North of the 400

North of Toronto, South of a championship

Posts Tagged ‘buffalo bills

The Bills were never coming to Toronto anyway

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I try to run a positive blog here; there’s a lot of negativity around Toronto sports sometimes. But it’s not always feasible. This is one of those times.

Last Friday, the Buffalo Bills reached an agreement with the state of New York and Erie County to remain at Ralph Wilson Stadium until 2020. A lot of money changes hands in this deal. Some $130 million is earmarked for Ralph Wilson. It’ll be nice to renovate the stadium, long considered one of the NFL’s worst. And it gives an idea of stability for the Bills, whose post-Ralph Wilson future looks sometimes shaky; once he’s gone, what happens to the team?

But it’s a slap in the face to Toronto, where a group has long coveted the team coming across the border and is just winding down a five-year agreement where the Bills played a game at the Rogers Centre. It’s hard not to get the feeling Toronto was used to leverage a better deal from the state and county governments. After all, it showed the NFL would allow games on the other side of the border. Honestly, it’s hard not to be a little miffed at the way this all went down.

After their final appearance in Toronto, Bills center Eric Woods called the game a joke. First thought: he was describing his team’s defence, which was blown up by Seattle in a 50-17 loss. Second thought: way to kick Toronto on the way out, knowing you’ll probably never have to face those people again. Third thought: he’s right. The Toronto Series was a joke. The crowds were never there, the stadium was dull and lifeless and the team stank every season. As I recall, they won exactly one game in Toronto. And it cost more to see one of these games than it would to see the Bills at Ralph Wilson, too: tickets this year started at $48; they’re 500-level seats, natch. Tickets can be had for this Sunday’s game for $30. Lower bowl seats, too.

Maybe the comparative failure of this series is why his comments haven’t dominated sports media in this town. A quick scan of the Fan’s headlines from the past week shows his comments coming up exactly once. I don’t remember it ever coming up once when I listened. Maybe that’s part of the reason why Toronto doesn’t seem exactly torn up over the Bills extension.

I’ve long held the opinion that the NFL is never coming full-time to Toronto. There’s a bunch of reasons why: Toronto ratings don’t mean jack to American networks and by extension would damage national TV deals; the Rogers Centre is too small by the NFL’s standards (and it a bad football stadium, to boot); the impact it’d have on the CFL, more than occasionally useful for developing NFL prospects; the logistical problems of building a new, NFL-sized stadium in the GTA (Where’s it going to go? Who’s going to pay for it? Who is going to use it the rest of the time?). An extension to the Toronto series is possibly forthcoming – a recent Toronto Star story says it could come “early next year” – but with Rogers heavy focus on the Blue Jays, I can’t say I’d be surprised if this one languishes away.

So what then to make of the Bills decision to double down on Buffalo? It makes sense from a practical standpoint – Ralph Wilson, for all it’s flaws is probably a better football stadium than the Rogers Centre – and it makes sense from the TV deal side, too: I’m sure CBS would rather have a team playing home games in a city where they have a station. But I can’t shake the “Toronto was used” feeling. The games here weren’t a success and I can’t help but feel they weren’t supposed to be. Did the Bills ever want to leave Buffalo? To Toronto, where there’s no ready stadium, no ready ownership group and a fanbase that never filled the Rogers Centre?

I said it before, I’ll say it again. I don’t buy the Bills in Toronto. They were never going to come here. The difference is, it’s now in writing.

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Written by M.

December 25, 2012 at 11:20 pm

NFL Notebook, Week 15 – Was it a miracle in the Meadowlands?

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The AFC East has been, without a doubt, the best division in football this year, perhaps this decade. For most of the season, all four teams were thick in the race, although on Sunday one was officially eliminated.

The New York Jets, led by a resurgent Brett Farve, needed a win on Sunday about as much as they ever had, as there was a three-way tie for first between them, the New England Patriots and the Miami Dolphins.

And with the Patriots playing a limp Oakland team and Miami playing an underwhelming San Francisco 49ers, the Jets really needed a win, just to keep pace.

They got it, but just barely.

Before we get to that, we should look at their opening drive. Football played to it’s finest by the men in green. A quick pass to the sideline, for a first down. Draw runs up the middle, for gains of four or five. Farve’s passing was crisp and sharp and opened up the secondary early on, giving Leon Washington and Thomas Jones space to run.

