RSS
 

Archive for the ‘Football’ Category

NFL – Throwback Thursday: The Ol’ Ball Coach Was A Player, Too!

21 Oct

It’s week 7 of the NFL season, and one of the matchups this week finds the San Francisco 49ers taking on the Indianapolis Colts. Our Throwback Thursday feature travels back to the 1969 season for a game between these 2 teams played on October 26th of that year. Coach Don Shula’s Colts were coming off the huge disappointing loss in the Super Bowl the previous season to the New York Jets. They were battling inconsistency as they started the year with 2 straight losses, then rebounded with a pair of wins. The 49ers were a team they hadn’t lost to since 1962, so a third consecutive win looked like a sure thing, especially with Baltimore being at home. San Francisco was enduring a down period in their history at this point. They were in the midst of a decade of mediocrity and coach Dick Nolan was struggling to make any headway in his quest to turn the franchise around, as the Niners entered this game winless at 0-4-1.

After a scoreless first quarter, Tommy Davis opened the scoring with a short field goal for San Francisco, but the Colts answered that with a drive that ended with Tom Matte hauling in an 11 yard touchdown pass from John Unitas to take a 7-3 lead. Quarterback Steve Spurrier, a career backup getting a rare chance to start, then guided a drive before the half with Ken Willard running in from 5 yards out, giving the 49ers the lead back at the half. San Francisco came out in the third quarter on fire. Spurrier led another drive in which he cashed in for a touchdown with an 18 yard scoring toss to Dick Witcher, then the defense took command by pilfering a Unitas throw, courtesy of John Woitt, which he ran back 57 yards for a touchdown to give San Francisco a shocking 24-7 lead. The proud Colts rallied as Unitas found his favorite target on the day, Jimmy Orr (8 catches for 146 yards), for a short touchdown pass, then closed the gap again with a one yard touchdown run by Matte. That was the end of the scoring, however, and Baltimore found themselves on the short end of a 24-21 score at the final gun.

Nolan’s 49ers won only 4 games in the ’69 season, and ironically half of those wins came against the Colts, as they upset them again later in the season. He was building something for the future, and the team won 3 straight Western Division titles to start the 1970s. The Colts were underachievers at 8-5-1 for the year, and Shula departed for Miami after the season, where he would find great success on the way to becoming the winningest coach in NFL history. Shula’s departure didn’t initially hurt the Colts, as they won the Super Bowl under Don McCafferty in 1970.

 

Steve Spurrier shined in a rare starting performance

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: More High-Flying AFL Action

14 Oct

The Denver Broncos face off with their AFC West rivals, the Las Vegas Raiders, this Sunday in a week 6 game on the NFL schedule. For Throwback Thursday, we’ll go back to the high-flying early days of the American Football League, to a game played between these clubs on December 15, 1963. The Raiders were based in Oakland at the time and this contest was played at Frank Youell Field, a glorified high school stadium that was Oakland’s home then. Prior to 1963 the Raiders were one of the AFL’s weakest franchises. They had finished the 1962 season with a 1-13 record, and Buffalo Bills’ owner Ralph Wilson had to loan the club $400,000 just to keep them afloat at one point. The Raiders’ fortunes turned around that season, however, when they hired a brash young assistant from the San Diego Chargers’ staff, Al Davis. Of course, Denver was the ultimate sad sack franchise of the AFL for the entire 10 year existence of the league. This game was the penultimate regular season contest of the ’63 season, with the Raiders enjoying an 8-4 record while the Broncos wallowed in last place of the Western Division at 2-9-1.

The game started out as expected with the Raiders scoring twice, on touchdown passes of 32 yards from Tom Flores to Bo Roberson and 18 yards from Flores to Art Powell, one of the AFL’s brightest stars in it’s formative years. Denver rounded out the first quarter scoring when rookie fullback Billy Joe rambled in from 9 yards out to cut Oakland’s lead to 14-7. Flores answered that by hitting his running back, Clem Daniels, with a 26 yard touchdown pass. The Broncos mustered up a field goal from Gene Mingo, and the clubs went into halftime with the Raiders holding a 21-10 edge.  When Flores threw his fourth touchdown pass of the day, from 43 yards out to Daniels again, Oakland took a sizable 28-10 and it looked like the lowly Broncos were finished.

