This isn’t a good year to be any one of the teams in the NFC East. The New York Giants have their own problems, but so does every other team in the division. And it looks like the team that eventually makes it out of the NFC East and into the playoffs will be one of the worst teams in history to pull off the accomplishment.
It’s not surprising, then, that a lot of this bad play starts with the position that’s widely considered the most important in football – quarterback. The QB play in this division just hasn’t been good. It’s been bad enough, in fact, that three out of the four passing leaders in the league are lagging behind a player that hasn’t played since week five.
Dak Prescott is still the NFC East leader
Dak Prescott, who hasn't played since Week 5, still leads the NFC East in passing yards…
Dwayne Haskins, the fourth leading passer in the division, has found his way to the bench in Washington and rumors are swirling that he’ll end up traded. Daniel Jones of the Giants, on the other hand, is the team’s only starting option but is third on the list.
It’s not entirely Jones’ fault, however. One could argue that it’s not even mostly his fault. The tackle that the Giants selected to protect Jones on the left side hasn’t panned out, many passes have been dropped by receivers, and Jones overall has some of the worst protection in the league.
But even if it isn’t Jones’ fault entirely, it’s unclear what the Giants intend to do if they have a chance to restart their rebuild by taking Trevor Lawrence in the Draft. That’s still a hypothetical. And it depends on the team not repeating last year’s problem of winning too many meaningless games near the end of the year and falling in draft position.
The silver lining, though, is that no other team in the division is in a good spot quarterback wise either. The Giants aren’t exactly in a unique spot here, but it remains to be seen how each team intends on fixing their problems.
The activation of third-round pick Jabari Zuniga is among the moves the New York Jets made prior to a dangerous matchup against the Chiefs.
Headed into a matchup against the defending Super Bowl champions, the New York Jets (0-7) could probably use all the help they can get. Not all reinforcements, however, will be along for the ride.
The team made several roster moves and transactions heading into their Sunday tilt against the Kansas City Chiefs (1 p.m. ET, CBS), each documented below…
Activated DL Jabari Zuniga
Zuniga was the Jets’ second pick in the third round of April’s draft (79th overall). The Florida alum missed all of training camp with a quad injury and began the year on injured reserve. He also dealt with injuries at Florida, as he was limited to five games last season, though he returned in time for the Gators’ victorious visit to the most recent Orange Bowl.
Placed DL Kyle Phillips on season-ending IR
Phillips was lost to an ankle injury in Sunday’s loss to Buffalo and underwent season-ending surgery on Tuesday. The undrafted free agent was one of the more pleasant surprises from last season, earning 39 tackles and 1.5 sacks.
“That’s a tough loss for us,” head coach Adam Gase said of Phillips, per notes provided by the Jets. “He’s been a really good player for us the last year and a half, but we expect him to make a full recovery, it’s going to be a long rehab process for him, but we should get him back, obviously next year.”
Designated LB Patrick Onwuasor to return to practice
Onwuasor has yet to make his New York debut, having fallen to a non-contact injury during training camp. He came over this offseason after four seasons with the Baltimore Ravens, which saw him earn 234 tackles and force five fumbles.
Restored WR Lawrence Cager to the practice squad
An undrafted free rookie who previously worked with Georgia and Miami, Cager earned positive reviews in training camp and eventually got his opportunity during the Week 3 proceedings in Indianapolis. He would earn 37 yards on a pair of receptions before leaving with a hamstring issue.
Released QB David Fales
Fales served as the backup quarterback during the earlier portions of the season and appeared in two games last season. He previously served a reserve thrower during Gase’s days as a head coach in Miami.
Tonight one of the more anticipated matchups of the year took place at Bellator 250. Welterweight champion, Douglas Lima (32-7), was looking to become a two-division world champion. Standing in his way was former Bellator middleweight champion, Gegard Mousasi (46-7-2).
Lima entered the Bellator cage on a three fight winning streak. He was 6-1 in his last seven fights, but he’s already avenged the one loss he had in the span. Lima is widely considered to be one of the best fighters that Bellator has to offer.
There haven’t been many fighters who have been as consistently good over a long period of time as Gegard Mousasi. Mousasi was a champion in every major organization he’s competed in except for the UFC. He was already the Bellator middleweight champion.
Mousasi lost his crown to Rafael Lovato back at Bellator 223. However, due to some medical issues outside the cage, Lovato retired and vacated the middleweight crown. That is how we arrived at Bellator 250 with Lima looking to become a two-division champ.
