AFC East: Buffalo Bills
This is one of three nominations for the most memorable play in team history. The past two days, we've featured Scott Norwood's "Wide Right" kick against the New York Giants, as well as the "Music City Miracle" that kept the Bills from advancing in the 1999 playoffs. Please vote for your choice as the Bills' most memorable play.
Score: Cowboys 52, Bills 17
Date: Jan. 31, 1993 Site: Rose Bowl
Buffalo Bills more than this one?
Two years after Norwood's "Wide Right" missed field goal against the Giants, the Bills were once again in the playoffs. Down 32 points in the wild-card round, they were knocked down but not knocked out. Frank Reich led Buffalo over the Houston Oilers in overtime for the NFL's greatest comeback, sparking a postseason run that found the Bills in their third consecutive Super Bowl.
This wasn't the same team, though, that nearly toppled the Giants and kept it close against the Washington Redskins the next season. The Dallas Cowboys were an offensive juggernaut and opened a 28-10 halftime lead over the Bills in Super Bowl XXVII.
Then it got worse. Down 52-17 in the fourth quarter, Reich -- who had replaced an injured Jim Kelly earlier in the game -- was sacked and fumbled. Cowboys defensive tackle Leon Lett picked up the loose ball and rumbled 64 yards toward the end zone.
Bills receiver Don Beebe had other ideas. One of the fastest players in the NFL, Beebe chased down Lett from behind. Lett had begun to celebrate his would-be touchdown by extending the ball out from his body, allowing Beebe to swat it away just before it crossed the goal line.
Touchback. No score. Bills ball.
The game would end shortly after, with the Bills losing their third consecutive Super Bowl. But now 21 years later, both Lett and Beebe are most known for that one play that came when the result of the game was already decided.
It fits the Bills well. Even in rough times, it's a franchise and a fan base that hasn't given up.
@mikerodak Don Beebe running down Leon Lett— Reggie LeDrew (@drewdistilled) June 12, 2014
This is one of three nominations for the most memorable play in Buffalo Bills history. Yesterday, we featured Scott Norwood's "Wide Right" kick against the New York Giants, and tomorrow we'll highlight Don Beebe chasing down Leon Lett to prevent a Dallas Cowboys touchdown in Super Bowl XXVII. Please vote for your choice as the Bills' most memorable play.
Score: Titans 22, Bills 16
Date: Jan. 8, 2000 Site: Adelphia Coliseum
The Bills were one of the NFL's best teams of the 1990s, appearing in the playoffs eight times that decade. Yet just like their heartbreaking loss to the Giants in Super Bowl XXV, the Bills ended their 1999 season in stunning fashion.
These weren't the Bills once led by Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas, but it was still a respectable group. Three years after Kelly's retirement, the Bills were riding the hot hand of 37-year old quarterback Doug Flutie. An 11-5 record behind Flutie was enough for a wild-card berth and an opening-round tilt with the Titans.
But it wasn't Flutie who got the call in Nashville, Tennessee. Instead, the Bills turned to backup Rob Johnson, who was impressive in a blowout win in the regular-season finale -- when Flutie was rested. Johnson didn't have nearly the same success against the Titans, mustering 131 yards on 10-for-22 passing with no touchdowns.
Instead, the game turned into a defensive battle, with two second-half rushing touchdowns by Antowain Smith putting the Bills in position to win the game. The seesaw contest continued late in the fourth quarter, when the Titans pulled ahead on a field goal only for the Bills to march back downfield and take a one-point lead with 16 seconds remaining.
After kicking the go-ahead field goal, Steve Christie stayed on the field for the ensuing kickoff. Trying to prevent a big return, Christie directed his kick shorter, so that it was fielded by fullback Lorenzo Neal. That began one of the more improbable plays in NFL history, with Neal pitching it to tight end Frank Wycheck, who heaved it across the field to wide receiver Kevin Dyson.
Forward pass? Lateral? As fans and players tried to figure out if Wycheck's pass was legal, Dyson sprinted down the left sideline and into the end zone. It was over. The Bills had been shocked … again.
The Titans carried their momentum all the way to the Super Bowl, a loss to the high-flying St. Louis Rams, while the Bills have never recovered. Since they walked off the field in disbelief on that day 14 years ago, the Bills haven't appeared in the playoffs and have finished with a winning record only once, in 2004.
This is one of three nominations for the most memorable play in team history. In the next two days we'll feature: the last-second "Music City Miracle" that kept the Bills from advancing in the 1999 playoffs; and Don Beebe chasing down Leon Lett to prevent a Dallas Cowboys touchdown in Super Bowl XXVII. Please vote for your choice as the Bills' most memorable play.
Score: Giants 20, Bills 19
Date: Jan. 27, 1991 Site: Tampa Stadium
After stumbling their way through much of the 1970s and 1980s, the Bills clicked as soon as the calendar turned to 1990. Jim Kelly and four of his future Hall of Fame teammates helped steer the Bills to a 13-3 record and an AFC Championship. Just 25 years removed from their 1965 AFL Championship -- the last time Buffalo had tasted a title berth -- the Bills were in their first Super Bowl.
