall which is why we have already heard the Bills should either “Barf for Barkley”, “Blow for Barkley”, or “play flat for Matt.”
The 6-2, 230 pound Barkley has size, experience, great stats and has played in a pro style offense for the Trojans.  The senior from Newport Beach, California has been a starter since winning the job as a true freshman in 2009.
  He has a 64% career completion rate and has thrown for more than 9000 yards to go along with 80 touchdowns and 33 interceptions. His passing TD total has increased every season from 15 to 26 to 39 and his interceptions have decreased every season from 14 to 12 to 7.
One note may make some of you Bills fans nervous. He is a native of California and the last 3 Californians who played that position for the Bills are:Trent Edwards, JP Losman and Rob Johnson.
While Barkley is the consensus number one among qb’s, there is no clear 2nd best prospect but Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas is high on many of the lists. 
Some are suggesting he is a Cam Newton type of player.  He’s big(6-6, 260), has a strong arm and is a dual threat who can beat you passing or running.  His main drawback is a thin resume.  Thomas became the starter last season so the redshirt junior had just 14 starts coming into the season.
But in his first season as the Hokies starter, the Lynchburg, Virginia native threw for over 3000 yards, had 19 touchowns and 10 picks. He ran for 469 yards and added 11 TD’s on the ground.
Other names of interest include Oklahoma’s Landry Jones. Like Barkley, Jones has a ton of experience.  He became the starter three games into his freshman season when Sam Bradford went down with an injury. 
Jones went on to break Bradford’s record for most passing yards by a freshman and Jones will leave Oklahoma as the school’s career passing leader. The 6-4, 218 pound native of New Mexico has completed 62% of passes in his career for nearly 13,000 yards with 97 TD’s and 42 INT’s.
Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson became the first Razorback qb ever to be named first team All-SEC when he earned that honor last season.  The redshirt senior who stands 6-3 and weighs 220 pounds took over the job when Ryan Mallett  left following the 2010 season.
He threw for more than 3600 yards with 24 TD’s and only 6 INT’s while leading the Hogs to a school record tying 11 wins.  Wilson actually began to make a name for himself in Mallett’s last season. He came on for an injured Mallett in a game against 7th ranked Auburn(Cam Newton) and in less than three full quarters, he rolled up 323 yards passing with 4 touchdowns.
West Virginia’s Geno Smith put up some eye popping numbers last season. He set school and Big East records for passing yards in a season with 4,385. He tied a school record with 31 TD tosses and was picked just 7 times.
In a game against an LSU Tigers team that had one of the nation’s best defenses, the 6-3, 220 pound senior from Miami, Florida threw for a school single game record 463 yards on a record 38 completions.
Other names to keep in mind are: Tyler Bray from Tennessee, Georgia’s Aaron Murray and EJ Manuel from Florida State.
If you’d like to see some of these players in action on Saturday, here’s the rundown:
USC(Barkley) at Stanford 7:30 FOX
Va Tech(Thomas) at Pitt 12:00 ESPNU
Arkansas(Wilson) vs Alabama 3:30 CBS(Wilson was hurt last week so check his status)
Tennessee(Bray) vs Florida  6:00 ESPN
While there isn’t an Andrew Luck in the group, it is said to be a deep field but if the Bills are in the market for a quarterback next April, they should probably use their first pick on the position. In the last 5 drafts, 15 quarterbacks were selected in round one and 14 are currently starting, the lone exception being Tim Tebow. There were 7 qb’s taken in round 2 and only one(Andy Dalton) has earned a starting job to this point.

Bills CEO on snag in lease talks
There’s been a snag in talks about a new lease for the Buffalo Bills and it might mean a long term deal will not be in place by July 31, 2013 when the existing lease deal expires.

According to a story in The Buffalo News, all of the parties involved, the Bills, New York State and Erie County, have been unable to get together for negotiations since June 29.

  The delay in talks means the possibility of NFL funds being used for part of the cost through the league’s G-4 program is on hold as well.  The next league meeting is in October but the snag in talks will prohibit the Bills stadium improvements from being on the agenda.

During his weekly segment on the WGR Morning Show, Bills CEO Russ Brandon said this shouldn’t be viewed as bad news.  “As we’ve stated all along, this is a process” Brandon said. “ All negotiations are. Its not going to happen overnight. Our whole focus all along has been to get a long term lease done and that remains our focus.  Our main thing is to re-start the process, set a new calendar and continue to move forward and work on a long term agreement.”

