Wednesday, December 30, 2009

One scribe's picks for sports stories of the decade

As this year and decade reaches two outs in the bottom of the ninth, I find myself reflecting on the sports stories I was privileged to cover the past 10 years.

During journeys around the corner and the world, I was able to write about triumphs big and small. And whether it was sweating out the final pitches of my son’s Little League no-hitter, watching Abby Wambach’s euphoria after winning Olympic gold, chronicling J-Mac scoring baskets and a victory over autism or bidding farewell to Yankee Stadium, I was reminded of why I fell in love with sports in the first place.

So, as I prepare my “stories-of-the-decade” list, I’m going to leave the performance-enhancing drug scandals and the tawdry Tiger tales to others. Instead, I offer some stories that resonated with me and my readers.

A WALKING MIRACLE: The initial diagnosis for Kevin Everett was bleak. A day after the Bills tight end crumpled to the ground while making a tackle during the 2007 season opener, doctors told us that his chances of walking again were almost nil and that his life was still in danger. But in the ensuing days, we witnessed a miracle. Everett began regaining feeling in his legs and was able to come off the respirator. Within a few months, he was able to walk again. On Opening Day 2008 at Ralph Wilson Stadium, Everett received a thunderous standing ovation as he walked to mid-field to receive an award for courage. It was the most inspiring route I’ve ever witnessed on a football field.

COLOR THIS CHAMPIONSHIP ORANGE: Early during the 2002-03 season I wrote that the Syracuse University basketball team was destined for something special and I wouldn’t be surprised if they went a long, long way in March. Thanks to the hoops heroics of precocious freshmen Carmelo Anthony and Gerry McNamara my words proved prophetic as the Orangemen exorcised the ghost of Keith Smart to win their first NCAA basketball championship in the same building – the New Orleans Superdome – where Indiana’s Smart had beaten them with a last-second jumper 16 years earlier. This SU alum couldn’t help but feel a tinge of Orange pride while witnessing something he had resigned himself would never happen in his lifetime.

THE GIRL WITH THE GOLDEN SHOES: Before the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece, Rochester soccer star Abby Wambach signed a deal with Nike in which she would wear golden soccer cleats. They wound up matching perfectly with the gold medal she helped the U.S. women’s soccer team win with a goal in the championship game. Having written about Abby since her high school days made the moment all the more special for me. And I couldn’t help but wonder if Nike – the Goddess of Victory in Greek mythology – had been smiling down on Abby, who was only too happy to give her retiring teammate and childhood idol, Mia Hamm, a fitting going-away present.

A PROFILE IN COURAGE: Mike Fennell was a strapping, hard-nosed catcher from Fairport High School who spent several seasons in the Yankees organization before returning to Rochester, where he wound up coaching high school baseball at McQuaid. He had been a teammate of John Elway’s with the Oneonta Yankees and I got to know Mike through friends of mine from Rome, N.Y. who had been teammates of his at LeMoyne College. Mike had a great sense of humor and an iron will, and both traits would serve him well after he was diagnosed with inoperable, non-smoker’s lung cancer in 2000. For the final 18 months of his life, Mike gave us a primer on how to live life even when you know you are dying. The thing I remember most is how his players rallied around him, shaving their heads bald in a show of solidarity after Mike had lost his hair during chemo treatments. The lessons Mike taught those young men had obviously gone well beyond baseball.

MARV AND JIMBO ARE IMMORTALIZED IN CANTON: Yes, it’s been a rotten decade for the Bills, the worst in team history. But the Pro Football Hall of Fame inductions of Marv Levy and Jim Kelly reminded us of the glory days when the wins and excitement were in abundant supply at Orchard Park on autumnal Sunday afternoons. Both Marv and Jim gave compelling speeches during their inductions in Canton, Ohio, enabling us to relive those halcyon Bills days of the late 1980s and early ‘90s. I’ll never forget seeing Marv pose near his bust, looking like a giddy youngster instead of a silver-haired 76-year-old. Sheer, unadulterated joy. And I’ll never forget Jim talking about his son, Hunter, who was in the crowd for dad’s induction. Hunter’s courageous battle with Krabbes disease would end in death not long after Jimbo’s poignant tribute to his son.

