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NFL – Buffalo Bills’ Season Review – Part 1

25 Jan

The Buffalo Bills’ 2021 season ended abruptly on Sunday in a 42-36 overtime loss to Kansas City. The game was an all-time classic, a duel between 2 young quarterbacks that ended with the Bills being eliminated for the second straight year at Arrowhead Stadium, this time one round earlier than last season. With the season now over, it’s time for our annual four-part review of what the team accomplished and what needs to be done to continue the climb to the final destination that they seek – a Lombardi Trophy to display at One Bills Drive. Part one, as is the case every year, looks at the front office and coaching aspects of the team. General Manager Brandon Beane and his staff deserve kudos for the job they have done building a contending roster, and Head Coach Sean McDermott and his staff have now steered the team to the playoffs in 4 of the 5 years they’ve been in charge. The recent hiring of assistant GM Joe Shoen to the New York Giants’ GM position shows that the organization is perceived as a model franchise around the league. The 2021 draft produced some good future prospects, including a couple of edge rushers and an offensive line starter. Other clubs pilfered 3 of the team’s later round picks from the last 2 years off their practice squad during the season, so the talent they have been mining has been NFL caliber. Some of the players picked in previous years had breakout seasons in 2021 also, as we will note in the other 3 sections of this review.

As for the coaching, McDermott deserves credit for righting the ship when things didn’t go according to plan at various times during the year. The Bills lost 3 more games this season than last, but managed to recapture the AFC East title for the second year after being unceremoniously dumped from the top spot by New England in a chilly Monday Night contest. Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll directed a high scoring attack and is likely to get head coaching opportunities. Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier guided a unit that led the NFL in most categories, and should also attract attention for some of the head coach jobs around the league. Frazier’s defense was open to question after getting skewered by the Chiefs in the playoffs, a problem they have now encountered 2 years in a row.

Some historical perspective here, and anyone who reads most of the posts on this site realizes I’m all about history. In 1969, one of the NFL’s most notoriously bad franchises, the Pittsburgh Steelers, hired Chuck Noll as their head coach. Noll is a Hall of Famer who is regarded as one of the all time greatest coaches. Looking back at Noll’s first 3 seasons, the Steelers went 1-13, 5-9 and 6-8. They spent those years assembling talent, adding Joe Greene, Terry Bradshaw, Mel Blount, Ron Shanklin, Frank Lewis, Glen Edwards and L.C. Greenwood among others. Finally, in his fourth year, Noll found some success. The Steelers won the AFC Central Division with an 11-3 mark. The team advanced to the AFC Championship but fell short to the Miami Dolphins, who finished undefeated that year. Miami repeated as champs the next year and the Steelers won their division again at 10-4. One more loss than the previous year, and eliminated from the playoffs in the divisional round by John Madden’s Oakland Raiders this time. Still, the talent accumulation continued. Franco Harris and Jack Ham were added. Then, in the 1974 draft and despite drafting low due to their winning record, the Steelers picked 4 future Hall of Famers (Lynn Swann, Jack Lambert, John Stallworth and Mike Webster) and added a fifth in undrafted free agent Donnie Shell. Finally, in his sixth year at the helm, Noll won the Super Bowl, then proceeded to dominate the rest of the decade with 3 more Lombardi trophies. Not only did those previous 5 years lead to that unprecedented success, but it set up the franchise as one of the best in the NFL with a legacy that continues to this day.

The point of that historical stroll through yesteryear is that the Bills are still in the early part of the process of constructing a team and a culture that will be built to last. And they are ahead of the game as far as the success they have achieved compared to what Pittsburgh built. Beane still has work to do, and it’s safe to say that if and when the Bills finally reach the mountain top, a lot of the pieces that help get them there are either still developing or not even on the roster yet.

 
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Classic Team Logo of The Day

25 Jan

Used from 2002 until 2005, this is the logo of a defunct team that played in the Canadian Football League, the Ottawa Renegades. The team entered the CFL in 2002, 6 years after the Ottawa Rough Riders folded, and played under tough financial conditions until they were disbanded and suspended indefinitely by the league in 2006. They were revived under new ownership in 2014 as the RedBlacks, and for historical purposes, the CFL considers the Rough Riders, Renegades and RedBlacks as one discontinuous franchise. Former players from the Renegade years include Kerry Joseph, Yo Murphy, Markus Howell and Darnell Kennedy.

