Buffalo Bills: Sunday night perfectly defines the Brandon Beane era

Brandon Beane’s extension needed little justification, but his Buffalo Bills were more than happy to oblige on Sunday night.

NBC’s Sunday Night Football last visited Bills Stadium in Orchard Park, New York in November 2007, when the establishment still bore the Ralph Wilson Stadium moniker. This visit was one of the first examples of flexible scheduling, a concept the Peacock network introduced upon their return to NFL broadcasting to gain the most attractive matchups to their slate. A divisional matchup between the Buffalo Bills and New England booted a get-together between Chicago and Seattle, a rematch from the previous year’s postseason.

On most occasions, it’d be an honor for the local Bills, in the midst of a rebuild that wound up taking two decades, to be granted such a privilege. But the ensuing edition wasn’t so much a primetime football game as it was a showcase for the visitors…it was as if the Washington Generals somehow got to host a home game against the Harlem Globetrotters. En route to a perfect regular season, the Patriots cruised to a 56-10 triumph, the only Buffalo relief coming through J.P. Losman’s 47-yard touchdown pass to Roscoe Parrish in the first quarter.

Brandon Beane likely wasn’t too concerned about the Bills’ endeavors. As a member of the Carolina Panthers’ front office, he was likely more concerned about their 31-17 loss in Green Bay earlier that afternoon. Heck, he was probably more upset over his alma mater UNC Wilmington dropping a men’s basketball game against Illinois State. Little did he, or anyone, involved in the Bills organization, know, that it would be another 13 years before NBC’s cameras descended upon The Queen City for another football game…or that Beane himself would play a major part in it.

No flexing was necessary for Orchard Park’s latest Sunday night endeavor, as their Week 14 matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers was always destined for an evening kickoff. Social distancing endeavors kept jovial hordes of Bills Mafia loyalists out of the seats, but the on-field intensity more than made up for it, as the Bills took a 26-15 decision from the Pittsburgh Steelers. Buffalo (10-3) has now won the first two games of what’s at least a four-game stretch of nationally televised contests. Their upcoming matchup with Denver was recently chosen to open a Saturday afternoon doubleheader (4:30 p.m. ET, NFL Network) and they’ll play their second Monday night game in three weeks on December 28 against New England.

(Photo: Getty)

The impact of winning in prime time hasn’t been lost on the Bills, especially in the hallowed month of December.

“It’s been really tough for us because we have a set amount of time that we can be in the building,” defensive end Jerry Hughes said, per Adam Unger of WKBW-TV. “(Head coach Sean McDermott) and (defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier) have always preached it’s not about how you play football in September, it’s how you play in December.”

Beane’s extension was granted a multi-year extension that will keep him in Western New York for the foreseeable future. Little justification was needed for such a transaction as it was. Under his watch, the Bills have ended many dubious streaks including the lack of Sunday night games in Buffalo and the worst playoff drought in franchise history (17 seasons). Buffalo has also won at least 10 games in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1998-99. A Miami loss helped them inch closer toward their first division title since 1995.

But, if there were any naysayers who didn’t believe in what Beane had to offer, they were effectively silenced by the time Sunday night’s festivities ended.

The Buffalo showcase coincided perfectly with Beane’s extension, as several of the general manager’s additions came up huge for the Bills in their win. Enough has been dedicated to his drafting of Josh Allen, who recovered after a slow start to throw for two touchdown passes and 238 yards, whose inclusion in the MVP conversation can no longer be denied. But with Allen off to a slow start, Beane’s more polarizing and lesser-heralded decisions rose to the occasion and allowed the Bills to make a stronger case as to why they belong amongst the NFL’s elite.

At the head of the cause was receiver Stefon Diggs, who paced Buffalo with 130 yards on 10 receptions, adding a touchdown at the onset of the second half. Diggs became the second Bills receiver to reach the triple-digit mark in receptions during a single season, tying the mark Eric Moulds set in 2002. Another Moulds record, the 1,368 yards he earned in 1998, is just over 200 yards from falling.

