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NFL – Bills’ Game Review

14 Sep

Last Sunday’s rousing overtime win over the Chicago Bears got the Buffalo Bills off to a surprise start in their season opener. That win, combined with the news that legendary quarterback Jim Kelly is cancer-free, and that the Ralph Wilson estate has agreed to sell the team to Buffalo Sabres’ owners Terry and Kim Pegula, created a tremendous positive atmosphere among Bills’ fans going into the home opener against division rival Miami. Adding to the anticipation was the plan by the Bills to honor their late founder and owner, Wilson, in a pre-game ceremony. Being a relatively young team, there was a concern that the Bills might go into the game a little too hyped up and come out flat, but instead they put together a workmanlike 29-10 win that resembled the opener in Chicago in that it was another great “team” win, with contributions coming from all over the roster. Buffalo followed the same formula that got them the win over the Bears – they played solid defense, got numerous big plays from their special teams and played just well enough on offense to win. Quarterback EJ Manuel, once again, had pedestrian numbers but, as coach Doug Marrone stated last week, he “played winning football”. He didn’t make any mistakes, and the lone touchdown drive he engineered came right after the Dolphins scored their only TD of the game. Rookie Sammy Watkins was a key target in the game plan, and he responded with 8 catches for 117 yards and his first NFL touchdown. The special teams, without a doubt, played “winning football” also. Their contributions included a blocked punt by Anthony Dixon, a recovered muffed punt by Randell Johnson, solid punting by newcomer Colton Schmidt, a 102 yard kickoff return by C.J. Spiller and five successful field goals by Dan Carpenter. Defensively, Buffalo harassed Miami QB Ryan Tannehill all day, sacking him 4 times and batting down several of his passes. The Dolphins were also held to 80 yards rushing, although they lost their top back, Knowshon Moreno, to a dislocated elbow in the first quarter. For the second straight week, the Bills did not surrender any big plays, and even though the defense was a bright spot in the Bills’ 6-10 season a year ago, new coordinator Jim Schwartz’s unit looks to be improved.

So the Bills, who appeared lost and looking like they were going nowhere coming out of preseason, are now 2-0 and stand alone atop the AFC East standings. Next up is a home date with the San Diego Chargers, who will provide a tough test for Buffalo. The Chargers, whose offensive coordinator is former Bill Frank Reich, opened their home season on Sunday with an even more impressive display – knocking off the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks.

 
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Classic Team Logo of The Day

14 Sep

marshall8589

Here is a logo of a mid-major college football program, the Marshall University Thundering Herd, used from 1985 until 1989, when the school was a Division 1-AA team playing in the Southern Conference. They upgraded to Division 1-A when they joined the Mid-American Conference. The school suffered a major tragedy in 1970, when a plane crash killed 37 members of the football team. Thundering Herd players who have gone on to play in the NFL include Randy Moss, Ahmad Bradshaw, Byron Leftwich, Chad Pennington and Hall of Famer Frank Gatski.

 

Classic Sports Card of The Day

14 Sep

82toppsshanenelson

1982 Topps football card of former Buffalo Bills’ linebacker Shane Nelson, who played six seasons with the Bills, in the late 1970s and early ’80s, as part of their “Bermuda Triangle” on defense with fellow inside backer Jim Haslett and nose tackle Fred Smerlas. He was an undrafted rookie out of Baylor in 1977 and was discovered at a Dallas Cowboys’ tryout camp, where he was the only player out of 1,800 to be offered an NFL contract. He spurned Dallas’ offer, however, to sign with the Bills, where he thought his chances of sticking to the final roster were better.