The Bills will now have to wait until the NFL’s Spring meetings in March to present a proposal for the G-4 funding.  Even if it doesn’t jeopardize the chances of a long term deal, it does at the very least delay the renovation work on Ralph Wilson Stadium.

“We have continued to invest in our design development  and all of our construction planning” Brandon told WGR. “ All the work’s going to continue to get done on our end and at the same time, hopefully come to an agreement over the next few months and then start the work at some point in late thirteen"(2013).

When asked if the Bills would pay for part of the renovation costs, Brandon would only say “Its all part of the negotiation.” When asked if the Bills will ask for G-4 funding from the NFL as part of the lease deal, Brandon again limited his response to “Its all part of the negotiation.”

It is possible the Bills could agree to a one year interim lease and continue negotiations on a long term deal.

One other note of interest  from the conversation with the Bills CEO dealt with ticket sales.  Brandon said there are close to 9000 tickets left for the November 15th prime time game with Miami although he is hopeful it will sell out.  The three December games at Ralph Wilson Stadium are a different story as there are some 20,000 tickets remaining for each of those games.
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Bills Made Me Feel Like Charlie Brown
Now I know how Charlie Brown felt.  Actually there were two Charlie Brown feelings I had while watching the Bills destruction at the hands of the New York Jets.
When he was out trick or treating on Halloween and all of the kids looked in their bags to see what they got after each visit to a house, Brown would sadly exclaim “I got a rock.” While some NFL fans were enjoying their treats on Sunday, “I got a rock.”
The other Charlie Brown feeling is actually related to football.  You know how Lucy always holds the football for Charlie to run up and kick?  Before every kick, Charlie asks Lucy if she’s going to pull the ball away and she promises she won’t. But mean old Lucy always yanks it away as Charlie zips by, going full speed. He goes up in the air and lands hard on his back.  On opening day, the Bills once again played the role of Lucy and I was poor old Charlie Brown, taken in once again.
If I asked you to put together your nightmare scenario for this game, it would have been pretty darn close to what played out at MetLife Stadium on Sunday.
Every unit and almost every player(except for C.J. Spiller and John Potter) was awful.
Amidst all the pre-season hype and hope for 2012, that game looked a lot like what I saw over the second half of the 2011 season. 
One of the big questions going into the season was whether or not the presence of new quarterbacks coach David Lee would help make Ryan Fitzpatrick more consistent and accurate?
Mark a big, red “F” in the grade book under test number one.  Fitzpatrick was horrible.
On the first interception(which came on the Bills first possession right after an INT by Bryan Scott) Fitzpatrick seemed to be too late on his throw to Stevie Johnson who ran an out route.  That gave Darrelle Revis time to close in and leap in front of Johnson for the pick.
On the second possession, Fitzpatrick had time and an open Scott Chandler down field but missed him with a high throw.  On the very next play, he had an open David Nelson but threw the ball behind him and into the arms of Jets nickel back Kyle Wilson.
On the third possession, Fitzpatrick went for the bomb but Antonio Cromartie had a better play on the ball than Donald Jones.  The ball sailed through Cromartie’s arms.
The third interception came on the opening possession of the third quarter in a 27-7 game.  Cromartie made a nice play in coverage dropping off the outside receiver to cover Nelson coming out of the slot and Fitzpatrick threw the ball right into Cromartie’s gut. He cruised into the end zone and for all intents and purposes, that was the ball game.
Blame can certainly be spread around.  One of the reasons why fans were excited about this team was a new and improved defense which would be good enough to give Fitzpatrick and the offense some wiggle room if they were struggling. 
Fitzpatrick started the fire but then the defense poured gas on it, creating an out of control blaze.
Some old problems were still evident like a lack of pass rush, the inability to get a stop on 3rd down and wide open targets waiting for passes to come their way.
Mario Williams was “The Invisible Man”. I noticed him on just one play where he got to Mark Sanchez but after the Jets qb had gotten rid of the ball.  Sanchez did a good job of getting the ball out quickly but it didn’t matter because the Bills four man rush came nowhere close to getting him on too many occasions.
Bills defensive backs played like they received an NFL memo right before kickoff that explained a new cover free zone for all Jets receivers and no defender was allowed to be within ten yards on any passes.
Leodis McKelvin was a revelation in the pre-season but he reverted to 2011 form, getting beaten on numerous throws.  Rookie  Stephon Gilmore had a rocky debut, getting beaten badly by fellow rookie Stephen Hill on one of his two TD catches. Aaron Williams was struggling so much, he was replaced by Terrence McGee at one point.
By the way, the Jets needed help at wide receiver so they drafted Hill in the 2nd round last April. He finished with 5 catches for 89 yards and 2 TD’s.  The Bills needed help at wide receiver and moved up in the 3rd round to select T.J. Graham last April. He was inactive yesterday. SWEET!!!
I know its only one game but it means the Bills REALLY need to win the next 2 games, at home against Kansas City and at Cleveland. If they only split, Buffalo is 1-2 going into a week 4 matchup with New England. A trip to San Francisco follows that so you could be looking at a 1-4 record.
Hopefully it was just a bad day at work. If not, I’ll have another Charlie Brown moment later this season when the Bills are playing out the string and my pathetic, tiny Christmas tree tips over under the weight of one ornament.