Diggs, a former postseason legend, was brought in from Minnesota in exchange for a sizable deal that sent over four draft picks, including the 22nd overall selection in last spring’s draft. Taking on Diggs and his sizable contract (he will be nearly a $50 million cap hit over the next four seasons combined) seemed like a risk and could’ve only opened Beane to further criticism when the Vikings added LSU athlete Justin Jefferson with the lost first-round choice. Jefferson appears to be on the fast track toward Rookie of the Year honors, leading first-year catchers in most major receiving categories.

The idea of a trade that benefits both sides, much like Jerry Seinfeld’s claims of a completely “mutual breakup” on his titular sitcom, seemed completely taboo, especially in football circles. But the early returns on Diggs have shown that Beane has somehow pulled it off. Teammates are certainly enjoying and reaping the benefits such an association has to offer.

“Diggs is so special that as I see him play, I just want to rip off my captain’s ‘C’ and throw it on his chest, because he’s a stud, man,” offensive lineman Dion Dawkins said of Diggs, per Sal Maiorana of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. “He’s been grinding. He’s come in and he just continues to outperform, outshine and prove to us day in and day out that he’s a different guy and he’s our guy.”

To get through a tough opening stretch, Allen said that he turned to Diggs to get things rolling. The 19-yard scoring toss to Diggs was part of a stretch of 11 consecutive completions earned during the third quarter.

“I can say with a lot of confidence, I think I like any match-up with 1-4,” Allen said, referring to Diggs’ uniform number in a report from Cameron Hogwood of Sky Sports. “He’s one of the best, if not the best guy in the league, but I have supreme confidence in him. All he wants to do is help his team win football games. He’s a competitor and we have very similar mindsets. I love the guy. He goes out there and competes his tail off and I’m just super blessed that we traded for him.”

The Buffalo takeover carried on through some of Beane’s other choices that might’ve flown under the radar. Taron Johnson and Levi Wallace, both day three draft-related selections through the fourth round and the rookie free agency process back in 2018, earned crucial interceptions of Ben Roethlisberger. Johnson’s interception may well have changed the course of Bills history, giving them a permanent lead just before halftime. Another Allen touchdown pass went to another day three choice, Gabriel Davis. It was his sixth tally of the year and good for third amongst rookie receivers (behind Jefferson and Chase Claypool of Pittsburgh). Siran Neal (fifth-round, 2018) provided strong coverage when Johnson had to leave the game due to a head injury. Sixth-round rookie Tyler Bass booted two more field goals. Excepting a desperation 61-yarder at the end of the first half against Seattle, he hasn’t missed a triple in nearly two months.

With every selection, every acquisition playing a crucial part of the Bills’ success, it’s no secret that they’re inching toward the NFL’s elite and no secret why it won’t be another 13 years before NBC comes back to 1 Bills Drive. It creates a strong unit and a sense of camaraderie that isn’t present in some of the NFL’s other locales.

Such unity was perhaps best displayed even before the opening kickoff. In the pregame hype, Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster checked into his second job as a TikTok star by dancing on the Bills’ streaking buffalo at midfield, to the delight of the black and yellow nation. The stunt was noticed not only by SmartPhone viewers, but those who bore the emblem on their white helmets.

But the Bills opted to do their talking on the field. Only when the victory was sealed did they dance, doing so after Wallace took the ball away one last time. Wallace’s celebration was anything but solo…he was joined by his teammates, jovial in earning the first Sunday night victory at Bills Stadium since Moulds, Sam Cowart, and Marcellus Wiley took revenge for the Music City Miracle against Tennessee in the 2000 season opener.

“Seeing them dancing on our logo pre-game and seeing all that, that turns you up a little bit,” defender Jordan Poyer said, per Matt Parrino of Syracuse.com. “It kind of gives you a little second itch to come out and play with some extra fire. We were hyped up on the sideline, we had a big win. And we were just having fun.”

If this keeps up, the true fun hasn’t even begun yet. 

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Buffalo Bills: Five moves that earned Brandon Beane his extension

ESM looks back on the winning moves that propelled Beane to a multi-year extension with the Buffalo Bills.

