Buffalo Bills: 3 stars from Monday’s win at New England

The changing of the guard in the AFC East was officially completed with the Buffalo Bills’ blowout win in Foxboro.

The holiday may be a time for forgiveness and unity…but the Buffalo Bills weren’t interested in bestowing such virtues against one of their greatest tormenters.

Buffalo (12-3) put up 476 yards of offense and watched Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs make team history in their seasonal wrap-up with the New England Patriots. The ensuing 38-9 victory allowed the Bills to clinch their first season sweep of the six-time champions since 1999. They also earned the most one-sided victory for an opponent at Gillette Stadium since its opening in 2002, breaking a record set my the San Francisco 49ers earlier this season.

The Bills are no longer able to catch the Kansas City Chiefs for the top seed in the AFC playoffs but are now guaranteed to place no worse than third in the opening bracket. Buffalo currently holds the second seed thanks to a head-to-head tiebreaker with Pittsburgh. Such a seeding will also allow the Bills to avoid the defending champion Chiefs until the potential conference title game.

ESM has game balls to hand out from a downright historic evening on the road…

3rd Star: TE Lee Smith

2 receptions, 31 yards, 1 TD

Smith is one of two leftovers from the Bills’ postseason drought, currently in the midst of his second stint and sixth season with a charging buffalo on his helmet. Used primarily as a blocker, Smith almost got into the scorebook last week but his touchdown in Denver was erased by a penalty. The Buffalo offense had him covered this time around, though, as he would score a four-yard touchdown in the latter stages of the first half to put Buffalo up 17-9. Smith would later earn a 27-yard reception in the fourth quarter to set up Allen and Diggs’ third and final scoring hookup on the evening. His 31-yard output was his highest since November 2018, when he was a member of the Raiders.

2nd Star: QB Josh Allen

27-36, 320 yards, 4 TD, 4 carries, 35 yards

Another week, another breakthrough performance for Allen, who is eliminating any remaining doubters he had left. More Buffalo history awaited him on Monday, as Allen’s fourth and final score of the evening, his 34th of the season, broke Jim Kelly’s single-season record for touchdown passes. That mark had stood since 1991. Relieved for Matt Barkley in the fourth quarter, Allen is 40 yards away from breaking Drew Bledsoe’s record tally for single-campaign yardage.

1st Star: WR Stefon Diggs

9 receptions, 145 yards, 3 TD

Finally armed with a team capable of conquering the AFC East, the Bills were more than happy to flex their muscles in front of a New England team that has bullied them since the turn of the century. Diggs, engaged in a war of words with J.C. Jackson all night, and his incredible run-after-the-catch prowess were some of their most prominent displays of supremacy, His 50-yard score just before halftime more or less snapped the Patriots’ will. That score allowed Diggs to make Buffalo history in style, as he surpassed a pair of historic years from Eric Moulds to become the Bills’ single-season leader in receiving yardage. Diggs is also on pace to finish the year as the NFL’s leader in both receptions and yardage, which would be a first for a Bill in both categories.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Buffalo Bills: Prime time, holiday endeavors will be the biggest test yet

The possibly-ready-for-prime-time Buffalo Bills have a prime opportunity to prove they belong amongst the NFL’s elite.

If one had to guess which NFL fanbase would have the most trouble belting the lyrics to “Waiting All Day For Sunday Night”, there would surely far worse estimates than Bills Mafia.

The rock anthem, inspired by Joan Jett’s “I Hate Myself For Loving You” is routinely performed by Carrie Underwood (taking over for fellow new century music icons Pink and Faith Hill) prior to the opening kick off NBC’s Sunday Night Football coverage. It’s probably ingrained into the minds of Dallas Cowboys fans, who have waited all day for Sunday night on a record 49 occasions.

Buffalo Bills supporters haven’t had to be as patient.

