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Bills-Dolphins Flashback: From Kelly-Marino To Losman-Rosenfels, And Beyond

Filed under: Buffalo Bills, Sports

 

 

Since last week’s pre-game attempt at abject homerism went south pretty quickly, a different approach seems in order with Buffalo visiting Miami late this afternoon.

 
As a kid, the Dolphins were to the Bills what the Patriots are today — the omnipotent, evil tormentors of the valiant good guys, who quite possibly used nefarious means to maintain their dominance.
 
No one ever accused Miami overlord Don Shula of blatant Belichick-esque cheating, but his presence on the National Football League’s Competition Committee (and resulting presumptive control over every official’s call that went against the Bills) was a popular talking point through much of the Dolphins’ 20-game winning streak — a whole decade of Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris running wild, while Bob Griese completed infuriatingly dinky play-action passes and Joe Ferguson threw interceptions.
 
I witnessed that run nearly end at 18. A second-half monsoon in Orchard Park helped keep the opening game of 1979 close, and a botched snap on a Miami punt in the final minutes put Buffalo in range for a seemingly point-blank field goal.
 
Tom Dempsey, who had held the record for the longest field goal ever at 63 yards for nearly a decade, wasn’t so good at the short ones. I can still see his kick floating, floating, floating, drifting just outside of the goalpost directly in front of us, at the tunnel end of Rich Stadium.
 
The original Wide Right.
 
Joe Ferguson, Joe Cribbs and The Bermuda Triangle finally broke Miami’s spell a year later, and the teams reversed roles later in the ’80s, after Marv Levy Jim Kelly arrived and started getting the better of Shula and Dan Marino in just about every game that mattered, and most that didn’t.
 
Not only did Buffalo bear primary responsibility for keeping the Hall-of-Fame glove pimp from making it to a second Super Bowl, the Bills ended Shula’s coaching career with a pair of beat-downs, the second in the playoffs, in Orchard Park in 1995.
 
The last truly epic Bills-Dolphins meeting came a few years later in a first-round playoff game, when Doug Flutie held the ball too long after leading Buffalo within 5 yards of forcing overtime and got splattered by Trace Armstrong, fumbling away what was shaping up as the most magical moment of his comeback 1998 season.
 
Since then, both franchises have cycled through coaches and quarterbacks while aspiring to league-wide relevancy. Instead of Shula and Marino v. Levy and Kelly, we’ve been treated to such epic pairings as Cam Cameron and Cleo Lemon v. Dick Jauron and Trent Edwards.
 
In the interim, as the New England Patriots established unprecedented supremacy in the AFC East, Miami has reached the postseason four times — the next three years, and 2008, which, not coincidentally, Tom Brady missed with a knee injury. Buffalo, of course, has been back to the playoffs just once, the year following Flutie’s fumble.
 
No game better embodies what the Buffalo-Miami rivalry has become than their meeting in South Florida 10 years ago. The Bills were staggering through the second and final season of the Mike Mularkey era, while the Dolphins were beginning to get the idea that Nick Saban was probably much better suited to the college game.
 
The erstwhile rivals each came in at 4-7. J.P. Losman had recently reclaimed his lost starting job from Kelly Holcomb, and opened the game as if he had finally figured out this quarterback thing, throwing three touchdown passes to Lee Evans, all in the first quarter.
 
Things didn’t go so well from there.
 
In the interest of providing a little perspective following last week’s rather, well, deflating 40-32 loss to New England, We Want Marangi goes into the archives for the following account of that December 2005 game in Miami.
 
With both teams coming in at 1-1, today could be a turning point for one, a launching pad out of mediocrity and toward that elusive postseason. Or it could be more of the same.
 
No matter how Tyrod Taylor and Rex Ryan perform later today in their first road game as the distant successors to Losman and Mularkey, things can’t get more soul-crushing than getting beaten by Sage Rosenfels.
 
Probably.
 
 
BILLSTUFF: DONAHOE’S BILLS COLLAPSE IN MIAMI
 
by David Staba
 
According to published reports and common sense, Tom Donahoe’s job security was ebbing weekly even before Buffalo’s annual trip to South Florida.
 
This isn’t going to help.
 
The Bills Donahoe built disintegrated in spectacular fashion Sunday, matching the biggest come-from-ahead loss in franchise history with a true team effort — everybody stunk equally over the final 20 minutes of game time, as Buffalo violently backslid from the verge of a blowout to the depths of humiliation.
 
There’s so much blame to go around, you hardly know where to start.
 
You can point to the moment that Miami quarterback Gus Frerotte left the game after becoming concussed on the safety-producing sack by London Fletcher that gave Buffalo a 23-3 lead with a little more than 10 minutes left in the third quarter, since that brought Sage Rosenfels — the career scrub whom the Bills promptly turned into an All-Pro, if only for a few moments — into the game.
 
Rosenfels’ epiphany wouldn’t have mattered much, though, if the Bills hadn’t done so much enabling immediately thereafter.
 
Buffalo took the free kick following the safety and drove to Miami’s 3-yard line. It wasn’t hard to figure what was coming next. Pound Willis McGahee into the sagging Dolphins defense until he traversed those 9 feet, and take a 30-3 lead.
 
But no. This is Mike Mularkey’s offense, devised by the highest-paid coach in team history to trick and baffle, shock and amaze.
 
It sort of worked. A collective gasp rose from the assemblage at Culbert’s Hotel on Buffalo Avenue in the LaSalle neighborhood of Niagara Falls as J.P. Losman, who had thrown three touchdown passes to Lee Evans in the first quarter and not much since, drifted back from the line. When he threw the riskiest pass possible, with the possible exception of turning his back to the line and blindly lobbing it over his shoulder, you knew somebody wearing the wrong colors would catch it.
 