Denver quarterback Mickey Slaughter rallied the troops, however. He threw a 9 yard touchdown pass to Gene Prebola, and then led a drive that ended in a short scoring run by Hewritt Dixon, and suddenly Denver entered the final quarter down by only 28-24. The Broncos’ defense was their Achilles heel in 1963, as they allowed a total of 473 points overall for the season, by far the highest total in the AFL’s history. So it was easy pickings again for Flores, and he found Powell again for his fifth TD toss of the day. Slaughter didn’t give up easily. He engineered another drive and hit his All-AFL split end, Lionel Taylor, with a 29 yard scoring throw to pull his club to within 4 points again at 35-31. That would be all the scoring for the day, and Oakland held on to improve to 9-4. They finished the regular season the following week by outscoring the Houston Oilers in a 52-49 barnburner to end their season at 10-4, a miraculous climb from the previous year. It was only good enough for second place in the West as San Diego won their third division crown in 4 years. The Broncos put up a game effort on this day, and Taylor and Prebola both garnered over 100 receiving yards, but their reward for the “moral victory” was a date with the mighty Chargers in the regular season’s final week. The Chargers demolished them 58-20.

 

Al Davis transformed the Raiders’ franchise in 1963

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: Young Gun Takes On The Master

07 Oct

The New England Patriots meet the Houston Texans on this week’s NFL schedule, and for our Throwback Thursday post we’ll go back just a few years to find a contest between these 2 clubs that turned out to be a wild shootout between the G.O.A.T. and a fresh young upstart, those players being the Patriots’ Tom Brady and Houston rookie DeShaun Watson. It was early in the 2017 season, in week 3 on September 24, when the Texans invaded Gillette Stadium to take on the mighty Patriots. New England was a heavy favorite, having won the Super Bowl the previous season, while the Texans were AFC South Division champs in a mediocre year for the division in 2016. Watson hadn’t done much to this point, although he did scamper 49 yards for the only touchdown of the game the prior week to give his team a win over Cincinnati.

This turned out to be a breakout performance for the young rookie as he battled Brady for 4 quarters. New England opened the scoring with Brady hitting Rob Gronkowski with a 5 yard touchdown pass. Then Watson led his team on a pair of scoring drives that ended with a field goal and a 29 yard scoring toss from Watson to Bruce Ellington. Brady answered with a touchdown throw of 7 yards to Chris Hogan. Houston added another field goal, then suddenly took a 20-14 lead when Jadeveon Clowney scooped up a fumble and ran 22 yards for a defensive score. As he has done his whole career, Brady never flinched. He found Hogan again from 47 yards out to regain the lead for his club at 21-20 at the half. Brady increased the lead to 28-20 in the third quarter when he hooked up with Brandin Cooks, who ironically now plays for the Texans, on a 42 yard scoring throw.

Not to be outdone, Watson pulled his team to within a point by finding Ryan Griffin for a 12 yard TD, then engineered a pair of field goal drives to give Houston a 33-28 lead. Houston made the mistake of leaving time on the clock for Brady, and he took advantage. He led the Pats downfield and finished the drive with a controversial touchdown pass to Cooks. Replays seemed to show that Cooks bobbled the ball, and that it hit the ground, after he landed out of bounds. However, the catch was upheld, Brady hit Cooks for a 2 point conversion and New England hung on for a 36-33 win.

 

Brandin Cooks’ controversial touchdown catch

 

In all, Brady threw for 5 touchdowns on the day, and his team needed every one of them to squeeze out the victory over the young buck. Cooks and Hogan had great statistical days, with Cooks grabbing 5 passes for 131 yards and Hogan adding 4 receptions for 68 yards, with both receivers scoring twice each. Watson, a tremendous talent, threw for over 300 yards and 2 TDs and added 41 yards on the ground in the losing cause. It should have been the breakout game that launched him to All Pro status, but his career has taken a turn for the worse today due to off the field issues, and the Texans are actively trying to trade him in 2021, with no takers so far.

 

Brady, Watson shake hands after epic battle

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: Squishing The Fish

30 Sep

We’re already headed into week 4 of the young NFL season, and one of this week’s matchups features a pair of teams who were once division rivals in the AFC East – the Miami Dolphins and Baltimore (now Indianapolis) Colts. The game we are highlighting was played on December 9, 1973 at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium. The Dolphins were the class of the NFL at the time, having completed a perfect 17-0 season in 1972 culminating in their first Super Bowl win. Some consider the 1973 club even better, even though they had lost to Oakland earlier in the year to snap their unbeaten streak. Miami came into the game heavy favorites, with an 11-1 record under coach Don Shula, who had formerly coached the Colts. Baltimore entered the game with a dismal 2-10 mark, and were coached by Shula’s old assistant, Howard Schnellenberger. Also, the rivalry between these 2 teams had been completely one-sided in Miami’s favor. The Fish owned 4 consecutive shutout victories over the Colts, including a 44-0 shellacking in Miami’s Orange Bowl a month earlier. Even with all the odds stacked against the Colts, this turned out to be one of those “any given Sundays” that pop up in the NFL all the time.