Since NBC took over the Sunday night package from ESPN in 2006, only two Bills games have been broadcast over the peacock-branded airwaves. Buffalo is part of a most unholy trinity, as Cleveland and Jacksonville have likewise “earned” only a mere pair of invites.

But, as the Bills (8-3) start to close in on their first division title since 1995, they’ll finally be able to make up some ground.

The Bills’ December slate features four games that will be available on a nationwide scale. That includes two appearances on ESPN’s Monday Night Football, which sandwich a Sunday night date from NBC. Buffalo’s game against Denver was also recently chosen to fill a Saturday the week before Christmas. Time will tell, but it’s quite possible that the Bills’ Week 17 finale against Miami (8-4) could also get the Sunday night treatment, especially if the AFC East division title is on the line.

This trek to potential glory starts on Monday, as the Bills travel to Glendale, Arizona to battle the displaced San Francisco 49ers (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN/ABC).

. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

It’s easy to understand why a majority of Bills games have been staged in the relatively mundane 1 p.m. ET timeslots on CBS and Fox over the course of the new century. Buffalo, while passionate, is one of the smaller media markets in the NFL (ahead of only Green Bay in the Nielsen market size) but the team’s lack of on-field success and marquee talent surely played a bigger factor.

Needless to say, the modern Bills are looking forward to their moment in the spotlight.

“This is what you want. This is how we built the program to be. The better you get, the more prime time games you have. I think it’s an exciting time for our fanbase,” Bills head coach Sean McDermott said of the prime time overload on The Howard and Jeremy Show on WGR 550 SportsRadio. “”When you get to a point where you’re respected by the league and you’ve got a good club, that’s what you work for, and that’s what you get. I think that’s exciting for our organization and our fans.”

The interconference matchup will come up big on both sides. Buffalo is looking to maintain its single-game lead on the Dolphins for the division title, while San Francisco (5-6) is looking to carry one momentum brought upon by a win over the Los Angeles Rams last weekend, one that ended a three-game losing streak. The Niners currently sit a half-game behind Minnesota for the final NFC wild card spot.

This rise in national recognition is perhaps the biggest sign yet that both the NFL and the football-loving public are starting to truly see the football revolution occurring in Western New York. Last season, the Bills were granted one national game when the original schedule was released, bestowed the late afternoon Thanksgiving slot in Dallas. That victorious effort, among others, caused NBC to take notice, booting a matchup between the Minnesota Vikings and Los Angeles Chargers in favor of the Bills’ Week 15 trek to Pittsburgh. The ensuing victory over the Steelers allowed Buffalo to clinch not only a playoff berth but also its first 10-win season since 1999. NBC will have the rematch against the undefeated Steelers next weekend, six days after their Monday doubleheader. Pittsburgh’s delayed kickoff with the Washington Football Team (5 p.m. ET, Fox) comes hours before the Bills do battle in the desert.

Buffalo’s other Sunday night showing came in 2007, when they served as the sacrificial lambs to the gridiron dieties from New England.

Monday Night Football has been slightly kinder to the BIlls, inviting them three times since 2010, though that still puts them in a last-place tie with the aforementioned Browns and Jaguars (though Cleveland will get their moment next week against Baltimore). The Bills have ended several streaks in this fledgling era of prosperity, but their Monday night futility still hovers. Buffalo hasn’t won on Garfield’s least favorite day since October 1999, when a trio of Steve Christie field goals earned them a 23-18 victory over Miami.

The second half of this modern Monday night double feature comes on December 21, when the Bills will possibly seek to put New England (6-6) out their misery.

But the Bills know that this onslaught of primetime coverage comes with a major responsibility. That stems not from the networks unwilling to put them on in years past, but from previously wasted opportunities earlier in the year.

Two of the Bills’ three losses have come with the eyes of the football-loving nation upon them. They previously fell in a one-sided Tuesday night display against the Tennessee Titans, a battle of unbeatens pushed back due to the ongoing health crisis. That defeat also had an effect on Buffalo’s originally scheduled Thursday night contest with Kansas City, which also ended with the Bills on the wrong side of the scoreboard.