It was an ideal matchup to decide who walked away with the Lombardi trophy. The Bills' fast-paced offense ranked first in the NFL, scoring 26.8 points per game. The New York Giants' defense, which led them to a Super Bowl win four years prior, allowed an NFL-best 13.2 points per game. But coming off a 51-3 win against the Oakland Raiders in the AFC title match, the Bills weren't able to move the ball as easily against the Giants, holding a slim 12-10 lead at halftime.
The back-and-forth continued into the second half. Both teams traded touchdowns before the Giants took a one-point lead on a Matt Bahr field goal in the fourth quarter. Trying to respond, the Bills' offense stalled, but the Giants weren't able to capitalize, handing the ball back to Buffalo with 2:16 left on the clock. Kelly and Bills pushed downfield, reaching the Giants' 29-yard line with less than 10 seconds left.
On came Scott Norwood to attempt a 47-yard field goal. If successful, the Bills were virtually assured their first Super Bowl ring. Out of Kelly's hands, out of Marv Levy's hands and out of Thurman Thomas' hands, the game came down to Norwood's right leg.
He didn't deliver. The kick sailed wide right -- the two words that will stick out most in Bills history.
The play that could have been the start of a Bills dynasty instead kicked off a stretch of crushing Super Bowl defeats. Norwood's missed kick is a memory that haunts Bills fans and the play remains one of the most important -- for all the wrong reasons -- in franchise history.
@mikerodak How could it not be Wide Right?— Keith Kraska (@keithkraska) June 12, 2014
New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick has job security. His three counterparts in the AFC East? Not so much.
Rex Ryan landed a contract extension this offseason, but don't let that fool you. He will have reason to be nervous if the New York Jets miss the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season. The Buffalo Bills' 6-10 record last season wasn't ominous for Doug Marrone -- that was just his first year on the job. But with an ownership change on the horizon, a failure to improve in 2014 might not bode well for Marrone.
Then there is Joe Philbin of the Miami Dolphins. He survived a bullying scandal that took place in his locker room and on his practice field. A late-season collapse that cost Miami a playoff berth couldn't sink Philbin, not when you consider the adversity the team fought through just to be in contention. But now Philbin enters his third year, when a lot is expected of a regime. He is likely out of second chances.
The four writers who cover the division -- Rich Cimini in New York, Mike Reiss in New England, Mike Rodak in Buffalo and James Walker in Miami -- offered their insights on the AFC East hot seat and other key topics. They also polled their Twitter followers to find out if they saw the issues differently.
Which AFC East coach enters camp on the hottest seat?
Rich Cimini: Doug Marrone's seat is lukewarm and Rex Ryan's is warm. Joe Philbin? Let's just say his tush is feeling extreme heat. Frankly, I'm a bit surprised he survived last season's debacle. Not only did the Dolphins collapse down the stretch to blow a playoff spot, but they became a national punchline because of the bullying scandal. The mess cost general manager Jeff Ireland his job, but Philbin emerged as the Teflon Man. He has now run out of mulligans. Philbin is working for a new GM, Dennis Hickey, and it's hard to imagine him returning in 2015 if the Dolphins miss the playoffs again. Philbin is an offensive-minded coach, but his offense -- quarterback Ryan Tannehill, in particular -- has shown no improvement. ... We would mention Bill Belichick's seat, except it's really not a seat. In this division, it's a throne.
Mike Rodak: This is a close race between Rex Ryan, Doug Marrone and Joe Philbin. Ryan faces the tough scrutiny of the New York market, and if the Jets' combo of quarterbacks Geno Smith and Michael Vick doesn't pan out, Ryan could be gone, despite his contract extension this year. In Buffalo, a pending ownership change naturally puts Marrone's future in doubt. I don't think CEO Russ Brandon or general manager Doug Whaley would fire Marrone even if things don't go well this season, but their voices might not matter if a new owner wants sweeping changes. In Miami, new GM Hickey has given Philbin his vote of approval, but how long will that last? If I had to pick one situation where the head coach's job is most in question, it's Philbin with the Dolphins.
James Walker: Miami's Joe Philbin has the hottest seat in the AFC East. After going a combined 15-17 his first two seasons, this year is really playoffs or bust for Philbin. He was fortunate to survive last year's late-season collapse and major locker-room issues with the bullying scandal that embarrassed the franchise. General manager Jeff Ireland and offensive coordinator Mike Sherman and others lost their jobs, but Miami owner Stephen Ross offered Philbin one more opportunity to prove he's the right coach for the team. The key for Philbin will be winning within the division. He is 4-8 against AFC East teams, and that won't cut it this season.
Which of your team's positional battles intrigues you the most?