Baltimore achieved what had to be a moral victory in the first quarter when George Hunt kicked a short field goal to give his team their first score of any kind in 5 meetings against the stifling Dolphins. Colts’ quarterback Marty Domres played an extremely conservative game on this day in an era where conservative was the norm. Relying on his running game and throwing only 8 passes, the career journeyman signal caller engineered touchdown drives in each of the next 2 quarters. Bill Olds scored from 2 yards out to up the lead to 10-0 at halftime, and Domres found tight end Tom Mitchell for a 1 yard touchdown toss to put the Colts up 16-0 with the extra point attempt failing. Meanwhile, the Colts’ defense played their best game of the season, picking off a pair of Dolphin passes and recovering a fumble. They also at least contained Miami’s strong rushing attack, and held the defending champs to only 228 total yards. Garo Yepremian’s fourth quarter field goal was all the offense the proud Dolphins could muster on this day, and the Colts pulled off a huge 16-3 upset. Player of the game for Baltimore was their workhorse running back Lydell Mitchell, who carried 35 times for 104 hard-earned yards.

Miami got the wake-up call from this loss, for certain. They won their final game of the regular season, pounding Detroit 34-7, then defeated Cincinnati in the divisional playoffs, and avenged the earlier loss to the Raiders in the AFC title game. The season ended with a second straight Super Bowl title win as they defeated the Minnesota Vikings.

 

Colts’ QB Marty Domres celebrates the upset win

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: A Classic AFL Shootout

23 Sep

Week 3 of the NFL season is upon us, and one of the matchups features the Denver Broncos and New York Jets. For our Throwback Thursday feature of the week we’ll revisit an old-fashioned American Football League shootout played on November 22, 1962 between these 2 original AFL franchises. It was played at an old minor league baseball park in Denver, Bears Stadium, and the New York club was still known as the Titans. Denver came into the game with a winning record at 7-4, a rarity for that team in the AFL days, and was favored at home in this contest. It turned out to be the crowning moment in the career of Titan quarterback Johnny Green, who had been acquired from Buffalo after languishing with the Bills in the first 2 seasons of the league’s existence. Coach Bulldog Turner’s New York team jumped out to a surprising 17-0 lead on a short touchdown run by Bill Mathis, a Green scoring toss to Dick Christy and a Bill Shockley field goal. Denver finally broke the ice as Frank Tripucka found Bob Scarpitto open for a 35 yard touchdown, but Green matched that by hitting Art Powell, one of the AFL’s first stars, from 4 yards out for a touchdown. Denver ended the half with a pair of field goals from Gene Mingo to cut the Titans’ lead to 24-13, and the Broncos rode that momentum and came out storming in the second half. First their defense struck, as Bud McFadin scooped a fumble and rambled 69 yards for a score, followed by an offensive strike, as the other Bronco signal called, George Shaw, threw a 6 yard touchdown pass to Scarpitto to give his team a 27-24 lead. Now the shootout was on.

When Shaw fell on his own fumble in his own end zone to give New York a safety, he didn’t know at the time that he was providing the Titans with their margin of victory. Denver’s lead was now down to a single point, and that evaporated when Green hit future Hall of Famer Don Maynard for a 35 yard touchdown. New York missed their extra point attempt, and when Shaw found Lionel Taylor with a short scoring pass to open up the final quarter, Denver took advantage of an AFL rule that didn’t exist in the NFL at the time – the 2-point conversion – to take a 35-32 lead. The Broncos then took command. First Jim McMillin picked off a Green pass and returned it 59 yards for a score, then Mingo added a field goal to give Denver a sizable 45-32 lead. In the old wild and wooly AFL, however, no lead was safe. Green redeemed himself for the pick six by engineering scoring drives that ended in his 4th and 5th touchdown passes of the day, both short tosses to Christy and Powell, and the Titans left the Mile High city with a hard-earned 46-45 win.

 

Dejected Denver coaches Mac Speedie, Jack Faulkner after loss to the NY Titans

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: Raiders Slay Their Dragon

16 Sep

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Las Vegas Raiders square off this Sunday in the second week of NFL action, and for this week’s Throwback Thursday feature we’ll travel back to the AFC Championship game of the 1976 season, played in Oakland on December 26th between those 2 franchises. They had become heated AFC rivals at this point, and this was to be the third consecutive year they would battle for the right to represent their conference in the Super Bowl. There were stark differences in the two teams’ histories. The Steelers were perennial losers in the 1960s, elevated by coach Chuck Noll to become solid playoff contenders in the 1970s, and had 2 straight Super Bowl titles in their resume from the previous 2 years. Oakland had the winningest record in all pro football for a decade, but had earned a dubious distinction of not being able to achieve the ultimate goal of winning it all.

