The Bills are heading into Sunday's game at New England as healthy as they have been during the early part of the season. The only player out for the game is linebacker Paul Posluszny, who is still a week away from returning from a knee injury.
Meanwhile, left guard Andy Levitre (neck) and linebacker Keith Ellison (knee) practiced fully Friday and are listed as probable for the game. Ellison is expected to start in Posluszny's inside linebacker spot for the second straight week.
Haven't got an official injury report from the Patriots yet, but wide receiver Taylor Price (ankle), right tackle Nick Kaczur (back) and cornerback Terrence Wheatley (foot) weren't on the field during the practice period the media is allowed to see. Running back Fred Taylor has been limited the last two practices, but is expected to start on Sunday.
Williamsville's Rob Gronkowski has made a favorable impression as a rookie tight end with the New England Patriots. He averaged 13 yards on eight catches with four touchdowns in the preseason and added a pair of receptions for 14 yards and a TD in the first two regular-season games.
Gronkowski applied for the NFL draft a year early after being sidelined for his junior season at the University of Arizona after back surgery. The Patriots chose him in the second round.
Judging from the glowing comments from coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady, the Patriots couldn't be happier with their selection.
“He missed his junior season last year in college, so he's had a little catching up to do,’’ Belichick said during a conference call with the Buffalo media. “But he's in good shape, he works hard, and is a tough kid. He had a good preseason, and has become a very dependable and durable player for us.
“I think as he continues to gain experience and understands both what we're doing and what opponents do and some of the things that go on in the game that are subtle things and situational things, then he will continue to get better. He's done a nice job for us, and I'm glad we have him. I think he's got a really good future ahead of him.’’
Brady believes Gronkowski will ultimately become one of his primary targets.
“He's a young player. I think he just turned 21,'' Brady told the Buffalo media. "But since the day that he got here he’s made an impact on the team with both his blocking and what he gives us in the passing game. He’s big, he’s really strong, he’s got real good speed. It’s just a matter of getting him more involved. He has proven every week that he’s capable of doing some real good things for our offense, so we’re trying to find ways to incorporate him more.’’
Although wide receivers Randy Moss and Wes Welker get most of the attention in New England's passing game, the Bills will need to a sharp eye on Patriots rookie tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez on Sunday.
Gronkowski, who grew up in Williamsville, is a big, physical target the Patriouts look for on underneath routes and in the red zone. Hernandez is essentially a wide receiver in a tight end's body. His six-catch, 103-yard performance against the Jets last week was the first 100-yard game by a New England tight end since Ben Watson gained 107 yards on Oct. 7, 2007 against Cleveland.
"The way they can run, the deep threat has really helped them a lot,'' Bills coach Chan Gailey said. "Hernandez I think had the longest play last week (46 yards). He’s really come on as a guy that can get down the field and make plays as he did in college. Both of those guys have been a big plus for their football team.''
After getting torched by Green Bay's Jermichael Finley last week, it will be interesting to see what the Bills' defensive strategy will be against Gronkowski and Hernandez.
Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was rated No. 5 on Sporting News' list of the top 20 smartest athletes. This counted both pro and college athletes, although the list includes 17 professionals. The Sporting News cited Fitzpatrick for scoring 1580 on the SAT. Fitzpatrick graduated from Harvard University with a degree in economics. He reportedly scored 48 out of 50 on his Wunderlich test, given to football players entering the NFL Draft. That's extremely rare.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was asked Wednesday about facing a tough "Wunderlich matchup" in this week's game against the Bills. Brady said: "I don't have much of a chance there. I passed Michigan on a general-studies degree. ... "We're not getting into a math contest (on Sunday), thank God."
The Sporting News' issue is dated Sept. 27. It appears they took athletic achievement into some sort of account, since it's likely there's some Harvard, Yale or Stanford rower or fencer with pretty awesome academic credentials. Here's the top six: 1. Craig Breslow, RP, Oakland A's. 2. Myron Rolle, S, Tennessee Titans. 3. Ross Ohlendorf, SP, Pittsburgh Pirates. 4. George Parros, F, Anaheim Ducks. 5. Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Buffalo Bills. 6. Matt Birk, C, Baltimore Ravens.