 

Classic Sports Card of The Day

25 Jan

1961 Fleer football card of former pro football defensive lineman Mack Yoho, who played 4 seasons in the American Football League for the Buffalo Bills. He played a couple of years in the Canadian League for Ottawa before the Bills signed him to their roster for their inaugural season in 1960. Besides playing defense, Yoho also punted and handled placekicking duties. After his playing days ended, he served as defensive line coach for a pair of seasons at Yale.

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: The Alley Oop Is Born

06 Jan

It’s the final week of the NFL regular season, which is a sad time for me since it means the final Throwback Thursday feature of the season. Two old western rivals, the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers, close out the year with a game against each other. For the final TBT post of 2021, we’ll look back on a game from October 6, 1957 played between these 2 clubs that became the birthplace of a play from those early years of the NFL, the “Alley Oop” pass. Both the Rams and 49ers boasted exciting offensive clubs in the 1950s. The Rams featured a future Hall of Fame coach in Sid Gillman and a pair of Hall of Famers in Norm Van Brocklin and Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch, while San Fran’s attack came courtesy of their “Million Dollar Backfield” combination of QB Y.A. Tittle, halfbacks Hugh McElhenny and Joe Perry and fullback John Henry Johnson, all future Hall of Famers.

Despite already being the first week of October, this was only the second game of the season for these California rivals. The NFL played a 12 game schedule in those days, and the season started later. The 49ers were coming off an opening week loss while the Rams had won their first game. Rams’ running back Tommy Wilson quieted the boisterous Kezar Stadium crowd with a 21 yard touchdown run, the only scoring in the first quarter. San Francisco grabbed the momentum back when they pinned the Rams on their own goal line, and Leo Nomellini burst through and tackled Wilson in the end zone for a safety. Tittle then took charge, leading a pair of scoring drives which he topped off with touchdown throws of 23 yards to Billy Wilson and 46 yards to R.C. Owens, his favorite target. That gave the Niners a 16-7 halftime lead, but Tittle and the offense went cold in the second half. Van Brocklin, the proud warrior, connected with Leon Clarke on a 70 yard touchdown bomb, and while the San Francisco offense continued to sputter, the Rams added a pair of Paige Cothren field goals to open up a 20-16 lead.

49er coach Frankie Albert, in an attempt to light a fire under his struggling offense, decided to attempt a trick play when Tittle drove the club into the red zone as the game clock wound down. It had been dubbed the “Alley Oop” pass, and it entailed Owens running to a spot in the end zone and Tittle lofting the ball high to a spot where the athletic Owens would outleap any defender and come down with a completion. The play worked, as Owens snagged the pass for an 11 yard game-winning touchdown in a 23-20 49er win.

 

R.C. Owens demonstrates the “Alley Oop” at practice

 

In today’s NFL, that play is commonplace and known as “high-pointing” the ball or perhaps as the “back shoulder” throw, or “Hail Mary” pass. Tall, athletic receivers and tight ends are all used as “red zone” targets, plus today’s players are making amazing athletic plays every week. But in 1957, the play was a big deal. It was named after a comic strip caveman of that name and of that era. There was also a novelty pop song about the caveman, recorded by The Hollywood Argyles, being played on pop radio stations at the time. The term has long vanished from football jargon today, but is still used in basketball to define an above-the-rim pass to a teammate to set up a dunk. Owens made enough of an impression in San Francisco to earn a place in the team’s Hall of Fame, and he also can make a claim to fame for changing the rules of the game. He used his jumping abilities in a game once to bat away a field goal attempt by leaping up over the crossbar and knocking it away. The NFL outlawed “goaltending” the next season.

