Monday, December 31, 2012

Chan. Gone.

To the surprise of absolutely no one, including Chan Gailey, Buffalo's 28-9 "win" over the New York Jets on Sunday did not save the job of the head coach, or any of his assistants.
The primary reason for Gailey’s demise was his defense. Despite replacing George Edwards with Dave Wannstedt at the coordinator’s spot and adding $100 million free agent Mario Williams, the Bills actually got worse on defense, by various measures. 
They gave up 435 points, second worst in Bills history, sixth worst in the NFL this season and one more point than they allowed in 2011.  
They ranked last in the NFL in rushing yards allowed, down four spots from the year before. They were worst in the NFL on third downs and worst in the NFL in the red zone (preventing touchdowns on opponent drives inside the 20-yard line).
That Buddy Nix was not among those dismissed today does not guarantee his return for a fourth season as general manager. Traditionally, the franchise's leadership meets with Ralph Wilson immediately following the season.

Nix repeatedly talked about his desire for continuity at the head coaching position, which suggests the decision to hire Gailey was forced on him by Wilson, who may well decide that the 73-year-old general manager is not the ideal choice to oversee Buffalo's first complete rebuilding attempt since 2001, when he brought Tom Donahoe in to run the operation.

As for Gailey, he handled losing what will almost certainly be his final NFL head coaching job with style.

“I want to thank the fans,” he said. “Great Buffalo fans. Great football town. These are loyal, loyal fans, and I understand that. I think that the next staff will have a great opportunity for success and to make this another great football franchise.” 
“This will probably be - and I say probably but I think it will be - the first place that’s ever fired me that I’ll pull for,” Gailey said.
Having covered a number of coaching changes, I've never gotten any pleasure from seeing someone lose his job -- though, in the interest of full disclosure, I couldn't muster a lot of sympathy for Gregg Williams or Mike Mularkey, who quit in a huff because his kids got razzed in school, or something, either.

For the record, I like Gailey as a guy, and the idea of him as a head coach. Same with Nix and Ryan Fitzpatrick, who just completed his third full season as the starting quarterback without giving any indication he has improved over this span, or is likely to do so.

None of the trio is the stereotypical type for his role, and, having spent a lifetime rooting for just about every variety of underdog, I would have liked to see them succeed despite not being a drill sergeant, a tight-lipped automaton and a rocket-armed alpha male, respectively.

I just wish all three were better at their jobs.

We will most likely know Nix's fate in the next few days. Fitzpatrick may be in limbo until after the Super Bowl, when the Bills -- whoever is running them -- start making roster and salary-cap decisions before free-agency begins.

The bet here is that Nix and Fitzpatrick will follow Gailey out of town, in that order. If I'm 94 years old, my team has won a Super Bowl and I still care enough to pay a head coach not to coach for the next two years, which is what Gailey's firing reportedly requires, I'm going all the way with the reboot.

After 13 seasons that ended when the schedule ran out, anything less makes no sense.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Your Jets-Bills Open Thread: Nobody, But Nobody, Runs For The Bus Like The Buffalo Bills

About the only drama involved in today's season finale between the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills will see which team wants the season over more.

Running for the bus is a Bills tradition as hiring head coaches no one else wants. Fourteen times over the past 44 seasons, Buffalo has ended a playoff-free season by getting beaten by at least 17 points, with a margin of 28 or more on 11 occasions. The average score of those 11 surrenders: 40-10.

These Bills have even given up without urgency, looking very much like a team bereft of desire or pride through a 50-17 loss to Seattle in Toronto and a highly deceptive 24-10 walk-through in Miami last Sunday.

The Jets, of course, have problems of their own. But Rex Ryan retains realistic hope about coaching the Jets again next year, while Mark Sanchez should be rather desperate to prove that New York doesn't have to blow up its salary cap in order to get rid of him.

That this will be the last game for Chan Gailey and Ryan Fitzpatrick, though, is as close to a foregone conclusion as you're going to see in the National Football League.

This one is, thankfully, banned from local television. But if you would like to share your thoughts on the past or the future of the hometown team, feel free to do so in the comments below.

Chan, Buddy Reportedly To Hit Bricks

Contrary to widespread speculation, Ralph Wilson, according to the Buffalo News, may be paying attention after all.
Rumors were swirling in NFL circles Saturday that the Buffalo Bills would clean house and fire not only head coach Chan Gailey but General Manager Buddy Nix as well.
Gailey getting whacked could not possibly come as a surprise to anyone, given his 15-32 record in Buffalo. Jason Cole of Yahoo Sports mentions a few possible replacements here.

Dumping Nix, though, would show that Wilson is willing to undertake the franchise's biggest shake-up since he dismissed former team president Tom Donahoe after the 2005 season, and the first full-scale management makeover since hiring Donahoe in early 2001.

Marv Levy replaced Donahoe as general manager in the winter of 2006, but kept much of the team's front-office and scouting structure in place.

After Levy retired following the 2007 season, marketing chief Russ Brandon took over the former coach's football duties until Nix was hired in 2010.

All those changes were more tweak than reboot, though, with quarterbacks, head coaches, assistants and scouts overlapping the reigns of the various GMs.

Gailey's departure would almost certainly mean the end of Ryan Fitzpatrick's stint as Buffalo's starter, though keeping him around to back up a rookie or free-agent quarterback wouldn't be unthinkable.

Nix's replacement will be at least as important as Gailey's. His assistant, Doug Whaley, has been touted as his potential successor, but going outside the organization would make Brandon's job -- selling tickets to a dispirited fan base -- significantly easier. Especially with the new lease deal, which pumps nearly a quarter-billion dollars into Wilson's budget over the next decade.

So today's season finale against the New York Jets, quite possibly the least meaningful game in the team's history, could acquire some historical significance as the day the Bills' darkest age came to a close.

Friday, December 28, 2012

See Timmy Sulk

The brave souls who attend Sunday's battle for last place in the AFC East at the soon-to-be-rebuilt Ralph Wilson Stadium will not see a number of things:

-- A game with any playoff implications.

-- A game with any other implications, beyond next year's schedule and (UPDATE: As reader Patrick Keyes pointed out, the Bills have already locked up last place in the AFC East) draft position. If you are the type capable of hoping your favorite team gets beaten, the Bills could advance as far as the fourth overall pick with a loss to the New York Jets, according to Mark Gaughan of the Buffalo News, or drop as low as No. 11 if they win.

-- Tim Tebow do much of anything besides stand or sit on the sidelines, trying not to visibly pout. In case you missed it, which would be perfectly understandable given the irrelevance of the teams involved, but Tebow was bypassed when Jets coach Rex Ryan dumped Mark Sanchez in favor of former third-stringer Greg McElroy. When symptoms of a concussion McElroy apparently sustained last Sunday surfaced while lifting weights Thursday morning, Ryan scratched him for this Sunday.

With an ideal opportunity to give the left-handed sort-of-quarterback something resembling a shot, Ryan instead went back to Sanchez. While the Sanchez-Tebow controversy that ESPN did its very best to foment never quite reached a boil, Timmy Touchdown got the tabloids fired up this week by either refusing to take part in the Wildcat package designed for him, or not, depending on whose story you buy.
"I never said, 'Hey, I don't want to do anything. I won't do anything,'" Tebow said on Wednesday. "That wasn't the talk at all. He knows that. And everybody on this team knows that I would never not do something if I was asked. That's what's disappointing. ... People saying, 'Oh, you quit.' That was not it at all. It was just me asking to get an opportunity to play the position I love, which is quarterback. It wasn't me asking out of anything." 
Maybe not, but many people in the organization definitely perceived it that way. A team source told the Daily News on Sunday night that Tebow had told Ryan that he didn't want to play in Wildcat situations after he was bypassed for the starting job.
 The whole mess should put a couple of the Tebow myths to rest.

