Thursday, October 31, 2013

IT'S AN OUTRAGE! (Marshawn Lynch Edition)

While discussing who is going to play quarterback on Sunday after learning that Thaddeus Lewis sat out Wednesday's practice while trying to recover from the pounding he suffered in New Orleans, the We Want Marangi editorial board came to a shocking realization (thanks to the keen eye of Mrs. WWM).

It has been a while since a national figure or media outlet said, published or broadcast anything less than effusively glowing about the wonders of the City of Buffalo and the surrounding area. As a result, the local citizenry has been denied a key source of manufactured outrage.

Fortunately, Deadspin, ESPN and former Bills running back Marshawn Lynch are here to help.

Yesterday, Deadspin published a pair of clips dealing with Lynch's time in Buffalo. The first was from an ESPN E:60 profile of Lynch that ran earlier this week in which he discovered that he might have been well-served by paying closer attention to his geography schooling.
I just knew I was going to New York. I thought I was going to be out there with Jay-Z ... and then when I finally landed in Buffalo, it was like slush on the ground, it just finished snowing. I didn't know nothing about no snow.
In the second, the dryly offbeat Kenny Mayne accompanies Lynch on a tour of his favorite nightspots in an effort to investigate his predecessor's disdainful analysis of Buffalo nightlife. So, of course, they go to Applebee's and Dave and Buster's. Right there is some selective reporting, since Lynch became uncomfortably familiar with the local bar districts during his stint with the Bills.

(NOTE: You could go watch them for yourself, or watch the entire E:60 profile below. But if you enjoy getting yourself all worked up about such things, don't bother -- context can really ruin a good harrumph.)

There's an awful lot here to get bunched up about. Not once does Lynch say a word about architecture, or mention any of the following: Radial street layout. Super-hep pockets of gentrification. Low cost of living, particularly in the city's eastern, southern, and western areas. Taxpayer-subsidized development. Syracuse gets more snow! Grain elevators! FRANK LLOYD TACO TRUCK!

We will get back to that whole quarterback thing once it becomes more clear whether Lewis will really be able to play, and Doug Marrone is sandbagging the Kansas City Chiefs, or if there is any real possibility of Jeff Tuel or Matt Flynn starting against the NFL's last unbeaten team.

In the meantime, get your righteous indignation on.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A Blowout Bills Can Build On

The Buffalo Bills were exposed Sunday in New Orleans as a raw team whose inexperience is compounded by basic physical inadequacies.

So it stands to reason they should beat the NFL's lone unbeaten team later this week.

A double-digit underdog to the Saints, Buffalo confounded one of the league's most explosive aerial attacks for most of the first half, while scraping together enough offense to take a 10-7 lead on a Dan Carpenter field goal with less than five minutes remaining before intermission.

Defensive Coordinator Mike Pettine's blend of coverages and blitzes had created enough pressure to discombobulate Drew Brees, limiting the Saints to 32 net passing yards in the game's first 25 minutes. Gum and string only hold up for just so long, though, and Brees inevitably found the weak spot.

Two snaps after Carpenter's field goal, Brees saw Jerry Hughes in coverage on wide receiver Kenny Stills. After freezing the Buffalo linebacker, who is far better on the blitz than in coverage, with a play-action fake, Brees hit an obscenely open Stills for a 69-yard touchdown and the pummeling commenced.

Brees spent the rest of the game resembling a video-game quarterback, zipping perfect throws all over the field. Brees exploited another coverage mismatch on Stills for the last of his five touchdown passes, when the rookie was able to box out Nickell Robey in the end zone midway through the fourth quarter.

Robey, generously listed at 5-foot-7 and 165 pounds, made the 6-foot, 194-pound Stills look like an NBA power forward on the play that capped the 35-17 New Orleans win. He also got beat on the first New Orleans touchdown, when he mistimed a swipe on Brees' 15-yard throw to Lance Moore.

Robey is aggressive and smart, with a knack for being in the right place, having sparked the win over Miami a week earlier with a 19-yard interception return for the opening score. On Sunday, he blew up a Saints screen pass for a 6-yard loss to stop the Saints' first series.

His size strips him of any margin for error, though, as shown on both touchdowns he gave up.

Keeping up with the Saints required near-perfection from the Buffalo offense, too. With their most explosive player sidelined and Thaddeus Lewis making his third start four weeks after joining the active roster, the Bills' offensive flaws glared.

The Chiefs, unbeaten though they may be in their first year under longtime Eagles coach Andy Reid, are far from perfect.

