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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.

Russ Brandon is concerned about Toronto, ticket sales at Ralph

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The Buffalo Bills take the field at the Rogers Centre in Toronto Sunday (James P. McCoy/ Buffalo News)

By Mark Gaughan

The atmosphere in the Rogers Centre for Sunday's Buffalo Bills game was disappointing to team President and Chief Executive Officer Russ Brandon.

Brandon didn't exactly use those words, but he made that point clear in his weekly radio show on WGR this morning. Brandon also made it clear the team still is having a much harder time filling seats at Ralph Wilson Stadium than he would like.

"One of the things I said ... on Jan. 1 of this year was I was going to review every phase of this operation, and this series comes within that framework," Brandon said. "I'm going to look at it very closely."

"Obviously, Toronto has been very positive for us down here," Brandon said. "We've had great growth in the Southern Ontario marketplace the last five years. Back here at Ralph Wilson Stadium that has been a big positive. It has been a challenged market there. And certainly has not translated into enough wins for us there."

The atmosphere for the Bills was not good in Sunday's 34-31 overtime loss to the Atlanta Falcons. Announced attendance was only 38,969. There were roughly as many fans wearing Falcons jerseys as those wearing Bills jerseys. The cheers for the Falcons' scores were almost as loud as for the Bills' scores. Falcons fans were making a lot of noise when the Bills' offense was facing key third-down situations in the second half.

The Bills still have four years left on their agreeement with Rogers Communications Inc. to hold games in Toronto. It's unfathomable to think the Bills would spend any significant money to buy out of the deal, which still is a financial windfall for the club. Would he consider trying to get out of the deal?

"I'm going to look at everything," Brandon said. "I'll just leave it at that."

At the same time, Brandon said he also would review the Bills' training camp arrangement in suburban Rochester, something that surely is not going to change. The Bills have a long-term agreement in place with St. John Fisher College.

"Is that the right thing to help us win?" Brandon said. "We have a great setup at Fisher. But is that the best thing for this team? When I said everything is under review I mean everything. Everything that's involved with this operation is under review. This falls under that same atmosphere."

Meanwhile, Brandon made it clear that selling out seven home games in Orchard Park is a great challenge.

"It's also about being viable," Brandon said. "That's one of the things we've talked about for many years here. Look at it from the standpoint of where we've been this year on the ticket side. We've taken a game out of the market, which is essentially taking 70,000 seats out of the market, and have truly only sold out two of our home games."

"We've manufactured sellouts in the other four or five," Brandon said. "We're trying to find ways to obviously keep this team viable, which we've done a very good job at, and this series has obviously contributed to that.

"With that being said, nothing comes above winning. When I took the over the reins on Jan. 1, I said that was the No. 1 focus, and that will be the No. 1 focus. And that's one of the reasons that this will be reviewed in a grand manner."

The Bills (4-8) are headed to a 14th straight non-playoff finish.

Brandon said there still were about 20,000 tickets left for the last Orchard Park home game, against Miami in 17 days.

How the locals fared: Week 13

By Jay Skurski

Our weekly rundown on the Press Coverage blog of the players from Western New York (along with the University at Buffalo) currently in the NFL:

Steven Means: The Buffalo native and Grover Cleveland and University at Buffalo product -- a rookie defensive end with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- was inactive for his team's 27-6 loss to the Carolina Panthers.

Mike Williams: The Tampa Bay receiver -- a Buffalo native and Riverside product --  finished his season with 22 catches for 216 yards and two touchdowns. He was placed on injured reserve because of a torn hamstring on Oct. 28.

James Starks: The Green Bay Packers running back, a Niagara Falls and University at Buffalo product, carried just two times for 2 yards in a 40-10 blowout loss to the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving day. Starks played seven offensive snaps (16 percent) and another three on special teams (11 percent).

J.C. Tretter: The Akron product, a fourth-round draft pick of the Packers in April, is on the team’s physically unable to perform list after he broke his ankle in May. He practiced for the first time Nov. 20, and the team has until Dec. 11 to either activate him to the 53-man roster, or place him on injured reserve.

Rob Gronkowski: Gronkowski had six catches for 127 yards and a touchdown in the Patriots' 34-31 victory against the Houston Texans. Gronk took 63 of 70 offensive snaps (90 percent) for New England.

Brett Kern: The Grand Island native punted six times for 222 yards for the Tennessee Titans in a 22-14 loss at Indianapolis. He had a net average of just 32.2 yards on the punts, but four of the six were downed inside the Colts' 20-yard line. The three punts that were returned went for a total of 29 yards.

Corey Graham: The Baltimore Ravens' cornerback, a Buffalo native and Turner/Carroll product, made eight tackles on defense and another on special teams in a 22-20 victory over Pittsburgh on Thanksgiving night. Graham also defended one pass. He played a lot, getting 56 defensive snaps (85 percent) and another 12 on special teams (48 percent).

Note: Local players Dan Gronkowski, Chris Gronkowski, Jeremy Kelley, Naaman Roosevelt and Doug Worthington are currently free agents, as is UB graduate Trevor Scott. 

UB players

Josh Thomas: Thomas, a cornerback, played 13 special teams snaps (54 percent) for Carolina in a 27-6 victory over Tampa Bay. He did not play defensively.

Bills add OT Jamaal Johnson-Webb to practice squad

By Jay Skurski

The Bills today announced they've signed offensive tackle Jamaal Johnson-Webb to the practice squad. To make room for Johnson-Webb, the team released offensive lineman Manase Foketi from the practice squad.