Ready For The Season Opener
You've been waiting for this day since March right? Ever since the Bills stunned the NFL by signing Mario Williams to the largest contract for a defensive player, you probably began your own countdown clock.
 That stunning pickup, coming on the heels of Stevie Johnson re-signing and followed by the addition of Mark Anderson to go along with the drafting of perhaps the Bills shutdown cornerback(Stephon Gilmore) and starting left tackle(Cordy Glenn) made for the most exciting off season in quite some time.
Come 1:00 on Sunday we begin to see exactly how much better the 2012 Bills might be and the journey begins on the road to what Bills fans hope will be the ending of a 12 year playoff drought. The opener against the Jets brings a number of intriguing story lines along with it.
If the Bills are going to earn one of the coveted six spots in the AFC playoffs, the Jets are one of the teams they will have to beat out and its a franchise that seems to be going backwards while the Bills are believed to be on the way up.
 Buffalo has lost its last five meetings to Gang Green and in some of those have been kicked around pretty good.  To make the playoffs you need to win games obviously but winning inside your division is very important as are victories on enemy turf.  The Bills were awful in both of those areas last season, going 1-5 against AFC East foes and 1-7 on the road.
After hearing about a vanilla gameplan all through the pre-season, its time to see what strides the Bills defense has made after a 2011 season that was one of the worst by a defense in Bills history.
Will the Bills be able to generate a consistent pass rush? How about doing that when only using four guys?
Mario Williams should pay immediate dividends as he faces an undrafted free agent in Jets right tackle Austin Howard.
An improved pass rush should help the secondary as will the presence of rookie cornerback Stephon Gilmore.  I’m excited to see what the Bills first round pick can do and whether or not he can develop into an elite, shutdown corner.
Defensive Coordinator Dave Wannstedt says Gilmore’s ball skills and his hand-eye coordination when the ball is in the air are as good as any cornerback he’s ever coached.
As much time as we spend focusing on the pass rush, the run defense was the most atrocious part of the 2011 Bills.  Defensive co-captain George Wilson says the first goal of the defense this season is to stop the run.  The opener will provide a good test since Rex Ryan wants the Jets to return to their old “ground and pound” ways.  New York did exactly that against the Bills in 2009 and 2010, averaging more than 200 yards rushing over four games.
As far as the offense is concerned, we begin to see whether or not the hiring of quarterbacks coach David Lee and his work with Ryan Fitzpatrick on technique and mechanics will mean a more accurate signal caller. Fitzpatrick has completed just 49% of his passes against Ryan’s Jets teams.
Hopefully Fitzpatrick will be upright most of the day against what should turn out to be one of the top 5 defenses in the NFL.  The Jets utilize an aggressive, blitzing gameplan(including former Bill Aaron Maybin) and the last time we saw the Bills offensive line in extensive action, Fitzpatrick was taking a pounding from the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Which is one reason why Chan Gailey should lean more on the running game this season.  I think that is clearly the strength of the offense with Fred Jackson, who makes this offense go, and C.J. Spiller who finally showed signs of why the Bills thought he was worth a high first round pick. Using the spread formations has helped open up the field for the running game to be more effective.
Who knows how healthy Stevie Johnson is but his matchup with Darrelle Revis is certainly one of the keys in this game.  Perhaps for the first time in his NFL career, Revis spent the days leading up to a game answering questions about whether an opposing receiver had actually gotten into his head, based on Johnson’s relative success last season against the best corner in the NFL.
Chan Gailey has said he wants Fitzpatrick to throw a deep ball once every quarter this season.  Enter rookie T.J. Graham with his blazing speed.  One of the most memorable plays of the pre-season was Graham running under a bomb from Vince Young.  Graham seems to have come along quicker than expected in terms of his knowledge of the offense.  I’m interested to see how many times he will be out on the field and whether or not the third round pick has earned the trust of Fitzpatrick yet.
Don’t forget about Scott Chandler who was a revelation at tight end last season.  The question is what can he do for an encore?
A quick note on special teams.  The Bills kept John Potter as their kickoff specialist and this game had to be one of the reasons. The Jets Joe McKnight averaged a franchise record  31 yards a return last season so Potter can make an impact in his NFL debut by keeping McKnight from getting his hands on the ball and leaving the Jets with drive starts at the 20 yard line.

