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.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Your Dolphins-Bills Open Thread: Bush, Boobs and Buffalo

Here's a little something to keep you entertained while waiting for tonight's Bills-Dolphins game in Orchard Park and wondering whether anyone will try to disprove Reggie Bush's thesis on the women of Buffalo. We Want Marangi will be on the scene to provide a detailed report.

The highlights below are from Miami's visit to War Memorial Stadium on Nov. 16, 1969. Besides the almost-anniversary angle, the game marked the last time the Bills beat the Dolphins until the 1980 season opener.

As ever, share your thoughts before, during or after tonight's game in the comments below.

Media Day: Every Picture Tells A Story. Don't It?

The wonders of modern technology have made a writer of anyone with a keyboard and an internet connection. And a photographer of anyone with a remotely modern cell phone.

Even amidst the tsunami of words and images made available by a few keystrokes, though, you can still pick out the real thing immediately.

And Neil Leifer, who made the image above for Sports Illustrated, is the real thing.

You might not recognize the name, but if you became a football fan any time between the 1960s up until the Internet turned sports journalism from something that required seeking and often paying into a colorful segment of the popular culture landscape, you know his work.

Leifer's images were to the pre-digital age print media what Ed and Steve Sabol's NFL Films productions were to television: iconic links between the sport and its rapidly growing base of devotees.

Leifer, who shot just about every sport of significance beginning in the 1950s, has published a collection of his football images, Guts and Glory: The Golden Age of American Football. Today, Deadspin published four of the images, along with Leifer's descriptions of the situations, techniques, cameras and even type of film (for those not familiar with the non-cinematic use of the word, that's a thin flexible strip of cellulose coated with a photographic emulsion, used to make negatives and transparencies) that went into creating them.
The thing is, you don't know when during the play to shoot—you're shooting with a sequence camera, four or five frames a second. There were 36 frames on a roll of film, and it would not be uncommon to shoot about 30 rolls of film of a game. Sometimes it would be 28 or 33. A lot of it would be junk, but it's a hell of a lot easier to be a genius when you edit than when you shoot.
 So if you are a photographer, an admirer of the art, or just like you some football, do yourself a favor and check it out.

The introduction includes a link to popular online retailer, for anyone who is looking for a Christmas gift for someone who might really, really like it.

Cough. Cough.

OH, AND THE BILLS are playing the Dolphins tonight. This used to be quite a big deal nationally, but with both teams aspiring to mediocrity for most of the past decade,  nobody outside Buffalo or Miami cares much these days (and the latter is iffy at best).
The Bills (3-6), with the offseason addition of high-priced defensive end Mario Williams, weren't supposed to be this bad. And the Dolphins (4-5), with rookie coach Joe Philbin, rookie quarterback, Ryan Tannehill and many holes to fill, weren't supposed to be this good.

Jim Kelly versus Dan Marino this is not. But on Thursday night, the prime-time lights will once again shine on these two longtime division rivals in a game that will determine who stays in the postseason picture for at least another week.
THE NEW YORK JETS provided the biggest story of the week. Surprisingly enough, it involves Tim Tebow. The New York Daily News published a piece loaded with named and unnamed players and members of the Jets organization stating in very clear, understandable terms that they want no part of Tebow doing anything besides taking the rare snap in the Wildcat formation or blocking for the punter.
Left guard Matt Slauson, who has repeatedly supported Sanchez, made it clear that the fourth-year signal caller is the Jets’ best quarterback.

“It’s not even close,” Slauson said. “All the other quarterbacks know it. I have all the confidence in Mark. We don’t really have a choice.”

When asked about the team’s two other quarterbacks on the depth chart as possible alternatives — Tebow and Greg McElroy — Slauson clarified that the Jets really have only one other quarterback.

“We have Greg . . . and we have an athlete,” Slauson said.

But could the Jets win with Tebow as the No. 1 quarterback?

“Do I have to answer that question?” a veteran starter said, shaking his head.
While this comes as no surprise to anyone who has actually watched the man throw a pass, it must be jarring news to the good folks at ESPN. Or at least it would be if playing ability entered into the network's news judgment.

And I like Tebow, from what I've seen of the guy. Too bad he's not a better quarterback.

SPEAKING OF THE JETS, they reached the conclusion this week that Aaron Maybin is not very good at playing football.