Bellator 250 Main Event Recap
As the Bellator 250 main event kicked off, Mousasi plotted forward to try to close the distance on Lima. Lima fired off a couple of powerful leg kicks which caused Mousasi to shoot in for a takedown. After defending well at first, Lima was taken down and gave up his back.
Lima was able to work his way back up to his feet, but Mousasi dragged him back down. Lima forced a scramble, but Mousasi ended up in his guard. Mousasi did a fantastic job of landing shots from the top position as the first round came to a close.
As the second round opened, the Bellator welterweight champion looked a little gun shy. Mousasi plotted forward again closing the distance on Lima. Lima appeared to be trying to time Mousasi’s attack while his back was against the cage.
In the second, every time Mousasi pressed forward, Lima was going a good job of landing shots. With 90 seconds left in the round, Mousasi shot in for another takedown. However, Lima did a fantastic job of keeping the fight standing. Much better second round for the Bellator welterweight champion.
The third round again started with Mousasi plotting forward. Lima landed a really nice leg kick, but he wasn’t throwing very much. Mousasi plotted forward throwing straight punches, but nothing was really landing in the third.
Halfway through the round, Lima pushed forward with a big combination. However, as soon as he landed it, he went back to not throwing much. Mousasi continued to press forward the rest of the round throwing feeler shots. With the overall output and pressure, Mousasi was up three rounds.
The fourth round opened with Mousasi shooting in for a takedown. Mousasi was able to spin to Lima’s back and push him against the fence. He slammed the Bellator welterweight champion to the ground, but Lima was able to get back up.
After the two fighters broke, Lima landed a really nice leg kick. However, Mousasi didn’t seem phased by the kick. Mousasi just continued to plot forward. Lima landed a couple of additional hard leg kicks that caused Mousasi to switch his stance. A very close round that could have gone either way.
The final round opened with both men standing in the center of the cage. Lima landed a really hard leg kick to get the striking started. The leg kicks seemed to be taking a tole on Mousasi in the fifth as he wasn’t moving forward like he was in the previous rounds.
Lima started landing some good shots as he was backing Mousasi up. Instead of throwing one or two shots, Lima was finally starting to put together combinations on Mousasi. Mousasi was not throwing much at all in the fifth round.
Mousasi was able to catch a leg kick with 90 seconds left in the round and take Lima down. Lima looked extremely frustrated after he was taken to the ground. Mousasi wasn’t attacking much from the top, but he did a good job of holding control. Despite the takedown, I give the final round the Bellator welterweight champion.
It wasn’t the most exciting fight in the world, but it was extremely tactical. A couple of rounds were close, but I had Mousasi winning this one 48-47. The judges agreed and Gegard Mousasi is the new Bellator middleweight champion.
Gegard Mousasi def. Douglas Lima by Unanimous Decision (48-47, 49-46, 49-46)
New York Rangers‘ first-round draft pick Alexis Lafreniere may be invited to Hockey Canada’s national junior team selection camp.
In a report written by Mike G. Morreale of NHL.com on Thursday, Lafreniere is still eligible to participate in the World Junior Championships. The 2021 WJC, will be held Dec. 25 to Jan. 5, 2021 entirely at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta.
Tom Renney, a former head coach of the Rangers and the Hockey Canada chief executive officer said he has spoken with Jeff Gorton about the opportunity of having Lafreniere play with them for the tournament.
“With respect to the Rangers, [general manager] Jeff Gorton and I had a good chat. It gave Jeff the opportunity to understand our timetable of what might be coming up with respect to this camp, for example, and well beyond that.”
Team Canada will be holding their selection camp Westerner Park Centrium in Red Deer, Alberta from Nov. 16-Dec. 13.
Lafreniere was the number one overall selection in this year’s NHL Draft. The 19 year -old will be attending Rangers training camp, but with the start of the 2020-2021 season undetermined, the Blueshirts may want to get the rookie some ice time. It is believed that if the NHL season should begin earlier than the completion of the WJC tournament he would return to the Rangers to prepare for the start of the season.
“[Gorton] was certainly open-minded to the idea but hoping that his player would have the opportunity to join the NHL team in New York, as of now actually, to begin skating with the club,” Renney said. “I’ve indicated to him that I would circle back within about 10 days to see how things are sitting and what things look like for [Lafreniere] joining this camp and beyond.”