Cimini: No question, it's the quarterback situation even though Geno Smith versus Michael Vick isn't a true open competition. No matter, it's still a compelling story, one that will create many headlines in training camp. It's Smith's job to lose, but I'm curious to gauge his development now that he has had a full season and a full offseason to immerse himself in the offense. More than anything, he should be better at seeing the field and reading defenses. How will he handle the pressure of knowing there is a capable replacement if he falters? Let's be honest, he never had to deal with that as a rookie. If Smith is outplayed by Vick, it will put the coaches in a delicate position. Clearly, they want Smith to be the starter, but they also have to consider the possible message it sends. If the best guy isn't playing, it's bad form. One position, so many fascinating subplots.
Reiss: Receiver looks like the Patriots' most compelling position battle. They are counting on big-time improvement from second-year players Aaron Dobson (second round), Josh Boyce (fourth round) and Kenbrell Thompkins (undrafted), while big 2013 free-agent signing Danny Amendola will be looking to prove he can stay healthy and recapture the magic we saw in the 2013 season opener. Veterans Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell are also expected to play significant roles, and can slippery-quick seventh-round pick Jeremy Gallon be a sleeper? Lots of questions to answer.
Rodak: The starting spot that seems most up for grabs in Buffalo this offseason is at safety. Who will start opposite Aaron Williams? The Bills lost Jairus Byrd and didn't address the loss in free agency or the draft, instead putting their faith in two of their draft selections from last season -- Duke Williams (fourth round) and Jonathan Meeks (fifth round) -- as well as a more experienced veteran, Da'Norris Searcy. With Aaron Williams recovering from shoulder surgery for most of organized team activities, we didn't get a great feel for which player had the best shot to win Byrd's old job. In the few times that Williams was on the field, it was Searcy lining up with the first team, but Duke Williams and Meeks also got reps with the first unit throughout OTAs. It's a battle that will continue into training camp.
Walker: The Dolphins have a few good position battles, but I am most intrigued by the competition to be the slot receiver because of the immense depth at the position. The Dolphins have Brandon Gibson, Rishard Matthews and rookie second-round pick Jarvis Landry all competing for one spot. In addition, these receivers have different styles. Gibson is more detailed and cerebral. He gets open with his route-running. Matthews is the biggest and most physical receiver of the bunch. Landry is sort of a combination of the two, but he lacks blazing speed. I think all three are capable of handling the position. It's just a matter of who performs the best and which style the coaching staff prefers.
@mikerodak running backs look to be more interesting than I expected, and even though there isn't competition QB growth is #1- Bob rieth (@Bob_rieth) June 16, 2014
Which veteran on your team is poised for a breakout season?
Cimini: For several reasons, it should be Quinton Coples. After two nondescript seasons, it's time to turn potential into production -- and he knows it. The talent is there. With Coples, whose work ethic was questioned when he came out of North Carolina, it is a matter of want-to. Does he want to be great? The former first-round pick was slowed last season by a position change ("rush" linebacker) and a fractured ankle in the preseason, which cost him three games. Now he should be comfortable at the position and he dropped weight in the offseason, which should help his quickness on the edge as a pass-rusher. Coples has the ability to turn a middling pass rush into a very good one.
Reiss: With the Patriots bolstering their secondary with Darrelle Revis, a player like third-year defensive end Chandler Jones could be a primary beneficiary of better coverage. He had six sacks as a rookie and followed that up with 11.5 last season. Could he hit 15 this season? As long as he stays healthy, it wouldn't surprise me.
Rodak: There was no shortage of breakout performers for the Bills last season, especially on defense. Defensive end Jerry Hughes, cornerback Leodis McKelvin, safety Aaron Williams and defensive tackle Marcell Dareus all enjoyed the best seasons. This season, I see two strong candidates for breakout performances: wide receiver Robert Woods and cornerback Stephon Gilmore. Woods had a strong start to last season -- he was a candidate for NFL rookie of the month in September -- but a revolving door at quarterback and a late-season ankle injury hampered his progress. If quarterback EJ Manuel bounces back from his up-and-down rookie season, Woods could stand to benefit. I would give him the edge to break out over Gilmore, a former first-round pick who was limited by a wrist injury most of last season but is among the better cornerbacks in the division when healthy.
Walker: Last season the Dolphins saw significant returns from a second-year defensive end, Olivier Vernon. He led the Dolphins with 11.5 sacks and really came on strong in 2013. So I'm going to stick with the same position and the same experience level and go with current second-year defensive end Dion Jordan. The Dolphins got little return for their No. 3 overall pick last year -- he had just 26 tackles and two sacks. But I like what I saw from Jordan during organized team activities and minicamp. Jordan hit the weight room hard this offseason and bulked up about 17 pounds. He's much stronger, which is key because Miami's coaching staff was concerned about Jordan's ability to stuff the run. Jordan should put up better numbers and be an all-around better player. His biggest issue is getting playing time behind Vernon and Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake.
@JamesWalkerNFL Dion Jordan. Can't hold him back anymore. He will get 10 sacks and will be on the field 40 plays per game- Tom Ernisse (@ternisse13) June 4, 2014
How many years do you think Tom Brady has left?