If his playing career is over, one highlight, besides the half-dozen sacks the Bills 2009 first-round pick recorded last season with the Jets, was getting the full Rick Reilly treatment from the hackiest hack who ever hacked.

I'm no art critic, but perhaps Maybin has something to fall back on. Kind of tough to make nasty cracks about someone who has lost a child, as detailed in the video. I might be losing my edge.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Bills Take Another Wrong Route

As tempting -- and easy -- as it might be, you can't blame this one on Ryan Fitzpatrick.

After Buffalo's 37-31 loss in New England on Sunday, Fitzpatrick and T.J. Graham each took responsibility for the interception that snuffed what would have been one of the most remarkable, and unlikely, comebacks in Buffalo history. The quarterback acknowledged a miscommunication on WGR 550 Monday morning, but insisted he should have made sure Graham knew where he was going.

Up to that point, Buffalo had exorcised many of the demons of a once-hopeful season's demoralizing first half.

Fitzpatrick had overcome the early fumble that led to New England's first touchdown, as well as shaky protection, to regain the form that spurred a 5-2 start in 2011. He riddled New England's shaky secondary with short and medium throws, mixing in screens that maximized the skills of Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, and bringing Buffalo to within 15 yards of avenging one of this year's most humiliating losses.

Chan Gailey finally found a balance between Jackson and Spiller, who produced 246 total yards between them.

Buffalo's defense, which only previously lived up to advance billing when working against the incompetent offenses of the Browns, Chiefs and Cardinals, again got sliced up for the first three quarters. But in the fourth, they slowed Tom Brady and Stevan Ridley enough to limit the Patriots to a pair of field goals. The defensive stand after New England reached Buffalo's 2-yard line with less than three minutes looked like a potential season changer, especially after Fitzpatrick got the Bills moving after Gostowski's 27-yard field goal.

More important than the improvement of any individual or group, though, was the way the entire team had come back. Behind early in a place that was home to so many previous nightmares, the Bills overcame not only the early deficit, but an almost inconceivable number of penalties.

The most damaging, the 37-yard pass interference call in the end zone on rookie cornerback Stephon Gilmore was worse than questionable, as Tom Brady's bomb appeared to soar far above receiver Brandon Lloyd's head and landed far past the end line. Yet it was somehow ruled catchable, putting the Patriots in point-blank range for Rob Gronkowski's 2-yard touchdown grab, which made it 24-10.

Faced with ample opportunity to meekly accept another blowout defeat, the Bills scratched their way almost all the way back, negating both the blown interference call, the other 13 mostly well-deserved penalties they incurred, Fitzpatrick's early fumble and Jackson's at the goal line.

Jesse, a frequent commenter here at We Want Marangi, nailed it on yesterday's Bills-Patriots preview/Open Thread:

"Great game," he wrote, "except for the result."

It was one play, one throw, one correctly run pass pattern away from being better than great. Coming from behind in New England to beat the Patriots, who despite their defensive flaws remain Buffalo's divisional and psychological arch-nemesis, could have been transformational.

If Graham runs the right pattern, or maybe if Fitzpatrick throws the ball anywhere besides into the hands of Devin McCourty, then gets it right in the play or two he would have had left after an incompletion, we are having a very different conversation today.

At 4-5, Buffalo would be a game behind the suddenly vulnerable Patriots for the AFC East lead. The Bills would also be in the wild-card race, clustered with San Diego, Miami and Cincinnati a game or two out, depending on whether 5-3 Pittsburgh beats Kansas City tonight.

Fitz's Pick -- as it will be known, fairly or not -- puts them three games back in both chases, presuming a Steelers win, with seven to play. Even with a friendly schedule, starting Thursday night's visit by Miami, that's a pretty heavy lift.

Heavy, but at the risk of sounding overly optimistic, not impossible. None of the seven remaining games are unwinnable. Only two of the six opponents involved (the Bills face the Dolphins twice in that stretch) have winning records.

Indianapolis is a shocking 6-3 behind first overall pick Andrew Luck. Besides Buffalo, though, the Colts' remaining schedule includes visits to New England and Detroit (where the erratic Lions are usually tougher) and two of their last three against 8-1 Houston.

Seattle is 6-4, but only 1-4 on the road, and they play Buffalo in Toronto on Dec. 16.