The WJC would be held in a bubble similar to what the NHL conducted for the Stanley Cup Playoffs this year in both Toronto and Edmonton. Should Lafreniere skip the invitation camp, he would still be allowed into the Edmonton bubble and after quarantining for four days be ready for the first of two exhibition games prior to their first game of the tournament.
The New York Giants will face off against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 8. New York will play its second primetime game in a row after suffering an embarrassing loss to the Philadelphia Eagles last Thursday night. Heading into this week’ss matchup, the Giants are once again staring defeat in the face on primetime.
Anything is possible, and we have seen the Giants upset Tom Brady in the greatest of fashion, but the Giants will be major underdogs in this Week 8 matchup. Tom Brady and the high-flying Buccaneers had a slow start to the season but have recently emerged as legitimate Super Bowl contenders over the last couple of weeks.
Six-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady is leading the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ high-flying offense in 2020. After two decades of dominance with the New England Patriots, Brady moved on to do things without Belichick in Tampa Bay. So far, Brady has found far more success than the Patriots, nearly putting to rest the “system quarterback” criticism he was dealt in New England.
Tom Brady is playing at an MVP level through seven weeks of the 2020 NFL season. He might not be winning the MVP race right now, but that is not an indictment on Tom, but, rather, praise to sing for the rest of the league’s star quarterbacks.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have scored 83 points in the past two weeks. Tom Brady is coming off of an elite Week 7 performance that saw him throw for 369 yards and 4 passing touchdowns, and 1 rushing touchdown with 0 interceptions. Brady is Pro Football Focus’s third-highest graded quarterback in the NFL so far, trailing only Aaron Rodgers and Rusell Wilson.
Tampa Bay’s offense has been connecting on countless deep shots downfield. According to PFF, on 20+ yard throws, Tom Brady has totaled 15 Big-Time-Throws and 0 turnover-worthy-throws. He has been near-flawless when airing the ball out deep.
The New York Giants’ defense has allowed opposing offenses to gain an average of 251.7 passing yards and 24.9 points per game. Cornerback James Bradberry has been performing at an elite level, but he will have his hands full when matching up against Mike Evans and Tom Brady.
The Giants are hosting a beastly Buccaneers offense on Monday night. Unfortunately for New York, Brady and the Bucs are out of their sluggish phase. Now, they are exploding to the forefront of the NFL in a dominant fashion. The Giants’ defense has a tough task ahead of them as they gameplan to slow down the GOAT and his talent-loaded offense.
This past Saturday at UFC 254, Khabib Nurmagomedov defeated Justin Gaethje to retain his lightweight championship of the world. It was an emotional ending for Nurmagomedov who fought for the first time since his father had passed away.
Following the fight, Nurmagomedov laid his gloves in the middle of the octagon and announced his retirement. Many in the UFC community were not expecting this to happen. Nurmagomedov’s father’s dream had been for him to go 30-0 then retire.
However, Khabib said that he promised his mother that UFC 254 would be his last fight. Just a few days later, and we are hearing that he might not be done. Since the announcement, UFC President Dana White has had a chance to talk with Nurmagomedov.
White seems to think Khabib might have been in the moment. He told CBS Sports Zach Gelb, “Khabib and I have been talking. He was completely emotional that night when he got through that fight. I have a feeling that he might go for 30-0.”
The UFC’s options for Khabib
There are a few options for the UFC when it comes to Khabib Nurmagomedov and his 30th fight. However, I think that there is one clear fight for him to cap off his career and his legacy. That would be a fight with Georges St. Pierre.
GSP is known as arguably the greatest of all time. He was a dominant champion in the welterweight division, then he moved up to capture the UFC middleweight title. He’s always been interested in coming out of retirement for the Nurmagomedov fight.
GSP recently told ESPN’s Ariel Helwani that he was happy for Khabib after the retirement. However, he said that his door would be open if Khabib was interested in coming back and facing him. That could very well be the case if what White’s saying comes true.
Of course, the UFC could always try to book the Conor McGregor rematch. However, Khabib has already won that war in his eyes. A fight with GSP would be a legacy fight for both men and a very rare opportunity for fight fans around the globe to see arguably the two greatest of all time go head to head.
The Yankees won’t have as much flexibility with their finances this offseason due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so they will likely have to make several difficult decisions.
Of course, the signing that everyone wants to hear is DJ LeMahieu, who finished a two-year, $24 million deal this season. LeMahieu has been fantastic for the Yankees since making his way to the Bronx, and letting him go would be devastating for a team that has relied on him at multiple infield spots and as their primary lead-off hitter.