Cimini: No doubt, Jets fans will celebrate the day Brady decides to call it quits. Statistically, he's in a two-year decline, but he played with such a patchwork receiving corps last season that it's hard to say he is going south. Brady, who turns 37 in August, should have at least two more Brady-like seasons. I'm basing that on recent history. After all, John Elway won his second Super Bowl at 38 -- and promptly retired. It's rare in the modern era for a quarterback to play well beyond 38. Brett Favre had a great year at 40, and Warren Moon enjoyed a good year at 38, but the examples are few and far between. The Patriots drafted Jimmy Garoppolo in the second round for a reason. Brady is signed through 2017, but I'd be mildly surprised if he's still around at the age of 40.
Reiss: I'm not going to be the one who bets against Tom Brady. I still see him playing at a high level through the completion of his current contract in 2017, and based on the way he takes care of his body, the dedication to his craft, and the desire to play as long as possible, I could see him going the Warren Moon route and playing into his 40s. It's all contingent on good health, but will Tom Brady still be slinging passes and winning games in the year 2020? Yup.
Rodak: I would peg Brady's window at 3-4 years. In the past, he has spoken about his fear of the "abyss" that will follow his playing career. Yet we've also seen him in the public eye as a father in recent years and I think he would embrace that role in retirement. The bigger question is whether Bill Belichick would ever "move on" from Brady or simply allow him to play -- and start -- as long as he'd like. Belichick is markedly unemotional when he makes personnel decisions, so I don't think he would necessarily let Brady dictate when his career ends. Even if Belichick's final season coincides with Brady's, I think Belichick would want to leave the organization in a good spot. That could mean handing over the reins to a younger starter if the situation calls for it.
Walker: I covered Brady for two seasons as ESPN.com's AFC East reporter. To me, he has always come off as a player who wished he could play football forever. You would be surprised how many NFL players are not that way. Brady isn't motivated by money or fame. I think there is a genuine love for the game and thirst for competition that will be hard for Brady to let go. That is why I expect Brady to hold on for as long as he can. I expect two or three more quality seasons, but I wouldn't be surprised if Brady tries to go longer. I think Brady is too competitive to walk away on his own. Father Time might have to pull him away from the NFL.
@MikeReiss Two. (hoping he goes out with a ring (a la John Elway)- Because i think he has less than 3 - I'm watching the back up QB battle.- Elizabeth (@capesquad) June 18, 2014
First was a shocking 33-word statement from general manager Doug Whaley that sent a clear message: brace for the worst with linebacker Kiko Alonso, who quickly had become a fan favorite and rising defensive star last season.
Less than an hour later came confirmation, from ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, of Bills' fans fears: Alonso had torn his ACL and is expected to miss the upcoming season.
At a time when those around the NFL are relaxing on beaches and boats, the stunning developments with Alonso have taken the wind out of the Bills' sails.
This is a crushing blow just more than two weeks before training camp begins.
Alonso was part of a defensive resurgence last season under former coordinator Mike Pettine, playing every defensive snap. The team moved him to weak-side linebacker this offseason, and its hope was that Alonso would take another step forward, helping to improve the Bills' run defense as a run-and-hit outside 'backer.
At this point, you can rip up those plans and toss them in the trash, at least for this season. The Bills are back to the drawing board at linebacker.
Luckily for them, the team made two low-cost, high-upside signings this offseason, bringing in Keith Rivers and Brandon Spikes. That shored up what was, aside from Alonso, a weaker point in their defense last season.
Before Alonso's injury, the Bills planned to start Rivers on the strong side and Spikes in the middle. With a hole potentially opening up on the weak side, they have several options.
First, they could move Rivers to the weak side. That would open a hole on the strong side, but Rivers has adequate range to play any of the three linebacker spots. He has an injury history that should make the Bills leery of relying too much on him, but at this point they might not have a choice.
Moving Rivers across the formation would require someone else moving into his old spot. One choice would be Preston Brown, a third-round pick who impressed at middle linebacker this spring. Having a rookie learning one position in organized team activities and another in training camp isn't ideal, but Brown has impressed coaches so far. The Bills could hold their breath and hope that Brown makes like Alonso and steps in without a hitch on the strong side.
Another possibility is to replace Alonso with Nigel Bradham, keeping Rivers on the strong side. Bradham, a former fourth-round pick, started 11 games in 2012 as part of a Bills defense that ranked 31st against the run. His playing time was cut considerably under Pettine last season, but he offers more athleticism than the alternatives at the position.
There are few, if any, remaining options on the free-agent market who could step in and start for Alonso. Any new player coming in would have to play catch-up to learn the defense. The Bills could add a veteran for depth during training camp, but they would likely keep the expectations low with any new addition.
Instead, the strongest bet is that Alonso's replacement is either Bradham, Brown or Lawson.
None is Alonso. After snagging four interceptions in his first four games, Alonso's on-field play and his nonchalant personality earned him "legend" status among Bills fans, who flocked to buy his jersey.
In a cruel offseason twist that came down like a bolt of lightning on a summer night, Alonso won't be wearing his jersey on the field this season.