What About Ralph Wilson's Legacy?
I’ve been thinking a lot about Ralph Wilson and the future existence of the Bills in Western New York lately. The latest story to make me wonder how much longer the Bills will be around was the passing of former Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens owner Art Modell.
When the news broke about Wilson being hospitalized before the Bills pre-season game in Detroit, who didn’t think about what will happen when he’s gone? I thought about that when Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis passed away and before that, when Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt passed away.
There’s one big difference. A plan was in place for those franchises to stay in the family’s hands and for one of the owner’s offspring to take control.  Same thing in Cleveland where, upon the death of Al Lerner, his son Randy took over.  Although the Browns were recently sold, the team is staying in Cleveland.
Whenever I see a story about the lease talks I immediately wonder how strong the lease will be in the event the next owner wants to move the team.  Perhaps your first thought is about penalty clauses so we get our taxpayer investments back if the stadium isn’t used by the future Bills teams.
I wouldn’t be doing all of this if there was a succession plan in place or some kind of agreement regarding the sale of the team to local ownership which would ensure the franchise remains in place.
This takes me back to the Modell story because the day has been filled with tributes to the man, with veteran NFL reporter John Clayton from ESPN saying Modell is on the “Mt. Rushmore of owners.”
Yet all I can think of when it comes to Art Modell is he’s the guy who moved the Browns from Cleveland to Baltimore.  Right or wrong, one negative move can trump a multitude of positives in someone’s life.
Think about the Joe Paterno story. Now I’m not trying to say moving a football team is anywhere near the atrocities that took place under Paterno’s watch but it’s the idea of the impact on one’s legacy and how quickly it can be altered after years of great accomplishments.
I feel the same way about Ralph Wilson, who as opposed to Modell, is already in the Pro Football Hall of Fame for  many contributions  over his time in the NFL. 
Wilson’s legacy is TBD(to be determined).  In my opinion it will rest solely on what happens to the franchise after his demise.  No longer is it enough to say his legacy is cemented because he didn’t move the Bills during his lifetime.  His decisions during that lifetime will determine the future home of the team.
It would appear the time has never been better to strike a deal(assuming something hasn’t been completed behind the scenes and amazingly been kept a secret) with an individual or group of owners who will pledge their loyalty to WNY.
Despite our small market and the Bills lack of success on the field since the 1990’s, the value of the franchise continues to increase thanks to the “everything it touches turns to gold NFL.”
Forbes values the Bills franchise at $805 million which is 29th in the league.  We don’t know for sure but I’m going to bet the Bills are a profitable venture on a regular basis despite the recent drop in ticket sales and relatively low ticket prices.  They are likely not among the bottom third teams when it comes to generating revenue.
Regionalization has been a success. Say what you want about the Toronto deal, it brought in another important revenue stream for the franchise making it more profitable.  Despite the scores of empty seats at the Rogers Center(my apologies to our friends in Canada, I cant put the r before the e) the deal has been extended.
The Bills completed an extension of their training camp deal with St. John Fisher because Rochester has been a big boost in sales of tickets, club seats and the all important luxury boxes.
It appears progress is being made on the lease deal with Erie County and New York State and there could be some $225 million going into renovations at Ralph Wilson Stadium to extend the life of the facility another 15 years or longer.
We know Jim Kelly has publicly stated that he has a “money guy” who can buy the Bills and the Hall of Fame QB would gladly talk to the owner about buying the team but Wilson wants no part of it.
Of the potential stumbling blocks to keeping the Bills in WNY, I have been told finding new owners with the financial wherewithal to make it work is NOT a problem.
Ralph Wilson brought the National Football League to Buffalo and has indeed kept it here. Of course it isn’t like he received nothing for his commitment.  He’s been very loyal to the NFL, at times making decisions that were best for the league and not necessarily best for his own interests. Back in the 1960’s he personally helped keep the fledgling American Football League afloat and helped with its eventual merger into the NFL.
Its an impressive resume and as stated earlier, it led to his enshrinement in the Hall of Fame.  By the way, if Modell was so beloved, how come he was never elected into the Hall of Fame? Because his legacy was forever changed when he moved the Browns from Cleveland to Baltimore.  The Bills apparently will remain in Buffalo as long as Ralph Wilson is alive but his legacy will rise or fall based on what happens to the franchise when the second owner in Bills history takes over.