Ownership invested millions more than any other team to finally reach a World Series appearance, but clearly, their money did not equal success. Taking a more analytical approach like the Tampa Bay Rays might be in the Yankees’ future, as they have simply invested too much in players that miss chunks of time every season and simply aren’t reliable.
However, one player was so important the Yankees couldn’t wait to pick up his 2021 option. Zack Britton signed a three-year, $39 million deal in 2019 and had a player option for the 2021 season at $13 million if the Yankees declined their club option. Thankfully, they didn’t.
The New York Yankees couldn’t afford to lose Britton:
Britton has been one of the Yankees’ more reliable bullpen arms, finishing the 2019 campaign with a 1.91 ERA, including 53 strikeouts over 61.1 innings. This past season, he was even better with a 1.89 ERA, despite a smaller sample size of just 19 innings. He’s also a stellar closer, having filled in for Aroldis Chapman while he was dealing with Covid himself.
Finding an alternative for Zack would have been a tricky situation, as he is the ground-ball king and rarely allows home runs. If he decided to opt-out of his deal, the Yankees could have theoretically sign him on a different contract, as his worth might have increased after the past two years. Locking him in at $14 million was an easy move for GM Brian Cashman.
Supplementing him would likely have been a rotational approach, as the Yankees have several young arms they could fill his spot. However, talented relief options like Britton don’t come around very often, and utilizing a pitch by committee approach wouldn’t have been efficient.
The major issue is money moving forward, as the Yankees will likely have to find another starting pitcher (3 starters hitting FA) and retain LeMahieu. Things are about to get interesting during the hot stove months, so buckle up and get ready.
The New York Knicks have met Kentucky Wildcat Immanuel Quickley twice ahead of the 2020 NBA Draft.
Devin Booker and Tyler Herro were two of the most recent former University of Kentucky guards who got overlooked in the NBA Draft.
Immanuel Quickley is poised to be the next sleeper in the Draft from Hall of Fame coach John Calipari’s program.
“Immanuel Quickley was the Player of the Year in our league. He’s right up there with the hardest workers spending the most time in the gym, most committed players that I’ve ever had,” Calipari told Empire Sports Media via Zoom call. “You better give him a second, third, or fourth look before you pass on him because he’s another one.”
Booker and Herro were selected 13th overall in the 2015 and 2019 NBA Draft, respectively. And they have both outplayed their draft position.
With Herro’s rousing rookie season still fresh in league scouts and executives’ minds, the sweet-shooting Quickley has seen his draft stock rise with more and more teams showing strong interest recently.
According to his trainer and former AAU coach Jide Sodipo, Quickley has talked to almost all NBA teams except the Portland Trail Blazers.
And of the 29 teams, Quickley has already interviewed twice with the Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers, Oklahoma City Thunder, Utah Jazz, Milwaukee Bucks, Detroit Pistons, and the Miami Heat.
“They were trying to find out more about his character. Not only about basketball. What kind of a young man he is,” Sodipo told Empire Sports Media over the phone. “And as far as the Knicks are concerned, I think they know more about him more than anybody team in the NBA.”
Of course, the Knicks have former Kentucky lead assistant and chief recruiter Kenny Payne in their fold. Payne has the intel that might help persuade the Knicks front office to take a gamble on Quickley’s potential.
Quickley could be in play for the Knicks’ 27th or even 38th pick if he’s still on board. But Sodipo has a firm belief that his ward won’t last past the first round.
In most scouting reports, Quickly is a scoring guard with a knack for hitting the outside shot. It’s the same type of profile that has made Herro a riser in last year’s NBA Draft.
“He (Immanuel) spaces the court because he’s making threes. It’s what everybody knows. It’s where the league is going right now? You better be able to make threes. If you can’t, you better have some unbelievable talent; you better have ESP or something like that if you can’t shoot. The game has changed,” Calipari said.
Quickley further cemented his status as a reliable scorer when he ended his collegiate career with 20 consecutive double-digit scoring games — the longest streak by a Wildcat since Malik Monk (30) in 2016-17. On top of that, he has also hit at least one three-pointer in his last 11 games, including a career-high eight on his way to a 30-point performance in a 69-60 win against Texas A&M last February.
Quickley has the shooting skill to carve out a role in the modern NBA. But he is more than just a shooter, according to Sodipo.
