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Bills release RB Tashard Choice

By Mark Gaughan

The Buffalo Bills announced running back Tashard Choice has been released.

A sixth-year NFL veteran, Choice joined Buffalo midway through the 2011 season and has served as the No. 3 running back since.

He had 35 carries this season for 126 yards. Throughout his time with the Bills, he had 105 carries for 389 yards in 29 games.

Choice played six snaps on offense over the past three games. Overall this year, he averaged 8.5 offensive plays a game, or 11 percent of the snaps.

Ronnie Wingo is the other halfback on the BIlls' roster, after C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson.

Game ball: Falcons 34, Bills 31 (OT)

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.

Bills should be healthy coming out of bye week

By Jay Skurski

Bills head coach Doug Marrone said today running back Fred Jackson would be able to play Sunday -- if the team had a game.

The Bills don't, of course, as they head into the bye in Week 12, giving Jackson and Co. plenty of time to heal up before Buffalo's next game, which comes Dec. 1 against Atlanta in Toronto.

"He's fine. No problems at all," Marrone said of Jackson, who suffered a left knee injury against during the Bills' 37-14 win over the New York Jets on Sunday, but was able to return to the lineup. "He would be able to play this week."

Marrone also sounded optimistic about the chances of both his starting receivers, Stevie Johnson (groin) and Robert Woods (ankle), playing against the Falcons. They both sat out Sunday.

Woods told The Buffalo News earlier in the day his plan was to return to the lineup in the Rogers Centre. That would mean the Bills would have all 53 players on their roster healthy enough to play.

Doug Marrone urges C.J. Spiller to hold O-line accountable

By Tim Graham

Maybe it's time for C.J. Spiller to stop being such a nice guy.

Buffalo Bills coach Doug Marrone suggested after today's game that Spiller should get into his offensive linemen's grills about blocking better.

Spiller had another miserable game even though his Bills waylaid the New York Jets, 37-14, in Ralph Wilson Stadium.

"I know it was terrible today," Spiller said. "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know I didn't have a good day rushing the ball. I probably was in negative yards."

Not quite, but almost.

Spiller ran 13 times for 6 yards. His longest gain was 3 yards. He was tackled for no gain or negative yards five times.

One play was particularly aggravating. Against a loaded box about five minutes before halftime, the Bills ran anyway. Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson shot through the Bills' line and tackled Spiller for a 4-yard loss.

You could almost see the steam shooting from the ear holes in Spiller's helmet as he walked to the sideline.

Marrone made it a point to speak with Spiller. Marrone was upset with the offensive line, noting they were falling down and whiffing on some run blocks.

"If you're a running back and you're getting the ball, that's something you don't expect," Marrone said. "You can live with the other stuff.

"I told him afterward, 'You know what? I'd be pissed, too. But the difference between me and you -- and this is what you have to do now -- is go over to that group right there, that offensive line, and you tell them. You tell them you're pissed.' "

Spiller had no quarrel with Marrone's advice.

"He's exactly right," Spiller said. "When things aren't going right, it's about holding each other accountable. It's nothing about degrading my teammates or anything like that. It's just letting them know that we have to get going."

Spiller admitted that venting isn't a foreign concept to him. He recently spoke to Thurman Thomas about this very topic, asking the Hall of Fame running back how to confront negative issues without turning into a controversy.

Bills center Eric Wood acknowledged Spiller's frustrations and welcomed his input.

"If he's not comfortable saying something, then maybe him doing that is not the best way," Wood said. "But if he's comfortable saying something, we respect him. We know what he can do when we give him holes. We've got to do a better job for him."

Legendary Bills receiver Andre Reed attended today's game and was in the locker room afterward. Reed laughed when asked whether Thomas had the temerity to confront Pro Bowl linemen such as Jim Ritcher, Kent Hull and Howard Ballard.

"If it ain't going right and you're the main guy, you get up in somebody's face regardless," Reed said. "Get up in the offensive line's face and say something. Thurman didn't give a damn who he was talking to.

"If it's bothering me, I'd get in somebody's face. Hell, I'm out here working, too."

Spiller's backfield mates, Fred Jackson and Tashard Choice, didn't fare much better Sunday. The Bills combined for 68 yards on 38 rushing attempts.

"We have the guys that can get the job done," Spiller said. "There wasn't a whole lot of room out there, but we'll get it corrected. That's the encouraging part."

Points after: Bills 37, Jets 14

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By Tim Graham

Quick highlights from the Buffalo Bills' decisive victory over the New York Jets in Ralph Wilson Stadium ...

