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Long field goal some vindication for Rian Lindell

By Jay Skurski

TAMPA, Fla. -- Buccaneers kicker Rian Lindell had a grand time facing his old team Sunday.

Lindell went 2 for 2 on field goals, including a 53-yarder in the second quarter that had plenty of leg to spare.

"That was nice," he said after the game. "At the time, you just want to hit a good ball, and I don't care what the other jersey looks like or who we're playing. But yeah, kind of looking back, taking it all in a little bit, it is nice. It’s nice to hit a long one."

The Bills, of course, released Lindell during training camp in part because they thought rookie Dustin Hopkins would be better at those long field goals. Lindell left the team after 10 seasons with 980 points -- just 31 short of Stevie Christie’s franchise record of 1,011.

"It was odd trying to warm up because the training staff and equipment guys, weight room guys, those are the guys I've been around with for however many years," Lindell said. "It's great to see all of them. … It’s nice to get a win. I thought I kicked well all day. Obviously during the game is when it counts, but even pregame, it's nice to hit a clean ball, you know what I mean? It's nice that the day cooperated."

Hopkins never did end up replacing Lindell after suffering a groin injury prior to the season opener and landing on injured reserve. Veteran Dan Carpenter was signed to take his place and has had a solid season. Carpenter scored the Bills’ only points Sunday on field goals of 40 and 46 yards. He now has 101 points on the season, the 24th time in franchise history a player has surpassed the century mark.

Third-quarter analysis: Keep the clock running

By Jay Skurski

TAMPA, Fla. -- EJ Manuel's nightmare afternoon continued in the third quarter today at Raymond James Stadium.

Manuel threw two more interceptions, helping the Tampa Bay Buccaneers open a 27-6 lead.

Manuel was picked off by linebacker Mason Foster on Buffalo's second possession of the second half, and then Tampa Bay linebacker Lavonte David made his second interception of the game on Buffalo's next possession. 

David's interception set up a 32-yard field goal by Rian Lindell to give the Bucs their lead. Through three quarters, Manuel is 13 of 24 for 136 yards, no touchdowns and four interceptions. 

Carpenter is solid: Bills kicker Dan Carpenter continues to have a good year. Carpenter hit a 46-yard field goal on Buffalo's first possession of the third quarter. He is now 25 of 27 on the season.

What if: Today's a classic, "but if you take out that 80-yard run," type of day for the Bills' defense. Tampa Bay running back Bobby Rainey has 17 carries for 22 yards after his 80-yard run on the game's second play.

Flags along the line: Four of the five members of Buffalo's offensive line have been hit with penalties today. Only left guard Doug Urbik has escaped.

Kiko Alonso first at ILB, fourth among all D-men in Pro Bowl votes

By Tim Graham

Need more proof fans are smitten with Kiko Alonso?

The Buffalo Bills' rookie leads all inside linebackers in Pro Bowl voting. He has almost twice as many votes as Luke Kuechly and more than twice the votes of Patrick Willis.

The weekly Pro Bowl update shows Alonso has 265,232 votes, more than 72,000 votes ahead of Dallas Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee in second place.

In fact, Alonso ranks fourth among all defensive players. The only defenders with more votes are Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman at 367,076, Houston Texans end J.J. Watt at 278,737 and Seahawks free safety Earl Thomas at 277,482.

Fan ballots make up one-third of the Pro Bowl selection process. Players and coaches comprise the rest.

Other Bills among the top 10 candidates in fan voting are Mario Williams (second to Watt among defensive ends), Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams (third and fourth at defensive tackle behind Dontari Poe and Jason Hatcher), Aaron Williams (sixth at strong safety), Dan Carpenter (10th at kicker) and Marcus Easley (10th among special-teamers).

Points after: Falcons 34, Bills 31 OT

81172 McCoy Sports Bills  2

By Tim Graham

TORONTO -- Quick highlights from the Buffalo Bills' demoralizing loss to the Atlanta Falcons in the Rogers Centre ...