As was expected by the end of this month, the "transaction team" handling the Bills' sale began contacting potential bidders this week. While an exact timetable isn't known, the bidding process is expected to close by the end of the summer, with a new owner approved and potentially in place by early next year.
Here is refresher on who may bid:
Donald Trump: Another bidder who shouldn't have a problem with cash is Donald Trump -- or at least that's what his camp says. Michael Cohen, special counsel to Trump, told the Toronto Sun this week that Trump "is more than capable of buying the team on his own; whether he does, or elects to syndicate, is something he will decide at a later date." Trump has been the most vocal potential bidder, taking to the airwaves and Twitter early in the process to express his desire to keep the Bills in the region. At this point, Trump should still be taken seriously as a potential bidder.
Tom Golisano: The former Buffalo Sabres owner confirmed at a public appearance earlier this month that he is interested in buying the team. Like Pegula, Golisano is a local businessman who wants to keep the Bills in town. However, Golisano's most recent comments indicate that he wouldn't get into a bidding war. "I'm not possessed about owning the Buffalo Bills," he said. "If it costs way more than I'm willing to pay, then I won't feel bad if I don't get them. I'll only feel bad if they move out of Western New York."
Jon Bon Jovi and MLSE: This is the group that has Bills fans concerned. Bon Jovi's interest in becoming an NFL owner dates back several years. He's built ties with New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and recently earned praise from Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones -- two of the NFL's more influential figures. The Toronto Sun reported earlier this spring that Bon Jovi is expected to partner with Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment chairman Larry Tanenbaum in making a bid for the Bills. MLSE owns the NBA's Toronto Raptors and NHL's Toronto Maple Leafs, and the fear of Bills fans is that this group has its eyes on moving the Bills to Toronto. Aside from some extraordinary legal maneuvering, that move couldn't take place until at least 2020.
C. Dean Metropoulos: The Buffalo News reported earlier this month that C. Dean Metropoulos, owner of Pabst Brewing Company, would review "any such opportunity" to buy an NFL team. Metropoulos unsuccessfully bid for the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2008, so he has some experience in this arena. For now, we'll consider him a dark horse.
One group that won't be bidding on the Bills, according to the Buffalo News, is the Jacobs family. Jeremy Jacobs, owner of Buffalo-based food service company Delaware North, wouldn't be able to buy the Bills since he owns the NHL's Boston Bruins, while his company also has gambling interests that NFL rules prohibit.
Secondary to the Bills' sale process is their efforts to build a new stadium or extensively renovate Ralph Wilson Stadium. Significant developments aren't expected until a new owner is in place, but there is a pending deadline looming: AECOM, the consulting company hired by New York State to examine potential new stadium locations, is due to submit a report on those sites by July 11.
Donald Trump later confirmed he was contacted by the firm, while the Associated Press reported that Terry Pegula, the Buffalo Sabres' owner, also received documents.
Meanwhile, another potential buyer of the Bills was busy Thursday. The New York Post reported rock star Jon Bon Jovi and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell had lunch in New York City. A source told the publication that Bon Jovi had a "pen and paper with him at the table."
Read into that as you will. The Toronto Sun reported earlier this spring that Bon Jovi is expected to partner with Larry Tanenbaum, chairman of Toronto-based Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, to bid on the Bills.
With that in mind, we'll be keeping close track of Manuel's performance in practice. Here is our log of Manuel's snaps in the 11-on-11 drills in the final portion of Tuesday's practice:
--Option hand-off to C.J. Spiller
--Fumbled snap (Manuel dives on ball)
--Shovel pass to Robert Woods
--False start penalty
--Defensive offsides penalty
--Completion to Chris Gragg in right flat on a Manuel rollout
--Fumble (botched hand-off)
--Completion to Woods along left sideline (gain of 15-20 yards)
--Hand-off to Ronnie Wingo
--Incompletion to Sammy Watkins left side (ball thrown behind receiver)
--Manuel scramble for no gain
--Dropped catch by Tony Moeaki across middle
--Incompletion to Woods right side
--Hand-off to Bryce Brown
--Interception by Deon Broomfield (intended for Watkins on deep sideline pattern, underthrown into double coverage)
--Manuel QB keeper left side
--Completion to Watkins short right
--Defensive offsides penalty
--Hand-off to Anthony Dixon
--Dropped catch by Woods deep left side
--Hand-off to Spiller
--Hand-off to Fred Jackson
--Completion to Moeaki down left seam
--Hand-off to Dixon
--Hand-off to Dixon
--Hand-off to Brown
--Completion to Brown on designed screen pass
The Bills will not make Dareus available to reporters during minicamp, saying they want him to "focus on football."
Dareus is scheduled to appear in a Hamburg, New York court on July 1.
Meanwhile, the Bills had two players missing from their first minicamp practice Tuesday. Tight end Scott Chandler was excused for a family matter, and offensive tackle Cordy Glenn sat out with an illness.
Defensive end Manny Lawson and defensive tackle Alan Branch both reported to practice after sitting out all of OTAs, which were voluntary.