Aside from the Colts and Seahawks, the Bills' remaining opponents are a combined 15-30-1. If the Colts or Steelers falter even a little, there's a very good shot that 9-7 gets you into the postseason. A complete collapse by either makes 8-8 a possibility, too.

The last time the Bills had an improbable hot streak late in the season was 2004. That team did it with a defense that stuffed lousy offenses, a pretty mediocre quarterback in an aging Drew Bledsoe and an emerging Willis McGahee.

This Buffalo team has similar elements, if the defense can build on its fourth quarter against New England. With the news that Jackson will miss at least Thursday's game with a concussion, Spiller again gets a shot at showing what he can do with a heavier workload.

Of course, talking about playoff scenarios is pretty silly until Buffalo shows it can put a complete game together without allowing one facet -- like penalties, turnovers or a statuesque game plan by defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt -- to offset the positives. The Bills have managed such a total effort just twice in nine games, and those performances came -- not to belabor the point -- against the Chiefs and Browns.

They're certainly overdue, having run the gamut of ways to lose -- getting blown out in three wildly diverse styles, coming from ahead to surrender a touchdown in the closing moments, being physically dominated while keeping the score deceptively close, and now this.

Silly, yes. But despite, and because of, the way they came up short on Sunday, you can't call it ridiculous.

BILLS MVP: Fitzpatrick's only significant mistake on Sunday was putting too much faith in a rookie to do the right thing. Under the circumstances, that doesn't offset everything he did in bringing his team back.

BUT: As Tim Graham of the Buffalo News points out in his Press Coverage blog, teams quarterbacked by Fitzpatrick have now taken possession of the ball in the fourth quarter with the score tied, or trailing by one score 26 times. They have won five.

This does not instill confidence. Particularly when you consider that only nine quarterbacks have done worse in the past 40 years, according to Scott Kacsmar, who put together the numbers.

Since we're looking for bright spots today, it should be noted that Aaron Rodgers -- he of Super Bowl victory, NFL MVP and State Farm commercial fame -- has an even worse record in such situations, at 4-21.

TRASH TALKING 101: Even at age 6, Oscar seems to have the concept down cold. After questioning how his mother, a lifelong fan of all Boston-area sports teams, could possibly root against the Bills, the 6-year-old invoked the New York Giants' win over the Patriots last February.

"Last year, did you know your team was in the Super Bowl?" he asked, rather sweetly, before his tone darkened a bit. "And you lost. Ha. In your face."

As usual, at least when the Bills are involved, Josselyn had the last laugh. Although she respectfully declined to issue it.

THURSDAY NIGHT LIVE: The Bills announced this afternoon that the Dolphins game sold out in time to lift the television blackout, clearing the way for the 8 p.m. kickoff to be shown on the NFL Network and WBBZ-TV, Channel 67.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Your Bills-Patriots Open Thread: 'You Already Gave Them The &%$@#^* Game'

I'm standing outside the visitor's locker room at old Foxboro Stadium, a barely heated cement structure situated just beyond one of the end zones in the former home of the New England Patriots.

It is Nov. 29, 1998, and Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe has just tossed the ball to a wide-open Ben Coates for a game-winning touchdown with no time left on the clock.

The score is not stunning, but inevitable. The shocks have already occurred -- a ruling that New England's Shawn Jefferson caught a fourth-down pass in-bounds and beyond the first-down marker, despite clear replay evidence to the contrary (which led to a sideline huddle during which Andre Reed famously claimed one official said to another, "Just give it to him"), followed by a pass-interference call against Henry Jones on a Hail Mary lob into the end zone that put the ball at Buffalo's 1-yard line with no time remaining.

Coates and the rest of New England's offense is still celebrating in the far end zone when Buffalo's players, coaches and support staff run by and into the locker room as a rather vicious crowd celebrates a victory that seemed impossible a few moments before -- and would have been, if not for Bledsoe's remarkable ability to shake off a dislocated pinkie on his throwing hand, as well as the aforementioned calls.

I am annoyed, not because the Bills lost. I'm an Objective Journalist, after all. But the nearly complete game story and column saved on my laptop in the press box, detailing Flutie's triumphant return to New England, where he has brought Buffalo back from a two-touchdown deficit, which need only to have a couple quotes plugged in before transmitting back to my newspaper, are now wholly irrelevant.