The Raiders were dominant in the regular season, finishing 13-1 overall, while the Steelers wound up 10-4 and were hampered by injuries. In fact, with both of their starting running backs, Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier out with injuries, Pittsburgh was at a distinct disadvantage going into the AFC title game. So this was going to be the best chance yet for coach John Madden’s Silver and Black troops to finally climb to the mountain top by slaying the dragon that had kept them out of the big game the last 2 seasons. As expected, the defenses of both teams dominated the game. Oakland scored the only first quarter points on an Erroll Mann field goal, then increased their lead to 10-0 in the second quarter when Raider linebacker Willie Hall intercepted a Terry Bradshaw pass and returned it to the Steelers’ one yard line, with Clarence Davis bursting  into the end zone  for a touchdown.  The Steelers, knowing they needed to answer to not let the game get out of hand, did just that. Bradshaw rebounded from his miscue to engineer a 75 yard scoring drive that was capped off with a 3 yard touchdown run from Reggie Harrison, who was filling in for the injured starting backs.

Not to be outdone, Raider signal caller Ken Stabler guided his team on a long, time-consuming drive, and hit Warren Bankston from 4 yards out to give his club a 17-7 lead going into halftime. With the way the defenses were playing on this day, that lead could almost be considered insurmountable, and when Stabler found Pete Banaszak for a 5 yard touchdown pass in the third quarter, Oakland led 24-7 and was clearly in the driver’s seat. Both team’s defenses took over again after that and 24-7 turned out to be the final score. Oakland had cleared a huge hurdle in finally beating the Steelers, and they wouldn’t waste the opportunity. Madden’s forces went on to dominate Super Bowl XI, defeating the Minnesota Vikings 32-14 to capture their long-awaited first Lombardi Trophy.

 

Willie Hall tracks down Steeler WR John Stallworth

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: Another Joe Cool Production

09 Sep

The 2021 NFL season begins this Thursday, which also means the return of our weekly Throwback Thursday feature on Rayonsports. When Tom Brady guided his new team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, to a Super Bowl title in 2020 he cemented his place as a certified G.O.A.T., winning the coveted Lombardi trophy for the seventh time. For our opening TBT story of the new season, we’ll harken back to a divisional playoff matchup between the San Francisco 49ers and Detroit Lions, who meet on the opening’s week schedule on Sunday. This matchup, played on New Year’s Eve in 1983, featured a classic, but typical performance by another quarterback who is roundly thought of as the G.O.A.T., the one and only “Joe Cool”, 49er signal caller Joe Montana. Ironically, Brady grew up in the Bay Area and his football idol growing up was Montana.

The 49ers, in the 1983 season, had already won a Super Bowl in 1981, but regressed badly in the strike-shortened 1982 season, finishing with a dismal 3-6 record.  Coach Bill Walsh rallied the troops in ’83 and the team again qualified for the playoffs, meeting the Lions in this divisional round clash at Candlestick Park. The young, hungry Lions, who limped into the playoffs with a mediocre 9-7 mark, held their own with San Fran in the first half but could only muster 3 Eddie Murray field goals. The 49ers countered with a pair of short rushing touchdowns, from Roger Craig and Wendell Tyler, to hold a 14-9 edge at the half. The lead jumped to 17-9 on a third quarter field goal for the Niners, but the fireworks were just about to begin as the game entered the final stanza.

Billy Sims, the elusive Detroit running back who had been his team’s most potent offensive weapon all day, broke loose and finally found the end zone for his team. He rambled for touchdowns from 11 and 3 yards out, and suddenly, the favored club from the Bay found themselves trailing 23-17. So it appeared that the game was now squarely in the hands of Montana, who never saw a deficit he felt he couldn’t overcome. His statistics to this point in the game were very pedestrian, as it was the defense, which intercepted Detroit QB Gary Danielson 5 times, that had carried the 49ers. As he had done in the past and would continue to do throughout his career, Joe Cool calmly guided his team downfield and with a little under a minute and a half left, connected with Freddie Solomon for a 14 yard score that lifted the Niners to a 24-23 victory.