"The season is long. When you have some years under your belt, you don't want it to be repetitive. You don't want to seem like you're going through the motions, the same thing over and over again," Lawson said. "It was good to step away, spend time with the family, go visit your family. Relax -- still work out in my time off -- but step away from the game and come back to it and it's all new and fun again."
Rookie offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson, a seventh-round draft pick, did not practice Tuesday for what the team called travel-related issues.
Wide receiver Marquise Goodwin left practice with trainers and did not return. He did not suffer an obvious injury during practice.
Cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore (hip surgery) and Leodis McKelvin (hip surgery) both participated to full-team drills for the first time this spring.
The Bills had three players trying out during Tuesday's practice: wide receiver Tori Gurley, cornerback Kamaal McIlwain, and another unidentified defensive back.
In a team-issued T-shirt and shorts, he ran for about 15 minutes over the hum of equipment carts cleaning up after the two-hour practice.
No, it wasn't EJ Manuel or Sammy Watkins on the field.
It was general manager Doug Whaley, the man who has been tasked with turning around an organization that is under increasing pressure to win.
Out of the playoffs for the past 15 seasons -- the NFL's longest active postseason drought -- the Bills need a winning team now. Ralph Wilson, who founded and owned the Bills for 54 years, died in March. There will be a new owner in place by early next year, just in time for the new boss to make sweeping changes if the team can't reverse its fortunes this season.
It would be natural for any general manager in that position, with potentially tenuous job security, to have an increased sense of urgency.
"Everybody's like, 'Whoa, you're in a win-now mode.' The NFL is a win-now mode," Whaley said. "I disagree when people have been saying it's a win-now mode because of the ownership. It's always a win-now mode in this. So that's something I'd like to dispel as quickly as possible.
"It's a results-based business," Whaley said. "You guys, as soon as we lose two years in a row, you're going to be like, 'This needs change, that needs change,' so it's just a sign of the times, for whatever reasons -- from the constant media exposure to owners that want quick results to fans that are willing to quickly judge because of the transient nature of our business nowadays. So that's fine. I got no problem with that."
Results-based, indeed. Some of the league's decision-makers have noticed the same trend: Patience in the NFL seems to be at an all-time low.
"I've just seen this -- and I believe it is a sudden rise -- of owners letting go of top leaders and key leaders, not because they want to but because of public pressure and the pressure of finances," Atlanta Falcons assistant general manager Scott Pioli, formerly GM of the Kansas City Chiefs, said at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in March.
"I have seen a number of head-coach and general-manager firings over the last several years where owners really didn't want to fire people. They really wanted to give them more time," Pioli added. "They're saying this off the record, behind the scenes, authentically that they don't want to really fire them. However, they're running a business, a billion-dollar business, where they're trying to get stadiums, they're trying to keep fans. There are so many [pressures]."
Speaking on the same panel at the Sloan conference, San Francisco 49ers president Paraag Marathe was quick to agree with Pioli's observation.
"Absolutely. And the thing is, we can sit here and say that, but you'll never get an owner -- very rarely, in public -- be able to say that because they can't," Marathe said. "They say it in confidence, but that's because teams and owners would like to, in theory, on paper, like to say 'Yes, we're going to give a coach the best chance to succeed. He's drafting these players. These players take four or five years to develop.'
"But, at the end of the day, if the team doesn't perform in the first couple of years, there are so many external pressures around the billion-dollar business that they are forced to make decisions sometimes despite the fact that they don't want to."
Much of Whaley's background came with the NFL's most stable organization. He was a scout for 11 seasons for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who have been owned by the Rooney family since the team's founding in 1933 and have changed head coaches only twice since 1969.
But that doesn't mean Whaley hasn't watched the league change from afar. Look no further, he said, than teams that draft quarterbacks in the first round, and you'll find three-year plans swapped out for the "What can you do for me now?" approach.
"Before, it would never be thought of to put a [first-round quarterback] in [a game as a rookie], even if he was better than the second string. He'd sit on the bench for a couple years," Whaley said. "You can't do that nowadays."
Whaley says one culprit is the 2012 draft, which produced three immediate-impact starters at quarterback: Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson.
"Those guys have success their first year, then everybody's like, 'Why can't this guy do it?' And then you're considered a failure if you don't," Whaley said. "But maybe you're not a failure. You just weren't ready yet.
"But because of the 24-hour media circus, then people say, 'He sucks, he sucks.' And then they don't get the chance again. So it's just the business we're in."
As Bills assistant general manager last spring, Whaley helped scout Manuel. In one of his final acts as general manager before retiring, Buddy Nix traded down to select Manuel 16th overall -- but Manuel missed six games during his injury-plagued rookie season, which cast doubt on him growing into the franchise quarterback.
"It was incomplete last year," Whaley said. "I don't think you can truly judge a guy off the number of plays and number of games that [Manuel] started."
Whaley's defining act as general manager could be his bold trade last month that sent the ninth overall pick, plus the Bills' first- and fourth-round pick in 2015, to the Cleveland Browns for the fourth pick.