“People don’t understand that he was a pass-first point guard all of his life. He loves to share the ball and bring out the best in his teammates. But you know, when you go to a school like Kentucky, you have to sacrifice,” Sodipo explained. “Sometimes, you have to play a role. That’s what’s asked of you. What he did was he made the most out of it.”
To better understand and appreciate Quickley, you have to look at the roster makeup of the Wildcats.
During Quickley’s freshman year, Kentucky had a crowded backcourt with Hagans, Herro, and Quade Green.
Then in his sophomore year, Tyrese Maxey came in. Both Maxey (29.2 percent) and Hagans (25.8 percent) didn’t shoot well from the outside, and Quickley quickly jumped into the opportunity.
“Last year we went to three guards. I wasn’t doing that early in the year, but as the year went on, I just said, ‘Immanuel Quickley, he needs to be starting.’ That means somebody else couldn’t start. [Quickley] ended up being Player of the Year in our league, but he trusted me to figure it out.” Calipari said.
After averaging just 5.2 points per game as a freshman, Quickley led the Wildcats in scoring (16.1 ppg), made 3-pointers (62), 3-point percentage (.428), free throws made (144), attempted (156), and free throw percentage (.923) during as a sophomore to become the fifth SEC Player of the Year under Calipari.
That’s part of the myth surrounding former Wildcats who have exploded in the NBA. Because Calipari’s program has been perennially loaded with talent, players like Booker, Herro, Bam Adebayo, and now Quickley have been victims of circumstances that, in a way, held their game back.
That’s one of the biggest reasons why Quickley has the “Sleeper” tag.
“He brings more to the game than just his shooting. You’ve only seen around 50 or 60 percent of his game [in college], I can tell you. And that’s gonna surprise a lot of people,” Sodipo said.
Quickley can get hot quickly on offense. He could find a role similar to what Jamal Crawford and Lou Williams have perfected in their respective long NBA careers — offensive spark off the bench.
Defensively, Quickley has the length (6’9 and 3/4″ wingspan from his Draft Combine measurement last week) and the quickness to be a disruptor.
Great Saturday morning film session with SEC Player of the Year and Kentucky standout Immanuel Quickley. One of the best shooters in the draft with a high IQ and strong compete for level. Understands who he is as a player & knows how to add value in a variety of different situations. pic.twitter.com/f8VBIosOmt
If there’s anyone who knows Quickley’s game in and out, it’s Sodipo, who’s been coaching Quickley since 2015.
“He can handle the ball. He’s a true point guard that can score. He has a great basketball IQ. He’s great in pick and roll. He’s a great defender and can rebound, and that’s his game that people don’t know unless you really watch his game and go back to his freshman year, his high school years,” Sodipo said.
Quickley was a decorated high school player and was one of the nation’s top point guards. He was a McDonald’s All-American and the 10th best prospect by Rivals.com and 12th by ESPN coming out of high school in 2017.
In his sophomore year, he hit a game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer to lead The John Carroll School Patriots to a 51–50 win over Mount Saint Joseph High School in the Baltimore Catholic League championship. He earned All-Metro Player of the Year recognition.
In his junior year, he averaged 23.7 points and 7.2 assists per game and was named to the First Team All-Metro. As a senior, he normed 20.8 points, 6.7 rebounds, 6.7 assists, and 3.7 steals per game and led the team to the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference title.
He was a shotmaker and a playmaker in high school, but he had to adjust his game in college to fit within Kentucky’s system.
Throughout the years, Sodipo has come to know Quickley deeper than everybody else in the 21-year old’s basketball circle.
“He’s a special young man, very focused. He’s a young man that really loves the game,” Sodipo said.
Quickley comes from a family with a reputable background that speaks volumes of his character.
“His mother is a high school principal. His father is a church minister,” Sodipo said.
Quickley’s faith and a balanced lifestyle have helped him navigate a bumpy collegiate career where he understood that he had to earn his spot despite being a five-star recruit out of high school.
“He’s always in the gym, getting better at his craft. He’s somebody that he wants to get better,” Sodipo said.
“But when he was growing up, he’s played drums and other musical instruments. He’s been studious and religious. He’s a really fine, talented young man.”
Quickley checks all the boxes for teams looking for a high-character guy who has NBA skills to match.
Sodipo has been training him non-stop in a private gym just five minutes from the Quickley’s residence.
Just a sneak peek of @IQ_GodSon
5 minutes 3pt endurance shooting to finish workout.
The New York Yankees announced on Thursday that four players have been nominated for the 2020 All-MLB Team. Fans have through November 13th to vote for players on the MLB.com website. Here are the four Yankee nominees:
In his first season in pinstripes, Cole pitched to the tune of a 2.84 ERA with a 7-3 record. He had a 94 strikeouts over 73 innings with a 2.2 WAR and a 0.959 WHIP. Cole averaged 1.7 home runs per nine with 2.1 walks per nine.
Cole teamed up with back-up catcher Kyle Higashioka for the final four starts of the season, and had a 1.00 ERA with Higashioka behind the dish. It’s likely Cole and Higashioka will frequently be teaming up in 2021 and beyond, assuming Higashioka remains the back-up.
To nobody’s surprise, DJ LeMahieu had another stellar season for the Yankees. He won the batting title with a .364 average, hit 10 home runs and drove in 27. His OPS was a spectacular 1.011 with a 177 OPS+. LeMahieu did all that and totaled a 2.8 WAR despite a stint on the IL.
After two great seasons in The Bronx, LeMahieu is now a free-agent, with the Yankees hoping to retain him for next year and beyond.
Voit had a breakout season with the Yankees, proving that he deserves to be the first-baseman of the future. Batting .277, Voit lead baseball with 22 home runs and was fourth in RBI with 52. He added a .948 OPS with a 156 OPS+.
Voit battled a foot injury all season, but managed to be one of the few Yankees to stay off the IL all season. Now that the season is over, he can rest and get his foot ready for the spring.
Urshela followed-up his 2019 breakout season with a solid 2020 season. In 151 at-bats, Urshela bat .298 while hitting six home runs and driving in 30. He had an .858 OPS with a 136 OPS+ and a 1.9 WAR.
Additionally, Urshela’s 0.7 dWAR is good enough to be an AL Gold Glove award candidate at third-base. He will be looking to win his first Gold Glove despite his stellar defense all throughout his career.
The somewhat reeling Buffalo Bills have a golden opportunity to pass the ultimate test against the New England Patriots.
Wide right. No goal. New England Patriots.
The preceding phrases have struck fear into the heart of Western New York sports fans for years on end. In the case of the first two, the smallest of consolation could be granted through time, as they were single-game incidents that continue to build distance from the next generation of supporters. The latter case, however, is a twice-yearly ordeal, a painful, yet necessary endeavor on par with jury duty or inventory at a retail job.
The Buffalo Bills’ rivalry with New England was even but uneventful in the 20th century (New England led 41-38-1 in a series that dated back to 1960), but the tide turned with the rise of Tom Brady in 2001. Since Brady faced the Bills for the first time, a 21-11 New England triumph at the late Foxboro Stadium (in what became Rob Johnson’s final start as a Bill), the Patriots own a ridiculously one-sided 34-4 advantage in the series.
It’s not enough that the Patriots have straight-up owned this yearly pair, but the way they’ve done it could be constituted as outright bullying. Former Bills (Antowain Smith and Stephon Gilmore among them) have played central roles in the team’s demise. The method of defeat has featured increased creativity. In 2006, a Ty Warren sack of J.P. Losman became a difference-making safety in a 19-17 loss on opening weekend. A 2009 Monday night tilt saw the Bills lose a 24-13 lead over the final three minutes of game time.
There have been several potential “turning point” of the rivalry. A 31-0 Buffalo shellacking in the 2003 season opener threatened to end the New England dynasty before it truly got rolling. One of Ryan Fitzpatrick’s earliest miracles was the erasure of a 21-point deficit in 2011. But, for the most part, even the Buffalo victories were nothing to celebrate. A win in the 2014 season finale came with most New England backups on the field, the starters resting for yet another playoff run. The Bills did the unthinkable with a 16-0 shutout two seasons later, but it included the massive asterisk of having Brady sit out due to his Deflategate-induced suspension.
At long last, the winds of change have finally descended upon the AFC East. The Bills situated themselves perfectly to succeed when New England finally fell, and their efforts have paid off with a 5-2 record that has them destined toward prime playoff positioning in the conference. This season has been the reaping of meticulous planning by the Bills in their attempt to usurp New England’s throne, a quest partially assisted by Brady’s sojourn to Tampa Bay.
Buffalo has accomplished much over the past three seasons. The team has developed a defense to be reckoned with, found a franchise quarterback, and become a destination for big-name talent from elsewhere…salvation after building a playoff drought that nearly became old enough to legally purchase a six-pack of Flying Bison.