What it means: The Bills, trying to keep their playoff hopes alive, took a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, but allowed the Falcons to tie the game at 17 by halftime. The Bills led 31-24 in the fourth quarter, but let the Falcons tie it again and then fumbled away the victory in the closing seconds. With a Miami Dolphins victory over the New York Jets today, the Bills are in last place and two games out of second place in the AFC East.

Play of the game: Stevie Johnson caught a third-down pass for what would have put the Bills within Dan Carpenter's field-goal range, but he fumbled at the Falcons' 30-yard line with 10 seconds left in regulation time. Without that fumble, tight end Scott Chandler wouldn't have fumbled on the first overtime possession.

Bills player of the game: Toronto's crack-smoking mayor, Rob Ford, showed up to the game in a Fred Jackson uniform, and Jackson lived up to the endorsement. Jackson scored a rushing touchdown and a receiving touchdown for only the second time in his career. The first time was in 2010 against the Detroit Lions. Jackson gained 78 yards from scrimmage.

Spiller strikes: C.J. Spiller made a pair of gargantuan runs. On the Bills' second play from scrimmage, he ran 77 yards to set up a touchdown. In the fourth quarter, he scampered 36 yards for the go-ahead touchdown. Spiller finished with a season-high 149 rushing yards.

Falcons player of the game: Ankle and hamstring injuries have made Roddy White's season a colossal disappointment. His best game had been four receptions for 45 yards. Versus the Bills he caught 10 passes for 143 yards and midway through the third quarter accounted for 101 of Matt Ryan's 179 passing yards.

Turning point of the game: Kiko Alonso got off to a hot start with five takeaways in his first four pro games, but he didn't have another until today. With the Falcons seemingly seizing control of the game in the third quarter, Alonso recovered a botched snap. One play later, Jackson scored on a 21-yard catch-and run to tie the game at 24.

Sack attack: The Bills sacked Ryan six times, thrice on third down to force a punt. Jerry Hughes notched two sacks. Manny Lawson, Marcell Dareus, Mario Williams and Corbin Bryant had one apiece.

Preliminary injury report: Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore needed assistance on the field with about 9:30 left in the third quarter because of a cramp and came out of the game long enough for replacement Ron Brooks to get beat by Tony Gonzalez for a touchdown. Gilmore returned to action. ... Linebacker Arthur Moats left the game in the second half with an undisclosed injury.

Coming up: The Bills will travel three times in their final four games, including two straight in Florida. They will visit the Tampa Bay Buccaneers next Sunday and the Jacksonville Jaguars on Dec. 15.

Third-quarter analysis: Kiko Alonso's fumble recovery sets up score

By Jay Skurski    

TORONTO -- Rookie linebacker Kiko Alonso caem through with a huge play today just when the Buffalo Bills' defense needed it most. 

Alonso recovered a fumble by Atlanta running back Steven Jackson, giving the Bills the ball at the Falcons' 21-yard line.

On the next play, running back Fred Jackson took a short completion of rookie quarterback EJ Manuel to the end zone, tying the game at 24 after Dan Carpenter's extra point. To that point, Buffalo had run only seven offensive plays in third quarter, and managed just one first down.

The Falcons had taken their first lead on an 11-yard touchdown pass from Matt Ryan to tight end Tony Gonzalez. That completed a 10-play, 56-yard drive.

Three and out: The Bills started the second half the way they ended the first, with a three and out on their first possession of the third quarter. Manuel attempted to find tight end Scott Chandler on a third-and-7 play, but the ball was knocked away by Falcons linebacker Sean Weatherspoon.