First, there's the notion that he is capable of playing quarterback on a regular basis in the NFL. Denver's run to the playoffs with Tebow last season looks flukier than ever, since whatever he showed during the exhibition season and practices wasn't enough to convince Ryan to plug him in for the imploding Sanchez while the Jets were still alive for the postseason. Or even start him ahead of a last-round draft pick who once the season was effectively over.

So he's now been dumped by one team that reached the postseason with him playing, and another that exploited his name to sell tickets, then made him watch as their season, and the guy he was backing up, disintegrated.

Then there's the idea that Tebow's faith, selflessness and extraordinary athleticism more than offset his inability to throw a football with the consistent zip and accuracy required at the sport's highest level, inspiring the teammates who love him so dearly that they will win despite his flaws.

If that myth was not thoroughly debunked by the parting shots delivered by former Denver teammates, it has been now.

Who knew so many well worn sports-media tropes could collide in one player? Tim Tebow is the plucky winner who rides his leadership and intangibles to greatness. Tim Tebow is also the overrated prima donna, the one who grumps over limited playing time and sulks and eventually quits on his team before demanding a trade. All things to all men, this guy. Which one is the real Tim Tebow? Find out by tuning into Jaguars games in fall 2013.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

'On The First Day Of Christmas, Ralph Wilson Gave To Me ... '

Join this guy and We Want Marangi for this trip back to Christmas 1980, when "the Bills in the playoffs" was a realistic gift request and not a perverse tease.

Note: You have to listen to the whole thing to get to that part.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas Eve from O.J. and WWM

I can't quite bring myself to spend any significant portion of Christmas Eve dwelling on yesterday's, um, exhibition in Miami.

So in the spirit of the season, We Want Marangi presents the solitary Bills highlight from their 10th loss of 2012.

Can't figure out how to embed it, so you'll have to click the link to see C.J. Spiller make like The Juice.

In a good way.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Your Bills-Dolphins Open Thread: 'He's Going To Run It!'

Today's Buffalo-Miami game might mean less than any other in the 37 seasons the Bills and Dolphins have been meeting at least twice a year.

So whether you're watching today or, like the We Want Marangi staff, catching bits here and there while walking and driving around this Christmas Eve Eve, enjoy this taste of a time when the Bills played games that mattered.

And then feel free to share your thoughts and feelings in the comments below.

An Open Letter To Ralph Wilson: So, Will $226 Million Buy Us A Decent Coach?

Dear Mr. Wilson,

Hope this holiday season finds you and yours well.

Glad to hear your people and ours came to a deal to keep your football team in Buffalo for at least a while longer, sparing everyone months of speculation and angst.

While I wish we lived in a world where owners of multi-million-dollar businesses paid all their own expenses, the fact is we do not. Especially when those businesses are guaranteed to turn a healthy profit and involve grown men playing games with balls for the benefit of tens of thousands of people who buy tickets, and millions more watching at home.

So I'm not writing to complain about the cost to in taxpayers to refurbish the stadium in Orchard Park that you so generously allowed us to name for you in the last lease deal, as opposed to selling to a corporate sponsor for a few million or so.

And it is worth mentioning that, unlike the last lease, you are kicking in 25 percent of the construction costs AND paying rent. A cynic would point out that your contributions are little more than semantics, since you'll be receiving far more than you're contributing over the life of the deal, but, again, I'm not here to gripe.

I would, however, like to talk about a term with which you are certainly familiar -- return on investment.

According to what I've read, Erie County and New York State are kicking in $226 million, $95 million of which goes toward stadium renovation. I understand that part of the deal requires formation of a committee to study the siting and construction of a new ballpark for your team to move into when this deal expires in 2023.

Given the contracts awarded to Mario Williams, Fred Jackson, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Stevie Johnson over the past year, you can't be accused of going cheap on the roster. But with the lease deal completed, you have another pretty important decision coming up fast. Who is going to run the team that plays in that fixer-upper?

Chan Gailey seems like a nice enough man and has shown admirable loyalty in continuing to believe that Fitzpatrick is an adequate quarterback for a National Football League team, despite voluminous and incontrovertible evidence to the contrary.

Coming up on the end of his third season here, though, there is just as much evidence that our team (and, let's face it, if we're ponying up roughly 12 percent of the Bills' appraised value, we can justifiably claim partial ownership) is not going to get much better while he is the head coach.

There certainly has not been much tangible improvement this year. Even if they win today in Miami and next week at home against the New York Jets, all those big contracts and one of the league's weakest schedules will have added up to a one-game improvement over 2011, when the Bills lost eight of their last nine games to finish 6-10.

Worse yet, four of Buffalo's nine losses -- the first games against the Jets and New England and the disasters in San Francisco and Toronto -- have been among the most putrid performances in recent memory, afternoons on which the Bills were thoroughly outclassed.

This happens to even pretty good teams once in a while. But even the worst professional squads rarely look like amateurs four times in one season.

Neither of us needs to go through the aggravation of assigning blame for the other five losses, so let's just say there's plenty to go around. Finding unique ways to lose on a weekly basis is not a sign of a well-coached team, either.

As has been discussed before in this space and elsewhere, not one of Buffalo's five wins this year has come against what anyone would call a good opponent, with the vanquished combining for an overall record of 20-50 at this writing.

Don't get me wrong. Like I said, Gailey seems like a decent guy, and has shown far more candor than his immediate predecessors. He has gotten some decent production out of pretty average offensive talent, and I'm thankful he doesn't project the pseudo-drill sergeant demeanor that permeates the NFL.

As with Fitzpatrick and your general manager, Buddy Nix, I like Gailey. I just wish he was a better coach.

Three years into an organizational rebuilding program that has yet to achieve mediocrity, there is an argument to be made for a complete reboot. But with the exception of quarterback and cornerback, the roster has improved during Nix's tenure, so keeping him in place wouldn't be the worst decision you've made in the last 53 years.

If Nix insists on giving Gailey and Fitzpatrick for a fourth shot at getting it right, though, he needs to go, too.

You may have noticed that there are a lot of other ways that $22 million per year for the next decade could be spent around here, ways that would have an impact much greater than hosting seven very big parties every fall. But we, by way of our elected officials, have chosen to use it to keep the Bills in town.

Please don't make us regret it.

Merry Christmas,

David Staba

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Please, Make It Stop

I can tell you the exact moment I stopped paying much attention to Buffalo's most recent international embarrassment -- 11:25 left in the second quarter.

The Bills, their defense having been made to look ridiculous by Seattle's rookie quarterback, Russell Wilson, were already down 17-7.

On third-and-5, Ryan Fitzpatrick -- in his fourth season as Buffalo's starting quarterback --underthrew C.J. Spiller.

On a screen pass.

If a single play can encapsulate everything that is wrong with a football team, it is a quarterback who has already badly misfired on several throws one-hopping the ball to his star running back.

On a screen pass.