Miami cornerback Sam Madison obliged and the game started slipping away. No one wearing Bills colors had any idea how to stop it.
 
Defensive coordinator Jerry Gray couldn’t find a way to get his pass rush anywhere near Rosenfels, even though Miami threw on 37 of the 42 plays after he entered the game. 
 
Despite knowing exactly what was coming, Gray’s defense couldn’t do anything about it. Rosenfels completed 22 of those throws and wasn’t sacked once.
 
Nate Clements saw his 2006 salary, whoever winds up paying it, take another serious hit after watching Chris Chambers deliver the most prolific performance ever by a Miami receiver — 15 catches for 238 yards and the winning touchdown with six seconds left. 
 
Clements helped set up the game-winner by letting Chambers get behind him and turn Rosenfels’ third-and-10 flutterball into a 57-yard gain that resurrected the Dolphins yet again.
 
Of course, you can’t blame “The Playmaker” for the kill shot, since the free-agent-to-be was on the other side of the field, leaving the immortal Jabari Greer in single coverage on a red-hot receiver. The Dolphins scrambled to the line to get the play off and caught the Bills out of position.
 
It would have been nice if Buffalo still had a timeout to make sure the defense was ready for the most important play of the game, but all three had long since been frittered away.
 
The Dolphins wouldn’t have been in position to even think about a last-second win had Buffalo been able to run out the clock like most grown-up football teams. Again, though, Mularkey’s love of quaint play-calling won out.
 
Ahead 21-0 in the second quarter, Mularkey put rookie wide receiver Roscoe Parrish in the shotgun and had him flutter a screen pass that fooled no one to Lee Evans. Fortunately, it didn’t get intercepted, but that’s an awfully long way to go to gain 3 yards.
 
The Bills moved to within 15 yards of a 28-0 lead, but cuteness again interfered. After a first-down incompletion, Losman got sacked and fumbled on second.
 
“(Expletive deleted) it, we could have put them away,” agonized Jim Dokey, who spent the afternoon pacing through the bar at Kelly’s Korner, a block from Culbert’s, where the BillStuff coverage team took in the first three quarters.
 
Dokey’s worrying seemed excessive, to say the least. Not only did Buffalo lead by three touchdowns, the Dolphins looked like they would have rather been just about any place but on a football field for most of the day.
 
The Miami defense got torched for those three first-quarter Losman-to-Evans touchdowns. The offensive line got flagged for six false starts, including four in the second quarter and three on consecutive plays. Fullback Darian Barnes sort of fell to the side on one running play, rather than block Buffalo linebacker Angelo Crowell, allowing tailback Ronnie Brown to get creamed.
 
“I thought the Bills would run for the bus,” said one impressed-for-the-moment Kelly’s Korner patron after Evans’ third score.
 
“I guess the Dolphins were already on it,” came a response.
 
By halftime, serious discussion had begun among the faithful about beating New England next week and the potentially intense stretch run that would ensue.
 
From the looks of it, Buffalo fans weren’t the only ones prematurely gloating and looking ahead. The defensive collapse that ensued was galling enough. The offensive hibernation for the final three quarters was beyond comprehension.
 
When Mularkey wasn’t getting cute by calling first-down passes, it looked like he was calling the same running play over and over — McGahee up the middle, where the entire Miami defense appeared to have amassed. The offensive line couldn’t make a dent and Mularkey and his assistants again proved incapable of even the slightest adjustment.
 
It all comes back to Donahoe. Much was made of the responsibility given him by Ralph Wilson when he came to town in 2001 and was named not only general manager, but team president.
 
That represented a degree of power the owner had never afforded any other football executive. Not Lou Saban, not Chuck Knox, not Bill Polian and not John Butler — all men with records of success that Donahoe can only envy.
 
And look what he did with it.
 
BILLS MVP: Hey, how about that Lee Evans? Too bad nobody’s going to remember those three touchdowns because of what came after.
 
THE OTHER GUYS’ MVP: Look at everything Rosenfels had to overcome. Being named “Sage,” for starters.
 
KARMA REPORT: BillStuff regrets to admit that, if the superstitions to which the coverage team’s members adhered as kids mean anything, we may have been somewhat responsible for this one.
 
After an announcer mentioned that a sore thumb might have been hampering Frerotte’s throws in the first half, I cracked, “Well, you know what they say. Gus Frerotte at 80 percent is still better than Sage Rosenfels, ever.”
 
Not content with having thusly jinxed things, even after Frerotte’s concussion forced Sage into the game, we left Kelly’s Korner at the end of the third quarter for Culbert’s, almost daring the gods to smite the hometown team.
 
And smite they did.
 
WING REPORT: Fortunately, we didn’t leave until after consuming a variety of mediums, honey-garlics and “Jay’s Hot-Hot-Hots.”
 
The first two were excellent, well-cooked and flavorful, and well-deserving of a collective A-minus. The third earned the first pure A of the year from Tim, our senior wing analyst and a notoriously stingy grader.
 
“Spicy, without being overpowering,” Tim ruled. “A flavor you can savor.”
 
BS FAN OF THE WEEK: Jim Dokey has become something of an institution at Kelly’s since returning from Texas, particularly on game days. Thoroughly clad in Bills gear, he delivered high-fives from one end of the bar to the other after each Buffalo score and big defensive play, delivering a running commentary that was by turns joyous and agonizing.
 
“We tried to get rid of him, but it didn’t work,” said Joe, the bartender.
 
If there was an upside to our potentially momentum-shifting departure, it was that we weren’t around when Chambers caught that last pass.
 
 
(NOTE: Join us for more great memories and semi-informed commentary during today’s renewal of the Bills-Dolphins rivalry on the Twitter @DavidStaba.)