San Francisco exile Alex Smith is the ideal quarterback for the low-risk offense Reid has installed, and has a couple of top-level weapons to work with in running back Jamaal Charles and receivers Dexter McCluster, Donnie Avery and Dwayne Bowe, but none have shown the touchdown-on-any-play capability displayed by just about every Saints receiver.

In compiling that 8-0 mark, the Chiefs have beaten seven lousy teams and one sporadically OK one, with that better-quality win against Dallas coming at home in Week 2 by a single point. Sunday will be Kansas City's first road game after three straight at home.

Buffalo, meanwhile, comes off its worst loss of the season, falling into We Want Marangi's thoroughly arbitrary blowout zone for the first time. The Bills may have been blown out, but they were not knocked out by the Saints.

Credit for that competitiveness has to be spread among the coaches and roster, but no players gets more than Thaddeus Lewis. As you may have noticed if you have been watching the last few weeks, that guy is pretty tough.

For someone who started the season as nobody's last-string quarterback, Lewis has absorbed blind-side hits, as well as shots he saw coming but lacked time to do much about.

Against Miami, he even had his helmet knocked off, and still completed a key pass. In New Orleans, he appeared to get knocked out on the game's first snap, but somehow shook it off to make it all the way through, despite pulling himself off the turf after seemingly every pass he threw.

That resilience has been infectious, with Doug Marrone sounding almost giddy about facing the unbeaten Chiefs at his Monday press conference. Suggesting the Bills have a good shot at an upset is hardly a unique WWM insight, and if the predictions already dotting social media are any indication of the public level of optimism, the crowd at Ralph Wilson Stadium should be at full roar by kickoff.

No doubt, Kansas City has improved immensely from last year's 2-14 disaster. But the Chiefs, who have feasted on feeble opposition through a home-heavy first half of the schedule, while ranking in the middle of the pack or lower in just about every statistical category, are not a 9-0 team.

After Sunday, they won't be.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

WWM Flashback: Garbage Time In New Orleans And Bud's Birds

The last time the Bills visited New Orleans, they were headed for the playoffs. And their hosts were trying to prove they were not a joke, despite years of evidence to the contrary.

Doug Flutie's first and best season in Buffalo had already yielded a postseason berth, so he sat out the 1998 finale in the Superdome in order to rest a sore knee for the following weekend's Wildcard Game. In his place, Rob Johnson threw for three touchdowns and ran for a fourth, adding fuel the quarterback controversy that would last through the rest of Wade Phillips' coaching tenure.

Mike Ditka's second season with the Saints had not gone any better than the first. So he had spent the previous couple months giving Kerry Collins, who had been released by Carolina less than two years after taking the Panthers to the NFC title game, an audition at quarterback.

It did not last much longer.

The Bills sacked Collins a couple times, one ending with a near-touchdown by Bruce Smith (the first highlight in the clip above) and threw an interception. So Ditka pulled him before the first quarter ended with Buffalo up 21-0, having scored the football equivalent of a first-round knockout.

It remains the quickest hook I have ever seen in an NFL game. From the press box, I kept an eye on Ditka and Collins, wondering if the volcanic coach might slug the already-battered quarterback, or at least make him turn in his uniform right on the sideline.

Collins had clearly bombed the audition, ending his time with the Saints and, I figured, the NFL. At the time, they had managed four winning seasons out of 32 since joining the league as an expansion team and New Orleans had never celebrated a playoff win. If you couldn't make it there, you couldn't make it anywhere.

Shows what I know. Two years later, Collins started for the New York Giants in the Super Bowl. By 2008, the guy with a reputation as a drunken racist quitter was the calm, grizzled veteran who took over for the talented-but-troubled Vince Young and led Tennessee to a 13-3 record.

As for the Bills-Saints game, Johnson's 1-yard flip to Sam Gash put Buffalo ahead 28-0 early in the second quarter, leading to almost three full quarters of garbage time. Collins' replacement, Billy Joe Tolliver, threw on just about every down and Buffalo's defense, primarily concerned with remaining healthy, let him, resulting in a wildly deceptive 45-33 final.

A week later, Flutie started in Miami and the Bills lost 24-17, a defeat sealed when Flutie was sacked and fumbled at the 5-yard line in the closing moments.

But that's another flashback entirely.


A few days after former Houston and New Orleans coach Bum Phillips died last week, the man who fired him after guiding the Oilers to three straight playoff berths also left this world.

Adams' death leaves Ralph Wilson as the only remaining owner from "The Foolish Club," the group of eight wealthy men who founded the American Football League in 1960. Adams moved the Oilers to Tennessee in 1997, where they became the Titans a couple years later.

Adams' Oilers and Wilson's Bills combined to win four of the first six AFL titles. Neither franchise has celebrated a league championship since.