 

Alley Oop, the cartoon caveman

 
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Classic Team Logo of The Day

06 Jan

Logo of a junior college football team that plays in the American Mountain Conference, the Compton College Tartars.   They are currently coached by Al Dorsey, and play their home games at Tay Brown Stadium. Some of them went on to finish their four year college careers at other schools, but some notable former Tartars who played pro football include R.C. Owens, J.D. Smith, Hugh McElhenny, Joe Lewis, Don Klosterman and Joe Perry. Other famous non-athlete alumni are actor James Coburn and rappers Coolio and Snoop Dogg.

 
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Classic Sports Card of The Day

06 Jan

1957 Topps football card of former pro football back Tommy Wilson, who played 8 seasons in the NFL for 3 different teams, despite not playing in college. His best years came in his time with the Los Angeles Rams from 1956 until 1961, when he was named to his one and only Pro Bowl. In his post-playing days Wilson fought for benefits for retired NFL players. His son Steve Wilson played for 10 years in the league as a defensive back. Wilson passed away in 2006.

 
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NFL – Throwback Thursday: The Prodigal Son Returns

30 Dec

The Green Bay Packers will try to hold on to their top seed in the NFC this week when they take on the Minnesota Vikings in a week 17 matchup on the schedule. We’ll throw it back a decade or so for our Throwback Thursday feature, to November 1, 2009. That’s the day when the Packers’ prodigal son, Brett Favre, returned to Lambeau Field as a member of the enemy squad, the Vikings, to try to extract some revenge on his former team. Favre, a Packer legend who had guided the team to a pair of Super Bowls, winning one, was unceremoniously traded to the New York Jets in 2008. Coach Mike McCarthy made the decision to move on from him at that time and hand the quarterback reins to young Aaron Rodgers, who had sat patiently for 3 seasons behind Favre waiting for his opportunity. So this was billed as a showdown between the old hero turned villain and the fresh new young gun. Favre had already beaten the Packers earlier in the season in Minnesota in a game in which he threw 3 touchdown passes, and the Vikings entered this rematch at 6-1 and leading the NFC North, with Green Bay right behind them at 4-2.

Packer fans booed their former idol heartily when he came out of the tunnel and throughout the game. After all, playing for the Jets was acceptable, but Favre had retired, then came out of retirement to sign with the Packers’ hated division rival. Mason Crosby opened the scoring with a field goal for Green Bay, but the Vikings, behind Favre, took control after that. Adrian Peterson, who rushed for 97 yards on the day, scored from a yard out. Favre followed that up with a 12 yard TD toss to Visanthe Shiancoe, and when Ryan Longwell booted a 41 yard field goal, Minnesota went into the half with a 17-3 lead. Favre continued the onslaught with a 51 yard heave to Percy Harvin to extend the Viking lead to 24-3, but the Packers and Rodgers gathered themselves and began to close the gap. Crosby hit another three pointer, then Rodgers connected twice with his tight end, Spencer Havner, on short scoring throws. Green Bay had now shortened the lead to 24-20 going into the final quarter.

The two gunslinging signal callers continued their battle as the game wound down. Favre flipped a short 2 yard touchdown toss to Jeff Dugan, and Rodgers matched that by finding Greg Jennings for six from 10 yards out. Green Bay failed on a two point attempt, so the Vikings now led 31-26. It was a valiant comeback, but Favre and his new team would have the last laugh. Green Bay’s prodigal son hit Bernard Berrian with a 16 yard throw for his fourth touchdown pass of the day, cementing Minnesota’s 38-26 win. The Viking defense, and their offensive line, were the difference in the game. Favre threw from a clean pocket all day, while Rodgers, despite passing for more yardage than Favre, was sacked 6 times. It turned out to be a pretty good move by Minnesota in signing the aging Favre. The club continued on it’s winning ways, clinching the division title with a 12-4 record and advancing all the way to the NFC Championship, where they lost a heartbreaker 31-28 to the eventual Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints.

 

 

Brett Favre celebrates beating his old team

 
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Classic Team Logo of The Day

30 Dec

Logo of a Division II small college football team that plays in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference, the Shippensburg University Red Raiders. They play their home games at Seth Grove Stadium, named after a former coach. The school is ongoing proof that NFL scouts will scour the country and leave no stone unturned in the quest to find talent, and Raider alumni who have been discovered and enjoyed careers in pro football include Brent Grimes, John Kuhn and Rob Davis.