Breslow has a 2.93 earned-run average, had a 3.5 GPA in molecular biophysics and biochemistry from Yale University, a 1420 SAT score and was accepted into NYU's medical school.
The Bills' players met with their union chief in a meeting this afternoon and voted to give the union the authority to decertify next year if it decides that is an appropriate tactic to use in labor negotiations with the NFL.
DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association, visited the Bills. Buffalo was the seventh team he has visited this season on his tour to every club this fall. Smith gave the players an update for more than an hour on the collective bargaining agreement with the league, which runs out after this season. Smith has said on numerous occasions he's expecting the owners to lock out the players in March.
"We did have the vote, and we did vote in favor to give the players association the option to decertify our union in the event that no collective bargaining agreement is reached before the March deadline," said Bills union representative George Wilson. "This is not to say that we are going to decertify. This is just an opportunity to keep our options open. This is a move we could possibly use in order to challenge the league's antitrust exemption in the court system."
The union is asking each team to give its approval of the decertification tactic now, rather than taking a vote of players after the season. The union would use decertification to either block a lockout or to combat the league's imposing of unilateral work rules. The union could then sue the NFL and argue that it is violating antitrust laws by imposing standard rules regarding acquisition of players.
Wilson said he thinks a lockout will happen.
"At the end of the day, I am telling my guys to save, save, save," Wilson said. "Minimize your debt, save as much as you can and prepare your families for it."
It's a move that may not have much of an affect on the offense, but receiver Steve Johnson acknowledged he will give way to Roscoe Parrish when the Bills use a two-receiver set. They only used that alignment on 10 plays against the Green Bay Packers. Nevertheless, Johnson said changes to the lineup, at quarterback in particular, should not come as a surprise given the way the Bills have played the first two games.
Asked if he was surprised by the QB move, Johnson said: "No because we made changes throughout the team, from line to running back, to receiver. I had a change in my role. Now quarterback is no surprise. Coach Gailey is trying to find the best fit because we’re trying to win games. That’s what it’s about, trying to change things around. People shouldn’t get sensitive, I don’t think, because we know what we’re trying to get to. We’re trying to get to a winning season, and eventually playoffs and then a Super Bowl."
In the third quarter of Sunday's loss at Green Bay, Johnson saw a third-down pass over the middle from Edwards bounce off the end of his fingers and into the arms of a Packers linebacker for an interception.
After looking at replays, it appeared that while the ball touched Johnson's fingers, it was not a catchable ball for him. Johnson cut off his route, as he was required to do, because the Packers blitzed and he was a "hot" receiver. Johnson might have kept running over the middle a little quicker. He slowed down out of his break. Johnson was still taking responsibility for the play on Wednesday. "I hung him out to dry," Johnson said of Edwards.
Quarterback Trent Edwards talked to reporters about his view of his benching before practice today. Edwards did not speak last year after Dick Jauron was fired and Ryan Fitzpatrick replaced him.
It’s obviously frustrating and disappointing but it’s a long season. I’m going to do whatever it takes to help this team win, whatever I can do to help Ryan win. That’s what Ryan’s been doing for me.
(Was he surprised the hooke came after just two weeks?) It surprised me. I understand it’s a business and we need a win, we needed a spark. That’s what I was told by Chan. I told Chan I’m going to handle myself like a professional. I’m going to get here every day and find a way to help this team win. That’s the bottom line. I’m not going to hang my head. I’m obviously frustrated and disappointed but it’s a long season and things can change. I’ll still be ready to go.
(Was he given a good explanation for his demotion?) I don’t think that’s really the point. I think that’s not really an issue. The decision was made, the change was made and it doesn’t matter what the explanation is.
It’s been frustrating. But you guys know me well enough to where I’m not the type of person who’s going to wear my heart on my sleeve. I do a good job of internalizing a lot of my emotions. But don’t let that come across that I don’t care. I obviously do care a lot about this team, and I care a lot about these guys, and I probably care maybe a little bit too much. That’s just the way I handle the situation. I do keep a lot of things in, but I care a lot about this team and this organization.