Their opening drive was 72 yards in just over three minutes. Their second drive was 70 yards in eight plays, taking only four minutes. Before the first ended, before Buffalo knew what hit them, it was 14-3.

Which isn’t to say the Bills were limp, either. In between those two scores, Buffalo ate up the clock on a four minute drive of their own, getting a field goal.

What does that mean? Simple: a first quarter without a punt, without a turnover. Both sides were playing for their playoff lives – if Buffalo lost, they were officially out of the playoffs. Thusly, they played like their season depended on it: two quick majors in the second and they led 17-14, before the Jets retook the lead on a Leon Washington score late in the half.

So, early indications were for a shootout, the kind of game the Jets are suited for: they have a better quarterback and more weapons downfield to throw to then the Bills.

But throughout the second half, both defences settled down, and the match got quieter for most of the half. After starting the game five-for-seven, Farve would finish .

So in a game where the defence clamped down, it seems fitting that it would win the game: with the Bills leading 27-24, JP Losman dropped back to pass on a second and five, was sacked at his own 16, fumbled, with the ball falling into the hands of Ellis, who ran it home for the game-winning major.

Not exactly how you plan to beat a six win team, sure, but the Jets will take what they can: both the Patriots and Dolphins won too: nothing was really settled in the AFC East, at least not yet. Had Losman held on the ball, the Jets season could well have ended.

Still, the Jets showed they are a sharp team, at least sometimes. They can stretch a decent defence thin early on and get on the board quickly: come playoff time, that will count.

But their defence was, for most of the game, subpar. Against a lackluster Buffalo team, who started a backup quartberback, they had a hell of a time stopping the run. While Losman was picked off three times, none of those came in the first half, when the Bills scored two majors in the second – one on a Losman pass, the other on a Losman scramble. That doesn’t bode well for their playoff hopes.

In two weeks, the Jets are at home against the Dolphins. Already it looks like their season is all but leading to that match. If they want to stop the vaunted Wildcat offense, they’ll need to stop the Dolphins early and often, which they didn’t do on Sunday. And it nearly cost them their season.

Later on Sunday, the Baltimore Raven / Pittsburgh Steelers rivalry flared up again, this time with the AFC North on the line.

Two fairly evenly matched teams, their previous game went to overtime, when the Steelers won 23-20. That was week three, though. When the Browns were still a team to beat. Before the division came down to the Ravens and the Steelers.

Needless to say, with two of the best defences in the game, this was bound to be a tough, physical game – if you’ll excuse the cliché, smashmouth football.

The Ravens spend most of the game stacking their defensive line, with five or six men right at the line of scrimmage. Granted, they usually went with a three-man rush, but this pressure hurt Pittsburgh’s offence. Their running game was going nowhere fast and Ben Roethlisberger was hurrying his passes. As it was, Big Ben was sharp and accurate, if his timing was a little off.

He would finish with over 200 yards and was 22 of 40 – but had it not been a few drops here and there, for a few jarring hits that dislodged balls, it’s likely he could have completed 25, even 30 passes. Against a great defence, then, Big Ben raised his game – when the Ravens blitzed, Ben answered with a quick outlet pass into the holes the linebackers left.

But on the other side, Ravens QB Joe Flacco was also under pressure. His line gave him great protection and all but shut down the Steelers James Harrison, who had been averaging a sack a game – and had two and a half when he last played the Ravens.

But the Steelers secondary had him over a barrel. Flacco was having a hard time completing passes, especially in the red zone, and the Ravens never once got into the end zone, kicking three field goals from less then 30 yards out.

This isn’t to say that the Steelers clearly outplayed the Ravens. They had no luck in close either, and their two field goals were from about the same distance. Instead, the Steelers needed a little help to win: two controversial calls helped buoy them to victory.

One was for a first down that kept a scoring drive alive: despite never appearing to cross the first down line, officials on the field gave the Steelers a first down. And when challenged, the call was upheld.

The other was for a touchdown. When Santonio Holmes scored the game winning TD, he made a catch at about the goal line, his feet behind it but the ball obstinately in front. But an official review gave the Steelers a touchdown; Holmes had possession with the ball breaking the plane.

By getting this tough win, the Steelers look as good as anybody going into the playoffs. This was, more or less, a playoff game in all but name, and the Steelers played great, with a final drive for the ages. This win has to make them preemptive favourites for the AFC title game; if they can beat this Ravens team on the road, they’ll likely to beat whomever they face when they play at home in the playoffs.