Good Things To Come For Bulls?
As I was writing the UB Bulls season preview last week, I was thinking they’d be hard pressed to get to .500 this season and 6 wins shouldn’t be too much to ask for in Jeff Quinn’s 3rd season as Head Coach.
After watching the Bulls season opening loss at 6th ranked Georgia, I feel much better about the prospects for the 2012 season and the chances UB can compete for the Mid American Conference East division.
An inexperienced quarterback, a defense that needs to make significant strides and a hard schedule(both non conference and conference) were all factors I took into consideration. 
Anticipating a 1-3 non conference record(losses to Georgia, Connecticut and Pittsburgh to go along with a win over FCS member Morgan State), that would mean the Bulls would have to go 5-3 in MAC play to reach the break even point.  A tall order since they only won 2 league games last season and none away from UB Stadium. Of course, Pittsburgh lost at home to Youngstown State(FCS) over the weekend so maybe that game with the Panthers is now winnable.
I figured they could lose 3 league games just in October when they travel to defending East champ Ohio(which beat Penn State on Saturday) and to defending West champ Northern Illinois(who lost in the waning moments of their game with Iowa). UB also hosts Toledo which has one of the most explosive offenses in the country.
The way Buffalo played in the first half at Georgia reminded of me how Turner Gill’s club hung with then 2nd ranked Auburn for 2 ½ quarters a few years ago.
I was most impressed with the play of junior quarterback Alex Zordich.  The Bulls have not received steady play at that position since Drew Willy graduated but Zordich surely looked the part keeping the Bulls within a touchdown and 2 point conversion of the heavily favored Bulldogs at halftime.
With only 4 starts to his credit(back in his freshman year of 2010), Zordich showed surprising poise, command of the offense, football smarts and leadership. He was accurate(9-14 for 96 yards and a touchdown) and a two way threat(6 carries for 53 yards).  UB actually outgained Georgia and its Heisman trophy candidate at quarterback, Aaron Murray, in that first half and held the ball for nearly 19 minutes.
Buffalo put together a pair of very impressive touchdown drives. The first was an 80 yard march downfield right after the Bulldogs put up a 7 on the scoreboard on their very first possession.  There were some Branden Oliver runs but the highlight of the drive was a pinpoint TD pass from Zordich to Alex Neutz made while the QB was retreating from the pass rush.
The 2nd TD drive totaled an even more impressive 94 yards with the All MAC running back Oliver ripping off gains for 36 and 17 yards against what should be one of the SEC’s better defenses although the Dawgs were missing 5 players from that unit due to suspensions or injuries. Zordich again displayed accuracy, completing some passes into very tight spots.
The 2nd half was a different story as the offense went cold which left the defense on the field way too much and Georgia put the game away.
It wasn’t all bright spots for the Bulls as ineffective special teams play(a major problem last season) reared its ugly head in the opener.  Kicker Patrick Clarke missed an extra point.  A breakdown in protection led to a blocked punt off the foot of Tyler Grassman.
Buffalo gave up a 100 yard kick return for a touchdown right after they scored to make it 7-6 and the Bulls gave up a 29 yard punt return too.  But UB may have found an answer in their punt return game which was perhaps the least effective unit last season.  Freshman Cordero Dixon had a 31 yard return that set up a field goal just before halftime to pull UB within 8 points.
The Bulls probably won’t face as talented a quarterback, the speed at skill positions or the size on the lines they faced in Athens, Georgia on Saturday for the rest of the season.  They certainly won’t play in an atmosphere as intimidating for the visitor. 
The Bulls home opener is Saturday at 6pm against Morgan State.

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