It was a noble effort in a losing cause for Sims, who rushed for 114 yards and the 2 TDs on 20 carries. San Francisco’s luck ran out the following week as they lost to Washington in the NFC Championship game,  but Montana would continue to collect Super Bowl titles in upcoming years.

 

Billy Sims sparkled in a losing cause for the Lions

 

NFL – Buffalo Bills’ 2021 Season Preview

03 Sep

Previewing the 2021 Buffalo Bills’ season is a bit different than previous years. The club has made steady improvement each season in the Brandon Beane/Sean McDermott era, culminating in an appearance (although a disappointing one) in the AFC Championship game. Here’s a breakdown of the club heading into a season of very heightened expectations:

Front Office / Coaching

 

Looking back at last year’s preview, the Bills were successful in a couple of areas. They managed to keep their coaching staff complete again, despite interest in both of their coordinators for head coaching jobs elsewhere. That means another year of continuity for all 3 phases of the game. Also, my lone criticism of Coach McDermott, that he had compiled a winless 0-6 record against Bill Belichick’s Patriots, was put to rest as the Bills swept the long-time AFC East dragons, including a 38-9 Monday night thrashing late in the year at Foxborough. They also completed a sweep of the entire division on the way to a division-winning 13-3 record. GM Beane did the remarkable by managing to re-sign key veterans Matt Milano, Darryl Williams and Jon Feliciano among others, and made slight tweaks, and possible upgrades, to the receiving corps by replacing the departed John Brown with vet Emmanuel Sanders and by bringing in Mitch Trubisky as a backup quarterback. The team used the early to middle rounds of the draft to beef up both sides of the trenches, while adding some possible future contributors in the later rounds.

 

Quarterbacks

 

Mitch Trubisky adds a veteran backup to the QB room

 

Josh Allen enjoyed a breakout season in 2020, cementing his status as a franchise quarterback and earning himself a massive contract extension. Mitch Trubisky, run out of Chicago as a perceived “bust”, gets a chance to reset his career as Allen’s backup. His experience and matching skill set to Allen’s make him an upgrade over Matt Barkley. Buffalo also has a pair of QBs on their practice squad in Davis Webb, who the coaches claim is invaluable in helping Allen prepare for games, and Jake Fromm, last year’s “Covid emergency” signal caller who can be groomed as a possible future backup since Trubisky is here on a one year contract.

 

Running Backs

 

Zach Moss looks to contribute in the Bills’ back by committee approach

 

Buffalo is fully committed to a running back by committee approach in 2021 based on the players they have kept on this year’s roster. Devin Singletary is the best all-around of the bunch, with elusive running skills and good pass receiving abilities. Zach Moss, back from an injury suffered in last year’s playoffs, is more of a short yardage power back. Matt Breida replaces T.J. Yeldon as the third back. He was brought in to add speed to the edge to the committee. Taiwan Jones is listed as a back but is almost strictly a special teams ace. Versatile Reggie Gilliam, who was a fullback in college at Toledo, was listed as a tight end last year, but now is back at fullback and even got a look as a tailback in the preseason. Like Jones, he is a major special teams contributor also.

 

Receivers

 

Gabriel Davis is an unsung playmaker for the offense

 

The acquisition of Stefon Diggs in the last offseason was a major coup for Beane. He became Allen’s top receiving target, leading all NFL pass catchers in receptions and yards. Cole Beasley had his best season ever as a reliable slot option for the Bills’ young QB. Emmanuel Sanders replaces John Brown as the third receiver, and although he lacks Brown’s speed, he makes up for it with veteran savvy and the ability to play any spot and run the entire route tree. The surprise of 2020 was the emergence of rookie Gabriel Davis, who worked his way not only onto the roster as a fourth round draft choice, but into a prominent role as a major playmaker in the offense. Isaiah McKenzie is back to not only add his gadget play ability to the receiving corps, but also with the added responsibility as the team’s kick and punt returner. Jake Kumerow, Aaron Rodgers’ buddy in Green Bay with the nickname “Touchdown Jesus”, made the squad also after a fine preseason showing. The Bills also stashed a couple of receivers on the practice squad – injury prone Isaiah Hodgins and Allen’s old college teammate Tanner Gentry. Surprisingly, only 2 tight ends are on the 53 man roster. They are Dawson Knox, who has had issues with drops but has enormous potential, and Tommy Sweeney, who battled Covid and major side effects from it last year, and had some injury problems in the preseason.