Other notes: The Jets had the toughest win in the AFC East, but the other two had wins of their own. The Patriots are still as good as ever, as Cassell seems to be growing into his role as starting QB. The Patriots win over Oakland was nowhere near as close as the 49-26 score shows. Should the Jets flounder, don’t be surprised to see the Patriots make a run for the title game… By beating Tampa Bay in overtime, the Falcons kept their playoff hopes alive, and helped the NFC South leading Carolina Panther. Tampa has dropped two of their last three and looks to be falling back to Earth fast: those two losses were to division rivals. And the Panthers have a two game lead over both the Falcons and Bucs… Houston’s stunning win over the Tennessee Titans wasn’t really all that stunning of a game – one touchdown, neither team having 400 total yards, and neither offense looked as dynamic as they had all season. But with the division already wrapped up, I wouldn’t take too much away from the Titans losing.

Written by M.

December 15, 2008 at 9:04 pm

Dolphins swim past sinking Bills – NFL Notebook

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How did that Smashing Pumpkins song go? The end is the beginning of the end? Well, week 13 is the beginning of the end of the NFL season and is a good time to see when teams are for real and when an easy schedule has inflated them.

Anyway, I only watched two games this week, so here’s my take on them, plus a few notes on games I only saw highlights of.

Eagles/Giants:

For a team that’s supposed to be the best in the NFL, the Giants couldn’t get anything going against the Eagles. Early on it was all going their way – Eli was making passes and Eagles defence was playing loose, getting called for penalties.

But early on, two plays went bad for them. Opening drive: on a second and five the Giants tried to stir things up with a reverse, but lose 12 yards in the process. They made it a fourth and four after a nice quick pass to the side, but when Eli went for it, the team looked confused. An Eagles blitz threw off Eli’s timing and he dumped an incomplete pass.

The other came a bit later. Early in the second quarter, Manning tested the Eagles secondary, aired out a long pass for Hixon, hitting him in the numbers. But Hixon couldn’t haul it in.

Thing about this game was that the Giants couldn’t, didn’t take advantage of their chances. After that long bomb, Eli missed his next five of six and the Giants found themselves down 10-0.

It’s a cliché to call a low-scorer a defence battle, but that’s what this was: each defence blocked two field goals (the Giants scored their first major returning one of them) and neither QB got more then 200 yards passing. Manning was held to just 123 yards and a 48 per cent completion rate, both his lowest of the season.

On the other side, McNabb threw for more yards and completed more passes, but you can’t say he outplayed Eli by much: his 191 yards were the second lowest of the year and after his picking apart the Cards last week, he seems to have drifted back down to Earth.

But it was cold and windy in Jersey on Sunday and it reminded of an old line by Don DeLillo: when it’s bad weather, favour the underdog.

The Giants were eight point favorites. The Eagles won by six. They’re seven and five now and are still alive. Don’t count them out yet.

***
Miami / Buffalo

In the first regular season game to be played in Canada, fans paid through the nose, with about $183 Canadian the average price for a ticket. Expensive, yes.

Worth it? No.

What all of the paying fans saw was the Bills –and not even their hometown Bills, a neutral crowd if anything – look listless and flounder against their divisional rivals.

They saw a game with only one touchdown and one that resolved almost nothing in a crowded AFC East. The Bills, at 6-7, are done. Finished. The Dolphins are 8-5, tied with the Jets and Patriots.

Lost in this, though, was Pennington throwing a great game – nearly perfect at 23 of 29, for 181 yards and a major. Maybe it’s come to be expected of him, though: this was his fifth game where his QB rating was in triple digits and the fourth where he completed at least three-quarters of his passes.

It’s got something to do, I’m sure, with their receiving corps; yet their starters include Anthony Fasano and Devone Bess. Those who know not those names are forgiven. The more highly regarded Greg Cahey

Nonetheless, this match meant a lot less then it should have: the Bills who started off so hot, have fallen off the map. The Dolphins, who won only one game last year – in overtime, no less – could win 10 this year and could find themselves in the playoffs.

Not all of this is on Pennington, yes. But what a difference he has made from Trent Green, from Cleo Lemon and from John Beck. His sharp and accurate passing has made all the difference for the Dolphins.