Johnson-Webb is a 6-foot-3, 306-pounder who played in college at Alabama A&M. He originally entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent with the Arizona Cardinals this season, before being released prior to the start of the regular season. He has spent time on the practice squad for both Minnesota and Chicago.

Johnson-Webb made 45 starts for Alabama A&M, beginning his career as a guard before moving to tackle prior to his sophomore season.

Analytics site shows EJ Manuel is NFL's least-accurate passer

By Tim Graham

The Buffalo Bills essentially are into evaluation phase for the rest of the season.

No player needs to absorb experience over the last four games more than rookie quarterback EJ Manuel.

The Bills and their weary fans still are learning about Manuel, who missed four games while recovering from a knee injury. He has looked good at times, and showed a flair for the dramatic with his game-winning touchdown drive against the Carolina Panthers in Week Two.

But one area of concern is his accuracy. Analytics site ProFootballFocus.com says Manuel has been the NFL's least-accurate passer this year.

Manuel ranks dead last out of the 30 quarterbacks who've handled at least 50 percent of their teams' pass plays. When the field is broadened to include quarterbacks who've handled 25 percent of their teams' pass plays, he is tied for 36th out of 38, ahead of only St. Louis Rams backup Kellen Clemens.

PFF's "quarterback accuracy percentage" metric takes a deeper look than standard completion percentage.

PFF gives the passer credit for dropped passes and does not consider the following incompletions: throwaways, spikes, batted passes or attempts while being hit.

Manuel's adjusted accuracy percentage is 66.4 percent, two-tenths of a percent worse than that of New York Jets rookie Geno Smith, who has completed 29 passes over his past four games.

On Manuel's 249 attempts, PFF counts 15 drops (he gets credit for a completion on those) plus two throwaways, one batted pass and four while being hit (he doesn't get faulted for any of those).

PFF's data tags Bills receiver Stevie Johnson for a team-high five drops, although that total also includes passes thrown by Thad Lewis and Jeff Tuel. Tight end Scott Chandler and receiver Robert Woods have four drops apiece.

But Manuel is in decent company at the bottom of PFF's chart. Tom Brady is ranked 20th, Colin Kaepernick 24th, Andrew Luck 25th, Eli Manning 26th and Joe Flacco 27th.

Aaron Rodgers ranks first, followed by Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning, Matt Ryan and Drew Brees.

Doug Marrone: 'I'm struggling' to deal with anxiety of 4-8 record

By Tim Graham

Doug Marrone admitted that some questions provide a fleeting moment of relief.

When reporters remind him this was supposed to be a rebuilding season anyway or ask about the bounces that could've put the Buffalo Bills in the middle of the playoff race, Marrone conceded those are easy exits ramps to escape his angst.

Marrone, though, said he's not like that.

Marrone closed his eyes, rested his head in one hand and kneaded his forehead while fielding questions at Sunday's postgame news conference. He was glum again this afternoon for the postmortem of a 34-31 overtime loss to the Atlanta Falcons in Toronto.

"My expectations are extremely high," Marrone replied at One Bills Drive today when asked about acceptable growing pains. "I'm very disappointed in myself, with where we are, and it starts with me.

"I've got to find a way to get it better because I really believe that if I come across as the head coach and don't have those expectations, then we'll fall short of our goals at the end. I want to make sure that we're accountable, starting with myself, and keeping those things extremely high and keep fighting for that. We can do that.

"That's where I'm struggling. We have players here that are capable of winning games. We have coaches here that are capable of winning games, and we're not getting that done. That's where I'm struggling, to get ourselves over that top and creating that consistency."

The Bills, like many teams, break down their season schedule by quarters and try to win each four-game set. The Bills are entering their final quarter and have gone 2-2, 1-3 and 1-3 over their first three quarters.

The Bills have not been mathematically eliminated from the postseason yet, but their chances are microscopic. Plus, three of their last four games are on the road.

Marrone spoke today like a coach who's motivating his players not to pack it in.

"There has to come a point where you have to go forward and work and get the foundation right," Marrone said. "It's a work in progress, and I don't want to be that guy that stands up here and says that, but it is what it is.

"We're not satisfied, obviously, with the record or where we are. Being competitive and playing close is not what we do. What we're here to do is to win. At the end of the day, we haven't gotten that done consistently."

The Bills are 1-5 away from Ralph Wilson Stadium. They haven't won consecutive games since Weeks Two and Three last year, but they've had their chances to win more than four times.

They should have beaten the Falcons on Sunday, but late fumbles from Stevie Johnson and Scott Chandler ended their hopes. The also lost the New England Patriots on a field goal with five seconds left, fell to the Cincinnati Bengals in overtime and had the Kansas City Chiefs on the ropes but gave up a pair of defensive touchdowns to lose by 10 points.

"It's difficult," Marrone said. "It gives you a moment of relief to think 'What if? What if?'

"But, for me, the way I handle things, it gives me high levels of anxiety. It hurts me that we collectively -- players and coaches, and it starts with me -- can't get it over the top where you can start that run."

Replay live chat: Bills Monday with Jay Skurski

Game ball: Falcons 34, Bills 31 (OT)

Points after: Falcons 34, Bills 31 OT

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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.

Bills Live: Bryant 36-yard FG beats Bills in OT

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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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