Rex, Tyrod, Shady Make It A Whole New Ballgame

Filed under: Buffalo Bills, Sports

Admit it. You have no idea what to expect from the Buffalo Bills when they open the 2015 season  (and the Rex Ryan Era) against Indianapolis this afternoon, and neither do I.

Tyrod Taylor could be a revelation at quarterback, throwing over and running through a traditionally shaky Colts defense. Or he could be overwhelmed by facing a defense that’s really trying, and has spent time planning to counter his strengths and attack his weaknesses, for the first time as a professional.
 
LeSean McCoy could be recovered from the hamstring injury that sidelined him most of the summer and start proving himself well worth what he cost the Bills (Kiko Alonso and a massive contract), looking like the NFL-leading runner he was two years ago. Or he could spend the afternoon demonstrating that last year’s drop off of 1.4 yards per carry for the Eagles was not an accident, and that Buffalo got completely fleeced in the deal. Or he could tweak that hammy and limp off after a carry or two.
 
Sammy Watkins was at least the third-best rookie receiver last year, and that was withlargely dismal quarterbacks throwing the ball in his general direction. If the Taylor thing works out, he could be unstoppable. If not, he could be running around all day waving a hand and yelling, “Hey! I’m open!”
 
Buffalo’s new starting guards, rookie John Miller and often-less-than-ideal-teammate Richie Incognito, could lead a revitalized offensive line that blasts holes in the Colts’ defense for McCoy, while providing Taylor with an ample comfort zone. Or the unit could produce a mixture of whiffs and flags that causes suspended offensive line coach Aaron Kromer to pace around his living room until he has to go looking for a kid to punch.

You would think the one lock would be the debut of the full package of Ryan’s acclaimed defensive schemes as executed by one of the league’s most talented units. But doing anything for the first time can get a little sloppy, especially with a rookie starting at cornerback, a Pro Bowl tackle sitting out a one-game suspension and the AFC’s best young quarterback ready to spot and exploit any breakdowns. So Andrew Luck could look likePeyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers did against Buffalo last season, or he could look like he did against just about everyone.

Even Dan Carpenter, Buffalo’s most reliable scoring threat over the last couple years, could be a missed field goal away from unemployment after an uncharacteristically shaky summer.

Starting a season with a new coach, new quarterback and new primary running back all at the same time since John Rauch, James Harris and O.J. Simpson in 1969 makes you think that, whatever else happens at Ralph Wilson Stadium this afternoon, they couldn’t look like the same old Bills that have been the only NFL team to somehow keep themselves out of the playoffs for the last decade and a half.

But as you know if you’ve watched this team for any length of time, that could happen, too.


‘The Precision Jack-Hammer Attack:’ A Hunter S. Thompson Super Bowl Reader

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(Note: The following was originally published on Super Bowl Sunday of 2013 over at We Want Marangi, before Baltimore edged San Francisco, 34-31 in the 47th edition of The Big Game. Two years later, the NFL is more justly criticized — and popular — than ever. Capping a year dominated by headlines involving domestic violence, traumatic brain injuries and the vagaries of air pressure, tonight’s contest between New England and Seattle figures to be the most-watched television event in history.)

Hunter S. Thompson wrote about a lot of things — bikers, bluegrass, police corruption, high-powered weaponry and horse racing, to name a few.

Mostly, and most successfully, though, he wrote about politics and football. At his best, both at the same time.

In particular, presidential elections and Super Bowls were his twin inspirations, regularly scheduled events that embodied what he hated and loved about America and Americans. Even his suicide note was entitled “Football Season is Over.”

I’m not going to try to write about his writing here, because doing so would be an exercise in ego and pointlessness, other than to introduce a few of my favorite passages you can enjoy while, or instead of, sitting through the four-hour pre-game show leading up to the epic struggle between the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers. It’s got to beat getting force-fed yet another fond farewell to Ray Lewis and further exploration of the brotherly love shared by the Harbaughs.

As a recovering sportswriter, I’ve never read an analysis that captures the profession’s spirit, or lack thereof, as this bit from Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72, a collection of Thompson’s Rolling Stone articles on Richard M. Nixon’s final run for office:

There is a dangerous kind of simple-minded Power/Precision worship at the root of the massive fascination with pro football in this country, and sportswriters are mainly responsible for it. With a few rare exceptions like Bob Lypstye of The New York Times and Tom Quinn of the (now-defunct) Washington Daily News, sportswriters are a kind of rude and brainless subculture of fascist drunks whose only real function is to publicize & sell whatever the sports editor sends them out to cover. . .

Which is a nice way to make a living, because it keeps a man busy and requires no thought at all. The two keys to success as a sportswriter are: (1) A blind willingness to believe anything you’re told by the coaches, flacks, hustlers, and other “official spokesmen” for the team-owners who provide the free booze. . . and: (2) A Roget’s Thesaurus, in order to avoid using the same verbs and adjectives twice in the same paragraph.

Even a sports editor, for instance, might notice something wrong with a lead that said: “The precision-jackhammer attack of the Miami Dolphins stomped the balls off the Washington Redskins today by stomping and hammering with one precise jackthrust after another up the middle, mixed with pinpoint precision passes into the flat and numerous hammer-jack stomps around both ends. . .”

Right. And there was the genius of Grantland Rice. He carried a pocket thesaurus, so that “The thundering hoofbeats of the Four Horsemen” never echoed more than once in the same paragraph, and the “Granite-grey sky” in his lead was a “cold dark dusk” in the last lonely line of his heart-rending, nerve-ripping stories. . .

There was a time, about ten years ago, when I could write like Grantland Rice. Not necessarily because I believed all that sporty bullshit, but because sportswriting was the only thing I could do that anybody was willing to pay for.

