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Dan Dierdorf on Bills D-line: 'These guys are good'

By Tim Graham

Dan Dierdorf is eager to find out if the Buffalo Bills' defensive line can disrupt New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Dierdorf, the Hall of Fame offensive lineman, will handle color commentary for Sunday's game alongside play-by-play man Greg Gumbel on CBS Sports.

"The interesting matchup in this game is going to be in protecting Tom Brady," Dierdorf said. "He has been sacked seven times in their three games. And there have been times where their pass protection has not been as stout and strong up front as they would like.

"The Patriots are playing against one of the game's best front fours. With the addition of Mario Williams, [last year's] No. 1 draft pick Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams and the free-agent signing of Mark Anderson, these guys are good."

Dierdorf on the Bills-Patriots showdown:

"The New England Patriots have been sitting on the AFC East division throne more often than not for the past 10 years. The first thing coaches in that division say to their teams each year is, 'We can't do anything if we can't compete with the Patriots.' That is what Buffalo and everybody in that division has to do. That is job No. 1. The way you make the playoffs is to win your division. Everybody knows that if you're going to win the AFC East, you have to beat the New England Patriots."

Dierdorf on the Patriots being below .500 for the first time since 2003:

"Is this a disappointing start for New England at 1-2? Absolutely. Is there a hint of panic, doubt or desperation in that team? No way."

Dierdorf on the challenge of playing in Ralph Wilson Stadium:

"Buffalo is one of those places where it is harder to win than others. It is not necessarily because the best team calls it home. It has always been difficult to win in Buffalo. The Bills are one of those teams that traditionally, over the past 20 years, have played better at home. It's a tough out in Buffalo.

"The weather won't be an issue, but their crowd is excited. Bills fans have a chance to watch their team go to 3-1 and at the same time make the big, bad Patriots fly back to Boston at 1-3."

Video: Thursday update with Gaughan, Graham

Real referee John Parry will lead crew for Bills and Patriots


By Tim Graham

Real NFL officials are back, and everything they do for the near future will be newsworthy because we missed them and love them and are ever so happy they are back.

The Buffalo Bills have announced the officiating crew for Sunday's game against the New England Patriots in Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Referee: John Parry
Umpire: Dan Ferrell
Head linesman: Derick Bowers
Line judge: Rusty Baynes
Field judge: Scott Edwards
Side judge: Ron Torbert
Back judge: Perry Paganelli
Replay official: Earnie Frantz
Replay assistant: Brian Matoren

(Photo: Getty Images)

Stephon Gilmore girding for his first Tom Brady experience


By Tim Graham

Mark Sanchez.

Matt Cassel.

Brandon Weeden.

Tom Brady.

One of these things is not like the others.

Buffalo Bills rookie cornerback Stephon Gilmore realizes this. He has had a few "Welcome to the NFL" moments already, but this will be the first time he'll face a known first-ballot Hall of Famer.

"It's crazy, growing up and watching him do all the things he did. Now you're playing against him," Gilmore told me today in front of his locker at One Bills Drive. "It'll be a good opportunity to show what we can do as a defense."

Gilmore, the 10th overall pick in this year's draft, nodded when asked how eager he is to test himself against a quarterback of Brady's credentials: three Super Bowl rings, five AFC championships, seven Pro Bowls and a boatload of records.

"Of course, it's an opportunity," Gilmore said. "I'm getting very prepared for it this week. The guys are being examples and telling me I need to focus because we're going against a good quarterback this week.", which analyzes every NFL snap, notes that Gilmore has been targeted 20 times this season and has allowed 12 receptions for 228 yards and two touchdowns. That's a robust 132.9 passer rating against him.

Brady has completed 66.9 percent of his passes for 887 yards and four touchdowns with one interception. He has a 97.0 passer rating.

"If a receiver's open, he'll rarely miss them," Gilmore said. "Some quarterbacks miss their open guys. But he rarely misses. He puts the ball where only his receiver can catch it.

"You mostly have to play physical with their receivers and just try to lock them down and get pressure on the quarterback."

(Photos: Associated Press and Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

Fred Jackson looking likely to play Sunday versus Patriots

By Mark Gaughan

Barring a setback in the next two days, it's looking more likely that Buffalo Bills star running back Fred Jackson will play against New England on Sunday.

"Fred worked and worked well today, and there didn't seem to be any residual affect negatively from yesterday," Bills coach Chan Gailey said.

Jackson, who sprained his knee in the season opener, worked most of the practice. "He was in there at the very end," Gailey said.

"I think if we make it through the next couple days and continue to improve I think he'll have the opportunity to play," Gailey said.