Gilmore gets burned: Cornerback Stephon Gilmore continues to struggle for the Bills. Gilmore was beaten by Atlanta receiver Harry Douglas for a 13-yard gain on a play that looked like it was going to be a touchdown, but was reversed after a replay review. Douglas beat Gilmore inside, then bounced off a hit from safety Jairus Byrd before diving for the goal line. Earlier in the quarter, Gilmore took an illegal-use-of-hands penalty, giving Atlanta a first down when it would have been third and 14.

Stats watch: The Bills held the ball for only 3:52 in that quarter, compared to 11:08 for Atlanta. The Falcons went 4 of 5 on third down, while the Bills were 0 for 3.

NFL Sunday Outtakes: Rules taking club foot out of kicker's bag

By Tim Graham

Where have all the kick returns gone?

They've become mostly immaterial.

Only three kickoffs have been returned for touchdowns this year. The NFL is on pace for four kickoff TDs by season's end, fewest since 1993.

The Buffalo Bills are among three teams on track to challenge the 1944 New York Giants for fewest kickoff returns. Those Giants made 17 returns in a 10-game season.

For this week's NFL Sunday feature in The Buffalo News, I dialed up legends Brian Mitchell, Mel Gray and Abe Woodson -- 29,802 kickoff return yards, 8,708 punt return yards and 29 return touchdowns among them -- for their perspectives on a part of the game that's not as thrilling as it used to be.

Bills coach Doug Marrone and returners Leodis McKelvin and Marquise Goodwin also shared their thoughts about a supposed team strength that has been nonexistent.

Here's another perspective. Kickers are being impacted, too.

"The reason they're getting fazed out is a safety issue," Bills kicker Dan Carpenter said. "They're trying to eliminate or cut down on the high-end collisions."

With concussions a hot-button issue, the NFL has made it more difficult for return men to make plays. Blocking wedges larger than two players were eliminated in 2009. The kickoff spot was moved from the 30-yard line to the 35-yard line in 2011.

Kickers are driving the ball. Return men are more reluctant to bring out kicks that fall deep in the end zone.

Touchbacks occur on 53 percent of kickoffs now, up from 16.4 percent in 2010. They happened about 8 or 9 percent of the time from 2000 through 2005.

The NFL has considered eliminating kickoffs completely.

"It's tough when you only do certain things in your job title," Carpenter said. "The thought that one of those things might be taken away ... Obviously, the game would change. Our position and what teams are looking for in a kicker would change."

Carpenter probably would benefit if kickoffs vanished. He's an accurate field-goal kicker but isn't consistent at deep kickoffs.

He has made 92 percent of his field goals this year and three of his four tries from 50 yards or longer. His touchback percentage is 10 points below the league average.

"Kickers probably could hang around longer," Carpenter said. "There are only a couple reasons teams cut kickers. Either you miss too many field goals or you can't kick the ball as far as you once used to."

And if kickoffs were phased out?

"Guys who kick the ball will be accurate for field goals and not worry about kicking off," Carpenter said. "You won't have to work on that anymore. You won't get those young guys who come out and just crush the ball because it won't be as relevant.

"It will come down more to fundamentals than strength. It's like with golf. If every hole was less than 300 yards, nobody would own a driver. You'd throw them away. There's no point in having those clubs."

Second-quarter analysis: Bills put 'Shout' song on replay

By Jay Skurski

Just about everything that could go right did for the Buffalo Bills in the second quarter today against the New York Jets at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Hit two field goals of 40 or more yards in a brutal wind? Check.

Complete a long touchdown pass from EJ Manuel to T.J. Graham? Check.

Force a turnover, then punch it in for another TD? Check times three.

As a result, the Bills hold a 20-0 halftime lead. The Bills scored on every possession in the second quarter, starting with a 40-yard field goal by Dan Carpenter. After forcing a three and out by New York, the Bills put together one of their best drives of the season, a 13-play, 68-yard drive that ended with a 34-yard touchdown pass from Manuel to Graham.

Defensive tackle Kyle Williams then recorded his second sack of the game, forcing a fumble in the process that was recovered by linebacker Manny Lawson. The Bills scored two plays later on a 2-yard touchdown run by fullback Frank Summers.