A few paragraphs earlier, Thompson served up a brutal parody of every hack who ever filed a game story (present company included):

They came together on a hot afternoon in Los Angeles, howling and clawing at each other like wild beasts in heat. Under a brown California sky, the fierceness of their struggle brought tears to the eyes of 90,000 God-fearing fans.

They were twenty-two men who were somehow more than men.

They were giants, idols, titans. . .

Behemoths.

They stood for everything Good and True and Right in the American Spirit.

Because they had guts.

And they yearned for the Ultimate Glory, the Great Prize, the Final Fruits of a long and vicious campaign.

Victory in the Super Bowl: $15,000 each.

They were hungry for it. They were thirsty. For twenty long weeks, from August through December, they had struggled to reach this Pinnacle. . . and when dawn lit the beaches of Southern California on that fateful Sunday morning in January, they were ready.

To seize the Final Fruit.

They could almost taste it. The smell was stronger than a ton of rotten mangoes.

Their nerves burned like open sores on a dog’s neck. White knuckles. Wild eyes. Strange fluid welled up in their throats, with a taste far sharper than bile.

Behemoths.

Those who went early said the pre-game tension was almost unbearable. By noon, many fans were weeping openly, for no apparent reason. Others wrung their hands or gnawed on the necks of pop bottles, trying to stay calm. Many fist-fights were reported in the public urinals. Nervous ushers roamed up and down the aisles, confiscating alcoholic beverages and occasionally grappling with drunkards. Gangs of Seconal-crazed teenagers prowled through the parking lot outside the stadium, beating the mortal shit out of luckless stragglers. . .

A year later, Thompson referred back to the ‘The precision-jackhamer attack of the Miami Dolphins …’ lede in a lengthy Rolling Stone piece entitled “Fear And Loathing At The Super Bowl: No Rest For The Wretched.” Gonzo Journalism at its finest, Thompson blends his thoughts on Watergate, labor relations and fortune-telling with a mini-profile of Oakland Raiders strongman Al Davis, trademark accounts of substance abuse and a pre-dawn sermon based on Revelations 20:15 from the 20th-floor balcony of his hotel.

As in the best of Thompson’s work, he cuts the psychedelia and free-form association with some remarkably precise description of the physical and psychic impact of Miami wide receiver Paul Warfield:

This was what happened in Houston with the Dolphins’ Paul Warfield, widely regarded as “the most dangerous pass receiver in pro football.” Warfield is a game-breaker, a man who commands double-coverage at all times because of his antelope running style, twin magnets for hands, and a weird kind of adrenaline instinct that feeds on tension and high pressure. There is no more beautiful sight in football than watching Paul Warfield float out of the backfield on a sort of angle-streak pattern right into the heart of a “perfect” zone defense and take a softly thrown pass on his hip, without even seeming to notice the arrival of the ball, and then float another 60 yards into the end zone, with none of the frustrated defensive backs ever touching him.

There is an eerie kind of certainty about Warfield’s style that is far more demoralizing than just another six points on the Scoreboard. About half the time he looks bored and lazy — but even the best pass defenders in the league know, in some nervous corner of their hearts, that when the deal goes down Warfield is capable of streaking right past them like they didn’t exist. . .

Unless he’s hurt; playing with some kind of injury that might or might not be serious enough to either slow him down or gimp the fiendish concentration that makes him so dangerous. . . and this was the possibility that Dolphin coach Don Shula raised on Wednesday when he announced that Warfield had pulled a leg muscle in practice that afternoon and might not play on Sunday.

This news caused instant action in gambling circles. Even big-time bookies, whose underground information on these things is usually as good as Pete Rozelle’s, took Shula’s announcement seriously enough to cut the spread down from seven to six– a decision worth many millions of betting dollars if the game turned out to be close.

Even the rumor of an injury to Warfield was worth one point (and even two, with some bookies I was never able to locate). . . and if Shula had announced on Saturday that Paul was definitely not going to play, the spread would probably have dropped to four, or even three. . . Because the guaranteed absence of Warfield would have taken a great psychological load off the minds of Minnesota’s defensive backs.

Without the ever-present likelihood of a game-breaking “bomb” at any moment, they could focus down much tighter on stopping Miami’s brutal running game — which eventually destroyed them, just as it had destroyed Oakland’s nut-cutting defense two weeks earlier, and one of the main reasons why the Vikings failed to stop the Dolphins on the ground was the constant presence of Paul Warfield in his customary wide-receiver’s spot.

He played almost the whole game, never showing any sign of injury; and although he caught only one pass, he neutralized two Minnesota defensive backs on every play. . . and two extra tacklers on the line of scrimmage might have made a hell of a difference in that embarrassingly decisive first quarter when Miami twice drove what might as well have been the whole length of the field to score 14 quick points and crack the Vikings’ confidence just as harshly as they had cracked the Redskins out in Los Angeles a year earlier.

The above represents Thompson at the peak of his powers, the writer who produced Hells Angels, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and “The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent And Depraved.” Over the three decades before his suicide (for which I remain pissed at him), his genius unraveled, whether due to fame, wealth, drugs, the internal victory of cynicism over hope for his country, or a swirl of all four.

But the Super Bowl remained his personal Holy Day, and he could still reach back and find the groove when writing about it.


Whoops. Strike that. Leeches are not rodents. They are blood-sucking members of the Hirudinea family, a sub-species of the hermaphroditic sucker-worm that is frequently applied to headache-victims and other human wounds. Leeches used in human treatment range in size from three inches to 13 inches when fully bloated. They have two ugly mouths, one on each end, filled with tiny, razor-sharp teeth by which they attach themselves firmly to the flesh, prior to sucking. The leech has many eyes.


