Sal Maiorana and Leo Roth talk about the Bills strengths and weaknesses heading into this weeks game again the Atlanta Falcons
Sal Maiorana, Leo Roth, Virginia Butler, Jamie Germano
Only the most optimistic of Bills fans dared to dream that Buffalo would have a chance to contend for a playoff berth this year, and most of those people changed their tune after general manager Brandon Beane traded Sammy Watkins and Ronald Darby on the same day in early August.
But now with the Bills off to a 2-1 start, some of the naysayers are starting to wonder whether this isn’t a mirage, and that maybe the Bills — who could very easily be 3-0 — do have what it takes to contend for a wild-card berth in the AFC.
I, of course, am usually a naysayer when it comes to the Bills, and for good reason — 17 of them actually, as in consecutive years without a playoff berth. However, I’ll offer this: If the Bills go into Atlanta on Sunday and escape sparkling new Mercedes-Benz Stadium victorious over the defending NFC champions, I’ll start listening to the playoff talk.
This is a flawed team, mostly on offense, and in the end, against a difficult schedule, I still can’t see the Bills leapfrogging into the conversation even with a win over Atlanta. Three weeks into the season, my best guess is that the Patriots, Steelers, Chiefs and Titans are going to win the four AFC divisions. That leaves two wild-card berths to be fought over between the likes of the Bills, Raiders (2-1), Broncos (2-1), Ravens (2-1) and Jaguars (2-1), and maybe the Dolphins (1-1), and Texans (1-2).
Go win in Atlanta; then we can re-evaluate. If the Bills do that, it would be their best road victory since when? I’m not counting New England with Jacoby Brissett at QB last year. And Rex Ryan getting over on the Jets at New York in 2015 isn’t good enough, either. I’d consider perhaps at Chicago on opening day 2014, or in Arizona in 2012, or in Kansas City on opening day 2011.
Really, in order to find big road victories that meant anything to the Bills’ playoff chances, you have to go back to 2004. The Bills were 3-6 and seemingly dead, but they reeled off six straight wins for Mike Mularkey, including four on the road at Seattle, Miami, Cincinnati and San Francisco, to get into position to break everyone’s hearts with that season finale loss at home to the Steelers that kept them out of the tournament.
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In the end, none of those “impressive” victories led anywhere, so wouldn’t it be nice to see what a big upset of Atlanta might do for the Bills this year?
Buffalo’s offense will be on the hook for this one. The defense has done a great job to date, but it will be asking too much to shut down Matt Ryan and company the way they did the Jets, Panthers and Broncos. Atlanta will move the ball, and it will score, so the issue becomes, can Tyrod Taylor and the offense outscore the Falcons?
That’s a pretty tough ask, but if the Bills want to be taken seriously, go down there and get it done.
Taking my shots
► Doug Marrone didn’t make any friends in the NFL head coaching community last week when he called for a fake punt on the final play of the third quarter with his Jaguars already blowing out the Ravens 37-0 in London. Jacksonville’s Corey Grant took a direct snap and ran 58 yards, and on the first play of the fourth, Leonard Fournette plunged in from the 3 to make it 44-0. Oh, Doug. That’s the kind of stuff that comes around to bite you, and be aware every coach saw that and will gladly take a shot at you if they get the chance to rub it in.
► There is no greater example of what a great quarterback means in the NFL than in Green Bay, where Aaron Rodgers is forging his Hall of Fame career. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m not often impressed by the Packers, and if Rodgers wasn’t their quarterback, they’re not a playoff team. They had no business beating the Bengals last week, and wouldn’t have if not for Rodgers doing Rodgers things. The guy is amazing, just like the pain in the butt up in New England named Tom Brady who has tortured the league — yes, not just the Bills, but everyone — for a decade and a half.
► Odell Beckham is an otherworldly talent, and the New York Giants star receiver is also one of the most selfish divas we’ve ever seen in a league that has certainly been populated by many. I’m no prude, but that whole dog-peeing-in-the-end-zone act was so childish and dumb, it defied explanation. The Giants were lucky the 15-yard penalty enforced on the kickoff ended up not mattering in terms of field position. Stevie Johnson used to do silly things like this when he played for Buffalo, but his transgressions were usually sort of playfully laughable. Beckham looked like a fool.
