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Stephon Gilmore having a sophomore season to forget

By Tim Graham

The Buffalo Bills and many observers believe it will happen eventually, but this will not be the year cornerback Stephon Gilmore establishes himself as a shutdown defender.

In Thursday's paper, Buffalo News senior columnist Jerry Sullivan takes a look at Gilmore's unspectacular sophomore season.

Gilmore missed the first five games while recovering from a broken wrist and played his first two games with a heavy wrap on his arm. Unable to get physical with receivers, he has been targeted frequently by opposing quarterbacks since he returned.

ProFootballFocus.com tracks every play, and receivers covered by Gilmore have caught 30 of 49 throws for 455 yards and a touchdown for a 98.6 passer rating.

By comparison, Leodis McKelvin has allowed 38 catches on 77 targets for 480 yards and two TDs, a 77.8 opponent passer rating. Nickell Robey has allowed 24 catches on 49 targets for 225 yards and two TDs, a 58.6 opponent passer rating.

Here is a breakdown of Gilmore's performance in each of his seven games:

  • Week Six versus Cincinnati Bengals: three targets/three catches for 78 yards.
  • Week Seven at Miami Dolphins: four targets/three catches for 72 yards.
  • Week Eight at New Orleans Saints: one target/zero catches.
  • Week Nine versus Kansas City Chiefs: 12 targets/eight catches for 72 yards (Dwayne Bowe 11 targets/seven catches for 67 yards).
  • Week 10 at Pittsburgh Steelers: 11 targets/seven catches for 95 yards and a TD (Antonio Brown six targets/three catches for 58 yards).
  • Week 11 versus New York Jets: six targets/two catches for 45 yards.
  • Week 13 versus Atlanta Falcons: 12 targets/seven catches for 93 yards (Roddy White five targets/four catches for 48 yards).

Gilmore has no interceptions and three pass breakups. He has made 21 tackles.

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.

Second-quarter analysis: Big runs get Falcons back in game

By Jay Skurski

TORONTO – A pair of defensive breakdowns have let the Atlanta Falcons back into today's game against the Buffalo Bills.

Falcons rookie running back Antone Smith went 38 yards to the house in the second quarter today at Rogers Centre, cutting the Buffalo lead to 17-14.

Smith, who came into the game with just four career carries (which he had gained 107 yards on), went untouched down the left sideline. Bills rookie linebacker Kiko Alonso appeared to over pursue the play to give Smith a lane.

Falcons veteran running back Steven Jackson opened the scoring for Atlanta in the first half with a 27-yard touchdown run, his longest since 2011.

Atlanta tied the game at 17-17 on a 49-yard field goal by Matt Bryant to end the first half. The Falcons completed a big third-and-10 play on the drive with a 22-yard completion from Matt Ryan to Roddy White, who beat the coverage of Stephon Gilmore.

Long drive stalls: The Bills put together a 15-play drive on their first possession of the second quarter, but had to settle for a 29-yard Dan Carpenter field goal. Rookie quarterback EJ Manuel threw short of the first-down marker incomplete to Stevie Johnson on third down.

C.J. nicked, but still going: Bills running back C.J. Spiller has carried nine times for 105 yards. Spiller, though, has had to check himself out of the lineup a few times, as it appears his left high-ankle sprain continues to give him some level of discomfort.

Presented without comment: Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is in attendance, wearing a Fred Jackson jersey.

First-quarter analysis: Weather winning so far

By Jay Skurski

It’s shaping up to be a long day for the offenses of both the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets here at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Neither team has gotten on the scoreboard after one quarter of play. The Jets had the best chance, but a 48-yard field goal attempt by Nick Folk was pushed wide right by the wind.

Folk started the ball to the left of the uprights, but the wind carried it way right.

The Jets have punted twice on three possessions, while the Bills have punted twice. Both have been good punts by Brian Moorman – going 39 yards each time, with no return. The second Moorman punt went out of bounds at the Jets’ 6-yard line.

Geno briefly hurt: Jets quarterback Geno Smith was attended to by trainers on New York’s first possession of the game after taking a big hit by Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus. Smith got up after the hit, but then fell back to the turf. He appeared to get hit in the ribs. After being helped up, Smith walked off under his own power. Backup Matt Simms came in for one play, handing the ball off, before Smith came back in.

Gilmore beat again: Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore continues to struggle this season. Gilmore had tight coverage on Jets receiver Santonio Holmes, but never located the ball and Holmes was able to grab it for a 35-yard gain, helping New York set up Folk’s field-goal attempt.

Bad penalty: Blocking tight end Lee Smith took a bad false start penalty for the Bills prior to a third-and-1 play at the New York 41-yard line. On the following play, rookie quarterback EJ Manuel’s pass was batted down by Muhammad Wilkerson. 

Bills secondary notably stronger for Jets rematch

By Tim Graham

The last time he played the Buffalo Bills, New York Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith had a pleasant afternoon.

Although Smith threw a pair of interceptions, he passed for 331 yards (merely 39 yards short of the series record despite just 16 completions) and two touchdowns. Smith ran for a touchdown, too. The Bills couldn't sack him.