Just as well. I had to drive someplace out here in Genesee County at 5 p.m., anyway. Listening on the radio was not an option, either. Seems the Bills' flagship station, WGR 550, cuts its wattage then, even in the midst of the team's official broadcast (I wonder if advertisers get a discount on time purchased after their spots can no longer be heard 25 miles east of Buffalo).

By the time I got home, it was 40-17. Just in time to see Earl Thomas intercept Fitzpatrick and run 57 yards for Seattle's final touchdown.

In 2000, the Bills lost four of their last five games to finish 8-8, missing the playoffs for the first time in three years, just the fifth time they had failed to qualify for the postseason since 1987.

And Wade Phillips got fired.

Buffalo won the last game with Phillips as head coach, blasting Seattle, 42-23.

On Sunday, a drastically different Bills team was toyed with by the Seahawks, 50-17, putting both the playoffs and a .500 record mathematically out of reach.

Yet somehow, the thought of Chan Gailey returning for a fourth season -- one more than Phillips got from Ralph Wilson -- is not unthinkable.

But it should be.

Back in 2000, Buffalo's owner was furious with his team's late-season skid, showing Phillips the door when the coach refused to fire inept special-teams assistant Ronnie Jones. Today, the level of Wilson's direct involvement at age 94 is unclear, with general manager Buddy Nix evidently in charge.

Nix has shown similar loyalty to Gailey, at least in his public utterances. Really, though, what else is he going to say?

It's hard to imagine Wilson or Nix making a coherent argument for bringing Gailey back, either based on Sunday's disaster or his body of work as a whole.

Despite spending $100 million on Mario Williams and their two most recent first-round picks on defensive players, the 2012 Bills gave up at least 50 points twice and 45 or more four times. Not even the one-win Harvey Johnson-coached teams of 1968 and '71, nor the two-win twins of '84 and '85 were that permissive.

Putting on a more feeble display than the 45-3 loss to San Francisco in October would not be physically possible, considering that the 49ers compiled more than 300 yards running AND passing. The Bills certainly tried on Sunday, though, making the option as performed by Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch, a staple of Seattle's offense all season, look like an innovation never before seen in the history of football.

Perhaps out of necessity, Gailey built his offense around Fitzpatrick from the beginning of his tenure. In three-and-a-half seasons as the starter (he took over for Trent Edwards midway through Dick Jauron's final campaign, which you may have forgotten if you're lucky), Fitzpatrick has had one stretch -- the first seven games of 2011 -- in which he was anything more than mediocre.

Since that 5-2 start a year ago, the Bills of Gailey and Fitzpatrick have won six games and lost 17. There is no metric by which they are now a better team than they were at any time in the last two years. Gailey's game-planning and Fitzpatrick's ineptitude have combined to marginalize Spiller, whose emergence as one of the NFL's most dynamic offensive threats stands as the lone highlight of a 5-9 season.

You might have missed it, but Spiller ran for 103 yards on Sunday. He reached 1,000 yards for the season, reaching that milestone in fewer carries since anyone since Beattie Feathers, who hit the mark for the Chicago Bears in 1934, when everybody wore leather helmets and no facemasks.

Thankfully, Gailey's judicious use of Spiller in games of actual importance mean he should be plenty fresh for the upcoming glorified exhibitions in Miami and at home against the New York Jets.

The next two weeks promise to be among the most pointless in franchise history.

Like the Bills, the Dolphins and Jets are playing out the string.

Miami fans, at least, get to watch Ryan Tannehill's continued development. It is worth mentioning that the Dolphins -- like Seattle, Indianapolis and Washington -- have won more games with a rookie quarterback than have the Bills with Fitzpatrick, who is winding up his eighth NFL season.

The Jets, meanwhile, give their dispirited base a look at Greg McElroy, who replaces Mark Sanchez -- much to the dismay of Tim Tebow, apparently.

Though New York is apparently ready to pull the plug on a first-round pick who took them to two AFC title games, Buffalo management is either much more patient or apathetic. Fitzpatrick will presumably start at quarterback for the Bills, even though everyone who has seen him play over the past two years knows exactly what he can and cannot do. Not that the Bills have very appealing alternatives, since Tyler Thigpen is, well, Tyler Thigpen and Tarvaris Jackson has yet to be part of Buffalo's active game-day roster.

The Bills do have a shot at finishing second in the AFC East if they win out, as well as improving on last year's 6-10 record. Which would mean little more than a slightly tougher schedule next fall and a less-appealing draft position in the spring.

This is the point in a clearly lost season when owners who are interested in real improvement consider firing the head coach, especially when that head coach has run up a 15-31 record over three seasons in which his team has won precisely two games against teams that reached the playoffs that season (New England, meanwhile, has won 12 such contests over that span, including three over foes already qualified for this year's tournament). That dismal total will not improve this year, since each of Buffalo's five wins came against opponents who will also be watching the playoffs on television.

But they're not going to do that, either.

As for the folly of Buffalo's annual "home" game at the Rogers Center, we will turn things over to Toronto Star columnist Cathal Kelly:

At various points, the crowd chanted for the Seahawks, the Jays and the Argos. They cheered when Seattle ran a fake punt late in a laugher. Maybe that's not a crime, but it's at least a misdemeanor against sportsmanship. But they cheered anyway.
They cheered every dropped ball and pick-6. They took sadistic glee in watching the "home" side crumble.

At least someone had a good time.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Bills Head To Toronto, Whether Toronto Likes It Or Not

I've been trying for three days to come up with an angle for a Bills-Rams recap that:

A) Hasn't already been done, either by highly paid professional writers this week or by myself and others a few dozen times before over the past 13 seasons; and

B) Doesn't cause acute pain at the base of my skull.

Having failed at this, We Want Marangi has decided to make like Chan Gailey and punt.

Instead of dissecting Gailey's play-calling, the lack of offensive cohesion or defensive dominance when it's needed most, or how any reasonable individual could find a way to keep the ball out of his most dangerous player's hands for almost an entire afternoon, we're looking forward to Sunday. Sort of.

The game itself could turn out to be rather gruesome. The Seahawks are making a playoff run in the NFC West -- a real one, not the sort of delusional scenario creation we've been engaging in around here.

Seattle is also amping up as December progresses, rather than disintegrating, like some football teams we could mention. On the same day the Bills were hesitating the game away against St. Louis, the Seahawks butchered Arizona 58-0.

But we're nothing if not optimistic around here, and have found something of a bright spot, or at least a flicker. While some Bills fans live in fear of their team being courted and whisked away by a larger, more prosperous metropolitan area, there is little reason to believe that the closest potential suitor is all that interested.
But organizers of the "Bills in Toronto" series are 0-4 in sellouts. The largest turnout was for the 2008 inaugural between the Bills and Dolphins, when a crowd of 52,134 was announced for a game in a stadium with a seating capacity of 54,000. Thousands of tickets went unused; those who did show up seemed to support the victorious Dolphins more than the "home" team, which drew only about 1,500 fans from western New York.
Since the Toronto series began, Buffalo has finished  7-9, 6-10, 4-12 and 6-10, coming into this year's Canadian date at 5-8. Even when the Bills started strong, in '08 and '11, they were in free-fall by the time they were scheduled to play their out-of-the-country "home" game.
"One of the problems with this Bills in Toronto series, aside from all the other obvious problems, is that it features the Bills," Toronto Sun columnist Steve Simmons once wrote. "The trouble is, we already have enough lousy teams in Toronto."
On Sunday, they'll have at least one more.