The Oakland Raiders are the only team in football that still routinely uses leeches for treatment of serious injuries. It is an old-timey medicine, deriving no doubt from the team’s Bay Area roots, with its powerful Italian community and its many neighborhood grocery stores and exotic foreign delicacies, along with sausage, fresh fish and leeches … I have many fond memories of hanging out in North Beach at elegant Italian restaurants with Raiders players in the good old days of yesteryear, when the silver-and-black dynasty was just getting started, long before they turned into the gigantic, high-powered winning machine that they are today.


Things were different in those years, but they were never dull. Every game was a terrifying adventure, win or lose, and the Raiders of the ’70s usually won — except in Pittsburgh, where cruel things happened and many dreams died horribly. You could see the early beginnings of what would evolve into the massive Raider Nation, which is beyond doubt the sleaziest and rudest and most sinister mob of thugs and whackos ever assembled in such numbers under a single “roof,” so to speak, anywhere in the English-speaking world. No doubt there are other profoundly disagreeable cults that meet from time to time in most of the 50 states …


But so what? There is nothing more to say. I have obviously made my decision about the Raiders. They are simply a better football team than the Buccaneers, and they will win. A realistic line for this game would be 10 or 11, but right now it is hovering around 5 or 6.

For all Thompson’s gifts, football prognostication was not one of them. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers stomped the balls off the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII, 48-21.

(NOTE: If, for some reason, you do not already own The Great Shark Hunt, an anthology of the first and best two decades of Thompson’s writing career which includes the full articles from which the first two passages above are lifted, you can do so here. For only $11.87, for God’s sake. Or, if you are a lazy and/or cheap bastard, you can get the whole thing in .pdf form here.)


Further Review Deflates Patriots Hate

Filed under: Sports

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Maybe you have been wondering why, if the air pressure inside a football is such a potentially game-changing variable, the National Football League doesn’t keep the oblate spheroids in a locked container under heavily armed guard until kickoff at each game and mandate quality control after each change in possession.


Well, turns out it’s because — contrary to widespread assumptions about less-inflated footballs being easier to grip, throw and catch, thereby allowing the dastardly New England Patriots to overcome otherwise superior opponents and cheat their way to unprecedented dominance for lo these past 14 years — it really doesn’t matter.


On Thursday, Popular Science published the results of computer simulations of the impact of removing two pounds per square inch of pressure on how a football is thrown, travels through the air and is caught and found almost none.

When gripped to throw, the simulations revealed a football inflated to 10.5 psi, as were the ones used by New England in the first half of its 45-7 win over Indianapolis in the AFC title game, “caves in by an extra 0.02 inches, or about a millimeter,” said Barry Christiansen, director of marketing for ANSYS, the company that ran the simulations (and a self-described fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers).

“There’s a lot of discussion going around about what kind of advantage does it give? Based on this simulation, it really doesn’t give the Patriots much of an advantage. The gripping ability of the quarterback is going to be roughly the same.”

As for the flight of the ball after release?

The ANSYS simulations investigated how the 2 psi difference in air pressure might have changed how the Patriots’ footballs would have flown. They found that the 10.5 and 12.5 psi balls had the same shape, air flow, and aerodynamics. So either way, the onus is on the quarterback to make sure the ball flies right.

But, but, what about the effect on the catchability of a barely less-firm football? Surely, that must explain why Rob Gronkowski is so much better than your team’s receivers!

In a word: No. Modeling how a receiver would catch the ball again showed a deformation of just 0.02 inches again—not enough to make a difference, according to Christiansen.

As for the widely shared and Tweeted “study” that shows, through shoddy methodology and intentionally misleading graphing, that the Patriots have fumbled with freakish infrequency over the past few years (which implies yet another advantage to softening the football), well, it turns out that’s pretty much a load, as well.

Thankfully, we live in a country where we possess the inalienable right to believe only in science that reinforces our previously held beliefs, and put more weight in theories that do the same — especially those spoken aloud on television or thumbed out on Twitter and/or Facebook — than in evidence that disproves those same theories.

So feel free to continue hating Tom Brady because he’s a lousy cheater and NOT because he’s been better for longer than any quarterback in NFL history, and certainly not because he makes more money each Sunday than you and I will combined in the next five years, or because his wife is hotter than everyone’s but mine.

The same goes for Bill Belichick. Go on thinking his teams haven’t made the playoffs 12 times in the last 14 years or reached six Super Bowls over the same span because he works the draft, salary cap and even New England’s practice squad better than any of his peers and deftly adjusts his schematic approach from game to game and within each contest. It’s because he’s Lex Luthor in a hoodie.

Either way, you can tune in Sunday night and watch the Patriots beat the Seahawks 35-26. Or 28-22. Or 45-42. (Note: There is no logical basis for the exactitude of any of these predictions, other than their correlation with the numbers I have in three separate pools. As for the allegedly ongoing NFL investigation, WWM’s prediction there remains the same.)

Not because New England is perfectly situated to exploit the injuries to Richard Sherman’s elbow and Earl Thomas’ shoulder, which figure to weaken Seattle’s defense against both the power running of LaGarrette Blount and Brady’s throws to tight end Rob Gronkowski, two areas in which the Seahawks have shown vulnerability even with a healthy Legion of Boom.

No, a Patriots victory would be due to some as-yet-undiscovered chicanery. Or because it’s all fixed, anyway. Or, if you’re as silly as this person, you can claim that that single millimeter of pliancy should have disqualified New England in the first place.

Or you can sit back, load up on your favorite fatty foods and carbonated beverages, and enjoy what could be a brilliant game between the two best teams in football.

Either way, WWM strongly recommends that you take a few minutes to watch this, if only to see Marshawn Lynch’s expression at 5:15 and Gronkowski’s doe-eyed reaction to being serenaded by Conan O’Brien, beginning at 6:43.