Like Wilson, Adams paid $25,000 for a franchise now valued at near $1 billion. Such financial success did not mellow the man, last seen by most Bills fans celebrating Tennessee's 41-17 win over Buffalo in 2009 thusly:

At the time, I figured he was still bitter about The Comeback. But judging from the Google results for "Bud Adams double bird," expressing himself with his middle fingers was something of a hobby.

At least that's how We Want Marangi, and more than a few people in Houston, will choose to remember him.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Close Doesn't Count, But Beats The Alternative

As pointed out by several readers -- OK, one -- after Buffalo's four losses in seven games so far in 2013, there is no such thing as a moral victory, a concept with which crappy teams in every sport have long consoled themselves.

For those unfamiliar with sporting cliches, the supposed moral victory is earned by scoring fewer points or runs than the other team, but rationalizing the failure with the idea that you probably should have been beaten much, much worse.

There are, however, demoralizing defeats. And, with Doug Marrone's first season as a professional head coach hitting the halfway point tomorrow in New Orleans, these Bills have yet to absorb one of those.

Every week, Buffalo has hit the two-minute warning possessing either a lead or the ball with a chance to tie or go ahead. Through seven games in which they have seen just about every one of their offensive weapons hobble off the field at least once and used three different quarterbacks, including two rookies and another with one previous NFL start, the Bills have yet to lose a game by 14 points or more.

Which happens to be We Want Marangi's official definition of a blowout. That threshold may not be scientific -- meaningless late touchdowns can be cosmetic in either direction -- but over a full season, it's a pretty fair indicator of a team's level of competitiveness.

Extensive research (by which we mean scrolling through the Bills' section of reveals that only twice in franchise history has Buffalo gone an entire season without getting blown out.

The first instance is not terribly surprising. The 1964 Bills were the dominant team in the American Football League, and possibly the best in all of football. Vince Lombardi's Packers were on a brief hiatus from laying waste to the pre-merger NFL, and Buffalo's smothering run defense, which gave up just 65 yards per game, would have made for an intriguing matchup with Cleveland, which rode Jim Brown to the NFL championship.

The '64 Bills went 12-2 before drilling San Diego 20-7 in the AFL title game, one of those not-as-close-as-the-score instances mentioned above. The two losses came by eight points to Boston and three to Oakland.

The only other time Buffalo had at least a whiff of every regular-season game was not, as you might suspect during the early '90s (those Bills were good for at least one stinker per schedule, usually on Monday Night in Pittsburgh), but two decades earlier.

The 1974 Bills might be Buffalo's least-remembered playoff team. A year after breaking the 2,000-yard barrier, O.J. Simpson was slowed by an ankle injury and finished with 1,125 yards. The defense was solid, though, and Joe Ferguson threw effectively enough (12 touchdown passes on the year, compared to four as a rookie in '73) to get the Bills to 9-5 and into the postseason, despite dropping their last two games.

The worst of their five regular-season losses was by 12 points to Houston, though they did get throttled by the eventual Super Bowl-champion Steelers 32-14 in the first round of the playoffs.

But back to modern times.

Consistently keeping it close is something new for the Bills of the 21st Century. In each of the past four seasons, and five of the last six, Buffalo lost by at least 14 points five times, a trend that bridged the tenures of Dick Jauron and Chan Gailey, as well as J.P. Losman, Trent Edwards and Ryan Fitzpatrick. In other words, the Bills got rolled in nearly half the 42 losses they compiled from 2009 to '12.

The only worse four-season stretch was 1969-72, when 28 of Buffalo's 42 defeats (an even more dismal total, given that each season was only 14 games long) were suffered by at least two touchdowns.

Keeping games close does not count for anything in the standings, but it has been a decent indicator of improvement. The '79 Bills took only two whuppings (after five apiece in '77 and '78), and won the AFC East the following season. Following a pair of 2-14 seasons involving a dozen blowouts, the '86 Bills lost just once by 14 or more during Jim Kelly's rookie season, despite finishing 4-12.

None of which is going to help Buffalo keep its streak of competitiveness going in the Superdome on Sunday.

The 5-1 Saints are sixth in points scored and fourth in points allowed, compared to 12th and 12th for Buffalo. And it is hard to imagine a Bills secondary that couldn't contain Geno Smith or Brandon Weeden presenting much of an inconvenience to Drew Brees, even with his primary target, Jimmy Graham, questionable with a foot injury.

With Thaddeus Lewis making his third start and C.J. Spiller listed as doubtful, the idea of the Bills keeping pace with Brees is not very appealing, either.

The oddsmakers certainly don't see it happening, with the Saints favored by at least 11 points.

Covering the spread might even be considered one of those moral victories. If there were such a thing.