Sneak!: Fans and media members alike (especially WGR's Jeremy White) have often wondered why the Bills don't sneak the ball more when needing a yard for a first down. Buffalo did it twice in the second quarter, each time with success. The first one came on a third-and-1 play from the Buffalo 44, when Manuel rushed for 3 yards. The second sneak by Manuel came on a fourth-and-1 play from the Jets' 33-yard line on the same drive. The play was set up after Jets defensive end Leger Louzable jumped offside on a fourth-and-6 play on which the Bills had Brian Moorman out to punt.

Byrd watching: Safety Jairus Byrd was all over the field for the Bills in the second quarter. Byrd sacked Smith for a 9-yard loss early in the quarter, then later intercepted the Jets' rookie quarterback. That set up a 42-yard field goal by Carpenter that pushed the Bills' lead to 20-0.

Career high: Williams' two sacks today gives him seven on the season, a new career high. 

First-quarter analysis: Jairus Byrd shows he's back

By Jay Skurski

Bills coach Doug Marrone has talked recently about safety Jairus Byrd being close to making a big play.

The breakthrough came in the first quarter today at Heinz Field against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Byrd made a terrific interception of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on a pass intended for Markus Wheaton. Byrd was playing "Cover One" as the lone deep safety and perfectly read the play down the right sideline, returning the interception 57 yards to the Pittsburgh 29-yard line. 

The Bills weren't able to punch it in with the short field, however, settling for a 20-yard field goal by Dan Carpenter when they were stopped a yard short of the end zone after having first and goal. Rookie quarterback EJ Manuel threw incomplete of a fade pattern intended for Stevie Johnson on third down.

The Bills entered the game 31st in the NFL in red-zone touchdown percentage, converting just 42 percent of the time.

Tough start: Second-year cornerback Stephon Gilmore has struggled at times this season since coming back from a broken wrist. Gilmore took a holding penalty on the Steelers' first drive, then was beaten on third down by Pittsbrugh receiver Jerricho Cotchery. To make matters worse, Gilmore blew the tackle, allowing Cotchery to run for 26 yards.

Tough start II: Manuel's first start back after missing four games because of a knee injury has not been pretty so far. Manuel is 2 of 5 for just 9 yards. He has rushed once for 8 yards, picking up a first down in the process. And yes, Manuel slid at the end of the play to avoid taking a hit. 

Good drive starts: The Bills started three drives in the first quarter from the Pittsburgh 29, the Pittsburgh 44 and their own 44. They have just a 3-0 lead to show for it, however, after going three and out on their final two possessions of the first quarter.

Second-quarter analysis: Jamaal Charles being held in check

By Jay Skurski

The Buffalo Bills' defense is doing a good job of preventing the big play today against the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Bills have given up only 115 yards of total offense through the first half at Ralph Wilson Stadium. In particular, Buffalo has done a good job against Chiefs star running back Jamaal Charles, limiting him to 26 yards on six carries and only 8 yards on five catches. 

Linebacker Kiko Alonso made a terrific play against Charles, dropping him for a loss of 4 yards on a third-and-7 play just before halftime to force a punt.

Continue reading "Second-quarter analysis: Jamaal Charles being held in check" »

Bills must pick up statistical pace over final eight games

By Tim Graham

The Buffalo Bills' season is halfway over, and I know how to multiply by two.

So look out.

We've heard much about Mario Williams being on pace to break Bruce Smith's club record for sacks. Overall, however, the Bills are trending toward some disconcerting stats for coach Doug Marrone's first campaign.

Before we take a gander at the numbers, consider the 3-5 Bills have faced a slightly tougher schedule than they will in the second half of the season.

Continue reading "Bills must pick up statistical pace over final eight games" »

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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 | [email protected]


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 | [email protected]


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 | [email protected]

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