A SON GIVES A DAD A SPECIAL GIFT: Seven springs ago, my son, Christopher, gave his old man an early Father’s Day present by tossing a Little League no-hitter. As I watched him deliver the final, tense pitches, I was overcome by nostalgic feelings. I thought about the countless hours we had spent playing catch in the field behind our house on days so cold you could write your name with your breath and days so hot even the sun was perspiring. I remembered showing him how to grip the ball and crease his cap and scream “I’ve got it.” I recalled how it hurt like hell when I was catching for him and one of his pitches bounced in the dirt and caromed off my chin or my kneecap or someplace much more delicate. As I reflect now on those moments, I realize those times were about much more than playing catch. They were about a father and son making a life-long connection.

A GOLD-RUSH IN BEIJING: To be honest, I’m not much of a swim fan. I appreciate the incredible dedication and skill it takes to excel in the pool, but it’s just not my cup of tea. That said, I was definitely a swim fan two Augusts ago – I think the whole world was – as Michael Phelps torpedoed his way through the pool at the Water Cube to win his eighth gold medal of the 2008 Olympics to break Mark Spitz’s record. I’m a huge history buff, so it was great being there that day. The funny thing is that I almost missed Phelps’ golden moment. About an hour before his record race, I was barfing in one of the bathrooms at the Ice Cube. Fortunately, I recovered in time to make it up to press row. My up-chucking moment prompted my brother-in-law to inquire if I deserved a medal in “hurling.’’

J-MAC-MANIA SWEEPS THE WORLD: I wasn’t there for that momentous February basketball game at Athena High School when Jason McElwain, the team manager with autisim, suited up and swished six jump shots. But I – and the rest of the planet for that matter – felt as if we were there after the homemade video hit the television airwaves and the Internet and went viral. J-Mac became an international phenomenon, appearing on Oprah and shaking hands with the President. His inspirational story earned him an ESPY for the year’s most memorable sports moment and was immortalized in a book. And there’s still talk that the story will travel from that little gym to the big screen.

SAYING GOOD-BYE TO AN OLD FRIEND: I made my first trip to Yankee Stadium with my dad on Sept. 17, 1966, Bobby Richardson Day. I was just 11 at the time and the sight of that enormous, emerald, ballyard in the South Bronx made an indelible impression on me. Thirty-two years later, I took my children, Amy and Christopher, there for their first big-league ball-game, and I couldn’t help but feel the presence of my late father. I wound up writing a book memorializing The House That Ruth Built two years ago, and was at the Stadium for the final game in 2008. As I sat in the stands following the final out that night, I felt my father’s spirit again. And as I walked out the turnstile a final time, I realized that I was bidding adieu not only to a ballpark, but my youth.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

More of the same with Brohm at the controls

The hope was that new quarterback Brian Brohm would somehow defy the daunting odds and provide a sparkling finish to this dreary season and decade of Bills football.

But to virtually no one’s surprise that didn’t happen. Predictably, Brohm looked rusty and the Atlanta Falcons clobbered Buffalo, 31-3, in the Georgia Dome Sunday, ensuring the fourth double-digit-loss season for the Bills since 2000. At 5-10, they will close out the season against Peyton Manning and his Indianapolis Colts next Sunday at the Ralph, and then the housecleaning will begin in earnest.

New general manager.

New coach.

Drastically revamped roster.

There will be no “off’’ in this off-season, and that is how it should be.