Monday, October 21, 2013

So That's What $100 Million Looks Like

Wait a minute. Aren't the Bills supposed to lose that way?

Getting cute with a pass while protecting a lead with time running down.




If the decisive play of Buffalo's 23-21 win in Miami on Sunday seemed faintly familiar, that's because it was. Downright Losmanesque, really.

To be fair, Ryan Fitzpatrick was equally capable of such late-game antics, given the opportunity. As were Trent Edwards, Kelly Holcomb and even Drew Bledsoe. Not that any of them had many leads to protect over the last 13 years or so.

This time, though, it was the other team's offensive coordinator outsmarting himself and Ryan Tannehill carrying out the worst-case scenario.

The second-year Miami quarterback's fumble effectively ended a game he had started by chasing rookie cornerback Nickell Roby into the end zone. It would be easy to suggest the Bills were fortunate to be handed a game they had done all they could to lose, lucky to be 3-4.

Easy, but incorrect.

Yes, they gave up a 14-0 lead, a reverse rally during which their defense got gashed by a Miami running game that managed all of 22 yards in its previous outing while their offense more closely resembled one operated by a quarterback who had been semi-employed two weeks before.

They beat the Dolphins because when they desperately needed someone to make a game-changing play, Mario Williams made one.

Two, actually.

The highest-paid player in Buffalo's football history ripping the ball away from Tannehill with enough force to send it bouncing 10 yards down the field, where Kyle Williams surrounded it to set up Dan Carpenter's vengeful 31-yard field goal, provided the post-game highlight clip. It would not have been possible, though, if not for an even more athletic feat on Miami's previous possession.

Having eradicated the early deficit, the Dolphins appeared to be marching inexorably toward a clinching touchdown when Mario Williams blew past Miami tackle Tyson Clabo to dump Tannehill for a drive-stalling sack -- Buffalo's first of a quarterback who entered the day getting dropped almost five times a game, on average.

Thaddeus Lewis and Buffalo's offense responded with a feeble three-and-out, forcing Williams to up the level of heroism.

After years of small, yet slow, defenses -- populated by largely anonymous short-timers -- wearing down late in winnable games, Buddy Nix courted and signed Williams when the 2012 free agency season opened to give Buffalo the sort of game-changing force it had lacked since releasing Bruce Smith after the 1999 season.

It took nearly 23 games worth of injuries, domestic upheaval, cereal marketing and other off-field weirdness, sprinkled with flashes of brilliance, but Williams finally did just that Sunday in Miami.

I can't recall a fourth-quarter comeback, by the Bills or any other NFL team, that revolved so thoroughly around a defensive end. Thanks to Williams, Lewis did not have to come through as he had done in the fourth quarter a week earlier. All that was asked of Thaddeus this time was to not screw things up. That he did very well.

If not for the bravura performance by Williams, Buffalo would be heading into games against New Orleans and Kansas City, which have a combined total of one defeat, at 2-5 with Manuel a month away from returning and the novelty of a quarterback named Thaddeus quickly wearing off.

Instead, the Bills still have to face the Saints and Chiefs, but preparing to do so while two games out of first in the AFC East after New England got caught cheating again. The Dolphins have lost three straight. And the Jets, at 4-3, are a bunch of tattletales.

---His reaction demonstrated that my younger son, a developing football aficionado, is truly one of the rarest creatures in all of sports, a fan of both Buffalo and Miami. And not necessarily in that order.

As is his wont, Oscar wandered off after the first quarter, largely indifferent to Buffalo's 14-0 lead. He returned just before Miami took the lead, and made clear that, at age 7, his love of aquatic mammals trumps the proximity of the Bills.

He teared up when Tannehill's final heave hit the ground in the end zone, taking faint consolation in the fact his favorite team's loss meant a win for his second-favorite, but much more from being reminded that the Boston Red Sox, the focus of Mrs. We Want Marangi's own brainwashing program, had advanced to the World Series the night before.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

WWM Flashback: Ferguson v. Marino

Thaddeus Lewis is making the first NFL road start, a week after his Buffalo debut, possibly while hobbled by a sprained foot.

Miami is 3-2, but can not seem to run the ball or protect quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

Today's meeting in South Florida shapes up as one of those field-goal-ridden slop-fests that ends with a score like 19-14 or 15-10 that have peppered the series between the once-bitter rivals over the past decade, as both franchises cycle through quarterbacks and wallow in league-wide irrelevancy.

It almost certainly will not look like this.

Dan Marino made his first professional start against Buffalo a little more than 30 years ago. A few years before Jim Kelly arrived to provide his persistent foil, the man who would become perhaps the least interesting broadcaster in sports history got out-dueled by Joe Ferguson.