Read more here:

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Your Rams-Bills Open Thread: Playoffs, Vick And Other Unlikely Occurrences

"It's not over," I would insist, looking up from the floor in front of the television at my father, sitting in his recliner with his dismissive half-smile.

The Bills would be losing to Miami, or whoever else fortunate to play them in the second half of the 1970s (it always seems like the Dolphins in my memory, though), usually by several touchdowns.

"They're gonna lose," Dad would say, in a tone that was more reassuring than taunting -- a twist that only made me madder. "They're gonna lose."

"No, they can still win," I'd insist, even when Buffalo trailed by 20 points or more, a near-weekly predicament, at least in memory. "If they can score on one of the next few plays, then recover the onside kick, then score again real fast, then recover another onside kick ... "

By this point, the half-smile would have expanded into a full grin, like a taunting Andy Griffith.

"They're gonna lose," he would say, just barely shaking his head. "They're gonna lose."

I would turn back to the TV, determined to will the Bills into the virtually impossible comeback I had just sketched out. And Joe Ferguson would throw an interception.

I have been thinking about those father-son moments in the living room as the playoff window for the 2012 Bills has steadily, inexorably been closing since late September.

Yes, there are a lot of things that could happen over the next three weeks that would put Buffalo in a postseason game since the first days of the 21st century.

It's just that they won't.

Dad's no longer around to give me the half-smile for even thinking about the possibility, but I've gotten a little more cynical over the past 35 years, so it's not really necessary.

Fortunately, at least one local media type still has at least a little of the youthful optimism that enables a kid to lay in front of the TV, propped up on his elbows to watch his favorite team get its brains beat in.

While dismissing the possibility that the 5-7 Bills can win their last four games and get enough help to snag the last AFC wild-card berth has been the general consensus this week, Buffalo radio, internet and internet radio fixture Brad Riter has taken the opposite approach over at
As the ship appears to be sinking, frustrated with the lack of insight beyond “they don’t stand a chance” and “fire everyone,” one Buffalo sports fan feels compelled to dig into the standings, remaining schedule, and tiebreaker rules to determine what exactly needs to happen to get his favorite hockey or football team into the postseason.
That fan is me.
Riter goes on to lay out rather simple scenarios that end with Buffalo playing an as-yet-unscheduled road game in early January. I'm not going to get into them here, because doing so makes my head hurt a little and I've got to get ready to leave for today's epic struggle between the Bills and Rams.

So give yourself a break from holiday stress, as well as the twin specters of no football playoffs and no hockey anything, and go share in Riter's optimism. It will make you feel better. At least until later this afternoon.

WHEN MICHAEL VICK got out of prison for, you know, murdering dogs and financing an entire dog-killing ring a few years back, there was more than a little discussion about one of the greatest athletes ever to play quarterback in the NFL coming to Buffalo.

Instead, the Bills decided they were completely set at the position with Trent Edwards and Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Vick wound up in Philadelphia. After watching from the sidelines for most of the 2009 season, he took over as the starter and had one spectacular year, followed by two increasingly lousy ones.

Having lost the starting job to rookie Nick Foles, Vick's release is probably inevitable. As is speculation about him winding up in Buffalo.

There is certainly an opportunity at the position. But some combination of age and the physical pounding he's taken since his return from prison have turned Vick into an erratic turnover machine.

And the Bills already have one of those.

Signing Vick would be a sign of desperation. Signing players with glorious pasts and recent troubles has been a losing proposition for the Bills under Buddy Nix, as the names Terrell Owens and Vince Young should remind you.

It's too bad Al Davis isn't alive to save Nix from the temptation, as well as sparing us the speculation.

As ever, please share your thoughts on these topics or the Bills and Rams in the comments below.

(Note: The second item was included largely so that I could use the Vick-in-a-Bills-uniform image above, which I found on this forum, where you can also find some discussion of his dog-killing past.)

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Greatest Thing I've Ever Seen Today

Saying anything about this would only cloud its beauty. Just watch.

(Thanks to Tim Graham for bringing this to my attention by way of Or maybe it's the other way around. I can never keep that "by way of" thing straight. I would have embedded the original, but it already has more than 352 million views. So I'm guessing everybody else in the world with internet access has already seen it.)

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Teasing In The Rain

A little more than a minute into the fourth quarter, C.J. Spiller takes the football from Ryan Fitzpatrick and heads up the middle.

From an end-zone vantage point, it looks like Buffalo's most dangerous offensive player is going to end up where he's spent most of the afternoon -- under a pile of Jacksonville defenders. But before hitting the line, Spiller veers to his left. He takes five steps as quickly as most humans take one and he is outside his blockers -- and would be tacklers.

The loyalists remaining of the 53,971 people who had tickets for Ralph Wilson Stadium are suddenly as loud as if it were a close game between playoff contenders.

Outside his tackle but still inside the numbers, he races past Jacksonville safety Chris Prosinski, who has thoroughly bought into the whole up-the-gut thing and has no chance to even try making a tackle before Spiller flashes past.

Now it's a simple race. Spiller does not lose many of those, even with the disadvantage of lugging a wet football. Jacksonville's Dawan Landry has the angle, but not the speed to take advantage of it.

Spiller reaches the 20-yard line with Landry chasing from his right and Jaguars cornerback Kevin Rutland angling in from his left. Spiller barely glances toward the sideline, but it's enough to freeze his last obstacle for long enough to sprint past him and across the goal line, causing the very, very wet crowd to let go with its loudest and longest ovation of a dank afternoon.

The 44-yard touchdown -- Spiller managed just 32 yards on his previous 12 carries -- puts the Bills ahead 34-10 with 13:29 remaining, all but guaranteeing that they will improve to 5-7 on the season.

Neither the score or the record matter much at this point, though. Avoidable losses against Tennessee, in New England and, just seven days earlier, in Indianapolis, have consigned Buffalo's season to the same collection of hazy memories of mediocrity that envelope the previous 12.

The Bills give up one more score after Justin Rogers botches a punt return, giving the Jaguars a point-blank touchdown that cuts the final to 34-18, a one-sided score that is still deceptively close.

Beating Jacksonville, which came into the day having won two of 11 contests and spends most of the day operating with a quarterback who started the year on the bench and a third-string running back, is better than losing to a team already eyeing the first overall pick in next spring's draft. It is also the kind of victory that, when the season over, will make the 2012 Bills look better than they were.

It is was the sort of game the Bills were supposed to win with regularity this year.

The defense smothered Jacksonville for most of the day, with free-agent defensive end Mario Williams forcing a key turnover and generally making the opposing quarterback uncomfortable.

Spiller and Fred Jackson complemented each other perfectly, with Jackson churning out tough yards and a series of first downs and Spiller providing the flash.

The running game denied Ryan Fitzpatrick the opportunity to screw things up too badly. He had the horrid-looking interception by former Buffalo linebacker Paul Posluszny that set up Jacksonville's first points, but the defense held the Jaguars to an ultimately irrelevant field goal. He later hit a couple open receivers for touchdowns and handed off frequently without incident, which is about all you can ask for, or expect to get, from him at this point.

The same could be said for the game itself. These Bills, as constructed by Buddy Nix and coached by Chan Gailey, have proven themselves incapable of what the sport's pundits like to call a "signature victory," i.e. a win that means much of anything to anyone besides hardcore fans or degenerate gamblers.