Brohm didn’t look sharp in his NFL regular-season debut, finishing with two interceptions and a long completion of just 15 yards. But it’s hard to accurately assess a guy who’s only been with the team for a month-and-change and who worked with the first unit for the first time this week. Of course, it’s difficult to assess anybody behind this patch-work offensive line. That said, it’s a pretty good bet the guy who was claimed off the Green Bay Packers practice squad isn’t the Bills quarterback of the future.

Brohm did seem to find a little rhythm as the game progressed, but his final stat line – 17 completions in 29 attempts for 146 yards – was similar to the mediocrity we’ve grown accustomed to from Trent Edwards and Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Both of his interceptions were poorly thrown. Still, the first one, intended for Terrell Owens in the end zone, might have had a different outcome had T.O. at least competed for the ball.

The Bills had hoped to take some of the pressure off of Brohm with their run game, but it wound up being almost non-existent. Fred Jackson managed just 39 yards in 13 carries against a Falcons defense that consistently put eight defenders in the box.

Interim Bills coach Perry Fewell’s players didn’t help his case for the permanent job. They wound up being embarrassed by the Falcons, especially by quarterback Matt Ryan, who threw for 250 yards and three scores in workmanlike fashion. And a 10-penalty game on the heels of an 11-penalty game doesn’t convey the idea of a well-coached team. Fewell didn’t help matters when he opted for a 42-yard field goal instead of going for it with his team already down by 24. At that point, what the heck do you have to lose?

The uninspired effort capped a weekend in which Mike Shanahan officially removed his name from the Bills coaching sweepstakes. That was hardly a surprise – the feeling here was that Shanahan was never truly interested in coming to Buffalo and was just using the Bills as a bargaining chip to squeeze even more millions out of Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder. Still, Shanahan’s announcement, coupled with Mike Holmgren’s earlier decision to rebuild the Cleveland Browns is further proof that Buffalo is not going to land a marquee name to right the ship.

Perhaps that isn’t a bad thing. If Bills COO Russ Brandon needed some encouragement in his search for the right football minds to revive this franchise, he only had to look at the Falcons model. In general manager Thomas Dimitroff and coach Mike Smith, they found two relative unknowns who were ready to move into starting roles. Of course, their resuscitation of the Atlanta franchise wouldn’t have been possible if they hadn’t gambled and won with Ryan, the Boston College product who has proven the skeptical scouts wrong.

And whomever Brandon chooses to run the football front office and sidelines will have to eventually gamble and win at the quarterback position, which has been in flux pretty much ever since Jim Kelly hung up the helmet and shoulder pads more than a decade ago.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A forgettable Bills decade is coming to a sad conclusion

ORCHARD PARK - Following Sunday’s 17-10 loss to New England at the Ralph, Bills wide receiver Terrell Owens told us: “This is not the brand of Buffalo Bills football that I think these fans are used to.’’

Au contraire, T.O.

Au contraire.

Owens has only been here for one mediocre season, so he can be forgiven for not knowing that Bills fans are intimately familiar with this lousy brand of football – and have been for a decade.

This defeat – the 13th straight vs. the Patriots and 18th in 19 games in the series – dropped the Bills to 5-9 and officially eliminated them from playoff contention, meaning that for the first time in the franchise’s 50-year history Buffalo will have gone an entire decade without a playoff appearance. That’s right. They are zero-for-the-aughts – and the 21st century.

The Patriots team that took the field Sunday did not play like the jaugernaut Bills fans had grown accustomed to seeing for much of this decade. Riddled by injuries and lacking the swagger and experience they possessed while winning three Super Bowls, Tom Brady’s bunch looked vulnerable, ready to be had. But even during a transition year like this one, New England showed it’s good enough to continue beating Buffalo the way the Harlem Globetrotters used to beat the Washington Generals. Like a drum.