And here comes the referee, who has come to notify the Bills that, even though the clock indicates that the game is over, the rules require the Patriots, who lead 23-21, to attempt an extra-point conversion. The game is not over, even though it is.

The ref pounds on the steel door until one of the team's civilian employees answers, then fetches Wade Phillips.

Phillips, in his first season after succeeding Marv Levy as Buffalo's head coach, appears in the doorway, his face red, his eyes wide. The official says something I can't make out from 10 feet away, since the crowd is drunkenly bellowing and he is facing away from me.

Phillips' response, however, is quite clear and to the point.

"You already gave them the fucking game," Phillips says,  "You might as well give them the fucking extra point, too."

And he slams the door in the ref's face.

The official stands there for a moment, then runs back to the other end of the field, where the Patriots line up for the conversion. With no defense opposing them, their holder flips the ball to kicker Adam Vinatieri, who trots in for a two-point conversion, finalizing the score at 25-21.

The four-point margin would not have been a big deal, except that the most common point spread was New England by three-and-a-half. So, if you had bet on the Bills, they still would have covered if Vinatieri had kicked for one. But Phillips' acquiescence made you a loser. Unless you were a writer who needed a great quote to hook a reworked column upon (even if it needed to be edited for a family newspaper).

I still believe the level of animosity Phillips endured during his three seasons as head coach -- which, it should be noted, produced a 29-19 regular-season record and the franchise's two most recent playoff appearances -- had a lot to do with his role in the bad beat absorbed by Buffalo fans who like to make Sundays a little more interesting with a friendly wager.

Such a painful loss in New England, where the Bills visit this afternoon, would be a welcome relief these days (See? There was a hint of timeliness to all this, after all). Phillips and Buffalo rebounded to win four of their last five games, finish 10-6 and earn a wild-card berth.

At 3-5, talking about such a turnaround by these Bills feels pretty silly. Especially in light of New England's 52-28 gutting of the Bills on Sept. 30. So I am not going to do it.

You can relive the "Just Give It To Him" game -- along with other highlights from the '98 season -- here, courtesy of the Internet.

Please share your memories of the days when having a horrible coach meant finishing at least .500 and losing two road playoff games by a touchdown or less, or your thoughts on what happens in Foxborough today, in the comments below.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Media Day: The Exquisite Agony Of Bills Fans

About the highest praise one writer can offer another is to say, "I wish I'd written that."

Ben Austen, a contributing editor for Harper's Magazine, spent a few days in Buffalo the week of New England's 52-28 blitzkrieg on Sept. 30, and produced this rather epic look at the often dysfunctional, but ultimately loving relationship between the Bills and their fans, and the region in general, for Grantland, the Bill Simmons-helmed ESPN spinoff.

Other than the passage excerpted below, I'll leave it to you to go and read for yourself. I don't really have anything to add that Austen didn't say better. Except that, Ben Austen, I wish I'd written that.
There's one play I'll recount. At the start of the second half, with the Bills leading 14-7, Ryan Fitzpatrick threw a short strike to a crossing Donald Jones, who managed to evade a defensive back and sprint another 60 yards for the touchdown. Seconds earlier I had walked up a tunnel leading to the 100-level seats behind the Bills end zone. A thick painted yellow line indicated that this definitely was not a spot where I was allowed to loiter and watch. Before the guard stationed there could bounce me, though, the Bills had scored, leading to a riot of emotional release. No one was wilder in his celebrations than the guard. He leapt and high-fived and ricocheted off the tunnel walls. A paroxysm of fulfillment shook his body. When his darting eyes settled on me, he pounced, wrapping his arms around my middle, elevating my lanky 6-foot-3 frame with a little three-quarter turn as he unleashed a joyous primal whoop. He looked back at the field, taking it all in. Then he lifted me again, this time more tenderly. After the extra point, I watched as the guard began to catch his breath. I could almost see his heart start to settle into its normal rhythms. He turned to me. "Ooh," he breathed, a kind of post-coital sigh. "I'm going to have to ask you to leave. I know that's totally unprofessional after mauling you like that. But I'm sorry."
The Glorious Plight of the Buffalo Bills

Monday, November 5, 2012

Chan Coaches Like Dick

Dick Jauron should be proud.

Yesterday in Houston, the Buffalo Bills turned back the clock with a performance reminiscent of the best-forgotten Jauron Era.