The apple of Whaley's eye was Watkins, a wide receiver from Clemson. Whaley believes Watkins will help Manuel's development at quarterback.
"[Watkins] is a dynamic playmaker. That's what this game is all about," Whaley said. "We got to score touchdowns."
Strike gold with Watkins and the Bills could be back in the playoffs. Miss -- or have Manuel struggle in his second season -- and not having a first-round pick next year will sting all winter.
So, yes, there is a risk involved -- though Whaley, who briefly worked as a stockbroker before beginning his NFL career, views it differently.
"What you learn from [stock trading] that you apply is, people say risk, but successful people see it as potential," Whaley said. "When you look at it that way, it puts a whole different mindset on it. The most successful people -- not only in business, but in anything -- see potential where other people get scared away and see risk."
For better or worse, that’s life in today's NFL. When others are jogging -- sprint.
Now it's time to look at the other end of the spectrum: which players left something to be desired in OTAs? It's a harder question to answer, since the practices are voluntary, are not held in pads, and are geared towards installation -- not necessarily evaluation.
With that in mind, here are our notes on some players who didn't have as good a showing in OTAs as we would have expected:
WR Sammy Watkins: Watkins might have been a victim of his own success in rookie camp. Those three days of practice last month consisted of positional drills and routes against air, and Watkins looked the part. His catch radius and precision with his footwork are unmatched by any other receiver on the roster. Yet as OTAs progressed, Watkins reminded us that he's still a rookie. The mental part of the game -- lining up after the huddle, reading defenses, etc. -- just wasn't at the same level as some of his teammates, who needed to direct Watkins to the right spot at times. Again, he's new, so that's not out of the ordinary. But if there was one red flag to be had from Watkins' OTAs, it was his drops this week. His final week of practice was his sloppiest from a pass-catching standpoint. The sticky mitts we saw in rookie camp and early in OTAs weren't there, although they could easily return in minicamp. We'll just have to wait and see.
On a side note, why would the NFLPA, the organization whose purpose is to represent and protect players, schedule their rookie premiere when teams were conducting OTAs? Watkins missed two of the Bills' nine OTAs because of that event, which includes a photo shoot for trading cards. Watkins should have been on the field learning the Bills' offense, and that's entirely the fault of the players' union, not him.
TE Scott Chandler: There are few players as well-spoken and respected as Chandler within the Bills' locker room. But the 6-foot-7 tight end, who will turn 29 in August, looked older than his age in OTAs. He's coming off knee surgery and was limited the first few days of OTAs as he continued to recover, but when he was on the field, he looked uncomfortable. Perhaps that will change once training camp rolls around. But not having drafted a tight end, the Bills need Chandler to be their top target at the position. After watching Chandler run on the practice field the past few weeks, I have questions if he's the right piece for what the Bills want in a fast-paced, athletic offense.
WR Mike Williams: When Williams arrived via trade in April, my first reaction was that he could be a top target in the Bills' offense. I'm less convinced now. Williams didn't stand out in OTAs and seeing him in action, there isn't a particular skill that he brings to the table that is different from the rest of the receiver group. If Watkins and Robert Woods become fixtures on the outside and Chris Hogan can continue to contribute in the slot, Williams starts to slide down the depth chart. The Bills will keep Marquise Goodwin and Marcus Easley on their final roster, so Williams will have to fight Hogan and T.J. Graham for the final spot. He could change my opinion in minicamp or early in training camp, but for right now I wouldn't call his spot on the team a sure bet.
Skies opened about halfway through the outdoor practice, with players initially toughing it out during an 11-on-11 drill before moving indoors to their practice facility.
Even before the weather was a factor, it was a practice to forget for quarterback EJ Manuel and first-round pick Sammy Watkins. In a routes-versus-air drill, three of Manuel's throws directed towards Watkins in the end zone were off-target. Watkins got his hands on each but couldn't haul them in.
Later in the practice, back indoors, Manuel hit Watkins with a well-thrown pass but Watkins couldn't get ahold of the ball. Manuel also had multiple passes on fade patterns sail over receivers in the end zone, a trend during the three weeks of OTAs.
The Bills wrapped up practice with a full-team red zone drill. Manuel's first pass was an incomplete fade pattern, while his second pass was overthrown. Following a hand-off to Anthony Dixon that went for a touchdown, Manuel's next pass was thrown away, while his final pass was intended for Dixon on a dump-off but was off the mark.
From a big-picture standpoint, the one sequence of the one OTA doesn't mean much, but it wasn't the way the Bills wanted to end their three weeks of practice. Manuel and Watkins will look to bounce back next week at mandatory minicamp.
Attendance-wise, linebacker Brandon Spikes was not spotted Thursday after participating in the first eight OTAs. Cornerback Leodis McKelvin, who has been practicing on a limited basis following hip surgery, was also not on the field.
Cornerback Stephon Gilmore took a step forward in his recovery from hip surgery, taking reps at first-team cornerback in an 11-on-11 drill. Linebacker Kiko Alonso (hip surgery) also had an increased workload Thursday.