The Bills do not beat legitimate playoff contenders, at home or on the road. They do not beat remotely decent teams away from Orchard Park. And they do not, under any circumstances, win games against teams led by adequate National Football League quarterbacks (Editor's note: Before you think about bringing up the romp over Denver last December, please remember that Tim Tebow was still with the Broncos, months away from becoming the most beloved third-stringer in league history).

They will, however, defeat teams at and below their level, particularly at home. Thanks to the NFL's rampant mediocrity, that trait allows them to win just enough games to stay out of the very top of the draft and keeps coaches around longer than they deserve, particularly given the detachment of upper management. That Dick Jauron got a chance at a fourth straight 7-9 season might seem amazing, until you consider that Gailey is at least even money to get a fourth year without having yet finished even that close to .500.

For a short while early Sunday evening, it seemed like beating the Jaguars might actually have some relevance to the rest of the NFL. Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, both 6-5 and tied for the sixth and final seed in the AFC, were trailing. If there scores held up, the Bills would somehow be a single game out of a playoff spot with four to play.

The Steelers and Bengals came back in Baltimore and San Diego, respectively, though, sparing us at least one more week of seriously considering the possibility of a team that gave up 97 points over a two-week span qualifying for the postseason.

Buffalo remains mathematically alive, of course, but only in theory.

The comebacks by Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Indianapolis earlier in the day clearly demonstrated the gulf between the Bills and the teams they are chasing.

Shortly after Buffalo finished off the Jaguars, Indianapolis rookie Andrew Luck completed a scrambling touchdown pass -- his fourth of the game -- on the final play to complete a 12-point fourth-quarter rally as the Colts all but clinched a wild-card berth with a 35-33 win in Detroit.

A few hours later, 37-year-old Charlie Batch led the Steelers to 10 points in the final 7:24 on the road against the Ravens defense.

Cincinnati's win wasn't as dramatic, but the visiting Bengals did score 10 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to top San Diego, with second-year quarterback running 6 yards for the decisive score with 4:11 left.

The Steelers, Colts and Bengals all came back on the road against teams with respectable quarterbacks. The Bills have not done any of those things in 2012. Their only wins away from Orchard Park came against the pitiful Browns in Week 2 and against an Arizona team quarterbacked by Kevin Kolb, then John Skelton -- and that only after they did everything in their power to give the game away.

Back at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday, Spiller's electrifying run showed why fans sit through the wind and rain to watch a game with so little meaning.

It also gave them a tantalizing glimpse of what this season was supposed to have been.

(Note: A full slideshow of Associated Press photography from the game, including the shot used above, can be found here.)

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Your Jaguars-Bills Open Thread: 'Flutie Keeping, Left Side, Touchdown!'

In preparation for today's draft-position showdown between the Jacksonville and Buffalo, We Want Marangi takes you back to a Jaguars-Bills contest that actually meant something AND was fun to watch.

It was Doug Flutie's first start for Buffalo, having replaced an injured Rob Johnson a week earlier during a win over Indianapolis.

The Bills had started 0-3, but Johnson outplayed Steve Young as they beat the previously undefeated 49ers for their first win. They came into the Jacksonville game with a shot at reaching .500. It was a defensive struggle for most of the day, with Buffalo holding the Jaguars, 5-0 coming in, under 300 total yards and Flutie completing just 18 of 39 passes.

As I recall, the press-box consensus that day was that Flutie's return to the NFL after nearly a decade in Canada was a nice story, and he was both a decent fill-in and fun to watch, but that a top defense with a week to prepare for his antics would shut him down. The game bore that out -- for the first 58 minutes, anyway.

Then Flutie did what he did in the clip above (which is highly recommended viewing, if you haven't already), and his legend accelerated. After the game, he said the play was supposed to be a run to Thurman Thomas, but that the future Hall of Famer wasn't there when Flutie turned to hand him the ball, so he improvised his touchdown dash.

The Bills would win five straight and seven of eight, finishing 10-6 and earning a wild-card playoff berth. Flutie had a cereal named after him and songs written about him. Well, at least one song, which, unlike most sports-themed tunes, is actually listenable. Mostly because it's by the Canadian band Moxy Fruvous (if you're not familiar, think Barenaked Ladies but better musically and funnier, if not quite as skilled at poppy hooks). And here it is, for your listening enjoyment:

WWM will spend this afternoon on a special assignment that we may or may not be at liberty to discuss. Meanwhile, please feel free to share your thoughts on today's game, which quarterback you'd like to see the Bills draft, or your Flutie memories in the comments below.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Media Day (Canadian Edition): We Stand On Guard For Thee

I would rather extract my own fingernails than start giving any serious thought to Sunday's Jacksonville-Buffalo game, beyond noting that the National Football League's archaic blackout policy gives you an excuse for not watching.

Instead, We Want Marangi is ignoring the Bills completely on this Media Day in order to adopt a championship football team -- the Toronto Argonauts.

It seems only fair. If Buffalo has to loan the Bills to Toronto for one home date each year, shouldn't we get to bask vicariously in the Argonauts' freshly won glory?

The Argos, as we're sure you know, won the 100th Grey Cup last Sunday, besting the Calgary Stampeders 35-22. (In case you missed it, you can watch an extended wrap-up here.)

Toronto followed Chan Gailey's master plan -- stink for most of the regular season, so that nobody really pays attention to you, then get hot late, sneak into the playoffs with a .500 record and run the table. This, of course, is much easier when you play in a league with only eight teams (the CFL will expand to nine in 2014, but unfortunately, only one will be known as the Roughriders).

Canadian football is, of course, fundamentally different than its American cousin: Three downs instead of four, a field 110 yards long (can someone explain why a country that otherwise loves the metric system so much still measures a football field in yards?) and scoring vagaries that no one seems to understand.

There is a drastic cultural difference as well. The Grey Cup's equivalent in this country involves massive corporate Super Bowl parties, two weeks of saturation coverage by every media outlet of significance and boom times for strip joints throughout the host region.

What did Torontonians do to get ready for the Grey Cup? Host a huge pancake breakfast, of course.


God, you people are adorable.

There was a victory parade through downtown Toronto. Buffalo throws consolation rallies (Bills in January '91, Sabres in June '99) instead.

Nor do Bills fans have to concern themselves with another issue facing the Argos faithful -- what does  winning a championship mean to the franchise and the community that supports it?

Having celebrated in joyous, yet mature fashion, the GTA now turns its attention to the scandal involving erstwhile Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and $3,150 in public funds that went to an organization that provides football equipment for underprivileged kids.

If an elected official tried that around here, he would receive a stern public rebuke for misdirecting such a chintzy amount. On this side of the border, if City Hall loses track of 30 times as much cash, the mayor gets easily re-elected a few months later.

It wouldn't be right to tease you with a line from "O, Canada" in the headline without supplying a rousing rendition of The World's Greatest National Anthem.

Note that they did not perform the less popular second, third and fourth stanzas, or the widely ignored Buchan version.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Losing Junkie's Cry For Help

Can't figure out why you build your Sundays around a near-certain weekly disappointment?

Scott Rubin, former editor-in-chief of National Lampoon and a degenerate Bills fan, doesn't understand it, either. But the man admits his problem, and is trying to do something about it. Or at least make a few bucks from his addiction.