Despite being solidly outplayed for nearly three quarters in every facet of the game, the Bills, having avoided the sort of meltdowns that marked their four previous losses, still had a shot at pulling out a contest they had little business winning. All they needed was their deservedly maligned defense to stop what everyone in the stadium knew was coming and the offense to finally find its way into the Texans' end zone.

Neither came close to happening.

The defense did half its job, bottling up Houston's Arian Foster on what proved to be the decisive drive, which started with 2:55 left in the third quarter and the Texans ahead 14-9. Foster carried five times during the possession, but gained just three yards.

Foster's efforts were still productive, though, as they seemed to make defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt forget that the Texans were also allowed to throw the ball.

As he had on Houston's previous scoring drives, Matt Schaub parlayed Buffalo's concern with Foster into both more-than-adequate time in the pocket and wide-opoen receivers.Schaub completed all six of his throws, covering 65 yards. The last, to backup tight end Garrett Graham, gave the Texans a 12-point lead and, given Buffalo's offensive issues, the game.

The Bills had long since abandoned any attempt to throw the ball downfield. Two slow-developing screen passes gained as many yards. When Ryan Fitzpatrick finally aimed past the first-down marker, delivering a well-thrown ball to Scott Chandler, the usually reliable tight end, of course, dropped it.

Buffalo's run defense finally wore down, getting pushed backward for more than six minutes, with Foster tearing off increasingly large chunks of turf as the Texans kept the ball until it was too late for the Bills to do anything meaningful with it.

Taken on its own, the 21-9 loss was not Buffalo's worst of the season. The run defense didn't get gashed for the long highlight-reel sprints that typified the losses to New England, San Francisco and Tennessee.

Fitzpatrick didn't embarrass himself, completing 25 of 38 passes for 239 yards and not turning the ball over until fumbling on a desperation scramble after the game had been effectively decided, anyway. The numbers were far more impressive than his performance, however. He would not, or could not, try the sort of throws that might loosen up the Texans defense. Or result in touchdowns.

And, as was usually the case under Jauron (who presently has Cleveland's defense playing just well enough to lose close games to better teams), you can't say the Bills didn't play hard. They made Foster earn his 111 yards and, with Mario Williams turning in his second-best performance since coming to Buffalo, occasionally generated a pass rush while stuffing Foster and backup Justin Forsett six times behind the line for a total of 13 yards in losses.

The offense, though, also seemed like a Jauron creation -- a steady spray of short passes, mixed with a very occasional run. Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, easily Buffalo's top playmakers, each carried the ball six times.

“They were playing seven big guys in the box against our three wide sets and you’re trying to run them out of that," said Jauron's eventual successor, Chan Gailey. "You’re trying to throw the football to run them out of it and we weren’t able to do it. We had some passes that were dropped at times. We had some missed time penalties and it cost us offensively. We weren’t able to move it consistently and get in the end zone.”

In other words, if the other defense makes the going tough, quit and try something easier.

Gailey also seemed to forget that throwing the ball further than 15 yards down field is perfectly legal, sticking almost exclusively to screens, slants and other quick patterns almost guaranteed to gain less yardage than needed.

“Yeah, we would like to and we got to try to do that on a more consistent basis," Gailey said when asked about the failure to throw deeper. "Some weeks are better than others and sometimes they take things away from you that you don’t think they’re going to do but they did. They surprised us with a defense we hadn’t seen very much and we had to alter."

Such caution was at least partially due to the presence of Williams' replacement, J.J. Watt, who sacked Fitzpatrick once and drilled him as he threw at least another five times.

The biggest problem, though, is the inability of either Gailey or Wannstedt to "alter" when "surprised." Or when their counterparts have the audacity to adjust their plan once the game is underway.

Under Jauron, Buffalo's philosophy appeared to be to not screw up too bad, stay close and get a break at the end.

Gailey was supposed to bring a different approach, using his acclaimed offensive creativity in an effort to win games, rather than waiting for the other team to lose them.

The Bills last showed that sort of aggressive mentality during the hot streak that had them 5-2 heading into November 2011. Since then, Gailey and Fitzpatrick have been content with the take-what-they-give-us approach. Which sounds good, except that NFL defenses, especially ones as good as Houston's, don't give you much.