 

Offensive Line

 

G Jon Feliciano is back to add grit to the offensive line

 

Continuity is the buzzword for the Bills in 2021, and the offensive line is an example of that being the case. Returning are center Mitch Morse, tackles Dion Dawkins and the underrated Darryl Williams, and guard Jon Feliciano, the self-appointed “mean streak” of the Bills’ line. The only “new” starter is guard Cody Ford, who has undergone position changes and lost most of 2020 due to injury, and now gets the chance to lock down a starting spot permanently. Rookie third round draft pick Spencer Brown is the new swing tackle, with the rest of the O-line depth being provided by Ike Boettger, who started at guard most of last year, rookie Tommy Doyle, and versatile Ryan Bates, who can man any of the 5 positions along the line, making him a favorite of a coaching staff that values versatility.

 

Defensive Line

Space-eating DT Star Lotulelei is back after opting out in 2020

 

Improving the defensive line play, and most importantly the pass rush, was a top priority for the Bills in the offseason. At the final cutdown to 53, Buffalo kept an unprecedented 11 players on the D-line. The starting four, by seniority if nothing else, should have Ed Oliver and Star Lotulelei, returning after opting out last season, at tackle and vets Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison at end. Calling anybody starters is really a moot point as defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier will employ a large amount of shuffling along the line to keep players fresh. Star’s return should help shore up the run defense and free up Oliver to make more impact plays. Hughes and Addison are good at racking up quarterback “pressures” but the Bills are looking for more “finish” from their front four. Translation: More sacks. To try to accomplish this, the team added an infusion of youth with their top 2 draft picks, Greg Rousseau and Carlos “Boogie” Basham. Rousseau flashed some brilliance in the preseason and Basham showed the ability to play both inside and out. They will both be major contributors. Another newcomer is Efe Obada, a free agent signing who has loads of potential but must now show production. Second year man A.J. Epenesa will also get plenty of playing time and showed in the preseason that he’s ready to make plays. Depth on the inside will fall to Vernon Butler, a veteran who was forced to play out of his usual 1-technique spot last year because of Lotulelei’s absence, Harrison Phillips, coming off an injury, and Justin Zimmer, a classic overachiever who the coaches love.

 

Linebackers

 

Matt Milano, playmaking LB, is re-signed and ready to go

 

The Bills’ defense requires their linebackers to be quick and rangy and excel in pass coverage. Young Tremaine Edmunds, the quarterback of the defense, fits that description and despite being a two-time Pro Bowler, could be primed for a breakout year. Matt Milano was re-signed and he also has the traits the Bills look for. He’s a ball hawk when he stays healthy and a major force on the defense. The Bills play a nickel defense a majority of the time but when 3 ‘backers are on the field the third starter should be A.J. Klein. He joined the team as a free agent last season and struggled early on, then had a couple of great games when filling in for Milano to solidify his place on the club. The 3 reserves, Tyler Matakevich, Andre Smith and Tyrel Dodson, are key special teams players but also provide quality LB depth.

 

Defensive Backs

 

Levi Wallace is an underappreciated piece of Buffalo’s secondary

 

Cornerback Tre’Davious White is an All Pro and the best player on the Bills’ defense, but the rest of the starting secondary is unheralded. Unheralded, but solid as a rock. Safeties Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde are very good at not allowing big plays, even if they get almost no mention as top NFL players. The annual quest to replace Levi Wallace as the starting corner opposite White failed again this year, and the former undrafted free agent should be back in his familiar spot. The slot cornerback is an important position in the Bills’ defense, and that spot is manned by Taron Johnson, who had a few monster big plays for the team last year. The only knock on him is durability as he’s missed multiple games with injuries in the time he’s been here. In reserve, the Bills have Dane Jackson, who made the final roster after spending most of 2020 on the practice squad, and Swiss Army knife Siran Neal, who can play corner or safety. Backing up Poyer and Hyde, who are durable as it gets, are Jaquan Johnson and rookie Damar Hamlin. All of the secondary backups will be special teams contributors.

 

Special Teams

Isaiah McKenzie becomes the Bills’ top kick returner in 2021

 

Buffalo puts a high premium on their special teams, and their roster is loaded with players whose main contributions will be with the bomb squads. Two of the three specialists, long snapper Reid Ferguson and kicker Tyler Bass, return. Bass set a team record for points scored last season as the offense thrived. Two key spots – punter and kick returner, will have new players. Matt Haack , signed away from Miami, is the new punter, while Isaiah McKenzie takes over the return duties from the departed Andre Roberts. Darryl Johnson, who was traded to Carolina on cutdown day, was a top special teamer who will be missed, but the team has plenty of capable guys to fill the ST roles. They include Taiwan Jones, Siran Neal, Tyler Matakevich, Andre Smith, Reggie Gilliam and rookies Boogie Basham and Damar Hamlin.