(Thanks to Mitch Gerber for calling this to the attention of the We Want Marangi social-media department.)

Monday, November 26, 2012

Same Old Bills, Same Old Story

The Bills have just pulled within a touchdown early in the fourth quarter and the defense takes the field.

"Are the Buffalo Bills winning?" asks Oscar, who has just wandered into the living room and sat next to me on the couch.

"No," I tell him. "But if they stop the Colts here and get the ball back, they've got a chance."

Oscar is six, so I try to emphasize the hopeful part of being a fan, the good feeling produced when optimism gets reinforced. He has plenty of time to learn the world's harsher realities.

"The Bills need the defense to do something," I say. "They need Mario Williams to do something."

Oscar is quite possibly the world's most devoted aficionado of MariO's, the Honey Nut Cheerios knock-off packaged in a box with the fearsome visage of the highest-paid defensive player in the National Football League. Thanks to a rather intensive brainwashing program, he has come to believe that actions such as the consumption of a particular food can impact the outcome of a sporting event.

"Do you think we should have some MariOs?" I ask him, brow furrowed in an effort to look serious.

His eyes get wider than usual.


Oscar jumps off the couch, and runs into the kitchen.

"Mom! We need to eat some MariOs! Where are they?"

I can't see Josselyn's eye-roll, but think I hear it. Still, Oscar runs back with the box just as Marcell Dareus drops a scrambling Andrew Luck after a 1-yard gain on first down.

I open the box and Oscar grabs a handful.

"Do you think the Bills play better because we're eating MariOs?" he asked, repeating a question I have used several times during his indoctrination.

"I don't know," I say, taking my own handful. "What do you think?"

Again with the wide eyes.


Luck hits T.Y. Hilton, who has scored both Indianapolis touchdowns, on second down, but Buffalo cornerback Justin Rogers wraps him up two yards short of the marker.

"It's third down, Oscar. If the Bills can stop them from going this far," I stand and point to the yellow line on the screen, "They get the ball back."

"Which one is Mario?" he asks.

"He's right here."

Still standing by the television, I point to No. 94 getting into his stance at the top of the picture. I sit down next to Oscar as the ball is snapped, and Williams swoops in on Luck and deposits the league's first overall draft pick on the artificial turf.

"Mario!" Oscar yells, his mouth full of cereal. He turns to me for a fist bump (which, in his near-constant state of exuberance, is usually more of a fist punch. We are working on it).

That, of course, would be the high point of the afternoon.

We could rehash the rest of the game -- the predictable Fitzpatrick interception, minimized by Stevie Johnson's terrific effort in stripping and recovering the loose ball; Chan Gailey's continuing insistence on not using his best offensive player, C.J. Spiller, in game-deciding situations; Gailey's decision to once again abandon the offense's most productive weapon, the running game, when down by one score with plenty of time remaining; Gailey's second craven choice of the day to punt on fourth down; and the defense's inability to stop an offense with wavering confidence and a rookie quarterback on an all-or-nothing third-and-10, this time due to rookie corner Stephon Gilmore's weekly pass interference infraction.

But that would be just as depressing as watching it all happen. Once again. (If you really want to get into that mess, Jerry Sullivan does so in style here -- if you have a subscription to the Buffalo News or haven't used up your monthly allotment of free articles yet.)

Such an accounting also would miss the main point -- for the 12th time in the 13 seasons since the Bills last reached the postseason, they enter December with only a mathematical chance so slim as to be delusional.

Their quarterback isn't good enough. Their coaches aren't good enough. The players who are worthy of a playoff roster -- Spiller, Jackson, Johnson, the improved offensive line, Kyle Williams, Jairus Byrd -- aren't good enough to make up for the components that are not.

Not even Williams producing the sort of game fans, Gailey and Buddy Nix envisioned when he signed that $100 million contract last spring -- three sacks, two other tackles in the Indy backfield and four hits on Luck -- is good enough to overcome the systemic shortcomings on and off the field.

Yes, the sorry state of the AFC, compounded by Pittsburgh's apparent free-fall in the absence of Ben Roethlisberger, means someone will make the playoffs at 9-7 or, very possibly, 8-8.

But as Gary, We Want Marangi's senior legal adviser, pointed out in the afterglow of last week's win over Miami, thinking about playoff scenarios requires you to ignore the shortcomings of the Bills themselves.

Watching them choke -- that's a harsh word, but painfully accurate -- on Sunday in what amounted to a regular-season playoff game -- makes such blissful ignorance impossible. Given the quality of the next five opponents, along with the fact three of them are at home, one is in Toronto and the single road game is in Miami, where the Dolphins have no discernible advantage, the Bills, now 4-7, could win them all.

As Sunday showed, however, they're at least as capable of losing any or all of them -- especially considering that they have frittered away any possible margin for error, which figures to only increase pressure, which they have shown no ability to handle.

"Are visions of playoffs still dancing in your head?" Gary asked Sunday night via text message.

Not this team. Not with this coach. Not with this quarterback.

"It must get old, writing about them losing all the time," Josselyn said after the game.

Yes. Yes, it does. Besides a lack of time, that was the main reason I had taken a few seasons off after writing regularly about the previous 19.

But it isn't just the losing. It's that the story just keeps repeating itself.

Gailey is Dick Jauron -- a seemingly decent person with some success as a coordinator and absolutely no business being a head coach -- but with a beard.

And Ryan Fitzpatrick is Kelly Holcomb -- a cast-off who fans detest less than the more acclaimed homegrown draft pick who came before -- but with a beard. And a much larger contract.

When Buffalo started 5-2 last year, it made for a nice story: The players nobody wanted led by the coach nobody wanted proving everybody else wrong.

The Bills have played 20 regular-season games since then. They have won five. Turns out everybody else was right.

WWM MVP: Johnson caught six passes for 106 yards, including a 63-yard catch-and-run that Gailey's play-calling helped turn into a field goal. The receiver also made the aforementioned strip on Indianapolis safety Tom Zbikowski, which should have been a game- and season-changing play.

Johnson gets extra credit for urging Gailey to give Fitzpatrick more latitude in changing play calls.

BUT it doesn't matter who calls the plays if Fitzpatrick can't execute them. Even with an almost-exclusively short-range game plan, he barely completed 50 percent of his throws (17-of-33). And he badly overthrew two open receivers when the Bills did try to stretch the Colts.

Fitzpatrick was particularly pitiful in the first half, completing just six of 15 passes as the Bills managed a pair of field goals against a defense that gave up 59 points a week earlier in New England.

AND it might help more if someone, anyone else decided who is on the field when the Bills have the ball. Spiller disappeared for long stretches of the second and fourth quarters, finishing with just 14 carries, despite averaging 7.6 yards each time he did get the ball.

Spiller sparked Buffalo's only touchdown drive with a 41-yard run and ran for 51 of the 66 yards that put the Bills at Indy's 13-yard line just two minutes into the fourth quarter.

So, naturally, his number was not called on a single running play the rest of the way.

IF you missed it, here's video of two Colts cheerleaders getting their heads shaved. Megan, the woman on the right, pledged to go bald if the team's mascot raised $10,000 for leukemia research, in honor of Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano, who is sidelined while he fights the disease. The mascot, Blue, raised more than $22,000, so Crystal, who overcame leukemia as a child, donated her locks, as well.