Ferguson was in his last full season as Buffalo's starting quarterback and the first after Chuck Knox bolted for Seattle, leaving behind an aging roster and an overmatched replacement in Kay Stephenson.

Intensive research did not uncover video of the Oct. 9, 1983 meeting at the Orange Bowl, but Ferguson never looked better.
Buffalo jumped out 14-0 on Ferguson's first two touchdown throws of the day, both to the legendary Byron Franklin. It took Marino a little longer to get untracked, but once he did, the Bills and Dolphins did not stop scoring until regulation ended with the score tied at 35.

Miami had gone ahead 35-28 on a 14-yard Marino-to-Mark Clayton hookup with 3:06 left, capping a drive set up by a Ferguson interception.

Rather than hang his head and throw another, Ferguson completed nine of the 11 passes he aimed at a receiver (he also threw one away to stop the clock) to move the Bills 80 yards. The final yard came on a fourth-down flip to Joe Cribbs with 23 seconds left.

In overtime, Miami moved the ball, but Uwe von Schamann missed 52- and 43-yard field goals. Ferguson hit one more big throw, a 35-yarder to Mike Moseley, which led to Joe Danelo's 36-yard game-winner with 23 seconds left in overtime.

The official game book, including the play-by-play description is available here. Without video available, the hand-written stats and old-fashioned typewriter type give reading it an historic feel, heightened by the knowledge that a ditto machine was almost certainly involved in its distribution.

Besides Ferguson's career day (38-of-55 for 419 yards and five touchdowns, all Bills records at the time), the win also involved one of Booker Moore's two career touchdowns, an 11-yard pass from Ferguson in the third quarter.

Marino was no slouch, either, going 20-for-30 for 370 yards and four scores.

Lewis and Tannehill don't figure to approach those numbers today, particularly with Tannehill getting sacked an average of nearly five times per game.

He may not have much choice but to air it out, though, with Miami's running game averaging 69.6 yards, including just 22 in last week's 26-23 overtime loss to Baltimore, the second straight for the Dolphins after a 3-0 start.

As for Lewis, after last week, nothing he does could be especially surprising.

Danelo's kick dropped the '83 Dolphins to 3-3, but they recovered to finish 12-4 and win the AFC East before.

The win would prove to be the beginning of the end for Ferguson and the 4-2 Bills. They got to 7-4 and a solid shot at the postseason, but Fergy threw 11 interceptions during a 1-4 finish.

Ferguson played one more year in Buffalo, losing the job he had held for more than a decade to Joe Dufek, then six more as a backup with Detroit, Tampa Bay and Indianapolis.

Ferguson never won a conference or league championship, so is remembered as the third-best quarterback in Bills history, behind a couple of guys who did.

For one sunny afternoon, though, he was better than one of the NFL's best ever.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

There's Two Kinds Of Coaches, Bum And Everybody Else

In a lifetime following sports, other than a handful of Batavia Trojans (as the Genesee County-based minor-league baseball team was once known) outside Dwyer Stadium as an 8-year-old, I have only asked for one athlete or coach for an autograph.

Even as a kid, I didn't quite get the importance of owning someone's signature on a piece of paper. Standing near my seat in the end zone of Rich Stadium as the New Orleans Saints prepared to take on Buffalo on Oct. 30, 1983, though, I saw Bum Phillips, who died Friday at age 90, shaking hands with and signing for a handful of fans near the stadium wall.

Since the Bills were generally miserable through my early experiences with the sport, I had to adopt a couple other favorite teams in order to raise the possibility of seeing someone I wanted to win actually do so on any given Sunday. For some reason, most likely an affinity for underdogs, I settled on the Houston Oilers and New Orleans Saints.

Along with thunderous running back Earl Campbell, Bum was one of the main reasons for the Houston selection. His Stetson hat, snakeskin boots and drawls of folksy wisdom made him stand out among the NFL's look-act-and-talk-alike head coaches, an older Hoss Cartwright striding the sideline.
Among his best Bumisms: "There's two kinds of coaches, them that's fired and them that's gonna be fired." On Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula: "He can take his'n and beat your'n and take your'n and beat his'n." On Campbell's inability to finish a mile run: "When it's first-and-a-mile, I won't give it to him."
He might have doomed himself with one of his most famous quotes. After the Oilers came up short against Pittsburgh in the AFC title game for the second straight year, he addressed an Astrodome full of fans thusly: "Last year we knocked on the door. This year we beat on it. Next year we're going to kick the son of a bitch in."