Much has been accomplished over the past three seasons, but there are many lofty goals that have proved elusive. A playoff win is one, but they can’t be gained until winter. First thing’s first…beat the Patriots on Sunday afternoon in Orchard Park (1 p.m. ET, CBS).
The turbulent transition of power of the AFC East cannot be completed otherwise.
The ultimate changing of the guard could’ve come last season, when a meeting in the penultimate week of the campaign decided the modern division’s fate. Such a battle had made its way to 21st-century national television…a 56-10 New England win in Buffalo was notably flexed to Sunday night during the former’s undefeated regular season run in 2007…but this game in an unusual timeslot carried enormous importance. Chosen to partake in a Saturday night spot at Gillette Stadium, the winner would have prime position in the chase for the AFC East. The title was routine for New England but could’ve made a return trip to Buffalo for the first time since 1995.
Buffalo had previously played the Patriots well in the first portion of the yearly pair, a 16-10 defeat at what was then New Era Field. It was a game they had to end without the aforementioned star under center, Josh Allen, who was sidelined with an injury. The opportunity to strike was perfect: the Bills had previously succeeded in their first taste of true prime time action, topping the Pittsburgh Steelers in a flexed Sunday night game six days prior. With the Bills at 10-4, their first accumulation of double-digit wins since 1999, and New England reeling from losses to Houston and Kansas City (not to mention dealing with another camera-induced controversy from their win in Cincinnati a week prior), the time to strike seemed perfect.
Inklings of a team of destiny appeared to be on display throughout the evening. The Bills were playing Patriot games to throw New England into a state of chaos. An unusual receiver scored a touchdown, with Dion Dawkins playing the role of Mike Vrabel. The Buffalo offensive charge was led by coordinator Brian Daboll, a former New England tight end coach who oversaw some of Rob Gronkowski’s finest hours. Daboll’s unit oversaw a 53-yard scoring hookup between Allen and John Brown, one that gave Buffalo a 17-13 lead for a good portion of the second half.
Alas for the Bills, further Patriot-induced heartbreak awaited in the game’s latter stages. New England scored the final 11 points of the game, the majority of which were earned on Rex Burkhead’s one-yard score with just over five minutes to go. With the exception of a 30-yard hookup between Brady and Julian Edelman, a major of the drive comprised of short, but methodically effective, rushes spearheaded by Burkhead and Sony Michel. The opposing defense forced Buffalo into a pair of three-and-outs while the deficit was erased, and stopped Allen’s would-be heroics through relentless pressure and a fourth-down spot just 15 yards away from the tying tally. Celebrations of the Patriots’ 11th consecutive division title soon commenced, relegating Buffalo to wild-card purgatory through a 24-17 victory.
Even in defeat, players and analysts saw the Bills’ respectable performance against the team that routinely tormented them as a potential sign of things to come. But Buffalo’s leaders, like Allen and cornerback Jordan Poyer, weren’t interested in making excuses or relishing symbolic wins.
“We knew we had to finish the game,” Poyer said of the honorable defeat, per Nate Mendelson of BuffaloBills.com. “He’s the greatest quarterback to ever play the game and we knew they were going to come back and try and strike. Like I said, they just made more plays than we did today. I’m proud of our guys today, but in the end, there are no moral victories.”
“It’s one of those games you learn from. “If you don’t learn from it, it’s a complete loss,” Allen added, according to Nicole Yang of Boston.com. “It (stinks). Obviously, they’re an AFC East division rival, and that’s their consecutive whatever it is year winning the division. We got to find a way to get over that hump.”
Brady is gone, but the opportunity lingers for the Bills, whose prosperity lies at a crossroads. They got off to a red-hot start at 4-0, but endured consecutive losses to contenders from Tennessee and Kansas City…each in newly customary primetime slots. The Bills got back into the win column last weekend against the New York Jets, but had to rely on six Tyler Bass field goals after failing to reach the end zone. With the winless Jets and the Miami Dolphins more or less focusing on the future with the transition to Tua Tagovailoa, the AFC East appears to be the Bills’ to lose.
It’s great that the Bills sit at 5-2, situating themselves handsomely in terms of the premature AFC playoff picture. They’re taking care of business and ensuring that they don’t have to be scoreboard-watching in December. Yet, as long as items remain unchecked on Buffalo’s to-do list of returning to respectability, questions and doubts will likely follow them. Failing to visit the end zone against the lowly Jets (even if the defense allowed only four green yards in the second half) is only going to raise more quandaries over whether they truly deserve to be counted amongst the NFL’s elite.
“We have to find ways to finish in the end zone,” Allen said, in a report from WBEN-AM. “It has to be better on my part. A couple of penalties pushed us back and put us in a bad position. Shout-out to T-Bass for making those field goals and getting us the win.” In the same statements, running back Devin Singletary mentioned the need to “get back to the drawing board” and described Sunday’s win as “rough”.
There’d be no better way to get back on track than exorcising the New England demon.
The mere thought seems impossible, but the matchup with the Patriots presents rare ground…a trip game. New England enters with a 2-4 record, reeling from the worst kind of uncharted territory in the Bill Belichick era. The Patriots have lost three consecutive games (their first such ledger since 2002) and the most recent defeat was almost Jets-ian in nature. Their 33-6 loss at the hand of the San Francisco 49ers was the worst margin of the Belichick era at Gillette Stadium and provided little if any bright spots in terms of growth and developments. It’s only perhaps added to Brady’s legacy. Whereas the Patriots have faltered under Cam Newton (whose fast start was stifled by a positive COVID-19 diagnosis), Brady has performed well enough in Tampa to warrant the NFC’s Offensive Player of the Month Award.
But the fact of the matter is that Brady isn’t the Bills’ problem anymore, at least not until slated to play the Buccaneers in 2021. In fact, Brady wasn’t even the Bills’ biggest problem during the most recent editions of their yearly pair. Over the last six get-togethers between the divisional rivals…all of which went the Patriots’ way…Brady only broke 300 yards once and threw only four touchdowns in that span. The real enemy has been the defense, which has held Buffalo to no more than 17 points in each of those past six showdowns. Allen has partaken in three of them…and has thrown five interceptions.
Veteran receiver Stefon Diggs, a newcomer to the Bills-Patriots story, but he knows just how important it will be to master the New England defense. He knows what it’s like to be neutralized by the unit, being held to 49 on five receptions (most of it coming on a 24-yard grab in the first half) in the Minnesota Vikings’ 24-10 loss to the Patriots in December 2018.
“They’re fundamentally sound, Diggs said, per Dante Lasting of BuffaloBills.com. “They do a lot of things well on defense, they are active, they have some great players and they’re smart. All the guys play as a unit, everybody’s always on the same page, they are big on communication, and everybody’s in the right spot so it’s definitely a challenge for us. It’s something that I look forward to for our offense to go out there and try to execute at a high level, make some plays, and fly around. It’s more so that we have to execute better than they do. They do a great job, have a great scheme, and have great coaching staff so it’s definitely going be fun.”
Furthermore, the Patriots show no signs of giving up divisional rights with a battle. Enough living, breathing cautionary tales have been written about declaring the Patriots dead in the Belichick era. Sure, a lot of those redemption chapters have been authored by Brady, but nobody needs to prove their mettle less than Belichick. Brady missed almost the entirety of the 2008 campaign, and that still didn’t stop Belichick-supervised destruction with Matt Cassel leading the way under center in a traditional sweep…one of which was a 13-0 shutout to complete an 11-5 ledger in the season finale.
Defensive captain Devin McCourty was blunt yet confident after the San Francisco debacle in analyzing just what the Buffalo game means to the Foxboro dwellers.
“They’re first in the division. We’re 2-4. So I definitely wouldn’t call us the team to beat this year,” McCourty said in a report from Nick Goss of NBC Sports Boston. “I know, me personally, I talk about it every year, it doesn’t matter what’s happened here in the past. I’ve always said that when you talk about the Super Bowls won in the early 2000s, that doesn’t have anything to do with us. Super Bowls after 2010, they have nothing to do with us.”
“I would say right now, we’d be crazy to think coming into the game that we’re the team to beat. They’re No. 1. They’re gonna be a huge challenge for us on the road. The top team, we’ve got to really bring our A-game coming off three straight losses. I think, for us, our backs are against the wall. We’ve got to go out there and play well.”
McCourty is right in his analysis; the past means nothing as the Bills-Patriots Rivalry enters its sixth decade. That message apparently has resonated through the New England locker room.
If it hasn’t in Buffalo, the clouds of questions over the Bills’ place in this evolving NFL world will continue to hover over Orchard Park more dangerously than that of any snowstorm.