The Tyrod Taylor Report
Each week, I’m going to take a look back at how Taylor performed, and give him a grade. In the victory over the Broncos, it’s a solid B-plus.
There was a lot to like about what Taylor did against a pretty good Denver defense, but here’s what I liked best: He got out on the edges of the pocket and was more of a dual threat as a runner and passer. In the first two games, that really wasn’t the case and I thought offensive coordinator Rick Dennison made a good decision to incorporate more moving pocket looks in his plan.
There were three obvious plays where this worked, almost to perfection. On the 31-yard pass to tight end Nick O’Leary, Taylor rolled to his left, threw against his body, and lasered one to O’Leary who tracked the ball well and made the catch near the sideline. On the TD pass to Charles Clay, Taylor did a nice job to roll right, and just when it looked like he was going to tuck it and run, he stopped and found Clay in the end zone. Clay was the third option on that play, so I really liked that. There was also a play Taylor missed, and it was the usual Taylor bugaboo that foiled it — his inaccuracy. Zay Jones came free on a crossing route over the middle with Taylor rolling left, but Taylor overthrew the wide-open rookie.
By completing 20 of 26 passes, Taylor compiled the best single-game completion percentage of his career (76.9). He only had 213 yards, but there were four completions that went for at least 25 yards, the most he’s ever had in one game.
If Taylor can give the Bills something like this every week, or preferably better, it would go a long way toward unlocking the running game which has been completely stymied the last two weeks, and in turn, that gives the entire offense a better chance to operate efficiently.
If it were up to me …
The national anthem would not be played at sporting events.
Look, I’m as American as any of you, love my country and the freedoms we have. I respect the military, and the flag and, for the record, I disagree with players kneeling, or exercising, during the anthem.
And before anyone wonders, I’m not a liberal, nor am I a conservative. I’m as apolitical as they come, so there’s no agenda here. I’m just posing an honest question: Why do we need to play the national anthem before sporting events?
When you go to a Broadway show, they don’t play the anthem. Go to a concert, be it in a small venue or an outdoor stadium, they don’t play the anthem. When you go to your workplace, I doubt your boss or your company plays the anthem every day. To my knowledge (I could be wrong), it’s not played before each school day, at least not where my kids went to school. It wasn’t played when I was in high school 40 years ago, either.
Like many of you, I’m exhausted by all of this drama about the anthem that was spurred by the absurd comments of President Trump last weekend. Honestly, I don’t know why the leader of the free world cares about what was, at that time, only a handful of players kneeling. As I said, I don’t agree with that action, but as Americans, they have the right to do it, and the president should realize that.
You’d think The Donald would have more pressing things on his plate — North Korea, three devastating hurricanes, ISIS, and about 100 other things far more important than the NFL. But now he has spoken out, the league has reacted in angry unison, and we’re likely to continue seeing players kneel during the anthem.
Unless, we stop playing the anthem. I’m just asking. I’d welcome your thoughts.
The numbers game: 58
That’s how many consecutive games Matt Ryan has thrown for at least 200 yards, an NFL record. The last time he was under 200 was in November of 2013 when the Seahawks held him to 172 in the year they went on to win the Super Bowl with their magnificent defense. By comparison, Tyrod Taylor has topped 200 yards passing in only 16 of his 32 career starts for the Bills. A further comparison, which illustrates how much the NFL has changed: Hall of Famer Bob Griese of the Dolphins had only 40 200-yard passing games in his career, which begs the question, why is he in the Hall of Fame?
Games to watch this week
► Steelers (2-1) at Ravens (2-1): These two AFC North teams don’t like each other, and they’re both going to be in ornery moods after terrible losses last week. Baltimore could not have played worse in a 44-7 loss to Doug Marrone and the Jaguars, and the Steelers found a way to lose to the Bears, part of a wacky NFL weekend.
► Lions (2-1) at Vikings (2-1): Detroit is inches away from being 3-0, while the Vikings have somehow managed to stay afloat with Case Keenum replacing injured Sam Bradford. Green Bay could be vulnerable in the NFC North and both of these teams have a chance to win that division, so a victory here is huge.
► Raiders (2-1) at Broncos (2-1): If Baltimore wasn’t the worst team in Week 3, Oakland was, and now Derek Carr and company have to go into Denver which, by the way, isn’t going to be in a very good mood after its own meltdown against the Bills.