Instead, the Oilers lost a wild-card game to the Raiders in 1980, the third straight year they were eliminated by the eventual Super Bowl champions. So Bud Adams made Bum's words come true despite a 55-35 regular-season record. He took his Stetson hat and snakeskin boots to New Orleans, making a long-putrid franchise competitive.

I figured this would be the only chance I'd ever have to talk to my favorite coach, so I grabbed my game program, borrowed a pen, and made my way down to the cluster around him.

When it was my turn, I tried to think of something to say to him. The Saints were 5-3 at that point, while the Oilers, having completely disintegrated after his departure, had yet to win a game.

"Do you think Bud Adams knows he made a mistake?" was the best I could come up with.

He looked at me and smiled as he took the program and pen.

"Don't know about that, but he sure should," Bum said as he signed.

The Bills beat the Saints 27-21 that day, a game most notable for a knee injury suffered by Jerry Butler, which ultimately truncated the wide receiver's career.

Bum never got the Saints to the playoffs, retiring late in the 1985 season in order to give his son, Wade, his first shot as a head coach.

The younger Phillips would later take the Bills to two postseason berths and a .500 record, only to see his father's philosophy on job security in the coaching profession play out after the 2000 season.

In an age when Bill Belichick's hacked-up sweatshirts represent the greatest fashion risk amidst a sea of NFL-licensed synthetic outerwear, there will never be another NFL coach who looks or talks like Bum Phillips.

Or would make me want his autograph.

(Note: In the interest of full disclosure, I do remember getting one other celebrity signature, this one with only a tangential connection to sports -- Morganna, The Kissing Bandit at the Buffalo Convention Center during the Clutch Artists' Autorama in March 1985. I was 16. You can Google her for further explanation.)

Meet The New Rob

Does this analysis of a Buffalo quarterback sound familiar to anyone else?

"There's one aspect of quarterbacking when you're too jittery in the pocket -- it's another aspect to not have that clock and that's what I see, over and over again ... the failure to understand where the rush is coming from and how to get rid of that ball, and that clock is not in your head, so the interceptions and fumbles are really costly."

No, that's not a turn-of-the-century analysis of Rob Johnson (though it certainly would have been accurate, clumsy grammar aside). It's former Eagles, Saints and Raiders cornerback Eric Allen discussing why Oakland ditched the newest name on the Bills depth chart, Matt Flynn, who heads into Sunday's game at Miami as their presumptive backup quarterback.

The similarities do not end there. Like Johnson, Flynn -- who signed with Buffalo on Monday as insurance if Thaddeus Lewis (who has been a member of the active roster for one week longer) gets hurt -- was a backup who had one spectacular game with his first NFL team, a small sample size large enough to convince another franchise to give him way too much money.

For those who have managed to forget, Johnson's 20-of-24 for 294 yards and two touchdowns (he ran for a third) cameo in Jacksonville's 1997 season opener convinced Buffalo's front office to fork over first- and fourth-round picks to get him, and a five-year, $25-million contract to lead them into the new millennium as the face of the post-Jim Kelly Bills.

Things did not quite work out that way. After three years of splitting time between the field and the injury report, as well as serving as half of the longest-running quarterback controversy in team history, Johnson was handed sole possession of the starting job when Doug Flutie was released in early 2001.

He lasted barely half the season before a shoulder injury -- resulting from a play on which he held the ball way too long, of course -- ended his Buffalo career.

Flynn's singular star turn after nearly four seasons spent backing up Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay was even more impressive, setting Packers records with 480 yards and six touchdowns in a 2011 season-closing 45-41 win against Detroit.

That got Flynn a three-year, $20.5 million deal from Seattle. The Seahawks did not take nearly as long to realize their mistake, going with Russell Wilson after the rookie outplayed their expensive new acquisition in training camp.

Last spring, Seattle traded him to Oakland, where he lost the summer competition to Terrelle Pryor. He filled in for an injured Pryor in Week 4 against Washington, getting sacked seven times, fumbling twice, and throwing an interception that got returned for a touchdown in a 24-14 loss.

The next day, he was demoted to third-string and a week later, the Raiders released him.

If Flynn is the new Johnson, the Bills are not even getting the Rob bolstered by brief success, but the one who got a few snaps with the Raiders and Redskins in 2003, battered by washouts in Buffalo and Tampa.

E.J. Manuel is still at least a month away from returning. Rookie free agent Jeff Tuel's performance on a Thursday night in Cleveland led the recent flurry of quarterback tryouts and signings.

Lewis played better than anyone could have expected in last week's 27-24 overtime loss to Cincinnati, and the Bills desperately need his sprained foot, and the rest of him, to remain intact Sunday in Miami and until Manuel's knee sufficiently recovers.