Brady didn’t play like the quarterback who has a bust awaiting him in Canton. He came to town with a 14-1 record, 32 touchdowns, just 11 interceptions and a 102.6 pass efficiency rating vs. Buffalo. He left the two-thirds-full Ralph with a 15-1 record against the Bills, but his numbers – 11-for-23, 115 yards, 1 TD, 1 pick, a 59.1 rating – were very Fitzpatrick-like. In fact, Ryan Fitzpatrick, who should be a permanent backup, tallied better numbers than Tom Terrific, completing 17-of-25 passes for 178 yards, a score, an interception and an 85.1 rating.

The Bills, obviously in a holiday mood, gave the Patriots two big gifts. Both of New England’s touchdowns were set up by pass interference penalties – a 43-yarder vs. safety Donte Whitner that led to Randy Moss’ 13-yard scoring reception with 2:22 left into the second quarter and a 21-yarder vs. Drayton Florence that paved the way for Laurence Maroney’s 1-yard scoring run with 24 seconds left in the half. Interestingly, on both interference calls, Brady, who’s been nursing sore ribs and a sore finger on his throwing hand, under threw his targets.

Buffalo kept the officials busy throughout the day, drawing 11 flags for 124 yards. The Bills started their eighth different offensive line combo of the season, and it showed as the Patriots – despite missing nose tackle Vince Wilfork and defensive end Ty Warren – sacked Bills quarterbacks six times. Rich Incognito, who practiced with the team for the first time Thursday was supposed to add some toughness to the O-line, was nabbed for two holding calls in his Bills debut.

Once again, Buffalo’s offense had difficulties sustaining drives. The Bills converted just 2-of-12 third downs. Both of those occurred on the Bills first drive, which was capped by Rian Lindell’s 25-yard field goal. They are now 6-for-35 on third-down conversions the past three games, solidifying their standing as worst in the league in that all-important category.

Owens’ grasp of the football wasn’t much better than his grasp of Bills history. He managed just two receptions for 20 yards, leaving him two shy of 1,000 receptions for his career. And he lost the duel of the diva receivers to Moss. A week after snatching just one pass and being accused by some Carolina Panther players of quitting during the game, Moss caught five passes for 70 yards and one score. It was hardly a Hall-of-Fame performance, but you would have thought so listening to Moss’ bluster at his post-game news conference. “These shoulders I have on my body, you could put the earth on it,’’ Moss said. “Just to let you know, I bounce back. I appreciate it.’’ And with that, he bolted out of the room without taking any questions.

Though he put up better numbers than he had the previous two weeks when he failed to pass for 100 yards in either game, Fitzpatrick showed once more that he isn’t the answer. The offense was so inept after the opening drive that interim coach Perry Fewell put deposed starter Trent Edwards into the game with 13:14 left in the fourth quarter. The results were disastrous. Edwards was sacked on his first play for a 10-yard loss. Fortunately, for him, the play was nullified by a facemask penalty. Edwards proceeded to throw a pass to Shawn Nelson for a loss of one. He then threw an incomplete pass and was sacked for a 9-yard loss, forcing the Bills to punt. Fitzpatrick was back in for the next series.

Which begs once again the question: Why isn’t Brian Brohm playing? Now that the Bills have officially been eliminated, it’s time to put the quarterback in there and see what he has. And it’s time to play receivers James Hardy and Steve Johnson. Evaluations for next season need to be made.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Are the Bills losing by winning at this point?

A reporter used the term “butt-ugly’’ when asking Perry Fewell about the Bills’ 16-10 victory Sunday against a Kansas City team even more dysfunctional than Buffalo. But the interim coach who is auditioning like hell to hang onto his job was quick to offer a different perspective on beauty.

“I don’t see any ugliness in victory,’’ said Bills coach Perry Fewell, who is 2-2 since replacing Dick Jauron.

“All victories are pretty.’’

We all understand where Fewell is coming from. This is his first shot at being an NFL head coach and he is doing his damndest to remove that temporary tag from his title and convince Ralph Wilson and long-suffering Bills fans to give him the opportunity to resuscitate the franchise with a full-time title next year.

So he views every victory as a feather in his cap. But what’s good for Fewell’s head-coaching prospects might not be what this franchise needs at this point.