 


Kyle Orton: A Remembrance

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Thanks almost entirely to the ineptitude of this year’s quarterbacks, as well as the best decision-making exhibited all year by the incumbent starter, we have an entire offseason to discuss who should occupy the position for Buffalo in 2015 and beyond.

 
On this last day of 2014, however, We Want Marangi would like to take a few moments to honor Kyle Orton, who retired Monday morning, less than 24 hours after leading the Bills to perhaps the most significant exhibition-game victory in franchise history.
 
He may have spent just a solitary autumn here, but his list of accomplishments from what will be foggily remembered as The Orton Season is, well, a list:
 
— We could argue until next September about whether the Bills would have won more or fewer games, given the rest of the roster, with E.J. Manuel or any other remotely ambulatory humanoid taking the snaps, but this much beyond debate: Of the 14 quarterbacks to start a regular-season game since Jim Kelly retired, Orton was clearly one of them.
— The mustache. Just look at it.
 
 
Easily the most impressive upper-lip growth on a Bills quarterback since David Humm.
 
Sadly, it lasted just two starts. Long enough, though, to join the younger Orton’s neck beard in the annals of NFL facial hair.
 
 
Yes, Ryan Fitzpatrick’s Civil War-re-enactor beard was pretty great, but Orton’s versatility makes him the franchise’s all-time facial-hair standard bearer at the position.
 
— According to ESPN’s QBR system — which takes into account not only traditional counting stats, but the situations, such as down, distance and score, involved in compiling them —Orton was the 25th-best quarterback in the league in 2014, better than such luminaries as Oakland’s Derek Carr (even if the rookie substantially outplayed the veteran in their head-to-head meeting), Austin Davis of St. Louis, Tampa Bay’s Josh McCown, Geno Smith of the Jets and Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles.
 
A cynic might note that the teams led by the five qualifying quarterbacks rated lower than Orton will all earned Top-10 draft picks next spring, including four of the first six spots. But we’re not dwelling on the negative here.
 
— Under the more inclusive rankings issued by Football Outsiders, which cover anyone who threw at least 100 passes in 2014, Orton drops to No. 26. Still, how many of you can say you are the 26th-best in the world at what you do? Not Mike Glennon or Charlie Whitehurst, that’s for sure.
 
— The guy could really pile up the stats when faced with a defense protecting a multi-score lead or a completely disinterested collection of New York Jets defenders.
 
— While Orton has been getting ripped pretty regularly around these parts since before throwing his first pass for Buffalo, his retirement was exquisite.

Orton’s chosen method of leaving the sport was the football equivalent of the Irish Goodbye, in which one leaves a party or other social gathering without any of the customary niceties. I adopted the move from Tim, a longtime We Want Marangi consultant, a few years back, but have never seen it executed so early on a weekday morning, or so aptly.

The only thing goofier than expecting more from a guy who had to be coaxed out of retirement days before the regular season and who started 12 games would have been that guy tearfully announcing his decision in front of a bunch of reporters.

Orton spared us all of that insincerity. His finishing move also cemented his legacy. He may not have ever won a playoff game, made it to a Pro Bowl or established himself as The Man for any of the five NFL franchises that employed him, but it says here that by slipping away so deftly, Kyle Orton confirmed his status as The Greatest Internet Quarterback Ever.

Early on during his stint with the Chicago Bears, Orton displayed an innate knack for getting himself photographed in highly unflattering situations. The publication of such photos not only launched the famous-person-doing-something-that-some-might-consider-embarrassing genre of internet journalism, a trend that has spread to all fields of public life and come to dominate modern media.

While Orton took his online fame (which included an array of similar pictures from his college days at Purdue, a highly unauthorized Twitter feed and a series of reasonably funny videos posted by a Denver-area comedian) as well as could be expected, the stream of Kyle-on-the-town photos slowed over the years, then stopped altogether. But his re-emergence with Bills triggered the Uncle Rico meme, which was beautiful in its own way.

Football prowess aside, Orton was easy like, mainly because he did not look or act like the stereotypical NFL quarterback.

It would have been even easier if he had played like one more often, and when it mattered.

So farewell, Mr. Orton. Wherever you are.


Who Needs An Offense, Anyway?

Filed under: Uncategorized

 

 

As Green Bay’s offense took the field with just less than two minutes left in Sunday’s game at Ralph Wilson Stadium, it was tough not to think something really, really bad was about to happen to the Buffalo Bills.

 
Buffalo’s defense had delivered its most dominant 58 minutes of football of the season, harassing Aaron Rodgers into the worst performance of his professional career. The secondary had flustered the Packers quarterback with a smorgasbord of coverages, while jumping his receivers’ routes well enough to come up with the first non-deflected interception he had thrown all season and just missing on a second, while also snagging one of the tipped variety.
 
While the pass rush had not registered a sack, it got close enough to Rodgers often enough to keep him from getting too comfortable. The home crowd had also come up big, augmenting the disorienting effect Bills defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s schemes were having.
 
Green Bay came in averaging almost 33 points per game, but had scraped out just 13 as of the two-minute warning. Marcus Thigpen’s 75-yard punt return and Dan Carpenter’s four field goals had produced 19 for Buffalo, even without much meaningful input from Buffalo’s offense.
 
Rodgers and the Packers needed to cover 91 yards, and do it against the NFL’s No. 1 pass defense.
 
And yet.
 
Maybe it was the years of seeing the Bills finding new and increasingly painful ways to lose.
 
Or knowing that in four of Buffalo’s six losses this season, the defense had played well enough to win.
 
Or finding it hard to believe that an offensive showing as wretched as the one led by Kyle Orton could possibly be enough to beat a Super Bowl contender.
 