Flynn is already listed ahead of Tuel on that depth chart. If his placement becomes relevant Sunday in Miami, find yourself a movie to watch, or some leaves to rake. You'll be glad you did.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A Faith-Strengthening Defeat

Early in the fourth quarter, my son Oscar and I are watching Thaddeus Lewis try, with dwindling success, to get the Buffalo Bills back into a game that started surprisingly well, but felt like it was steadily slipping away.

"If they score a touchdown here, then stop Cincinnati and get the ball back, they could tie the game," I explain to the 7-year-old, as part of the pro-football-brainwashing program I have been conducting since his older brother, Jackson, was a baby.

Suddenly, I'm the kid who used to sit in front of the television, trying to compute how many consecutive onside kicks the Bills of the late 1970s would need to recover, followed immediately by Joe Ferguson touchdown strikes, in order to pull off an infrequent victory while my Dad sat in his chair, shaking his head and saying, with a taunting half-smile, "They're going to lose."

Of course, he was almost always right.

I resist the genetic urge to antagonize my son, not wanting to bump his burgeoning loyalties in any direction. Such preferences seem to stem from geographic proximity to a team, or an attraction to a color or logo. Oscar has both going on -- "I don't know if I would vote for the Buffalo Bills or Miami Dolphins," he has admitted several times this season.

But being a somewhat responsible parent, I gently tell Oscar that the chances of the Bills scoring two touchdowns in about 10 minutes of game time is pretty unlikely, given that they had managed only one in the previous 50.

I do not even try to explain that Thaddeus Lewis was not even a member of Buffalo's 53-man roster a week earlier, or even introduce him to the concept of a 53-man roster. At this point, most of his football understanding (particularly as it pertains to down-and-distance and the difference between a field goal and a touchdown) stems from the mode in NCAA College Football '11, a discounted edition of the soon-to-be-extinct franchise, in which relatively realistic players are replaced by a roster of identical mascots from each university.

After I provide this dose of reality, he looks at me with a solemn sincerity normally reserved for conversations about Santa Claus and says, "I believe in them."

On the next snap, Lewis gets buried under Bengals defenders, one of five Cincinnati sacks on the day.

Poor little guy's about to get one of those sadly necessary life lessons, I figure.

Then Lewis lofts one to a wide-open Scott Chandler on fourth down, and it's a seven-point game.

The defense comes up not with one stop, but two, sandwiched around a three-and-out series from the offense, leaving Lewis with 86 yards to cover in 2:40 to reach overtime.

Which he does, tying things up with as pretty a 40-yard touchdown shot as you'll ever see -- to rookie Marquise Goodwin, no less.

Oscar does not gloat. His enthusiasm for Buffalo's comeback is somewhat blunted when I explain the concept of overtime, which means an indefinite extension of the time before he, and the XBox, regain control of the television.

As it almost has to be after the high drama of the closing moments of regulation, the extra time proves anti-climactic. A false start by tackle Cordy Glenn dooms Buffalo's lone possession to end with a punt from deep in their own end. Brandon Tate's 29-yard punt return -- the result of a rather low effort by prodigal punter Brian Moorman in combination with a missed holding call on the Bengals -- makes the final moments feel like the end of the season opener, with Tom Brady slowly guiding the Patriots to a decisive field goal.

It does not, however, feel like the myriad close losses of the past couple decades. The Bills fell to 2-4, but have entered the final two minutes of every game either with the lead or within a touchdown of it.

When Mike Nugent's 43-yard field goal ends it, along with Lewis' first shot at a place in Bills lore, Oscar is holding the remote that switches the input from the cable feed to the XBox.

"That's OK -- they'll win next time," Oscar says with a heartening amount of perspective.

I do not tell him that Buffalo's next game is against the Dolphins.

Among the finer points of Cincinnati's 27-24 win that Oscar may have missed:

--- For a guy with one previous professional start and less than a week as an official member of the team, that Thaddeus Lewis guy looked pretty good.

Yes, running with the ball as if daring a Bengals defender to slap it away led to a Cincinnati touchdown and he looked a bit overwhelmed on the occasions that the pocket collapsed on him, but did just about everything else right.

Unlike fellow free-agent fill-in Jeff Tuel (and several other recently former Buffalo quarterbacks, including first-round pick J.P. Losman), he did not obviously lock in on his intended receivers and read and exploited Cincinnati's coverage on both touchdown throws, as well as a 47-yarder to T.J. Graham that set up Lewis' 3-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.

He did enough to make reports that he had suffered a sprained foot the biggest post-game story, at least until an MRI showed no ligament damage.

If nothing else, he earned himself at least a few interceptions before fans start calling for Matt Flynn, the former Green Bay backup who washed out with Seattle and Oakland before the Bills signed him Monday to provide some insurance at quarterback.