****
Assorted notes:

Another week, another close game for the Texans. This time, though, they pulled one out, winning on a last second field goal over Green Bay. But don’t read too much into their stats: it was another time where the Texans couldn’t put it away and this time they got lucky. Matt Schaub shouldn’t throw for over 400 yards and only barely win…. The Falcons had their first major test of the year on Sunday against the New Orleans Saints. How did they fare? Not badly; Matt Ryan threw for over 300 yards. And they kept in the game, which wobbled back and forth. It’s a loss, yes, and it could hurt them in a busy NFC South. But as far as losses go, it’s a good one: it showed the Falcons can keep pace with good teams playing for their season. … I know it’s late to the party, but this years Lions team is maybe the worst I’ve ever seen. Last year the Dolphins almost went 0-16, but a few breaks here and there, they could have been a three, four game winning team. That’s not even close to the case with the Lions.

Written by M.

December 9, 2008 at 2:32 am

The decline and fall of Torry Holt – Tuesday NFL Notebook

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The decline and fall of Torry Holt as a top tier fantasy player and other NFL notes

One friend of mine summed it up best: What happened?

The Dallas Cowboys, who had resided in the top ten of nearly everybody’s power polls, rankings and charts were beaten – soundly, at that – by the Rams, the hapless St. Louis Rams.

A monster day for Stephen Jackson (Three touchdowns, 160 yards) and a big day for Donnie Avery (65 yards, one touchdown) and a solid day from Marc Bulger (14/19, 173 yards).

But another tepid day for Torry Holt.

Once one of the most dynamite receivers in the league, and almost always a early-round fantasy pick, Holt has been quiet all season and looks to going downhill fast. At least on fantasy boards.

Only once this season has Holt caught a touchdown, and only once has he had more then 75 yards receiving. And according to ESPN’s stats, he’s on pace for just under 700 yards this season and only three touchdowns. This from the guy who just two years ago had 10 majors and 1,100 yards. What happened?

The double team and the collapse of the Rams offense happened.

With Isaac Bruce having left this offseason and the emergence of Stephen Jackson, the Rams offense has shifted from the long threat, the “Greatest show on turf” from the early part of this decade, to that of a running (and making short passes when needed) based set.

This fits the skill sets for most of the team: Marc Bulger is only throwing 20 or so passes a game now, often short, quick throws, and has found his groove. Stephen Jackson is running with success, especially against Dallas, and gives the team it’s scoring spark.

This leaves Holt as it’s major downfield threat. Thus the double team: for the most part, defences have been keying in and shutting down Holt with two defenders and haven’t had to worry about the rest of the receiving corps.

But this could change soon.

Donny Avery has emerged in the past little while as a threat. His numbers reflect his status as a number two wideout (at least), but he’s picking up solid yards and maybe some coverage. It’s not Bruce and Holt, for sure, but doesn’t Avery and Torry have a better ring to it?

Speaking of rings (or at least missing rings), I saw a show on the Buffalo Bills 1990 team the other day. Ahh, the glory days of Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas, when the Bills were a great team to watch and played maybe the greatest Super Bowl of all time.

Right now in Buffalo, 1990 is suddenly back on a lot of peoples minds, I’m sure: the Bills have their best team since that season.

They’re five and one, lead a messed-up AFC East and are already the favourites to win the division. No longer are they posting comebacks – they handedly beat San Deigo on Sunday, 23-14.

Trent Edwards is throwing often and accurately: 25 of 30 for over 260 yards on Sunday. Marshawn Lynch is looking solid in the backfield and both Lee Evans and Josh Reed are downfield threats. They’re picking apart good defence while elevating theirs: on Sunday they shut down the Chargers: while Phillip Rivers threw for two scores, Ledanian Thomlinson was held to just 41 yards on 14 carries.

This wasn’t a fluke game for the Bills. They’re 10th in yards allowed right now, with just under 300 a game – a lower number then Dallas, Chicago or New England. Against the pass, they’re even better: eighth in the league: better then the Giants, Redskins or Buccaneers. The have the best point differential in their division

As we approach the halfway point of the season, the Bills are looking more and more like a contender: if not for the AFC East, then surely for the wild card. It’s not as if the competition is stiff: The Jets are floundering and the Dolphins have dropped their last two (so much for them being a sleeper).

Other notes: Tennessee is unbeaten and over-reported. I’m not sold on them yet: they haven’t beaten anybody that’s sitting over .500 after week seven. But next Monday’s game, at home against Indianapolis, will be their first big test… If the NFC South is the best division in the NFL (and it is), it’ll be neat to see who comes out of it: Tampa and Carolina are sitting on top, but don’t count out Atlanta yet: they’re young, feisty and they don’t have the same pressure the other teams do… Has there been a season where both Green Bay and Chicago are this good?