Or having seen Jordy Nelson drop a likely 94-yard touchdown pass from Rodgers late in the third quarter, demonstrating that the Bills were one breakdown away from letting a brilliant effort in two phases of the game go to waste.
 
Thanks to Mario Williams, though, the looming dread did not last for long.
 
 
On Green Bay’s first snap after the two-minute warning, Williams bulled backup Green Bay tackle J.C. Tretter and swatted the ball from Rodgers’ grip. After a weird moment where the ball lay on the turf in the end zone, Packers running back Eddie Lacy tried to get it back onto the playing field, but a rule change forced by an infamous Oakland Raiders touchdown 36 years earlier gave the Bills a safety, and the win.
 
 
It was fitting that Buffalo sealed the game with Orton’s offense safely on the sideline, where it had been when just about every other good thing happened.
 
Unlike the losses to Denver, Miami, Kansas City and Houston, when even a minimally competent offensive showing would have flipped the outcome, the Bills did not even need that much against Green Bay.
 
Excellent catches by Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods led to Buffalo’s first field goal. The second came on the Bills’ best sustained drive of the day, which not coincidentally involved Orton handing off on nine straight running plays. The third resulted from a blown coverage that left Bryce Brown wide open for a 40-yard romp.
 
Almost all of Buffalo’s offense came from Brown, Fred Jackson and Boobie Dixon, who combined for 117 rushing yards and made five catches for 75 more, meaning the three runners accounted for 76 percent of the unit’s production.
 
The defense and special teams scored or set up the other 12 points, including Williams’ clinching sack and strip.
 
Williams also blocked Mason Crosby’s 53-yard field goal attempt and deflected a pass, one of 10 by Buffalo’s defense.
 
The most telling statistics, though, were Rodgers’ passing numbers — 17-of-42 for 185 yards and the two interceptions by Baccari Rambo. This from a guy who had thrown 35 touchdown passes and just three picks, all of them off his receivers’ hands, in the previous 13 games. His 34.3 passing rating was easily the lowest of his career.
 
As out of sync as Rodgers and his receivers remained all day, Green Bay still had 333 total yards to Buffalo’s 253, and 21 first downs to the Bills’ 13.
 
The enormous plays by Williams, Rambo, and Thigpen — along with Buffalo getting just about every break and bounce — rendered most of the numbers meaningless, though, guaranteeing the modest achievement of a .500 season for the first time in 10 years and sustaining hope of breaking the franchise’s 15-year postseason drought.
 
For at least one more week.

Buffalo Survives Browns, Bills Offense

Filed under: Buffalo Bills

For the second straight week, the Buffalo Bills looked like a playoff team during their 26-10 win over Cleveland on Sunday.

Two-thirds of one, at least.

As it has through the first three months of the 2014 season, the defense did its part and then some, keeping the Browns from seizing control of a game Kyle Orton’s platoon appeared determine to hand them, then scoring what proved to be the decisive touchdown itself.

The special teams are fine, with Dan Carpenter’s foot accounting for more than half his team’s points, and new addition Marcus Thigpen sprucing up the return game.

As for the offense … well, we’ll get to that later.

We will also delay discussion of the final quarter of the schedule, a gauntlet which makes Buffalo’s present spot in the standings — tied with five other 7-5 teams in the race for the final AFC playoff berth — particularly precarious.

Thanks almost entirely to the defense, though, this Sunday’s visit to Denver, the first of three against leading Super Bowl favorites in the season’s last four weeks, will be the franchise’s most meaningful December game in a decade.

Back to the defense, which weathered an early burst of competence by Cleveland quarterback Brian Hoyer, forcing the Browns to settle for field-goal attempts on two long first-half drives. Hoyer completed 10 of 15 throws for 146 yards on those possessions.

The rest of the day? Eight-for-15 for 46 yards and two interceptions, before finally giving way to Johnny Manziel in the fourth quarter.

With the pass rush harassing Hoyer and the secondary producing repeated break-ups and stops, the Bills did not allow Cleveland to turn either of Orton’s interceptions into points, even when the second set the Browns up at Buffalo’s 30-yard line early in the third quarter.

Instead of fading under the burden of carrying the entire team (including an offense that appeared to be conspiring with the Browns through two quarters and part of a third) as it had in Buffalo’s mid-November losses to Kansas City and Miami, the defense not only held, but turned the game around completely. With the Browns ready to take a lead of at least 6-0, Kyle Williams’ third-down sack drove Cleveland out of field-goal range and led to Buffalo’s first scoring drive.

Following Orton’s own fleeting epiphany, which consisted wholly of a fourth-down heave to Robert Woods and an ensuing flip to Chris Hogan for Buffalo’s lone offensive touchdown, Jerry Hughes took matters into his own hands and out of Terrance West’s.

Hughes — Mario Williams’ lesser-known and lower-paid, but almost equally productive counterpart at the other end of the defensive line — ripped the ball from the rookie running back while taking him to the ground, had the presence of mind to realize he had not been touched after taking possession, and was in the end zone before anyone else figured out what was going on.

Just like that, after more than a half of trying, and failing, to score a single point, the Bills posted two touchdowns in 10 seconds of game time.

Hopefully, you had not chosen that flash of explosiveness to use the restroom. Because not much else of consequence happened the rest of the way, unless you are a field-goal aficionado or Johnny Manziel cultist.

Following Hughes’ bravura solo effort, an increasingly flustered Hoyer could not lead Cleveland to a single first down in three tries. After connecting with Buffalo safety Da’Norris Searcy for the second time, Hoyer spent the game’s final 12 minutes on the sideline, watching the 2012 Heisman winner run around and rub his fingers together.