The reality is that Sunday’s victory against an NFL dreg improved the Bills record to 5-8 but hurt their draft position. So, it can be argued that this win, or any win during the season’s final three games against New England, Atlanta and Indianapolis, would be ugly because it will adversely affect Buffalo’s draft position and hence its ability to bring aboard the talented players it needs to make a true turnaround.

Being a Bills fan these days is to be conflicted. You want to root for your team to win, but by winning now, your team may lose even more in the future.


Some quick observations from Sunday’s, ahem, thriller:

• The Bills commitment to the run paid off as Fred Jackson rushed 20 times for 99 yards and Marshawn Lynch 12 times for 84 yards. Buffalo finished with 200 yards against the league’s second-worst run defense.

• Good thing Jackson, Lynch and the maligned Bills offensive line came through because quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick had another erratic day throwing the ball. He completed 12-of-20 for 86 yards, 1 score and 1 pick. He also lost a fumble. In the past two games, he is 21 of 43 for 184 yards with one score and 2 picks. I’m all for seeing what Brian Brohm can do. But I’m afraid that Fewell has a comfort level with Fitzpatrick. A QB change may have to be ordered by either Russ Brandon or Ralph Wilson. The Bills really need to see if Brohm can play or not before heading into the off-season.

• Brian Moorman and Rian Lindell continue to be the dependa-Bills. Moorman boomed a 73-yard punt and dropped three of his four boots inside the Kansas City 20. Lindell, meanwhile, connected on 3-of-4 field goal attempts and has now converted a mind-boggling 67 of his last 68 tries from inside the 40-yard-line.

• I’d be worried if Matt Cassel were my quarterback of the future. In addition to being intercepted four times, he twice badly overthrew open receivers on fly patterns that would have resulted in touchdowns. That said, he would have engineered a heroic comeback victory had Chris Chambers not dropped that perfectly thrown pass inside the Bills 5-yard-line late in the game.

• Lee Evans’ disappearance this season continues to baffle me. He had one catch for 11 yards Sunday. During the past four games, the sixth-year wideout has five receptions for 104 yards. He hasn’t caught a touchdown pass during that stretch.

• Terrell Owens’ performance in recent weeks hasn’t been much better. He caught two passes for 15 yards – including a 9-yard reception for a touchdown – against Kansas City. That gives him five receptions for 46 yards and one score the past two games.

• Jairus Byrd, the sensational rookie defensive back from Oregon, continued his ball-hawking ways, picking off his league-leading 9th pass against KC. Byrd’s interception set a new Bills record for most picks by a first-year player.

• So the CBS announcers no sooner sing the praises of the Bills run defense when Jamaal Charles busts free on a 76-yard touchdown sprint with 3:10 to go in the third. The burst put him over the century mark and was the 9th time Buffalo has allowed a back to gain 100 yards this season.

• It was a big day for Buffalo’s Penn State linebackers. OK, so Bryan Scott isn’t really a linebacker, but he’s playing one these days. Scott made 10 tackles and tipped the pass that Byrd intercepted, and Paul Posluszny had nine tackles and an interception.

• Milestones within reach: Byrd needs one more interception in the final three games to tie the Bills single-season record of 10 shared by Billy Atkins (1961) and Tom Janik (1967) . . . Jackson needs 269 yards rushing to reach 1,000 . . . Owens needs 295 yards receiving to reach 1,000 . . . three straight wins would give Buffalo its first non-losing record since 2004. And, sadly, two more wins, would give the Bills a Groundhog Day special – a fourth consecutive 7-9 season.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Opining on Tiger's trysts, Syracuse hoops and Yankee acquisitions

Playing a round has taken on a whole new meaning with golfer, sex addict Tiger Woods.


Someone asked me if anyone in sports has plummeted as far and as fast as Tiger and the names O.J. Simpson and Pete Rose came immediately to mind.