What it means: The Bills snapped a three-game losing streak and avenged an ugly Week Three loss to the Jets. The Bills still are in the AFC East basement at 4-7, but they have to feel good about how they played. Bills rookie EJ Manuel returns to "future franchise quarterback" material (for the time being, anyway) with a strong bounce-back performance.

Players of the game: Bills safety Jairus Byrd and defensive tackle Kyle Williams were studs. Byrd had a sack and two interceptions. He dropped Geno Smith on a third-and-3 play in the second quarter to forcing a punt and grabbed an interception for the second straight week to set up a field goal right before halftime. He picked off another in the third quarter. Williams had two sacks in the first half and forced a fumble to set up a touchdown.

Manuel transmission: Geno Smith won the rookie QB showdown in the first game, but Manuel was far superior today. Manuel was 20 of 28 for 245 yards and two TDs with no interceptions. Smith completed eight of his 23 yards for 103 yards and no TDs with three interceptions and a lost fumble. Matt Simms replaced Smith with 12:55 left in the game.

Play of the game: After the Jets scored their first touchdown to make it 20-7 in the third quarter, Manuel responded with a 43-yard strike to Marquise Goodwin and put the Jets back in their place.

Milestone TD: Bills fullback Frank Summers, playing in his 13th NFL game since he got drafted in 2009, scored on a 1-yard run in the second quarter. It was the first TD of his career.

Preliminary injury report: Fred Jackson writhed on the ground 2:27 into the second half with an apparent left knee injury. He returned to the game on the next series. ... Defensive tackle Kyle Williams went to the locker room with 7:18 left in the third quarter but came back quickly after getting retaped.

Coming up: The Bills are on their bye week. They will return to action Dec. 1 against the Atlanta Falcons in Toronto.

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.

C.J. Spiller insists usage not a touchy issue for him

By Tim Graham

C.J. Spiller has not and likely won't meet with Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett about how the running back is being used.

"No," Spiller said, "I've never done that in my whole career. I've never sat down with the offensive coordinator.

"Probably from the outside, people would say, 'Well, you need to do it.' But since I've been playing football I never done it. I didn't do it in high school, didn't do it in college. I don't think I'm going to change now."

Union County High coach Buddy Nobles or Clemson coach Dabo Swinney almost certainly didn't limit Spiller to 33 percent of his team's plays.

But the Bills used Spiller on 22 of their 67 snaps in Sunday's loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Spiller had 11 touches, eight rushes for 23 yards and three catches for 11 yards.

Spiller has been battling various injuries and played 29 percent of the snaps a week earlier against the Kansas City Chiefs. But he seemed to be sufficiently healed, turning his 14 touches into 155 yards from scrimmage.

"I just go in when I'm told to go into the game," Spiller said.

Asked about his frustrations, Spiller replied, "I'm just frustrated that we're on a three-game losing streak. I'm not frustrated with the amount I done touched. I'm just sick and tired of the losing."

Marrone defended the team's backfield deployment by pointing out the Bills rank eighth in rushing and are the only team with two 500-yard rushers.

"Both of those players are playing well," Marrone said. "So when both of those guys are in there, I view both of those guys as No. 1s for us.

"I've always said it from the beginning when I had the job that I like to different backs, two different styles. That's what we have. If someone would ever get the hot hand, I would keep him in there and going. But until then, until someone gets extremely hot, I'm going to keep playing both of those players."

C.J. Spiller's limited usage not injury related

By Jay Skurski

The Buffalo Bills thought running back C.J. Spilller's high-ankle sprain was healed sufficiently enough to remove him from their injury report last week.

Despite that, Spiller still only saw 33 percent of the offensive snaps in Sunday's 23-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field. Spiller was on the field for 22 of Buffalo's 67 offensive plays, running eight times for 23 yards and catching three passes for 11 yards.

Fred Jackson, meanwhile, took 44 snaps (66 percent), while third running back Tashard Choice saw just one play.

"Game plan. How we're putting those guys in there," Marrone said today when asked if Spiller's usage was at all still limited by injury. "Doesn't have anything to do with his ankle."

Marrone said Spiller's playing time "could increase, could decrease -- We'll see it week to week."

"As far as the running backs, I think both players are productive in their own way with two different styles, which isn't a problem. At the same sense, you know, did we run the ball like we wanted to the other day? Absoultely not. I don't think you need to be a genius to figure that out," the coach said. "How come? Why not? ... Very simple -- I think it always starts with up front, because I'm an offensive line coach. We could have done a better job up front."

Marrone said there were times during the game that his running backs missed a hole or missed a read, and that the blocking on the perimeter by his tight ends was sometimes not strong enough.

"To be able to run the football, you have to do all those things well," he said. "I think at times when we don't do that, then it's very difficult for us to run the football."

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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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