 
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Classic Sports Card of The Day

30 Dec

1991 Pacific football card of former pro quarterback Brett Favre, who played in the NFL for 20 seasons for 4 different teams, most notably with the Green Bay Packers. He was a three-time Most Valuable Player in the mid-1990s, guided the Packers to 2 Super Bowls, winning # XXXI, was voted to the Pro Bowl 11 times and was a six-time first or second team All Pro. Favre was also named to the All Decade team for the ’90s and as a member of the league’s 100th Anniversary All Time team. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2016. Favre’s 321 consecutive starts are an NFL record, making him the league’s all time “Iron Man”.

 
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NFL – Throwback Thursday: The Juice Is Loose!

23 Dec

A pair of AFC East contenders square off for the second time in a month this Sunday on the NFL’s schedule – the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills. Our Throwback Thursday feature this week highlights a game played between these 2 teams on opening day of the 1973 season. It was played at New England’s old Shaefer Stadium on September 16 of that year. Both clubs had shown promise in the 1972 season that they might be able to find the promised land of fielding winning teams in this new year. The Bills brought back their old coach from the AFL days, Lou Saban, in ’72 to try to salvage the career of young running back O.J. Simpson, who had languished in his first couple of seasons under coach John Rauch. Rauch came up with the foolish idea of using Simpson as a decoy instead of featuring his talent in the offensive scheme, and even toyed with the idea of switching him to wide receiver. Saban changed all that, building the club around Simpson’s talent to feature the running game. The Bills were also set to move out of their old stadium, the decrepit War Memorial Stadium, into their shiny new home, Rich Stadium.

The Patriots also entered the ’73 season with high hopes, as new coach Chuck Fairbanks attempted to improve the club with young quarterback Jim Plunkett being fortified with an influx of new talent that included Sam Cunningham, Darryl Stingley, John Hannah and Ray “Sugar Bear” Hamilton. That new talent paid immediate dividends as Cunningham scored the game’s first touchdown on a 7 yard run. The Pats missed the extra point, taking a 6-0 lead. It didn’t last long, as a portent of things to come was about to happen. The Bills took the field with a revamped offense designed to feature Simpson’s ability. Three draft picks became immediate starters. A pair of first rounders, Paul Seymour and Joe DeLamielleure, manned the tight end and guard spots, and Joe Ferguson took over for Dennis Shaw at quarterback. Seymour’s role was basically an extra tackle on the line to help Simpson, and when “The Juice” broke off an 80 yard touchdown run to give the Bills a 7-6 lead, Buffalo was off and literally running. Buffalo’s rebuilt line also added center Mike Montler in a trade to go with Reggie McKenzie, Donnie Green and Dave Foley, forming what would be nicknamed the “Electric Company” as they turned on “The Juice”. John Leypoldt added a field goal and Larry Watkins, O.J.’s backfield mate, scored on a 4 yard run to boost the Bills to a 17-6 lead before New England pulled to within 17-13 on a 10 yard Mack Herron run. Then Simpson scored again on a 22 yard scamper. Watkins again joined in the fun, rambling 15 yards to close out the scoring and give Buffalo a resounding 31-13 victory.

When the final gun sounded, Simpson had accumulated 250 yards rushing on 29 carries with his pair of touchdowns, setting a new single-game record for ground yards. Watkins added another 105 yards on 18 carries and his 2 TDs as the Bills racked up an impressive 360 yards on the ground in the game. Simpson’s performance wasn’t a one time deal. He would go on to break Jim Brown’s single season rushing yards record and become the first player in history to break the 2,000 yard barrier as he finished with 2,003 for the year. He is still the only back to achieve the feat in 14 games. Simpson’s personal life has turned tragic and he has frittered away any good will he may have earned in his playing days and broadcasting and acting careers afterwards, but he was a dynamic athlete at one time.

 

 

O.J. Simpson shredded the Pats for 250 yards on opening day

 

 

 

 
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