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: The Kansas Comet

11 Sep

This week’s Throwback Thursday featured story was an easy one to pick, once I saw that the Chicago Bears and San Francisco 49ers were scheduled to meet. That matchup immediately brought me back to a game etched in the memory of any NFL fan who followed the game in the 1960s. It happened on a muddy field, on December 12, 1965, at Wrigley Field in Chicago, where the Bears played their home games at that time. The Bears had three first round draft picks in the college draft of 1965, and two of their choices, linebacker Dick Butkus and halfback Gale Sayers, were destined to become Hall of Famers. On this particular day, Sayers put an exclamation point on a sensational, record-breaking rookie season, scoring six touchdowns to lead his team to a 61-20 rout of the 49ers. My apologies to the San Francisco franchise, since I’ve now started this year’s “Throwback Thursday” posts by featuring two of the most crushing losses in the team’s history, but this game was memorable. Sayers was spectacular, scoring four rushing TDs, from 1, 7, 21 and 50 yards out, on an 80 yard pass from quarterback Rudy Bukich, and also on an 85 yard punt return. His record-breaking day overshadowed a terrific performance by Bukich, who threw for 347 yards (a huge single-game amount in the NFL of the 1960s) and three TDs on only 16 completions. Sayers would end the 1965 season with an NFL rookie record 22 touchdowns, and although knee injuries shortened his brilliant career, he still managed to do enough in the six seasons he played to become the youngest player ever inducted into Canton when he was voted in, in his first year of eligibility in 1977.  Having played his college ball at Kansas, Sayers would come to be known, as his career progressed, as the “Kansas Comet”, a moniker that described his speed and ability to elude defenders, but having only played full time for a little under five seasons, it might also be fitting to say that, like a comet, he flashed across the NFL landscape for a short period, yet his likes will never be seen again.

 

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Bears RB Gale Sayers torments the 49er defense

 

Classic Team Logo of The Day

11 Sep

elpasogeneralsIFL09

Logo of the El Paso Generals, who played one season, in 2009, in the Indoor Football League. They were a successful club, posting a 12-2 win/loss record and advancing to the league’s conference title game, where they lost to the Billings Outlaws. Unfortunately, the team disbanded after the one year despite being successful on the field and with fans, as owner Brandon Smith refused to sell the franchise, forcing the IFL to drop the team.

 

Classic Sports Card of The Day

11 Sep

66philabukich

1965 Philadelphia football card of former NFL quarterback Rudy Bukich, who is a little known player that enjoyed a long 14 year career that spanned 2 decades (the 1950s and ’60s). He played for 4 different NFL teams, including 2 different stints with the Chicago Bears, first in the late ’50s and then again from 1962 until 1968. That second chance in Chicago proved to be Bukich’s most successful of his years, as he was the backup QB to Bill Wade on the Bears’ 1963 championship team, tied an NFL record in 1964 by completing 13 consecutive passes, and was the second leader passer in the league in 1965.

 

NFL – Bills’ Game Review

07 Sep

The Buffalo Bills’ opening game of the 2014 season solidified the golden rule of trying to figure out the NFL – never put any stock in what goes on in the preseason. Yes, apparently the Bills didn’t show their hand at all in the exhibition games, and came out of the gate in Chicago ready to play. In my season preview of the team I answered the question of what the Bills needed to do to end their long playoff drought  – go on the road, fight through adversity and put together a signature game that they could build on. What better time to go ahead and find that “signature” win than on opening day? That’s exactly what Buffalo did. They fell behind early 7-0 as the Bears scored quickly on a four play drive that probably had most fans thinking it was going to be a long day. To his credit, EJ Manuel engineered a great drive to counter Chicago’s score, mixing in his team’s strong running game with timely completions. He then finished off the drive with a rushing TD of his own on a nifty read-option play, accomplishing what the team couldn’t do at all in preseason – score a TD on a first string defense.

Buffalo went ahead at the half 17-7 then saw the Bears come back to tie the game. The teams traded field goals to end regulation in a 20-20 tie. In the overtime, the Bills’ defense held, then Manuel led another drive, again with timely passes and finished with a tough Fred Jackson run to set up Dan Carpenter for the winning field goal as Buffalo prevailed 23-20. It was an ultimate “team” win, with valuable contributions coming from everywhere on the roster.  For starters, kudos have to go out to general manager Doug Whaley for his off-season moves. Free agent signees Brandon Spikes at linebacker, Anthony Dixon with a couple of terrific runs and Corey Graham filling in for the injured Stephon Gilmore at cornerback, all did amazing work. Jackson ran for 61 yards and C.J. Spiller for another 53 to go along with a receiving touchdown. Manuel was mostly workmanlike – his stats weren’t overwhelming but he was efficient and made the throws when he needed to – which should be the Bills’ formula for winning games for the rest of the year until Manuel is comfortable enough to really open up. Manuel’s receivers made terrific plays all day. Sammy Watkins and Mike Williams made 5 grabs for 66 yards between them to help keep drives alive, and Robert Woods had an amazing day, leading the team with 78 receiving yards. One of his 4 receptions was a real highlight reel catch. Rookie linebacker Preston Brown had a fumble recovery, Kyle Williams an interception, Mario Williams got a sack, new punter Colton Schmidt was an unsung hero with some nice punts and also was flawless holding for field goals and extra points for the first time with the Bills. The newly reconfigured offensive line had a couple of penalties go against them, but overall they were solid. Manuel was only sacked once and the running game produced a total of 193 yards.

