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Bills Provide Distraction From Football

Filed under: Buffalo Bills, Sports
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Photo by Tim Saracki

Photo by Tim Saracki

Normally, We Want Marangi is not the sort of sporadically published, narrowly read sports blog to go around saying, “I told you so.”

But.

The Buffalo Bills capped their best week in a couple of decades by gutting the Miami Dolphins, with the 29-10 final masking the true level of competitiveness. In the process, they produced one of the few causes for good feelings during one of the ugliest weeks in National Football League history.

Between the charges of off-field violence that supplanted ISIS beheadings as the primary source of social-media outrage and the latest grim statistics on the long-term impact of in-game collisions, the NFL has made itself pretty easy to hate lately.

“The Shield,” as the league likes to be known (and giving yourself a nickname is generally a sign of some pretty deep-seeded issues), spent the spring and summer first botching its handling of the assault charges against former Baltimore running back Ray Rice, while ignoring a couple equally revolting, though video-free, cases against Carolina’s Greg Hardy and Ray McDonald of San Francisco, then attempting to obfuscate its way out of the self-created mess.

Roger Goodell’s descent from sanctimonious crusader to bumbling ass-coverer was so complete and so swift, he became the first NFL commissioner to face widespread public and media demand for his dismissal. On a positive note, the Ginger Hammer’s arrogant ineptitude did give the independent aviation industry a boost, with small prop planes tugging “Goodell Must Go” banners over several sold-out stadiums on Sunday.

Ralph Wilson Stadium was not one of them. Which was fitting, since the newly remodeled, yet still-somehow-inadequate-according-to-Goodell structure was one of the few spots in the sport where the firestorm — given fresh fuel by the indictment on Friday of the game’s top running back, Adrian Peterson of Minnesota, on child-abuse charges — could be forgotten. At least for a few hours.

Over a span of three-and-a-half hours on Sunday, the Bills demonstrated why the sport, for all its increasingly public flaws, inspires such unnatural behavior as face-painting, boycotts of faded, otherwise-irrelevant pop stars and radio-talk-show-calling.

First, the Bills honored their late owner and stadium namesake with an emotional pre-game ceremony featuring their greatest quarterback, who was making his first large-scale public appearance since being declared cancer-free by his doctors. The ceremony inspired thunderous ovations from a crowd already giddy from last week’s news that the home team is not going anywhere for the foreseeable future.

Then, the Bills kept it loud by overwhelming the unnerved Miami Dolphins in every imaginable phase of the game.

In the first half, Buffalo’s defense delivered its most dominant performance since shutting out New England in the 2003 season opener, sacking Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill three times and dumping his receivers in the backfield twice and yielding just 13 passing yards before intermission.

Amidst the defensive carnage, free-agent pickup Anthony Dixon (who will heretofore be referred to in this space by his nickname, “Boobie”) blocked a punt to set up a Dan Carpenter field goal on the way to a 9-0 Buffalo lead after two quarters.

On their first third-quarter possession, the Dolphins kept Tannehill on his feet long enough to move into position for a field goal of its own, introducing the day’s first element of anxiety. That feeling lasted for as long as it took C.J. Spiller to sprint past the first line of Miami’s kickoff coverage team and down the sideline for a 102-yard touchdown and all the points Buffalo would need.

Miami did tense things up a bit with its subsequent touchdown drive, at least until Spiller shot through the left side of the line for a 47-yard run. Three plays later, E.J. Manuel — whose failure to put the Buffalo offense in the end zone had been the lone worrisome aspect of the first three quarters — gave Sammy Watkins a chance to demonstrate why the Bills gave up two first-round picks to get him with twisting, pylon-whacking leap into the end zone.

Up by two touchdowns, Buffalo’s defense resumed chasing Tannehill around the field. In the fourth quarter, Tannehill got sacked again, stuffed on a ill-designed fourth-down keeper and finally intercepted in the final seconds, while failing to complete any pass long enough to cause much concern.

The good feelings around here should last until at least Sunday, when San Diego arrives in town fresh off a dominant (or, as Bill Cowher said on the CBS halftime show about the Bills’ performance, ‘domilant’) win over the defending Super Bowl champion Seahawks. Even as more ugliness oozes out elsewhere, underscoring the hypocrisy of a corporate culture that bans pot smokers for months, or longer, while strenuously ignoring, or making excuses for, alleged men who beat women and children.

A few other items worth briefly noting:

— That Watkins kid is pretty good. Eight catches, 117 yards and one of the most athletic touchdown dives you will see, all while visibly hampered by the rib injury sustained, then aggravated, during the exhibition season. Watkins has already become the focal point of Buffalo’s passing game, with Manuel targeting him a team-high 11 times on 26 throws.

The Bills paid a steep price for Watkins, but WWM can not recall a game in which any two Buffalo first-round picks played as decisive a role.

— Hopefully, a 2-0 start means the networks will send less excruciating announcing teams to cover the next few games.

Tom McCarthy’s play-by-play was riddled with misidentified players (like confusing defensive tackles Kyle Williams and Stefan Charles, who really could not look less alike), incorrect down-and-distance announcements and wildly inaccurate ball spots — in one case misplacing the line of scrimmage by 34 yards.

Then there was analyst Adam Archuleta. whose analysis was limited to saying very obvious things with a tone that suggested an epiphany. When Miami could not beat the play clock early in the second quarter, Archuleta declared, “The crowd noise may have had something to do with that,” sounding very much as if the thought had never occurred to him, or anyone else, before.

The din probably had something to do with the Dolphins’ breakdowns on the offensive line and the failure by the punt team to prevent Dixon from a free shot at their punter, too, but noting such subtleties is probably a little much to ask from CBS’ last-string broadcast pairing.

— Archuleta also failed to comment on the dumbest call of the game, which is sort of what you would want from the supposed expert in the booth: Miami’s decision to run a read-zone option on fourth-and-1 early in the fourth quarter. A slow-developing run play against a defense shooting through every gap on the line is a lousy choice even if your quarterback is Colin Kaepernick or Johnny Football (assuming the Browns ever give him more than one snap a game). Tannehill may has well have taken a knee.

— Mary Wilson, Ralph’s widow, must have been thrilled with the camera lingering on her while she ate her halftime meal. Twice. Nobody looks good while they eat.

— If your biggest concern is a quarterback who, in his 11th and 12th professional starts, completed two-thirds of his passes, had a hand in three touchdowns and turned the ball over once, while outplaying counterparts in their eighth and third full seasons as starters, well, then, your football team is in pretty good shape.