If Buffalo's fifth loss in eight games was not as humiliating as the rest, it was every bit as dispiriting. The Bills avoided the glaring physical mistakes and mental breakdowns of September and October. They did not disintegrate after falling behind. Williams and Fitzpatrick -- previously the two easiest, and most deserving, scapegoats -- each played well enough to finish the day on the winning side.

Still, the Bills lost. And lost decisively. In the process, they looked less like a team that had any confidence that victory was possible than one concerned with avoiding further embarrassment. Even in the final minute, needing several miracles to overcome a 12-point gap, Fitzpatrick was aiming small, running out the clock with meaningless short tosses.

Gailey said about what you would expect him to say about the loss, "we can build off this."

Midway through his third season as head coach, hearing Gailey talk about building might be the most demoralizing thing of all.

WWM MVP: Spiller provided what little danger the Bills' offense presented. It's not his fault he didn't get the ball more.

CAR COMMERCIAL OF THE WEEK: Growing up outside Buffalo, I always thought of Rush as something of a regional act -- big in Canada, the border region and probably throughout the Rust Belt. It was not until seeing the Volkswagen commercial with the guy air-drumming to "Fly By Night" that I realized the power trio to which all others aspire made enough of a national impact to warrant placement in a nostalgia-reliant advertisement 25 or 30 years after their popular peak.

Good for them. Can Triumph be far behind?

BROADCAST BLATHERING OF THE WEEK: It is mighty tempting to kick around Terry Bradshaw and his "bucket of chicken" line, but I didn't actually see or hear it as it happened, and it sounds more like an insipid inside joke with the FOX studio team than a case of racial stupidity. There is more than enough manufactured outrage out there, anyway.

So I'll go with CBS analyst Dan Fouts, with an assist to his production crew. First, a graphic incorrectly suggested Mario Williams was Houston's first-round draft pick in 2002, the Texans' first year of existence.

An honest enough mistake. So Fouts repeated it, later calling Williams "the first Texan ever drafted."

Um, no. That would have been David Carr. Four years before. I've never been one to pounce on every little mistake or mispronunciation announcers make -- talking into a microphone flawlessly for more than three hours is a lot to ask of mortals not named Vin Scully.

Doing some basic homework, though, is not too much to ask, Dan.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Your Bills-Texans Open Thread: Grasping At Maybes

A few hours before kickoff, Buffalo at Houston looks like an early-afternoon nightmare.

Last Sunday, the Texans destroyed another member of what passes for the AFC's elite, the Baltimore Ravens, 43-13.

In their last game, the Bills bumbled away a seemingly certain win over Tennessee, allowing the Titans' previously struggling star running back and 37-year-old quarterback to turn back the clock several years in the process.

On the way to a 6-1 start, Houston has scored the second-most points and only two teams have permitted fewer yards.

Buffalo, meanwhile, is 12th in points scored, but is 3-4 mainly because no team has given up more.

The Texans pound away at opposing defenses with Arian Foster, setting up Matt Schaub's short tosses to tight end Owen Daniels and longer throws to Andre Johnson.

The Bills have established no offensive identity beyond a knack for turning the ball over at the least opportune times, with Ryan Fitzpatrick's inaccuracy and lapses in judgment offsetting the short stretches in which he resembles a decent NFL quarterback.

Houston's defense swarms in the style orchestrated by Wade Phillips, the former Bills head coach and quite possibly the league's best defensive coordinator over the past quarter-century.

Buffalo, meanwhile, just sort of sits there in the passive scheme preferred by Dave Wannstedt, who early returns suggest might be the worst at his job in the NFL.

Phillips has put defensive end J.J. Watt, a first-year starter, in position to lead the league in sacks.

Wannstedt has relied heavily on the man Watt replaced in Houston, Mario Williams, with far less impressive results.

Add it up, and it looks like a Houston blowout, one that would push any talk about Buffalo making a playoff run close to the realm of fantasy.

All of which makes the NFL the entertainment giant that it is.

If a Texans runaway were, in fact, inevitable, the point spread would be 30, instead of the 10 it stayed near through the week.

Williams says his aching left wrist feels better after undergoing a procedure during Buffalo's bye week. So maybe he can finally provide the anchor that Wannstedt's 4-3, blitz-free strategy has so clearly lacked through seven games. You would think going back to Houston would fire him up. If, in fact, he is capable of such passion.

Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller both appear to be fully recovered from the injuries that hampered them and disrupted Chan Gailey's offensive plans. Perhaps Gailey has figured a way to get them the 35-40 touches he talked about this week, taking pressure off of Fitzpatrick.

Factor in a break or two, and maybe the Bills can make a game of it. Pulling off an upset would put them at 4-4 heading into New England. Even a loss there would leave them at 4-5, needing to go 5-2 against a schedule that does not include a single team that made the playoffs last year in order to have a shot at this year's postseason.

OK. That is a whole lot of maybes. But those possibilities are what keep us watching. Even when we should probably be doing something more productive. And less frustrating.

Either way, feel free to vent your joy and pain in the comments below.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Of Course, Fitzpatrick Should Look Over His Shoulder

We realize the Bills' bye week has made their disintegration against Tennessee fade into what seems like the distant past.

And that other than updates on Mario Williams' balky wrist and the alleged defensive savior's return to practice, there has not been much news coming out of Orchard Park in the interim.

But is Buddy Nix talking about the team's need to draft a quarterback of the future really earth-shaking news?

Or news at all?

Now, if Nix had drawled something like, "Dang it, if there's one thing we've learned from Fitzpatrick's performance over the last couple years, it's that we're not even sneaking into a wild-card spot with that scattter-arm giving the ball to the other guys all the time," then you'd have a story worth a media frenzy.

You can certainly read that sentiment between the lines of the Buffalo general manager's comments on WGR's morning show Friday, or to reporters later in the day,

"Listen, we have said from day one, that we want to draft a good young quarterback," Nix told morning hosts Howard Simon and Jeremy White on the team's official radio station. "I don't want to leave here without a franchise guy for the future in place. I have not said that before but I'm saying it now because its fact."

But even teams with decent quarterbacks draft their potential successors. To not do so, to go into a season with, say, Tyler Thigpen and Tarvaris Jackson as the only alternatives to the starter in the short or long term, could be considered downright negligent.

Had Nix said, "Ryan has proven that he deserves to be this team's quarterback for the next decade -- in fact, I just signed him to another contract extension," then that, also, would have been a pretty big story. As well as legal grounds for court-mandated psychiatric evaluation.

Potentially more significant was Nix's insistence that Chan Gailey will remain as head coach beyond this year, his third in Buffalo, no matter how the 3-4 Bills fare the rest of the way, starting Sunday in Houston.

"You change every three years and you never quite get there," Nix said, according to the Buffalo News.

Significant, but not especially surprising.

Front-office types simply do not speculate on future firings, especially when the coach in question was their hire in the first place. And Nix is probably being honest when he says he has no plans to replace Gailey.

If the humiliating nature of Buffalo's four losses -- three abject blow-outs, including two historically pitiful defensive efforts, and a fourth-quarter collapse against one of the NFL's feeblest offenses sealed by perhaps Fitzpatrick's worst decision yet -- continues, though, that decision may not be Nix's to make.

Buffalo's start has thoroughly stifled the team's preseason buzz, both locally and nationally. Bills CEO Russ Brandon has done a remarkable job selling a stunningly mediocre on-field product over the past few years, but not even another Williams-level signing is going to cut it if the teams continues skidding towards another 5-11 or 6-10 finish.

If anyone can sell Ralph Wilson on a front-office overhaul, it would be Brandon. Especially with rumors about Bill Polian, architect of the Bills' Super Bowl teams -- as well as the remarkably quick respectability of the expansion Carolina Panthers and the Indianapolis Colts' ascension to the NFL's elite -- shopping himself and his son, Chris, as a package deal floating around.

Polian split with Wilson over personal differences after Buffalo's third Super Bowl loss, stepping down in January 1993. Such a move would not be without precedence, though. Wilson got over getting jilted by Lou Saban following Buffalo's second straight American Football League championship in 1965, bringing the wandering coach back before the 1972 season.

That move, along with the presence of O.J. Simpson, produced three winning records and a playoff berth in four full seasons before Saban quit again. Compared to what the Bills have done since their last postseason appearance following the 1999 season, that would rate as a relative Golden Age.

He may have just turned 94, but Ralph Wilson -- who has never suffered embarrassments of this sort quietly for very long, might just have at least one more fresh start in him.