The most encouraging thing about the win was the determination each and every player showed in refusing to lose. That’s a trait Buffalo has been lacking in recent seasons, really for over a decade.  The players who came here from winning organizations – Spikes, Graham and Dixon – all rose to the occasion during times of adversity and made plays, as did players who’ve been here for awhile and are tired of losing, like Kyle Williams and Jackson. Despite the mediocrity of past years, this effort gives the fans, and the players themselves, a reason to believe better days are ahead this season.

 

 
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Classic Team Logo of The Day

07 Sep

UB9006

This is the helmet logo of the University of Buffalo Bulls, a Division I college football program that plays in the Mid-American Conference. The school has fielded a football team since 1894, although football was shut down for a seven year period in the 1970s. Although not considered much of a college powerhouse program, UB has sent several players on to the NFL, including Willie Evans, John Stofa, Gerry Philbin, Drew Haddad, Naaman Roosevelt and current players James Starks, Khalil Mack and Branden Oliver.

 

Classic Sports Card of The Day

07 Sep

88toppsconlan

1988 Topps football card of former Buffalo Bills linebacker Shane Conlan, who played nine seasons in the NFL, 6 with the Bills before finishing his career with the Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams. Conlan was a three-time Pro Bowler and a key defensive player on 3 Bills’ Super Bowl teams in the 1990s. He currently works in the front office of the Arena League’s Pittsburgh Power, serving as Vice President of Corporate Sponsorships.

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: Roger The Dodger’s Coming Out Party

04 Sep

The 2014 National Football League season opens tonight, which means it’s time for the season’s first “Throwback Thursday” post of 2014, which highlights a game of the past that was played between two of the teams scheduled to play each other that week. The Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers open the 2014 campaign against each other on Sunday, and the obvious choice for a “throwback” game between these 2 franchises would be the 1981 NFC Championship game which became forever known as “The Catch”, as Dwight Clark caught a touchdown pass from Joe Montana in the back of the end zone to launch the Niners into a decade of domination. However, we’ll go back to an earlier playoff contest between the two teams, an NFC Divisional playoff game in 1972.

To set the stage for this game, these teams were fast becoming playoff rivals. The Cowboys had eliminated the Niners in 1970 and ’71, and this was a third chance for San Francisco to get revenge. Coach Dick Nolan’s 49ers came out flying, as Vic Washington returned the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown. When Larry Schreiber scored on a pair of one yard plunges to give the 49ers a commanding 21-6 lead, it looked like Dallas’ past dominance was about to end. Cowboy quarterback Craig Morton hit Lance Alworth for a touchdown to bring the Cowboys closer at the half, but when Schreiber scored from a yard out again in the third quarter to up San Fran’s lead to 28-13, it looked like a lost cause. That’s when Dallas coach Tom Landry made the decision to bench Morton, who had struggled all day, in favor of Roger Staubach. At this point, the 49er players figured the game was theirs, and began taunting the Cowboys, but little did they know that Staubach was about to write the first chapter of what would become a string of come-from-behind performances that would earn him the nickname “Captain Comeback”. Staubach proceeded to lead his team on three fourth quarter scoring drives, culminating in a Toni Fritsch field goal and touchdown passes to Billy Parks and Ron Sellers. When the dust settled, Dallas came away with a 30-28 victory, and the San Francisco players who had done the taunting slithered away with their tails between their legs.

 

rogerstaubach

 Dallas QB Roger “The Dodger” Staubach leads a stunning comeback