I'm not sure what I like better about the video -- that a guy dressed as a blue horse started the shaving process, or that he did so in a way that briefly made Megan and Crystal appear both bald and mulleted.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Your Bills-Colts Open Thread: Buffalo Needs Very Little Luck

Depending on how Buffalo's visit to Indianapolis today turns out, it might wind up being as close as the 2012 Bills come to a playoff game.

Despite some gut-twisting losses and some head-smashing embarrassments, the Bills' 4-6 record puts them two games back of the surprising Colts. A win would pull them within a single game with five to play, as well as possession of the primary tiebreaker over Indianapolis.

While Indianapolis' improved defense had a lot to do with its 6-3 start, it got thoroughly barbecued in last week's 59-24 trouncing at New England. It didn't help that Andrew Luck finally played like a rookie, either, throwing three interceptions and losing a fumble as the Colts' offense disintegrated after taking a 14-7 first-quarter lead.

As the Bills are well aware, getting smoked by New England can happen to almost anyone. Today marks the most pressure the 2012 first overall draft pick and his team have faced to date. If Buffalo's defense can put on the sort of performance it put on against another rookie quarterback, Ryan Tannehill, 10 days ago, while Ryan Fitzpatrick can avoid reverting to the ineptitude he displayed most of the season's first half, the Bills are squarely in the playoff race.

If they, and the Colts, revert to form, though, it's back to talking about who replaces Fitzpatrick next year.

As ever, feel free to share your hopes, fears and reactions in the comments below.

Ernie Warlick, RIP

Ernie Warlick, whose biggest catch as a Buffalo Bill came in the final game of his career, died Saturday. He was 82.

The tight end, who joined the Bills at the relatively advanced age of 32 after a decorated career in the Canadian Football League, led Buffalo with 35 catches in 1962. By 1965, though, he had lost his starting job to rookie Paul Costa, catching just eight passes as the Bills advanced to their second straight American Football League title game. For one more day, at least, he was a focal point of Buffalo's offense, catching three passes, including one that gave the Bills the lead for good in their second straight championship-game win over San Diego. Edwin "Bud" Shrake described the play for Sports Illustrated as follows:

Carlton made two smashing runs, the rookie tight end Costa made an excellent catch, and the Bills moved to the San Diego 18. From there Buffalo Coach Lou Saban sent in a call to Kemp: Warlick on a post pattern. Warlick, a veteran, was not a starter most of this season and got in Sunday only because of the double-tight-end strategy. The Bills had used two tight ends in short-yardage situations before, but never for an entire game. When Warlick heard he would start he was so grateful that he prayed.
"This was my big chance," he said, "and I prayed I wouldn't muff it."
From left end, Warlick got past the linebacker and then cut inside Corner Back Leslie Duncan. As he ran behind the goalposts, Kemp threw him the ball. "I saw the ball coming," said Warlick, "and I told myself, 'That's your ball and nobody else is going to have it.' I caught it and then I threw the ball in the air and when I looked up at it I didn't know whether that was the ball up there or if it was me. Duncan came up to me and asked why I had to pick on him. I told him, 'Man, it's either you or me and I truly don't intend for it to be me.' "

A year earlier, Warlick was one of 21 African-American players who boycotted the AFL All-Star Game over the segregationist practices of businesses in New Orleans, the scheduled host city.
It eventually turned into a nightmare as many of the black players were left stranded at the airport for hours when they arrived in town. Once in the city African American players were refused cab service and in some cases those who were given rides were dropped off miles from their destinations.
Other players were refused admittance to nightspots and restaurants, while nearly all were subjected to tongue-lashings and to a hostile atmosphere on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter while sightseeing.  The situation became so uncomfortable for the black players who clearly felt unwelcome that most simply returned to their hotels. 
Later, all 21 African-American players who were scheduled to suit up met at the Roosevelt Hotel, the headquarters for the East team. The group discussed in great detail the treatment they had received and with a vote decided to walk out on the All-Star game. 
“The majority ruled. We felt we couldn’t perform 100% under the current circumstances,” said Buffalo Bills end Ernie Warlick. “Actually this came as a complete surprise to us. We were led to believe that we could relax and enjoy ourselves in New Orleans just like other citizens.”
A number of white players joined the boycott. Ultimately, the game was moved to Houston. Despite his relatively short time in Buffalo, his performance earned him recognition as the tight end on the franchise's 25th Anniversary team in 1984.

After his playing days, Warlick's stint with WGR-TV as the area's first black sportscaster earned him a spot in the Buffalo Broadcast Pioneers Hall of Fame. He also owned a Henry's Hamburgers franchise in the city, which gives me an excuse to post the clip below, and worked worked in sales for an industrial maintenance supply company.

I met him a few times at various Bills Alumni events, including a party during the team's 35th anniversary celebration in 1994.

Warlick and Tom Day, a defensive end and his teammate on the AFL Championship teams, talked with me for a half-hour or more. Warlick, president of the Alumni Association, had no bitterness about being cut loose by the team not long after his catch in San Diego.

Instead, he remembered his four seasons playing for the Bills, and subsequent decades living in the Buffalo area, with the warm, easy laugh of someone happy with and proud of the way he's lived his life.

(Special thanks to fellow recovering journalist Pat Murray for pointing me to the Sports Illustrated piece.)

Thursday, November 22, 2012

WWM Bonus Flashback: Thanksgiving, Marangi Style

Chris Brown of looks at five of the team's most memorable Thanksgiving performances, not including the 1968 game in Oakland we explored earlier.

Pete Gogolak (pictured) starred in two of the featured games. And this blog's namesake played a prominent role in No. 5, Detroit's 27-14 win over the Bills in 1976 at the Pontiac Superdome, when O.J. Simpson broke his own NFL single-game record by running for 273 yards.

Thanks to the bizarre workings of my brain, I remember watching that game. Even though I was eight, I remember thinking, "They're not even trying to stop O.J."

That was because the Lions led 20-0 in the third quarter and had absolutely no worries about Gary Marangi leading a comeback through the air. The one-time fan favorite did nothing to shake their confidence, completing four of his 21 passes for all of 29 yards.

So the Lions sat back in a prevent defense and let O.J. eat up the yards and the clock. Head coach Jim Ringo apparently decided to give up on trying to win and focused on getting the purely superficial record for Simpson, who never had a problem putting himself ahead of the team. Either that, or Ringo, who had taken over when Lou Saban quit earlier in the season, could not bear to watch Marangi try to throw any longer.

I was really hoping to find the NFL Films highlights of this game, largely to see Marangi in action. No such luck, but the WWM research department will keep looking.

WWM Flashback: Thanksgiving 1968

The Bills haven't played on Thanksgiving Day since 1994, but they were once an after-dinner staple.

Back in the American Football League days, the Bills made an annual late-season swing to the West Coast. This was partly to save on travel costs, and partly to avoid Buffalo weather in late November and December. Three straight AFL Championship Game appearances in the mid-1960s made the Bills attractive to network programmers, as well.

So it was that Buffalo took part in five Thanksgiving games over a six-year span. In 1968, the Bills took a miserable 1-10-1 record into Oakland, where the Raiders were rolling towards the playoffs and a shot at defending the AFL title they had won in 1967 behind Daryle Lamonica.

Having traded away Lamonica and with Jack Kemp and every other quarterback still on the roster sidelined with injuries, the Bills were left with Ed Rutkowski at quarterback.