Offensive lineman Doug Legursky returned to practice for the first time in a week.
Wide receiver Marquise Goodwin participated in positional drills Thursday but was limited as he recovers from a knee injury suffered earlier this week.
Defensive end Bryan Johnson, who was carted off the field with an apparent left leg injury Monday, will be out until training camp, coach Doug Marrone said.
With shifts in philosophy will come collateral damage to the salary cap. It's no surprise, then, that the Bills' dead money against their cap is the second-most in the NFL this season.
"Dead money" is salary-cap charges for players who are no longer on the roster. When a player is released or traded, his yearly allocation of signing bonuses against the salary cap remain.
Most of the Bills' dead money comes from releasing quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick ($7 million) and trading wide receiver Stevie Johnson ($10.225 million). Only quarterback Matt Schaub, who was traded by the Houston Texans earlier this offseason, counts more against his former team's cap.
Even though Fitzpatrick hasn't played for the Bills since 2012, his dead money charge ranks seventh in the NFL.
How much of a problem is dead money for the Bills? With $7.9 million in remaining cap space this season, it hasn't prevented them from doing business. It's doubtful that having less dead money would have increased the team's willingness to re-signing Jairus Byrd, for example.
However, the dead-money charges suggest that the Bills didn't make the wisest moves in extending either Fitzpatrick or Johnson.
After Fitzpatrick and the Bills began the 2011 season with a 4-2 record, with Fitzpatrick throwing 12 touchdowns in his first six games, the team gave him a six-year, $59 million extension with $24 million guaranteed. Fitzpatrick went 8-18 in the remainder of his career in Buffalo and was released after the 2012 season.
Following the 2012 season, Johnson received a five-year, $36.25 million extension. He enjoyed a productive 2012 season but ran into injury problems last season. Ultimately, the fit wasn't right for him in Doug Marrone's system, and Johnson was shipped out to make room for first-round pick Sammy Watkins.
Both cases serve as cautionary tales for more recent free-agent signings and contract extensions. Extending Aaron Williams for four seasons at $26 million, as one example, seems like a wise move now. But is Williams' level of play consistent with him being paid like top NFL safeties? That remains to be seen.
Wide receiver Mike Williams and running back Anthony Dixon, who were both not spotted at Monday's session, were back on the field Tuesday.
Defensive tackle Kyle Williams remained out of Tuesday's OTAs, which is voluntary per NFL rules. He also missed Monday's practice.
Tight end Tony Moeaki had limited participation Tuesday after doing rehab work during Monday's practice. Other players working on the sidelines Tuesday were wide receiver Cordell Roberson, cornerback Darius Robinson, running back Ronnie Wingo, guard J.J. Unga, offensive tackle Chris Hairston, wide receiver Marcus Easley, and wide receiver Marquise Goodwin.
Goodwin injured his knee in Monday's practice. This is the first time that Hairston, who took some reps at right guard with the first-team Monday, had missed practice.
Defensive Bryan Johnson, who was carted off the field Monday with an apparent left knee injury, was not spotted. Offensive lineman Doug Legursky, defensive tackles Marcell Dareus and Alan Branch, and defensive end Manny Lawson were also not on the field.
Linebacker Kiko Alonso (hip) saw limited reps in red zone drills, while cornerbacks Leodis McKelvin (hip) and Stephon Gilmore (hip) also saw reps with the second team in one red zone drill. That was their first action in team drills of OTAs.
"I think we're gonna shock the world this year," Spikes said after Monday's practice. "I'm anxious and I think the defense is anxious too. So we're ready to open some eyes."
Spikes joins linebacker Keith Rivers and cornerback Corey Graham as veteran additions to a unit that will also have a new coordinator, Jim Schwartz. However, there are question marks at safety, where the Bills lost Jairus Byrd this offseason, and at defensive tackle, where Marcell Dareus has run into legal and disciplinary issues in recent months.
It's possible that Spikes will help shore up a run defense that ranked 28th last season. It's also possible that the unit will take a step back against the pass. Last season, Mike Pettine's blitz-heavy scheme led to a franchise record in sacks and had some of the NFL's better stats against opposing quarterbacks.
The best way for the Bills' defense to open eyes this season will be if the Bills offense can take a step forward. If the addition of Sammy Watkins and the development of EJ Manuel don't produce more wins, the defense's performances could be for naught, the equivalent of a pitcher losing a 1-0 shutout in baseball.
But if the Bills' defense can hold their opponents to fewer yards, their chances of finishing with a winning record are strong. Over the past five seasons, no team that has finished in the NFL's top five in yards allowed per game has finished with a losing record:
2013: 13-3, 12-4, 11-5, 11-5, 12-4
2012: 8-8, 13-3, 11-4-1, 11-5, 10-6
2011: 12-4, 10-6, 12-4, 13-3, 8-8
2010: 9-7, 12-4, 11-5, 11-5, 10-6
2009: 9-7, 11-5, 9-7, 10-6, 9-7
The Bills finished 10th in yards allowed per game last season. How realistic would it be for them to jump up five spots in that ranking?