Written by M.

October 21, 2008 at 8:29 pm

Why the AFC East is upside-down – Tuesday NFL Notebook

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Call me crazy, but from here it looks like the best team in the AFC East are the Miami Dolphins.

Sure, easy enough to say after a huge – slaughter is not too strong a word – win over New England. Easy enough to say after Ronnie Brown’s five touchdown game. And it is easy to say it, too.

Because their already tepid schedule just got a whole lot easier.

The Dolphins’ schedule is by no means completely lame – they play the suddenly surging Chargers in week five and the Broncos in week nine – but it has a few easy games: The Rams in week 13; The Texans in week six; Kansas City in week 16.

For a team that suddenly looks like it’s found it’s rhythm, those games could be huge.

Down the stretch, let’s say that Maimi has managed to keep pace with whomever is in the lead – most likely New England, or perhaps the Bills. Thanks to their early-season win over a division rival, they’ll almost have a half-step towards a playoff spot.

By beating New England like that, the Dolphins have made a statement to the other teams. They’re not the hapless fins of a year ago. Chad Pennington is throwing the ball well, Ronnie Brown is running (for now) exceptionally well – ending any controversy for who should be their featured back – and their defence, 28th in the league last year, held one of the great receiving corps to just over 150 yards and a single major.

It’s a statement. The Dolphins are back. And in a mess of an AFC East, they could just end up on top.

Speaking of the AFC East, how about those Bills?

Undefeated yes. But overrated?

Sure, they have yet to lose a game. They sit on top of their division – in wins, in points, in total yards, in defence, etc, etc. The rest of the teams in the AFC East are far, far back of them.

But I’m not sure if they’re as good as they seem so far.

For three quarters, they were outplayed by the Raiders. Their running game wasn’t getting them anywhere, and Jamarcus Russell, who looked competent in stretches, picked their pass defence apart.

Okay, that’s a lie. He was overthrowing, wildly throwing, throwing it away for most of the afternoon.

But still, the Raiders were the ones getting downfield – the Bills punted their first four possessions. Remember, going into this game the Bills were eight point favourites. But the Bills only won with a late-game rally, scoring on their last three possessions.

This is nothing new for the Bills, who had a similar comeback the week before against Jacksonville, with a 10-point fourth quarter.

This marks two comebacks for the Bills. The Bills! Remember the old line, “nobody circles the wagons like the Buffalo Bills”? Remember their history of faltering late in games?

To some extent, I’m willing to say they’ve turned a new leaf. Their point-differential is the best in the AFC East (the only positive one, at that). They’ve scored 78 points, third in their conference. And they have an easy schedule, to boot.

Normally, perhaps, they’d be a sleeper team. But in the AFC East, which is so messed up right now (I know I’ve already said that, but bear with me here), they’re hidden no more. They’re marked as one of, perhaps the, team to beat in the AFC. And of the teams to beat, they look like the most beatable.

Finally, the Chargers look like a powerhouse.

They decimated, chrewed up, ran up the score on the New York Jets, in what was admittedly a pretty uneventful game.

The Jets fell behind early and spent most of the game in catchup mode, going for fourth downs, going to two-point conversions and trying the inside kicks.

Naturally, these never seemed to work as often as Greg Esterbrook loves to say they would, but that’s life for you. Sure, you may get only a few yards each play – and need less then those on a fourth down – but not every play will work.

But enough of that.

The Chargers were the story Monday night. They roared back to life, thanks to a two-touchdown night from LT (who only had 60 yards – and an average carry of less then three). They intercepted three passes, even running one back for a touchdown early in the second quarter.

After a bad loss the week before, when Denver pulled out a tough one (with a little help from an errant whistle), this was the kind of win they needed. One where they power over their opponent – one that seemed kind of good, too. The kind of win that can mark a change in the way season is going.

One writer said after the game that if the Chargers make the playoffs, thanks should go to that referee. Perhaps. I’d mark the season change to Antonio Cromartie’s interception-return touchdown as the turning point, though – it gave San Diego a 10-point lead, and seemed to wake up the team. By the end of that half, the Chargers had a 31-14 lead and were firmly in control of the game.

It’ll be neat to see if they can keep that momentum going next week.

Written by M.

September 23, 2008 at 6:23 pm