Jackson went directly from the practice field to the trainer's room after practice, but told reporters, "I feel good," as he walked off the field.

Gailey said running back C.J. Spiller took a few reps as he tries to come back from a shoulder injury suffered Sunday. "He didn't take a lot, but he took a few and he got back into the swing of things," Gailey said. "We didn't do tackling drills out there ... We'll see where it takes us. I don't know where it's going."

Is it a big deal that Rian Lindell lost his holder?

By Tim Graham

How much will Brian Moorman's departure -- four practice days before the Buffalo Bills play the New England Patriots -- impact kicker Rian Lindell?

The Bills cut Moorman, their longtime punter and field-goal holder, Tuesday. In the meantime, backup quarterback Tyler Thigpen and rookie punter Shawn Powell have picked up the holding duties with Powell eventually taking over permanently.

Lindell struggled to find consistency in the preseason, missing a point-blank attempt in the exhibition opener and fighting through frustrations in practice. Now, with a huge rivalry game ahead, another variable has been added to the equation.

Keeping in mind that it took a 28-yard Lindell field goal as time expired to beat the Patriots last year in Ralph Wilson Stadium, I reached out to a couple of experts for their thoughts on breaking in a new holder on short notice.

The Press Coverage blog will circle the globe for analysis, and here are two international takes ...

Nine-year NFL kicker Michael Husted, owner of Husted Kicking camps and consulting, sent an email from El Salvador (follow him on Twitter @HustedKicking):

"Since Powell held in college, if he ends up holding, it shouldn't be a big impact. Garrison Sanborn is an excellent snapper, which makes the holder's job easier. If the operation is smooth, which all starts with a good snap, there shouldn't be any recognizable difference.

"A kicker needs to trust the snap, hold and blocking so that they can focus on their job and execute. Rian has been around long enough and is an excellent kicker. Therefore, that shouldn't be an issue.

"Since Powell has experience, if I were Rian, I would want Shawn to hold. However, at the end of the day you have to go with the best holder that you feel the most comfortable holding.

"Now if they decided to have Thigpen hold, then his experience will determine whether there is a big impact or not.

"During my career, I had two different QBs hold for me, Casey Weldon and Steve Walsh. They did a good job, and offer the capability of running fakes. 

"However, since punters and kickers spend a lot of time hanging out on the sideline, they can get plenty of reps in during the week in between the fun kicker/punter games that take place and attempting to solve the world's problems. Having Powell hold seems like the most logical decision."

Former Bills kicker Steve Christie said this by phone from Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.:

"It does take a little while to adjust, but Brian is a good enough kicker that I don't think he's going to be affected. He's been really solid. He's been consistent. I don't think breaking in a new holder is going to be a big deal for him.

"It may take a little bit longer because he's a rookie doing it in the NFL. But then again it helps when you have a veteran like Rian. That certainly will speed things up. If he's a good enough athlete, he'll be able to adjust to just adding that to the responsibilities of being a solid punter. It's just a part of the job."

Statuses of Bills RBs Fred Jackson, C.J. Spiller still in limbo


By Tim Graham

Buffalo Bills running back Fred Jackson will continue to work through some knee pain and stiffness in hopes of playing Sunday against the New England Patriots in Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Bills running back C.J. Spiller was cryptic about whether he would practice today, saying it was up to the medical staff but indicating with a grin he wanted to give his injured shoulder a test.

Jackson was visibly disappointed in how his knee performed in Wednesday's practice and said how it felt this morning would be an important indicator to what he would be able to do Sunday.

"I was a little sore this morning -- a little sore, a little swollen," Jackson said at his locker before practice. "I got in the training room. They did what they could. We'll go out today and see what happens.

"I haven't moved around on it yet. I don't know if it's going to be any worse or any better."

Jackson suffered a sprained right knee in the season-opening loss to the New York Jets. He wanted to return for the Patriots, but that was viewed as pushing it. Doctors originally targeted next week's game against the San Francisco 49ers as the earliest Jackson could return.

"I still think I can play," Jackson. "I still want to play. It's just going to be about how much I can play and see what happens after today."

Spiller injured his shoulder in the first quarter of Sunday's victory over the Cleveland Browns. We'll know more later about whether Spiller practiced and how he and Jackson feel.

"Do I want to practice? I wouldn't mind getting out there," Spiller said. "But if I don't, I don't."

(Photos: James P. McCoy/Buffalo News)

Steve Christie: Bills pursuing Chris Mohr redux


By Tim Graham

Although we've heard from most of the people involved, there still seems to be missing information regarding the Buffalo Bills' decision to release punter and seven-time captain Brian Moorman to re-sign undrafted rookie Shawn Powell.