To his credit, Manziel did lead the Browns through an intentionally permissive Bills defense, dashing the final 10 yards himself for Cleveland’s lone touchdown. He celebrated with the aforementioned finger-rubbing motion (to which he also treated the viewers at home in his introductory video clip), congealing his status as the The Situation of the National Football League.

On his second professional quarterbacking series, Manziel received his official welcome from Buffalo’s pass rush. Kyle Williams splattered Johnny Football, who wound up flat on his back as what was ultimately ruled an incomplete pass bounced behind him into the end zone.

 

Meanwhile, Orton managed to not turn the ball over — or do much of anything else — the rest of the way. After taking that 14-3 lead, Buffalo started three drives in Cleveland territory. Each ended in a field goal. So did a drive highlighted by MarQueis Gray’s second long run with a short Orton pass.

Gray, in his second game with his fourth NFL team, wound up tying Woods for the team lead with 71 receiving yards. The Browns didn’t seem to bother covering Gray on either of his catches, perhaps because he had made himself as anonymous as a professional athlete can be, his long dreads completely covering the name plate on a jersey bearing No. 48.

(Note: With apologies to Brad Cieslak, Gray has already put himself in the conversation as the franchise’s best-ever No. 48, with only early-’80s fullback Roosevelt Leaks standing in his way.)

Such one-off bits were about it for the offense, along with an earnest 97 total yards from Fred Jackson.

Meanwhile, the pass rush only notched two sacks, but continually disrupted the pocket and, after Cleveland’s early precision, got strong backside support. Besides his pair of interceptions, Searcy recorded one of six other Buffalo pass break-ups and was in on four tackles, while Corey Graham batted one down and made seven stops.

The Browns couldn’t do much on the ground, either, with their running backs average a paltry 2.5 yards per carry.

All of which proved enough for the Bills to overcome the Browns.

And, for at least one more game, their own offense.


Snow Shoves Bills Into Prime Time, Ready Or Not

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At least you won’t have to stay up late.

Buffalo’s rescheduled, relocated game against the New York Jets is scheduled to kick off at 7 p.m., live from climate-controlled Ford Field in Detroit, so the final gun should go off in time to allow viewers to catch the late news or the Bette Midler episode of Seinfeld and still get to bed at an hour appropriate for a school night.

Or, for fans who work non-traditional hours, the under-employed or those in need of a sporting-palate cleansing after being exposed to the Bills and Jets slopping it up for three-plus hours, there’s always the second half of Baltimore and New Orleans over on the originally scheduled Monday Night Football.

The Bills and Jets will be seen on CBS only by viewers in the metropolitan New York City market and upstate, along with Sunday Ticket subscribers across the country. Given the state of the competitors, this might seem like a mercy blackout by the NFL, but the limited broadcast results from the league’s obligations to the various networks carrying its games.

You can’t help but think, though, that CBS would have been willing to bump its block of laugh-track sit-coms and police-procedurals-with-a-twist, or that ESPN would have fought for the rights, if the Week 12 game displaced by a snow assault had been, say, New England-Detroit or Denver-Miami.

The Bills and Jets, though, were probably not going to stage an aesthetic triumph regardless of the date, time and location of their second annual meeting. Their first get-together somehow managed to be both high-scoring and dull, with long stretches of offensive ineptitude broken up by enough defensive breakdowns to get the final score to an unnatural-sounding 43-23, Buffalo.

Factor in the scheduling shift, additional travel required of both teams, and the Bills’ snow-induced layoff on the week following their Thursday-night dud in Miami, and you shouldn’t expect a taut thriller. Trying to predict how either of these teams will perform under the most favorable of circumstances has proven to be a game for suckers, so all the variables make it feel pretty silly to even try.

The knowables about tonight’s contest haven’t really changed since this preview, written after the first lake-effect blast, when it still seemed like Sunday in Orchard Park still seemed tenable. The second dose off Lake Erie took care of that possibility.

It also created the unique dynamic of elected officials telling the NFL to not even think about it, rather than meekly bowing to the will of The Shield, as well as the new Bills ownership facing their first real backlash over an ill-advised Tweet seeking people willing tohelp shovel out Ralph Wilson Stadium at a time when most of us were trying to figure out how to get to the end of our driveways.

Instead, the game wound up pushed back by a day and moved to Detroit, where Kyle Orton led a last-minute comeback in his first start for the Bills. With the exception of the aforementioned fluky blowout in New Jersey, Orton has gotten worse the more he’s become accustomed to Buffalo’s offense, so maybe the truncated, transplanted week of practice will actually help there.

Buffalo needs something to go right tonight in order to keep their dwindling playoff hopes from reaching the tortured-mathematics stage. A loss to the Jets would not only require the Bills to run an imposing table which includes dates with Denver, Green Bay and New England, the three clear-cut favorites to win Super Bowl XLIX heading into the weekend, according to the oddsmakers.

The Patriots did nothing to dissuade such thinking on Sunday, shredding Detroit’s top-ranked defense on the way to a 34-9 win. The Broncos and Packers weren’t quite as impressive, but wound up a field goal better than the Dolphins and Vikings, respectively.

Buffalo will need plenty of help to reach the postseason, and got a fair amount on Thursday and Sunday. Besides the Miami loss, Kansas City became Oakland’s first victim of the season and Houston fell to Cincinnati, moving the Bills ahead of the Texans in the wild-card race. If New Orleans beats Baltimore and Buffalo comes out ahead of the Jets, the Bills will remain within one game of the wild-card leaders with five to play.

They would be in better shape but for Billy Cundiff’s 37-yard walk-off field goal to get the Browns, who may or may not visit the region next Sunday, past Atlanta and a goal-line interception by St. Louis quarterback Shaun Hill, which allowed San Diego to escape with a 27-24 win.

For any of that to matter, though, Buffalo has to overcome the Jets and everything else the last week has wrought.




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