The Bills should look different to Smith on Sunday in Ralph Wilson Stadium.

The Bills were missing two vital members of their secondary in Week Three. They'll have cornerback Stephon Gilmore and safety Jairus Byrd for the rematch.

"Byrd is a ball-hawking safety, Pro Bowl-type safety," Smith said Wednesday. "They play a ton of man. So having Gilmore back, their starting corner, obviously makes them a better defense.

"And they've been pretty stout up front. So just having a chance to have those guys back gives them, I think, better guys in that secondary, which really helps their defense out because that's the style that they play."

Buffalo starting cornerbacks at the Meadowlands were Leodis McKelvin and Justin Rogers. McKelvin hurt his hamstring on the opening drive. That forced starting safety Aaron Williams to switch to cornerback.

"So they've got three guys that are different than what we faced the last game," Jets coach Rex Ryan said.

Byrd grabbed his first interception of the season -- and the Bills' first takeaway in three games -- Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Gilmore has been extraordinarily busy the past two weeks.

ProFootballFocus.com data shows the Kansas City Chiefs targeted him 12 times and the Steelers targeted him 11 times. They completed 65.1 percent of their passes for 167 yards (59 after the catch) and a touchdown and a 101.2 passer rating.

Jets receiver Jeremy Kerley is expected to be out with a bum elbow, but Santonio Holmes (five catches for 154 yards and a touchdown in Week Three) practiced fully Wednesday and should play after missing five games with a hamstring injury.

Tight end Kellen Winslow (no catches in Week Three) is returning from a four-game performance-enhancing-drug suspension. Tight end Zach Sudfeld has been added since the last meeting and has four catches for 56 yards the past two weeks.

"They're getting guys back on their defense with Byrd and Gilmore," Smith said. "So it's definitely going to be another challenge for us, but we can create matchups with having Kellen and Jeff [Cumberland] and even Zach and then Tone, Stephen [Hill], all the guys that we are accustomed to having.

"They can make plays for us and it just gives us a better chance, I think."

Third-quarter analysis: Stephon Gilmore gets picked on again

By Jay Skurski   

Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore continues to have a target on his back today against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field.

Gilmore was victimized again by Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who connected with receiver Antonio Brown for a 40-yard gain on Pittsburgh's first play of their second offensive series in the third quarter. That got the Steelers down to the Bills' 18-yard line. 

Five plays later, rookie running back Le'Veon Bell ran in from 4 yards out to give Pittsburgh a 17-3 lead.

Costly penalty: Marcell Dareus made a big play early in the third quarter when he forced a fumble by Roethlisberger on a third down, which led to a Pittsburgh punt. But Dareus made a critical mistake later in the quarter when he jumped offside on a fourth-and-3 play on which the Steelers were going to attempt a field goal. That gave Pittsburgh a first down, leading to Bell's touchdown.

Day to forget: Bills punter Brian Moorman has struggled this afternoon. Moorman's two punts in the third quarter were both mediocre. The first went into the end zone for a touchback, and the second was returned 24 yards by Antonio Brown. That meant Moorman had a net average of just 24.5 yards on the two punts.

Third-down struggles: The Bills' offense went just 1 of 4 on third downs in the third quarter, continuing a trend from the first half, when the team was just 1 of 6.

Second-quarter analysis: Steelers control the clock

By Jay Skurski

The Pittsburgh Steelers played keep away from the Buffalo Bills in the second quarter today at Heinz Field.

The Steelers dominated time of possession,with an 11:42 to 3:18 advantage, opening up a 10-3 halftime lead on the Bills.

Pittsburgh scored on a 5-yard touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Jerricho Cotchery, who once again beat Stephon Gilmore in coverage. 

That capped a nine-play, 86-yard drive. 

Williams comes through: Kyle Williams came up with a big defensive play for the Bills when he sacked Roethlisberger on a third-and-goal play from the 7-yard line. That forced Pittsburgh to settle for a 36-yard field goal by Shaun Suisham. 

Still looking: Tight end Chris Gragg is still without a catch for the Buffalo Bills in his rookie season. Gragg had a great chance in the second quarter, but dropped a good throw from rookie quarterback EJ Manuel. The drop negated what would have been a positivef play for the Bills, as Gragg had room to run. 

Wind whipping: Suisham's field goal from 36 yards hit a wall of wind, which seems to be swirling. Kicking off in the same direction, Suisham was able to power it through the end zone, negating an opportunity for Marquise Goodwin. 

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.

Despite scrawny numbers, Bills wary of Dwayne Bowe

By Tim Graham

The numbers certainly don't look dangerous.

The player is.

Kansas City Chiefs receiver Dwayne Bowe hasn't made much of a statistical impact this year. But he remains a significant concern for the Buffalo Bills' defensive backfield Sunday in Ralph Wilson Stadium.

"Sometimes they can lull you to sleep if they're not really throwing him the ball," Bills safety Jairus Byrd said. "He's just there, and then all of the sudden he gets hot, and he can go up and make some pretty big plays."

Continue reading "Despite scrawny numbers, Bills wary of Dwayne Bowe" »

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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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