Some columnists have opined that Tiger can slowly play his way out of this sex mess and back into the good graces of fans and sponsors the way Kobe Bryant did after his affair and rape case, but I’m not so sure. Yes, I believe Mr. Eldrick Woods (yes, that's his real name) will find the focus needed to break Jack Nicklaus’ record for major victories, but the magnitude of his “transgressions’’ will forever taint him.


Let this be a reminder that we may think we know our celebrity heroes, but we really don’t. Hey, O.J. was fabulous to me – he once even called me from a Hollywood movie set to do an interview. I and the rest of America thought he was the most gracious sports celebrity going. But we only knew O.J. the legend not O.J. the man.


So, you ask yourself: Why the heck did Tiger bother getting married in the first place?


Enough Tiger talk, let’s move onto more harmless subjects, such as Terrell Owens signing on with a modeling agency. I just hope T.O. negotiates the catwalk better than he has the gridiron. And let’s hope they don’t load him down with too many props given his propensity for drops. I guess this new gig underscores the fact that T.O. has, for the most part, been a model citizen with the Bills. (Sorry, couldn’t resist the bad pun.)


Some people have accused me of jumping the gun with this year’s Syracuse University basketball team, but I don’t think so. I love their depth, their unselfishness on the offensive end and their tenacity on defense. And Wesley Johnson is something really special. Even if the Orange lose tonight on the road to Florida, I’m not going to change my mind. I have good vibes early about this team the way I had good vibes early about the national championship team in 2003.


The one thing working against the Cuse and all Big East teams is the strength of the conference itself. The breath and depth of talent in the league has never been better. But you wonder if any of the Big East representatives will be able to win a national championship after beating up on one another for the two months leading up to the NCAAs.


Speaking of the NCAAs, there’s talk again of expanding the tournament field from 64 to 96 or even - egads! - 124. Here’s hoping that doesn’t happen. In too many sports, the regular season has been rendered meaningless because virtually everyone makes the post-season. One of the appeals of March Madness is that it is darn tough to make – and that’s the way it should be.


Whereas the NCAA has it just right regarding postseason hoops, it has it all wrong concerning football. I’ve been arguing for years that Division I football needs a playoff, and this year further underscores the need. Should Cincinnati, TCU or Boise State finish the season undefeated they have every much a right to claim they’re No. 1 as the winner of the alleged championship game between Texas and Alabama.


If I’m the Bills, I might take a chance on Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen. Ferocious Nebraska tackle Ndamukong Suh (don’t ask me how to pronounce his name) also would look good in a Buffalo uniform.


I was happy that Derek Jeter was named Sports Illustrated’s 2009 Sportsman of the Year. But you could have made as strong an argument - if not stronger - for his teammate, Mariano Rivera. It would have been kind of cool to have named them co-winners, considering they’ve been the two most important cogs in the Yankees five World Series titles in the past 13 years.


I’ve been a fan of the Bronx Bombers since 1961, but I’m not nearly as much of a fan as I used to be. The trading for centerfielder Curtis Granderson and the possible acquisition of all-star pitcher Roy Halladay just underscores how the rich get richer, and how the current competitive balance structure of baseball is way out of whack.


Finally, some good news for fans of the Pittsburgh Pirates: The team announced this week that for the eighth consecutive season it won’t be raising ticket prices. The bad news is that the Pirates haven’t fielded a winning team since the Eisenhower administration. (O.K., so I was being facetious. It’s only been 18 years, which would make it the Clinton administration - that's the Bill Clinton, not DeWitt Clinton administration.)


I normally refrain from politics in this cyberspace because I’d rather deal with the less bizarre world of sports, but I couldn’t help but notice how once again the politicians have had our backs regarding health care. Congress spent more than a year wrangling over a new plan that allegedly would bring some relief to we working-class stiffs. And instead apparently have come up with a plan that permit health care costs to continue spiraling out of control. I don’t mean to sound greedy or hard to please. Heck, I’d happily settle for the medical and retirement plan that our congressmen and senators receive. There, I feel better, now that I've vented. I'll try not to injure my ankle climbing down from my soap box. Wouldn't want to drive up those health care expenses any more than they are.