 

Here’s your annual song to get psyched up for the upcoming season, the Bills’ Shout song:

 

 
No Comments

Posted in Football

 

Buffalo Bills’ 2021 Draft Picks

28 May

Following a successful 13-3 season that saw them reaching the AFC Championship game, the Buffalo Bills drafted lower than usual in 2021. General manager Brandon Beane and the Bills’ front office had to work harder to identify players who can help the team reach it’s ultimate goal. Here is a summary of the choices they made:

 

 

Round 1 – Gregory Rousseau (Edge, Miami, FL) – a long, lanky pass rusher with loads of potential, he opted out of the 2020 college season so he joins the team as somewhat of an unknown. Still, at pick 30, he could be a steal as he’s capable of top 10 production. At 6’5 with a long wingspan, he could be effective at disrupting passing lanes.

 

 

Round 2 – Carlos “Boogie” Basham Jr. (Edge, Wake Forest) – Buffalo doubled down on one of it’s biggest needs, pass rushers. Some scouts think he may be more ready to make an immediate impact than Rousseau. The Bills have 2 30+ starters on the edges now so both of their top picks project to be future starters.

 

 

Round 3 – Spencer Brown (OT, Northern Iowa) – after addressing the defensive front in the first 2 rounds, the Bills added beef to the offensive line with this choice. He is 6’8 and 311 pounds and very athletic for his size. He’s a top candidate for the swing tackle spot in 2021 and possibly a future starting right tackle.

 

 

Round 5 – Tommy Doyle (OT, Miami, OH) – After doubling down on pass rushers early, the Bills do the same on the O-line with this pick. Doyle played hockey growing up so he has athletic ability. His strong suit is pass blocking, so he’s a good fit for Buffalo’s offense.

 

 

Round 6A – Marquez Stevenson (WR, Houston) – a speedster, his skill set closely matches the departed John Brown. That, combined with kick return ability, gives him a great shot at cracking an already deep receiving corps.

 

 

Round 6B – Damar Hamlin (S, Pittsburgh) – safety depth is thin entering this year’s training camp, so Hamlin has a good chance of making the final roster, especially since he comes with a reputation of being a top special teams performer.

 

 

Round 6C – Rachad Wildgoose (CB, Wisconsin) – his name alone will make him a fan favorite, but his ability to play both on the boundary and in the slot will make him popular with the coaches, who value position versatility. Like all of the late round picks, his willingness to contribute on the bomb squads will go a long way in his chance to stick.

 

 

Round 7 – Jack Anderson (OG, Texas Tech) – the Bills appear to have tried to add some meanness and physicality to the their O-line in this draft, and Anderson’s Junk Yard Dog mentality will help him in his long shot bid to survive. Also, the fact that he can also slide over from guard into the center position will make sure the coaches give him a long look.

 

As for undrafted free agents, the Bills inked a few intriguing players, but with their deep roster it’ll be hard for these guys to make the final 53. The Bills lost Lee Smith and Tyler Kroft from last year’s roster so tight end Quinton Morris from Bowling Green has a legitimate shot. Buffalo didn’t add a veteran cornerback for depth purposes for the first time in years, so 2 undrafted prospects, Nick McCloud from Notre Dame and USC’s Olaijah Griffin (rapper Warren G’s son) could sneak onto at least the practice squad. San Diego State safety Tariq Thompson tested unimpressively at his pro day, but was an extremely productive ball hawk in college. Backup safety is definitely a spot where an undrafted rookie can make his mark.

 
No Comments

Posted in Football

 

One Play For The Rest Of Your Lives

27 May

The following is a first-hand account of a football memory written by Rayonsports columnist Connor Pohlman:

On a brisk October day, I was packing up my books in my backpack, getting ready to leave my last class of the day. I was a junior then, and was anxiously waiting for my playoff football game later that night. Our team was undefeated that year, and since I was a junior, I had a small role on the team, only playing a limited amount of snaps, but still cherished every moment I was fortunate enough to experience. This game was important, as the winner would go on to play at the time, New Era Field, for a chance to win the Section VI Championship. If only I knew that the remaining hours of the day would be a rollercoaster of emotions. Driving to the school on that game day was a nerve-wracking experience. I felt a lot of pressure to perform well for my teammates and my school. The sight of the large W which represented West Seneca West that is posted on the wall near the sports entrance would always give me butterflies in my stomach. When I walked into the locker room, the smell is one that still sticks with me to this day… yes, the stink of it. Looking back to it, I get a sense of nostalgia thinking about it though. I put my equipment on, and looked around at the seniors, who were
contemplating the fact that this game could be their last. I wanted to do everything I could to assure they would live to fight another day. Once everyone was ready and warmups were done, we all waited in the locker room for our head coach, Mike Vastola, to give his pregame speech.
Something that the entire coaching staff preached was being a good man first, then a good player second. I as well as them, believe in and try to live this philosophy. While walking out of the locker room onto the path to the field, I could already hear the sounds of the game. Music was playing, fans were murmuring, and cheerleaders were practicing their routines. The sound of our cleats walking in unison on the stone path sounded like soldiers marching in formation. This experience was virtually new to me at the time, as I had only been a part of one other playoff game my first year on varsity football. Before I knew it, I was out on the field for the opening kickoff. Once the ball met the air, I along with my teammates chased after it down the field. The play always seems longer than it actually is. Adrenaline running through my body, I jogged back
to the sideline once kickoff was over with, now watching my team perform. We got off to an early start going up 7-0. In a blink of an eye it was then 14-0. They went back on offense, but our defense shut them down fairly quickly. I would play a few snaps every now and then, and when the adrenaline rush wore off, I started to tire. At that moment, nothing could’ve tasted better than the cold water stored in the Gatorade squirt bottles. When we got the ball back, we methodically drove down the field and punched in another touchdown. 21-0. A few more drives of no scores followed our fast start and at halftime, the score was 21-0 us. Some of us were riding high, but the team leaders drove home the message that we haven’t done anything yet, and that the job
wasn’t finished. Taking a knee in our end zone listening to our captains and coaches talk to us was always a learning experience for me, but especially on this night. It was important for me to keep my emotions in check and not get too excited, as the game certainly wasn’t over yet. The feeling of my gloves going back onto my hands never got old. The second half of the game was underway, and we were in for a rude awakening. Starpoint had the ball to start the half, so we went out on defense. Their offense found something that worked, so they kept going to it. They eventually found themselves in the end zone for the first time all game. 21-7 now. It was at this moment where I realized a victory wasn’t as assured as I thought it was going to be. The mood on our sideline shifted, and I noticed some of our players and coaches had a nervous aura about them. I wasn’t sure how to feel exactly. Throughout the year, almost every game seemed to come easily. But now was when we were going to be truly tested with adversity. Just like when we were scoring, it seemed like mere moments until they scored again and it was 21-14. Blink again and it was now 21-21. Everyone started to lose hope when they got the ball back and managed to quickly score again. In the span of mere moments, they were now leading 28-21.

What I remember most about standing on the sideline was just taking in everyone’s attitude and demeanor about the situation. Many were disheartened, but our resilient guys never lost hope. “Just take it one play at a time boys. Just focus on the now, don’t worry about the score” Coach Vastola told my group of receivers I was standing with. When we got the ball back, we stayed hopeful and found the end zone again finally, evening the score at 28. From then on, the field became a western shootout, constantly going back and forth. 35-28, 35-35, 41-35, 42-41. The score would’ve been tied at 42 at this point, but Starpoint had a failed 2-point conversion. There was less than 3 minutes now in the game. The moment when Starpoint scored once more, and
had a successful 2-point conversion is when I could hear my heartbeats every thump. 49-42 with 2:11 to go. I didn’t take any moment for granted, appreciating every second and every little detail of my surroundings. My teammates are like brothers to me and I didn’t want it to end so soon. As our offense took the field for the final drive I just kept remembering, “come on guys, one play for the rest of your lives.” All we needed was one big play to secure a victory. Our offense drove down the field play by play, clock running still. I remember the time exactly. 47 seconds. That’s how much time was left when we scored a touchdown. The score was 49-48. Instead of going for the tie, our coach made the bold decision of going for 2 and the lead. When the ball was snapped, it seemed as if everyone at the field took one collective breath and held it. Everything happening on the field was in slow motion for me. I watched as our running back made one cut, and muscle his way into the end zone to take the lead. That moment of relief as we watched the clock run out with our team having one more point could not be understated. I ran into multiple teammates hugging them and jumping up and down.
I believe that football represents what America should look like. People from all backgrounds, ethnicities, cultures, and beliefs, coming together to achieve one goal. That’s what I loved about playing football, and what I still love about the game today. From this game, I learned so much about appreciating every little moment of life, and everything I’m blessed to have in it. Never take anything for granted, enjoy the moment, and don’t worry about the future. This game taught me more about life and about myself than I could have ever imagined, and that is why I believe this moment made me grow not only as a football player, but as a man.