The Buffalo Bills’ 2020 season, one that’s on pace to end with an AFC East title, carries on, but they’re already welcoming back crucial pieces for the journey moving forward. On Thursday, the Bills brought back the architect, signing general manager Brandon Beane to a multi-year extension. Beane took over shortly after the 2017 NFL Draft, replacing the departed Doug Whaley.

“Brandon is an outstanding leader, and he has brought a great level of stability throughout our organization. One of the things we appreciate and respect about Brandon is that he is very thorough in his decision-making process,” Bills owners Kim and Terry Pegula said in a statement on the team website penned by Maddy Glab. “No decision he makes comes without a great deal of study and research. We appreciate his strong communication skills, and he works extremely well with us, with Sean, and with all levels of the organization. We are happy to extend his contract and to have Brandon and Sean leading our football team for many years to come.”

Under Beane’s tenure, the Bills have ended a franchise-long playoff drought, reaching two of the past three postseasons. Buffalo is also one of a dozen teams in the NFL with a winning record since 2017 at 34-26, good for sixth in the AFC.

How did it get to this point? ESM looks back on the finest moves of Beane’s era to date…

All-In on Allen

Sammy Watkins left behind a complicated legacy in Buffalo. Flashes of brilliance were apparent…it’d be silly to say otherwise after 2,029 yards and 15 touchdowns over his first two seasons…but Watkins had trouble staying healthy over the latter stages of his third season and later expressed dissatisfaction with his role with the team, leading to Buffalo declining his fifth-year options. Watkins has since earned redemption as a postseason hero in Kansas City, primarily through a 38-yard reception that changed the direction of Super Bowl LIV.

Either way, Watkins’ time in Buffalo had run its course by the time Beane arrived. In the midst of preparation for the 2017 season, Watkins and a sixth-round pick were dealt to the Los Angeles Rams in exchange for cornerback E.J. Gaines and a second-round choice. Buffalo held onto that pick, eventually shown to be 56th overall, all the way through draft day, when they send it off again, this one going to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The swap involved exchanging first-round choices, moving the Bills up from 12th to 7th, and Buffalo sending both of their second-rounders over (Buffalo also obtained a seventh-round choice, the penultimate pick of the draft).

With that first-round choice, Beane opted to take Josh Allen, the third quarterback chosen in a highly-publicized throwers’ class. In the vein of Allen fan Rainn Wilson/Dwight Schrute going from a thumbtack to a telescope through “the art of the swap” on The Office, Beane was able to turn a disgruntled wide receiver into a franchise quarterback.

Tremaine Event

Perhaps the one downside to Allen’s emergence is the fact that his 2018 drafting has somewhat blurred the success of linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, who went nine picks after the quarterback. More draft day dealing from Beane, this one through collaboration with Baltimore, allowed them to move up six spots to the 16th overall pick, where they chose Edmunds.

The linebacker has been one of the most consistent contributors in not only the Bills lineup but in the NFL today. Last season, quarterbacks had a 76.3 passer rating when throwing in Edmunds’ area in a year that also saw Edmunds earn 10 tackles for a loss and a safety. He was rewarded with a Pro Bowl nomination at the end of the campaign, shortly after he earned 12 tackles, a sack, and a fumble recovery during Buffalo’s playoff cameo in Houston.

Levi’s Means

In addition to the Thursday acquisitions of Allen and Edmunds, Beane managed to find a strong contributor after Mr. Irrelevant had heard his name called.

Wallace was a big part of Alabama’s 2017-18 national title trek, but his name wasn’t called during the selection meeting due to criticisms about his size and speed. Buffalo took him as an undrafted free agent and he has since gone on to become one of the team’s biggest defensive stars. While this season has been marred by both injuries and time spent on the COVID-19/reserve list, Wallace went to become Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded first-year cornerback during his freshman campaign. Notably, Wallace earned a crucial interception during the Bills’ playoff-clinching victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers last December.

In addition, the Bills also obtained serviceable reserve receiver Robert Foster in their post-draft scouring of the free agents’ list.