Finally, I'd like to ask you all to keep Mark Muench in your thoughts and prayers. Mark, a dedicated volunteer with the Fairport Challenger Little League Baseball program for nearly two decades, underwent surgery last month to remove a tumor from his brain and will begin radiation treatment next week. He's a fabulous, caring guy who has done a tremendous job helping mentally and physically challenged young people experience the joys of playing baseball. I saw him yesterday at the Rochester Press-Radio Club children's charity luncheon and he looked and sounded great. You can follow his progress at his website:

Friday, December 4, 2009

Bills offense regresses in trip to Toronto

Woe, Canada.

For the second straight year, the Bills offense headed south north of the border.
Thursday night’s 19-13 loss to the Jets saw Buffalo’s “O’’ regress to the ineffective level that has been the norm in recent years . In their two games at Toronto’s Rogers Centre, the Bills have mustered just one touchdown and a total of 16 points. They are now 0-2 in Canada. So much for the home-away-from-homefield advantage.

The match-up everyone anticipated heading into this game – red-hot wideout Terrell Owens vs. Jets lock-down corner Darrelle Revis - turned into a mismatch. T.O. managed just three harmless receptions for 31 yards (it would have been four, but he dropped one), and Revis preserved the victory when he intercepted Ryan Fitzpatrick’s underthrown pass to Owens on the Bills final series.

To be honest, I’m not surprised that Revis stuck to T.O. like sweat to skin, because he has a deserved reputation as one of the NFL’s best cover men. The thing that disappointed me more was Lee Evans’ failure to step up against the Jets less talented corner, Lito Sheppherd. The Bills wideout caught a pass for 38 yards on the game’s first drive, setting up Rian Lindell’s 49-yard field goal. But that was it for Evans. He didn’t catch another ball.

Of course, it didn’t help that the guy delivering the ball to him and T.O. had a putrid night. Ryan Fitzpatrick completed just 9-of-23 passes for 98 yards against a Jets defense that man-handled the Bills suspect offensive line. Fitzpatrick was under constant pressure, and often couldn’t step into his throws because guys were being pushed into his face.

Buffalo’s offensive highlight came on its fifth possession when Marshawn Lynch awakened briefly from his season-long slumber. He broke free on a 35-yard run – his longest this year – then scored on a 15-yard run to give the Bills a 10-6 lead early in the second quarter. But that was it for Beast Mode, and Fred Jackson, who’s replaced him in the starting lineup, had an off night with just 31 yards rushing on 13 carries.

The Bills offensive ineptitude was underscored by their conversion of just one of 11 third downs. And that, along with a Jets ground game that rushed for 249 yards, accounted for the 35:10-24:50 discrepency in time of possession.

Of Buffalo’s 13 possessions, seven ended in punts, one in a fumble and one in an interception.

The punts actually proved to be the Bills most potent weapon as Brian Moorman averaged 48 yards per boot and placed four of his kicks inside the Jets 20.

Despite giving up so much rushing yardage, the Bills defense played reasonably well, recording five sacks, including two by Kyle Williams, who is having a solid season.

All in all, though, it was not a very impressive performance by the Bills, who didn’t appear as energized as they had been in their first two games under interim head coach Perry Fewell. You could blame it on the short week, but the Jets were in the same boat.

With the Bills at 4-8, and just four games remaining, I would love to see Brian Brohm get some playing time so we can make an accurate assessment of him. I would definitely give him a look if Fitzpatrick and the Bills offensive has another ugly performance like this one.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

I like the Bills again

I'm hoping to keep my solid record picking Bills game intact. I'm 8-3 so far this season. Call it Bills 24, Jets 20. Check back for my postgame column.