Buffalo Bills: John Brown is in the spotlight in return to Arizona

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After coming up big against Seattle, Buffalo Bills WR John Brown hopes Sunday is just the start of something bigger for Orchard Park.

It’s not often that the athletic paths of Western New York and the Arizona desert converge. The most notable incident is probably a 2015 NHL showdown between the Sabres and Coyotes where hometown Buffalo fans cheered an overtime loss because it bettered the odds in the NHL Draft Lottery’s Connor McDavid sweepstakes (the gambit didn’t even pay off, as the Edmonton Oilers leapfrogged them both on lottery night).

John Brown serves as rare middle ground in the Buffalo-Arizona Venn diagram. The Division standout from Mars Hill and Pittsburg State entered the league as a third-round pick of the Arizona Cardinals in 2014. Injuries prevented him from reaching his full potential after four seasons, leading a transfer to Baltimore in 2018 before settling in his current Buffalo surroundings through a three-year, $27 million deal with the Bills. Brown will face his original employers for the first time when the Bills meet the Cardinals for their quadrennial showdown at State Farm Stadium on Sunday afternoon (4:05 p.m. ET, CBS).



Brown has had his share of success on the NFL level, posting four digits in yardage in both his Arizona and Buffalo incarnations, including a career-best 1,060 in his Bills debut. The aforementioned ailments, however, have stopped him from making a truly lasting mark on the NFL game, even if his likelihood of success could be considered astronomical considering his Division II roots. A knee and calf issue has already cost him two games this season, preventing him from capitalizing on his career year, when he led or tied for the lead in all major Buffalo receiving categories (also earning 72 receptions, six of which went for scores).

“I think the vertical presence that he has, the speed and the quickness that he has, he’s able to run some really good in-breaking routes,” quarterback Josh Allen said of his two years working with Brown, per Matt Parrino of Syracuse.com. “He’s another matchup that you have to focus on. You can’t just play man to man and roll somebody to (Stefon Diggs). You got to worry backside what John’s doing too.”

Last Sunday seemed to hint at Brown returning to full strength. The receiver played a large role in the Bills’ statement win over the Seattle Seahawks, earning a season-best 99 yards on eight receptions. None were bigger than a 33-yard tally on a screen pass on a 16-yard third down in the fourth quarter. It set the Bills up for a one-yard touchdown run from Zack Moss, a score that permanently put the Bills ahead by two possessions in what became a 44-34 victory over the NFC leaders.

In addition to the considerable amount of talent and potential he has left, the 30-year-old Brown brings a sense of veteran leadership and direction to a young team potentially on the cusp of something bigger. That was perfectly on display during a chaotic offseason where minicamps and preseason games were wiped out by the ongoing health crisis. When the Bills brought in UCF rookie Gabriel Davis in the fourth round of April’s draft, Brown was immediately on the case through mentorship.

“When I got drafted ‘Smoke’ took me in,” Davis said in reference to Brown, per Chris Brown of BuffaloBills.com (no relation). “I was asked to stay at his crib for a few days to get with him on some football things.”

“That’s something I had to accept,” John Brown told Buffalobills.com about his new role in the locker room. “I couldn’t put myself first. The plays were going to come but helping others would help the team even more. It was a lot, but I got there.”

Brown’s impact is felt beyond the receiver room. According to Thad Brown (also unrelated) of RochesterFirst.com, offensive lineman Dion Dawkins referred to the receiver as one of “(his) my favorite players on this offense”, as well as a “silent sniper…an assassin”.

Brown will get a chance to reunite with the man who bestowed the knowledge of leadership to him on Sunday, Upon his arrival to Arizona in 2014, Brown worked closely with veteran Larry Fitzgerald, who’s in the midst of his 17th NFL season with the Cardinals. Fitzgerald has earned 261 on 33 catches thus far in 2020.

“I was able to help out because I know a lot from being around Larry Fitzgerald,” John Brown said in Chris Brown’s report. “I’m real thankful for Larry because I’m able to help these guys and I see them taking it in.”

Arizona (5-3) is coming off a 34-31 defeat at the hands of Buffalo’s divisional rivals from Miami.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

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