--- For the first time in recent memory, the Bills showed an ability to run the ball even when the opposing defense knows it's coming. C.J. Spiller, Fred Jackson and Tashard Choice combined to average nearly 5 yards a carry, helping keep Lewis in manageable third-down situations most of the day.

--- Cincinnati's running game was even more productive, thanks in large part to systemically lousy tackling. Buffalo gave up 483 total yards, but first kept the Bengals from turning a 24-10 game into a blowout, then prevented them from running out the clock, setting up Lewis' late heroics.

Kiko Alonso did not come up with an interception, but was again everywhere at once, getting in on 22 tackles.

Da'Norris Searcy's total of 16 tackles was more troubling than impressive -- it's never a good sign when a safety, the last line of defense, has to make that many stops.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Ballad Of The Unknown Quarterback

In addition to a strong arm, decent mobility and a degree from Duke, internet research reveals that Buffalo's new quarterback displays a rapier-like tongue when involved in political debate:

Oh. We Want Marangi's overstaffed research department tells us the above clip is not, in fact, Thaddeus Lewis, who makes his first start for the 2-3 Bills this afternoon against Cincinnati, but Thaddeus Stevens, who apparently did something or other important enough to get himself portrayed by Tommy Lee Jones in some movie.

So we go into today's game unsure of the new quarterback's stance on the equality of man.

Or much of anything else about him.

Monday, October 7, 2013

And The Answer Is ... None Of The Above

Figuring they could not do any worse in the wake of E.J. Manuel's knee injury and Jeff Tuel's Thursday-night meltdown, given what's out there, the Bills coach Doug Marrone announced that Thaddeus Lewis will be promoted from the practice squad to start against Cincinnati on Sunday.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Then Again, I Could Be Wrong

(UPDATE: Or not.

As WWM originally theorized, Josh Freeman chose a chance to be the long-term starter, rather than a fill-in until E.J. Manuel gets healthy, thereby denying us the chance to use the above photograph every single time we mentioned him.

So, according to the Toronto Sun, the Single Wing it is.)

In a post earlier today, We Want Marangi dismissed the likelihood of the Bills signing new former Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman.

So, of course, Buffalo management reportedly went all out after Freeman a few hours later.

Bills Re-Sign Moorman, Desperately Seek QB

The Buffalo Bills replaced Shawn Powell with the guy he replaced a little more than a year ago, re-signing the only punter the team knew for most of this millennium.

Friday, October 4, 2013

That Did Not Take Long

I had been working on a post affixing much of the blame for Buffalo's 37-24 loss last night in Cleveland on punter Shawn Powell.

Apparently, I was not the only one to see things that way. The Bills cut him this morning.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

On The Bills, Browns, Urban Decay And Ronnie Harmon. Again.

(Editor's note: So I was planning to write about the history of the Bills and Browns and their respective cities. Then I remembered I'd already done that last season.

More than a year has passed since their Week 3 meeting in 2012, and while things have happened on both sides of Lake Erie, not a lot has changed.

Both teams have new coaches and new quarterbacks, and each is 2-2 heading into tonight's game in Cleveland, meaning either the Bills or Browns will have a winning record at this time tomorrow.

As for the two cities on the shores of Lake Erie, Buffalo's wobbly self-esteem recently received another booster shot from another dramatically scored promotional video, while Cleveland's baseball team won its last 10 regular-season games, assuring Indians fans the privilege of seeing them lose their lone postseason contest in person.

That means Cleveland fans may be drunker than usual for tonight's epic clash, which will be telecast as part of the NFL Network's Game-Nobody-Outside-The-Two-Competing-Markets-Wants-To-Watch-Of-The-Week. If you don't have the NFL Network, you can catch it on one of the alternative stations listed here.

The following was originally posted on Sept. 20, 2012. Enjoy.)

When the Buffalo Bills play the Cleveland Browns, it should be something to anticipate.

The two cities are four hours – if  you drive like a reasonable human -- away from each other along the rim of Lake Erie.

The cities are fossilized remains of America’s industrial age, where all that survived from their relative glory days of the early 20th century are some pretty impressive architecture and even more impressive legacies of systemic corruption.

Having been national punchlines (Cleveland most famously for the river that caught fire, Buffalo for its epic blizzard), the resulting inferiority complexes manifested themselves differently:

Buffalo is creepily nostalgic about the days before it became a shithole, trying to market itself by essentially wailing, “We used to be pretty!”

Cleveland is awfully smug about being a significantly larger shithole – for all its taxpayer-funded redevelopment, it remains the only place I know of where an entire bar district went out of business.