We have written about this dark period in Bills history before, but it's worth revisiting for a couple reasons.

For one, the extended highlights below provide a nice taste of 1968, from the jazzy soundtrack to the shots of people dressed like grown-ups in the stands.

It also shows that, as much as times and fashions change, the Buffalo Bills do not. You can imagine your turkey-and-Genesee-laden ancestors settling in front of their 19-inch Philco and seeing the underdogs outplay the ominous Raiders for much of the afternoon.

Then they fall behind, only to rally to the brink of a stunning, nationally televised upset.

Finally, just six feet away from victory, they blow it, with their would-be hero fumbling the game away.

So take a break from your preparation and celebration to watch the clip below. And curse out Rutkowski, just for old times' sake.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


A couple of problems with this "Blogger Blitz" from James Walker of (which I do not have the technical savvy to embed, meaning you will have to click the link to see):

While his analysis of the importance of Buffalo's visit to Indianapolis is correct, the idea that a 10-6 record will be the postseason cutoff in the crashingly mediocre AFC, which would require the Bills to finish the season with seven straight wins to make it, ignores the realities of math.

With the Steelers lacking an NFL-quality quarterback until Ben Roethlisberger returns, the chance that 9-7, or even 8-8 will be good enough for the playoffs looks better by the week. Especially if the Bills beat the Colts.

More importantly, why is Walker clad in what appears to be a bathrobe? Is this shot in his bathroom? Is ESPN trying to compete with the production values offered by scores of YouTube experts like Brandon here? If so, give up now.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Good Enough, For Now

There were two truly big plays in Buffalo's 19-14 win over Miami on Thursday night.

Missed the first -- I was heading back from the concession stand with beer for the We Want Marangi coverage team when Leodis McKelvin darted through the Dolphins' punt-coverage team and 79 yards up the sideline for the game's first points, putting the Bills ahead for good just 90 seconds into the game.

The sell-out crowd, already in a frenzy after several hours of pre-game preparation and a rather spectacular tribute to American veterans, replete with fireworks and card-waving, escalated from rowdy din to savage roar. It was clear something very big had happened, and I was left to catch what would be Buffalo's lone touchdown on the replay board on the way back to our seats.

The noise level remained intense for most of the night, as Buffalo's defense finally came through with the sort of dominant performance anticipated through the offseason, but realized only during early wins against Kansas City and Cleveland.

Jairus Byrd capped the night with the second, a remarkably athletic interception of Miami rookie Ryan Tannehill with 1:54 left in regulation. Byrd's play quelled the palpable fear that the Bills would do what they have done best for most of 2012 -- find a way to blow it.

We split after Byrd's diving catch, in an effort to evade the post-game traffic snarl. The Bills being the Bills, they quickly returned the ball to the Dolphins, who mounted a final, desperate drive. We learned of Bryan Scott's subsequent interception with 41 seconds left from the remaining crowd, which let out one last cathartic, relieved ovation.

After Buffalo had lost two of its previous three games in stomach-churning fashion with seconds remaining, leaving before the very end probably showed excessive confidence by WWM. But for one of the few times this season, the Bills justified the feeling.

From our vantage point in the lower bowl, the assemblage seemed pretty well-behaved for a night game. Clearly, this was not the situation elsewhere. Police later reported making 24 arrests, about five times the normal level for a Sunday afternoon game.

Then there was the 26-year-old Palmyra man who went missing after being ejected by stadium security and was found dead early Thursday in a creek behind the stadium.

And a friend of We Want Marangi endured a shocking assault, we learned on Saturday.

She and her party had decided it was time to head for home around halftime. A man in the group said she was delivering a stream of high-end taunts to a group of Dolphins fans, invoking Dan Marino's Isotoner glove commercials from the 1980s and Mercury Morris' substance-abuse issues from the previous decade when a guy in a Miami jersey, who appeared heavily intoxicated, walked up and punched her in the face.

He fled, her companion said, and she declined medical treatment, despite a bleeding nose and what would become a black eye.

As they were walking to their car, the man who told WWM about the incident saw the aqua-clad assailant following them. With no authority types around, he said he administered some parking-lot justice, leaving the woman-puncher in a pile on the gravel.

The on-field action left a much better aftertaste. The Bills delivered the sort of performance they will need to repeat again and again over the next two months -- dominance by the defensive front, big plays from the secondary, and something approximating competence from the offense.

The opinion of our coverage team was hardly unanimous on this last point.

"Their offense is pathetic," said Gary, WWM's lead attorney on Thursday. "They did nothing in the second half."

It did appear that Buffalo's offense spent most of the second half trying to run out the clock, rather than attempting to build on a 19-7 lead. When Miami inevitably cut the lead to five points, another Tennessee moment appeared imminent.

But the Bills did move the ball consistently during the first two quarters, at least until they got near the goal line. Once there, Ryan Fitzpatrick's inaccuracy and Chan Gailey's strange obsession with Tashard Choice helped limit them to four Rian Lindell field goals.

For the first time this year, though, the Bills closed the deal -- not because the other guys missed a field goal or otherwise provided a lucky break, but due to heady, athletic plays by Byrd and Scott.

Buffalo heads into their next game, a week from today in Indianapolis, at 4-6. If the surprising Colts get slapped around, as expected, in New England later this afternoon, they'll be 6-4. A Bills win would draw them, somehow, within one game of the AFC's sixth and final playoff seed with five winnable contests remaining.

With Ben Roethlisberger out for at least a month, Pittsburgh is hardly a lock for the other wild-card berth, either.

Again, Gary is here to puncture any excessively inflated optimism, pointing out that any playoff scenarios for the Bills require a team that has yet to put together three straight good performances to perform consistently for the next six weeks.

Still, the win, workmanlike though it may have been, keeps the possibility alive. For another week, at least.

WWM MVP: Byrd made four tackles, broke up two passes, recovered a fumble and provided the single biggest play other than McKelvin's touchdown.

THERE YOU ARE: Mario Williams and Shawne Merriman, whose compensation has far exceeded their contributions during their time in Buffalo, each recorded a sack in the same game for the first time. If the Bills are going to make any kind of run, it can't be the last.

REGGIE'S REALLY BAD NIGHT: With defensive tackles Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus, as well as end Kyle Moore (who also sacked Tannehill), helping Williams and Merriman dominate the line of scrimmage, Dolphins running back Reggie Bush gained all of zero yards on the ground during the first three quarters, finishing with 20 yards on 10 carries.

While Bush's crack about the aesthetics of Buffalo's women-folk dominated chatter leading up to the game, we didn't witness any attempts to refute him. Of course, with the 30-something temperatures forcing multi-layered fashion choices, taking the high road was perfectly understandable.

SPILLER'S SPOTLIGHT: With Fred Jackson sidelined by a concussion, C.J. Spiller again thrived as the featured back, running for 91 yards on a career-high 22 carries and catching four passes for 39 more.

Gailey's insistence on lifting him for Choice in some passing situations makes sense, given Spiller's tendency to whiff or get bum-rushed when kept in to protect Fitzpatrick. But not figuring a way to use the most dangerous player at his disposal elsewhere on third downs or near the goal line does not.

WHAT TO WATCH TODAY: The Bills have Sunday off, but both the Colts-Patriots game at 4:25 p.m. and tonight's AFC North showdown between Baltimore and the Steelers have big implications for any hopes of a postseason push.