A Minneapolis (Transactional) Miracle

With the Bills’ offensive line relatively solidified, Beane’s next move was to find Allen more suitable weapons for the trek ahead. Opportunity knocked in the form of the trading block, as the Minnesota Vikings sought to move playoff legend Stefon Diggs. The Bills came calling, though it came at a hefty price. Even before the Vikings used one of those choices to take first-year sensation Justin Jefferson, Diggs had a lot to live up to, as the Bill sent over their first, fifth, and sixth-round choices from the spring, as well as a fourth-rounder for next year.

So far, Diggs has risen to the challenge and then some, leading all NFL receivers with 90 receptions entering Week 14 action. Set to be dealt over $45 million over the next four seasons, Diggs is proving to be well worth the investment in the early going and figures to be a lasting part of Buffalo’s ongoing endeavors.

Knight in Golden Armor

It had been a long time since the Bills had given their fans a reason to tune into day three of the draft. Beane has slowly made Saturday an intriguing event, however, as day three has netted hidden gems like Taron Johnson, Siran Neal, Tyler Bass, and Dane Jackson.

Beane’s biggest find to date has likely been Gabriel Davis, the all-time leader in touchdown grabs at UCF. The former Knight was chided for his lack of separation, but the Bills opted to take him in the early stages of the fourth round last spring. Davis has become one of Allen’s more reliable in blue and red, particularly in scoring situations. His five touchdowns are tied for third amongst rookie receivers and his 64.1 percent catch rate is sixth amongst first-year catchers with at least 30 targets.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Buffalo Bills announce COVID-19 related absences for Sunday’s game

Buffalo Bills CB Josh Norman has tested positive for COVID-19. Three players and an assistant coach will likewise miss Sunday’s game.

The Buffalo Bills announced on Saturday that cornerback Josh Norman has tested positive for COVID-19. Norman will thus not play in Buffalo’s Sunday visit to Glendale against the Arizona Cardinals (4:05 p.m. ET, Fox). Three players who were determined to be in close contact will also be held from the trip, as will defensive assistant coach Leonard Johnson. Among the missing players are CB Levi Wallace, S Dean Marlowe, and TE Tyler Kroft.

Norman was expected to make his return to the Buffalo lineup after missing three games to a hamstring injury. The absence of he and Wallace comes as the Bills (7-2) take on an Arizona team that tops the NFL in total offense (422 yards per game). Buffalo’s three primarily cornerbacks (Norman, Wallace, and Tre’Davious White) have been communally active for only a single game this season. Though listed second in their respective depth chart rows, Kroft and Marlowe have made strong contributions to the Bills’ success. Kroft leads all Buffalo tight ends with 119 receiving yards and is tied for the overall team lead with three touchdown receptions alongside Gabriel Davis and Stefon Diggs. Marlowe is perhaps best known for recovering the crucial fumble that gave the Bills a 24-21 victory over New England two weeks ago.

According to Josina Anderson, Norman took four nasal COVID-19 tests, with half of them being positive/negative. Anderson remarked that Norman “sounded strong” when they spoke.

“It is what it is,” Norman said, per Anderson. “I’m handling it. I’ll be fine.”

In the wake of the absences, Buffalo called up the following members of their practice squad…

LB Darron Lee-Best known as a former first-round pick of the New York Jets, Lee earned a Super Bowl ring through the Kansas City Chiefs’ trek to the title last season. He was signed to the Bills’ practice squad on November 2.

CB Daryl Worley-Worley inked a one-year, $3 million deal with the Dallas Cowboys last offseason, but was released after their slow start and failing to find a trading partner. He earned 14 tackles over seven games in Texas, starting four games.

WR Jake Kumerow-Kumerow was part of the Green Bay Packers’ final training camp cuts in September, but he was signed by the Bills three days after his release to join their practice squad. Kumerow previously partook in last Sunday’s Buffalo win over Seattle, earning 16 snaps.

S Josh Thomas-An undrafted free agent out of Appalachian State, Thomas has played in one game with the Bills thus far, earning a tackle in their 24-21 win over New England in Week 8.

CB Dane Jackson-The Pittsburgh alum was the final pick of the Bills’ draft proceedings in April (239th overall). He earned second-team All-ACC honors last season and forced four fumbles a year prior in his junior campaign. Jackson previously stepped up for an injured Norman against the New York Jets in October and earned his first career interception.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags