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Third-quarter analysis: Bills dial up the deep ball

By Jay Skurski

If the rest of this Buffalo Bills season is about looking for improvement out of rookie quarterback EJ Manuel, the third quarter today at Ralph Wilson Stadium would be a good place to start.

Manuel hit consecutive deep passes to T.J. Graham and Marquise Goodwin, covering 83 yards in just two plays to give the Bills a 27-7 lead at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Manuel first hit Graham down the left sideline after the receiver beat rookie Dee Milliner in coverage. The play was reviewed after the Jets challenged whether Graham was in bounds, and was upheld.

On the next play, Goodwin smoked Jets Pro Bowl cornerback Antonio Cromartie down the right sideline and hauled in a 43-yard touchdown catch. The drive lasted all of 27 seconds.

Pick six: The Bills went ahead, 34-7, on a 32-yard interception return for a touchdown by safety Da'Norris Searcy. Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith has turned the ball over four times, losing one fumble and throwing three interceptions.

Still Byrd watching: Safety Jairus Byrd is having the type of game that shows why he's one of the best players in the NFL at his position. Byrd again read Smith perfectly, and picked him off for the second time. Near the end of the quarter, Byrd came in on a safety blitz and labled Smith a split second after he threw the ball.

Fred down, then back up: Bills running back Fred Jackson provided a temporary scare early in the third quarter when he was hit on the left knee by Jets safety Dawan Landry. Jackson stayed down after the hit, and was attended to by the team's training staff. He walked to the sideline under his own power, however, and returned to the game later in the quarter.

Stevie Johnson's chances of playing Sunday not looking good

By Jay Skurski

Stevie Johnson missed his second straight practice Thursday, putting his availability for Sunday's game against the New York Jets at Ralph Wilson Stadium in serious doubt.

"I don't feel as good about him being able to play, but I can't officially rule him out yet," coach Doug Marrone said after practice.

Johnson injured his right groin in a Week 10 loss at Pittsburgh.

Marrone said the team will not call up a receiver from the practice squad, meaning the options for EJ Manuel at the position will be T.J. Graham, Marquise Goodwin, Chris Hogan and Marcus Easley. Rookie Robert Woods has been ruled out because of an ankle injury.

Safety Da'Norris Searcy returned to practice on a limited basis today after sitting out Wednesday because of a hamstring injury.

"I have no issues there. Unless he has a setback during the week, he should be in great shape," Marrone said.

Defensive tackle Kyle Williams (Achilles) was also back as a full participant at practice today after taking his usual rest day Wednesday.

Robert Woods ruled out for Sunday; Stevie Johnson TBD

By Tim Graham

Buffalo Bills coach Doug Marrone already has declared rookie receiver Robert Woods' injured ankle unprepared for Sunday's game against the New York Jets in Ralph Wilson Stadium.

The status for leading receiver Stevie Johnson is uncertain. Johnson suffered another groin injury three days ago against the Pittsburgh Steelers and did not practice today.

"Stevie's working hard on the rehabilitation," Marrone said. "He wants to see how it feels later on, and then he's going to see how it feels to go."

The only two other Bills on today's injury report were defensive tackle Kyle Williams with his usual Achilles rest day and safety Da'Norris Searcy with a hamstring issue. Neither practiced today but are expected to be on the field Thursday.

The Jets listed three players as not practicing: receiver Jeremy Kerley (elbow), defensive end Leger Douzable (illness) and linebacker Garrett McIntyre (knee).

Snap counts: Nigel Bradham busy in place of Manny Lawson

By Jay Skurski

The Buffalo Bills turned to Nigel Bradham on Sunday after linebacker Manny Lawson was hurt against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Bradham played 39 of the Bills' 86 defensive snaps, or 45 percent. That's by far the busiest he has been all season. He played 19 defensive snaps (21 percent) against the New England Patriots in Week One, then did not have more than eight snaps over the next four games before Sunday.

"It's not what I expected, but it is what it is," Bradham said of his playing time. "Pretty much just have to be ready for your opportunity. Manny went down so I had to be able to just be ready and go out there and play."

Bradham said he spent a lot of time in practice last week reviewing Lawson's role.

"It's one of the things where it's a different scheme and we have so many different packages that you just have to be ready for all the packages and just be ready for whenever anybody gets hurt," he said.

Continue reading "Snap counts: Nigel Bradham busy in place of Manny Lawson" »

Second-quarter analysis: Reversal of fortune

By Jay Skurski

Old friend Willis McGahee had to work at it, but eventually he tied the game up for the Cleveland Browns tonight against the Buffalo Bills.

McGahee capped a lengthy, 14-play, 74-yard touchdown drive that chewed up 7:10 off the clock in the second quarter by just getting across the goal line for a 1-yard touchdown run that tied the game, 10-10.

McGahee’s touchdown plunge came on third and goal after he was stopped for no gain on two straight plays.

The Browns took the lead just 1:11 later on a spectacular 79-yard punt return by Travis Benjamin.

Continue reading "Second-quarter analysis: Reversal of fortune" »

Points after: Bills 23, Ravens 20

702704 RAVENS AT BILLS MU#8

By Tim Graham

Quick highlights from the Buffalo Bills' bounce-back victory over the Baltimore Ravens in Ralph Wilson Stadium ...

What it means: The Bills are 2-2 and unbeaten outside the AFC East after upsetting the defending Super Bowl champs.

Player of the game: Starting at cornerback for the first time since last season, erstwhile safety Aaron Williams had his first two-interception game and broke up a couple more long passes. Williams left the game with an apparent shoulder injury in the second quarter but returned, then departed for good in the fourth quarter with a lower-back injury.

Play of the game: With 57 seconds to play and the Bills hanging on by their fingernails, middle linebacker Kiko Alonso got his fingers around a ball batted by safety Da'Norris Searcy. Alonso secured an interception at the Bills' 41-yard line to cement the victory.

Jackson reaches milestone: With running back C.J. Spiller hampered by another injury, Fred Jackson was his usual, reliable self. Jackson rushed 16 times for 87 yards and a touchdown. He surpassed Joe Cribbs for third place on the Bills' all-time list behind Thurman Thomas and O.J. Simpson.

Stat line of the game: Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco was 25 of 50 for 347 yards and two touchdowns but a career-worst five interceptions.

Alonso all over: Alonso became the first rookie linebacker in Bills history to snag an interception in three straight games. He's only the third Bills rookie linebacker with three in a season, joining Stew Barber in 1961 and Mike Stratton in 1962.

Stevie nearly snuffed: Bills receiver Stevie Johnson entered today's game with a 51-game reception streak, fourth-longest in club history. Johnson had one catch for minus-1 yard. But he also made a colossal play by recovering an EJ Manuel fumble deep in Buffalo territory right before the two-minute warning.

Preliminary injury report: Aaron Williams fell hard on his right shoulder while breaking up a long pass early in the second quarter. He went to the locker room early before halftime, played much of the second half but left the game again in the fourth quarter with a lower-back injury. ... Wide receiver and special-teamer Marcus Easley was sidelined in the second quarter with an apparent left ankle or foot injury but returned later in the quarter. ... A knee injury sent right guard Kraig Urbik to the locker room with 5:27 left in the first half. Urbik returned in the third quarter. ... Spiller limped off with a left ankle injury on the first possession of the second half, but came back late in the third quarter. ... Jackson removed himself from the game at the goal line with about two minutes left in the third quarter but returned to action.

Coming up: The Bills have the dreaded short week ahead. They will play the Cleveland Browns on Thursday night in FirstEnergy Stadium.

Doug Marrone: Bills were in position for Danny Amendola

By Tim Graham

Danny Amendola disemboweled the Buffalo Bills' pass defense Sunday.

Amendola, the New England Patriots' replacement for Wes Welker, was the MVP of a 23-21 victory in Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Amendola had 10 receptions for 104 yards, but those stats tell only a smidgeon of the story. He was hobbled by a groin injury. Seven of his catches converted third downs into first downs.

He probably made some more catches in Doug Marrone's dreams Sunday night -- if the Bills' coach slept after such an emotional debut.

After reviewing the game film, Marrone couldn't find much fault with his defense.

"I wasn't discouraged about where we were on a lot of positioning where those balls were completed," Marrone said.

On the winning drive, Amendola caught all four passes Tom Brady threw to him for 26 yards and three first downs.

The critical grab came on a third-and-8 play from Buffalo's 39-yard line with just over a minute left. Amendola gained 10 yards. That play essentially sealed Buffalo's fate.

Marrone praised Amendola, who made several great catches from a Hall of Fame quarterback, rather than fault Buffalo's defense.

"Give them credit," Marrone said. "They had some good man-beaters when we were in man. There's a lot of times when we were right there. Sometimes when you play this game, and I've always been like this as a coach, you tip your hat off to them.

"Tom Brady and Amendola have that type of ability, and they did it."

Nobody could cover Amendola.

Analytics site ProFootballFocus.com noted Amendola made at least one catch against seven different Bills defensive backs. He made two apiece on Justin Rogers, Aaron Williams and Nickell Robey and one apiece on Leodis McKelvin, Ron Brooks, Da'Norris Searcy and Jim Leonhard.

McKelvin was the only Bills defender to record a pass breakup while covering Amendola. PFF credited Amendola with 32 yards after the catch.

Here's a look at the third-down passes from Brady to Amendola:

  • Third and 7: Complete for 24 yards (first down)
  • Third and 10: Incomplete
  • Third and 4: Complete for 6 yards (first down)
  • Third and 3: Complete for 6 yards (first down)
  • Third and 6: Complete for 19 yards (first down)
  • Third and 10: Complete for 13 yards (first down)
  • Third and 3: Complete for 6 yards (first down)
  • Third and 8: Complete for 8 yards (first down)

Jairus Byrd on watching from the sideline: 'To be honest, it hurt'

By Tim Graham

For the first time in his career, Jairus Byrd watched his team play from the sideline.

"Different," Byrd said of the experience. "It was a really a weird feeling, actually.

"To be honest, it hurt. It's not a good feeling to watch a game like that. It's not cool. The way we lost made it worse."

The Bills were ahead of the New England Patriots with nine seconds left. The Patriots won, 23-21, on Stephen Gostkowski's 35-yard field goal.

Continue reading "Jairus Byrd on watching from the sideline: 'To be honest, it hurt'" »

Game ball: Patriots 23, Bills 21

Kyle Williams feels like throwing up

By Jerry Sullivan

Remember a while back, when offensive coordinator Nate Hackett talked about running C.J. Spiller until he threw up?

Well, another Bills star was talking about losing his lunch late Sunday afternoon, and it had nothing to do with overwork. It was defensive lineman Kyle Williams reacting to the latest heart-wrenching loss to the Patriots.

"Listen, if I had a dollar for every tough one with those freaking guys," Williams said after the Bills lost their opener to the Pats, 23-21, on a late field goal. "It makes me vomit."

I'm sure many Bills fans share the sentiment. The Bills have lost too many of these close games to count during the last decade or so, several of them to the hated Patriots. Sometimes, they blow the Bills out. Other times, they rally from behind and rip your heart out. This was one of those times, as the Patriots rallied from a four-point deficit in the fourth to steal the opener.

Williams has seen it a few times before. In fact, his first NFL game was a two-point loss to New England. In the 2006 opener, the Bills had a 17-14 lead in the fourth quarter, but lost, 19-17. The Bills led by 10 at halftime that day. They scored a bizarre early touchdown when London Fletcher recovered a fumbled kickoff for a TD. This time, they scored on a 74-yard fumble return by Da'Norris Searcy.

In the 2009 season opener, the Bills had a 24-13 lead with 2:12 left at Foxborough on Monday night. They scored a gift defensive TD that night, too, on an interception return by Aaron Schobel. But the Pats scored two late TDs, the second after Leodis McKelvin returned a kickoff from deep in his end zone and fumbled, and the Bills lost that one, 25-24.

Williams said it was tough to swallow. But you have to deal with it and move on. It's a new era, with a new coach and new quarterback. Still, it's hard to accept the same crushing result.

"Coach said hopefully we're going to learn from it and keep pushing and wake up better for it tomorrow," Williams said. "But it doesn't seem like it now."

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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 | tgraham@buffnews.com


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 | mgaughan@buffnews.com


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 | jskurski@buffnews.com

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