"We were hoping to get more consistency, and we weren't able to get it," Bills coach Chan Gailey said of Moorman. "He had a great preseason. He just wasn't able to get it back."

No other specifics were supplied, and in TV interviews Wednesday night, Moorman declined to share any details of what the Bills explained to him.

But in a conversation with Bills kicker Steve Christie, he told me something noteworthy about what the Bills are looking for.

"What they want is Chris Mohr again," Christie said by phone from Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. "They want another Chris Mohr who is consistently going to give you a low 40-yard net every time. A special teams coach will take that, especially in Buffalo.

"I think you're going to get really good hang times with [Powell]."

Christie and Mohr were Bills teammates from 1992 through 2000, and all but their final season was under current Bills special teams coach Bruce DeHaven, who was fired after the Music City Miracle and returned with Gailey in 2010.

Christie's point was the difference in hang time. Mohr's punts weren't Shane Lechler-style bombs. Mohr's punts were effective because they weren't easily returned.

Mohr's net average actually was in the mid-30's most seasons. His best gross season for Buffalo was 42.2 yards, and his career average was 40.4 yards.

Moorman's career average is 43.9 yards, and his average last season was 48.2 yards. He was averaging 45.5 yards through three games this year. But his punts have been more returnable when not sending them out of bounds.

Christie declared unreturnable punts better be Powell's strength, too. Otherwise, the switch will have been meaningless.

"I think it's going to work as long as you're going to get the opposing return men calling fair catches," Christie said. "That's the only way it's going to work. If you're going to get the same thing [as with Moorman], then the decision isn't going to be the best.

"With that being said, if [Powell] comes in and starts hitting really nice hang times and he's causing the return teams to call fair catches every time or he's able to get the ball on the sideline every time, then it's really going to help, and that's where they'll win.

"If he's not able to do that, then there's no sense in changing it."

(Photo: Buffalo News file)

Bills chat with Tim Graham replay

Buffalo News reporter Tim Graham will host a Buffalo Bills live chat at 10 this morning.

Stop by to discuss the latest updates and Sunday's game against the New England Patriots in Ralph Wilson Stadium.

AccuScore likes Bills long-term, not so much Sunday

By Tim Graham

AccuScore's projections look dim for the Buffalo Bills this week.

For the long haul, however, the Bills are trending upward.

Through AccuScore's 10,000 season simulations, the Bills came out with the sixth-best chance of making the playoffs out of the AFC. Six teams get in.

The Bills made the postseason 44 percent of the time. The Houston Texans (95.9 percent), Baltimore Ravens (89.2), New England Patriots (83.3), San Diego Chargers (76.2) and Pittsburgh Steelers (60.5) got in more often than the Bills in the simulations.

Buffalo won the AFC East 18 percent of the time and averaged 8.8 victories.

The New York Jets, without star cornerback Darrelle Revis, dropped to a 12.7 percent likelihood of winning the division. The Miami Dolphins took it 2.1 percent of the time.

As for this Sunday's game against the Patriots in Ralph Wilson Stadium, the AccuScore computers didn't calculate much success for the Bills.

AccuScore assumed running back C.J. Spiller will not play because of his shoulder injury and took running back Fred Jackson at his word that he has a 70 percent chance to play for the first time since hurting his knee on opening day.

With those parameters, the Patriots won 65.6 percent of AccuScore's simulations and averaged 30.2 points a game. The Bills averaged 24.3 points.

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady averaged 290 yards and little more than two touchdowns a game.

Buffalo's best chance will be with its pass rush. In games when it forced at least one interception and limited Brady to no more than one touchdown pass, Buffalo won 55 percent of the time.

But when Buffalo recorded two sacks or fewer, the Patriots won 72 percent.

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About Press Coverage

Tim Graham

Tim Graham

Tim Graham returned to The Buffalo News in 2011 after covering the NFL for three years at ESPN and for one year at the Palm Beach Post. Before that, the Cleveland native spent seven seasons on the Buffalo Sabres beat for The News and was president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

@ByTimGraham |

Mark Gaughan

Mark Gaughan

Buffalo native Mark Gaughan started working at The News in 1980 and has been covering the Bills exclusively since 1992. He is a former president of the Pro Football Writers of America, and he is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee.

@gggaughan |

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski joined The News in January 2009. The Lewiston native attended St. Francis High School before graduating from the University of South Florida. He writes a weekly Fantasy column in addition to his beat writing duties.

@JaySkurski |