Mandatory Credit: Jamie Germano-USA TODAY NETWORK

Receiver Cole Beasley has said that the biggest factor will be avoiding the temptation to look ahead to more dashing competition, particularly those of the postseason variety.

“We have to approach it the way we have all season, we try to go 1-0 each week,” wide receiver Cole Beasley last week, per Sal Maiorana of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. “We can’t get too far ahead of ourselves. We’ll deal with the playoffs if and when they get here. We have to take care of everything that’s in font of us before we can look ahead.”

There appeared to some signs of looking ahead, those signs that Beasley warned about, during last week’s visit from the Chargers. Buffalo prevailed in a 27-17 final, albeit in one of the sloppier efforts of the season. The Bills turned the ball over three times and earned 332 yards on offense, their worst output since tallying 206 in the aforementioned loss to Kansas City on October 19.

Monday’s game comes with its own share of distractions. It comes against a 49ers team fresh off a Super Bowl appearance struggling to tread water in the crowded NFC playoff picture and one that will start backup quarterback Nick Mullens in place of the injured Jimmy Garoppollo.

The Bills will also return to the scene of one of their most heartbreaking defeats in recent franchise memory. With San Francisco’s proceedings disrupted by local government orders made in the wake of rising disease cases, Monday’s game will take place at State Farm Stadium. The Bills seemed well on their way toward a major victory against the stadium’s regular tenants, the Arizona Cardinals, but everyone who has followed the NFL for five minutes this season knows how that one ended. The Kyler Murray miracle, a 43-yard desperation heave that landed in the outstretched arms of DeAndre Hopkins, affected the fates of both Monday participants. Buffalo missed out on a major opportunity to expand their lead in the AFC East, while the 49ers remain behind the Cardinals for crucial ground in the both the divisional and wild-card races.

“The biggest thing is just kind of looking back, having that nasty taste in our mouths,” linebacker Tremaine Edmunds said of the venue switch to Glendale in another report from Maiorana. “When we show up to the stadium, we’re going to obviously know what happened last time we were there. We’re motivated to get back there and redeem ourselves. I know it’s a different team, but at the same time it’s in that stadium.”

Buffalo will enter Monday’s game at their healthiest, as not a single player was give any injury designation in the official injury report released over the weekend.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Four plays that decided the New York Jets’ Monday fate vs. New England

New York Jets

Positives emerged from veterans and rookies alike, but the New York Jets couldn’t end their streak of bad luck against New England.

A lost three-point game against the New England Patriots might’ve been cause for celebration in the Tom Brady years. One could even argue it helps the New York Jets’ draft position. But, at least in the immediate aftermath, heartbreak reigns in East Rutherford.

Nick Folk’s 51-yard field goal as time expired gave capped off a stretch of 13 unanswered points in the fourth quarter for the Patriots, who earned their ninth consecutive victory over the Jets in a 30-27 final on Monday at MetLife Stadium. Cam Newton punched in two rushing touchdowns while Rex Burkhead tallied one more. With this loss, the Jets (0-9) have fallen in their first nine games for the first time in franchise history.

ESM looks back on four plays from the Jets’ latest defeat, highlighting one from each quarter that will define their past, present, and future…

1st Quarter: Mims’ The Word

Denzel Mims continued to show exactly why he was worth the long wait, getting off to another strong start. The second-round rookie finally had some assistance on his side during Monday’s action, as it marked the first time he was able to work with fellow depth chart-toppers Perriman and Jamison Crowder. Mims helped the Jets get off to a fast start on their opening drive, breaking free from the coverage of Jason McCourty for a second-down catch from Flacco. He would shake off McCourty for extra yardage, totaling 26 before Devin McCourty was there to clean up the mess. His efforts led to a Sergio Castillo field goal that gave the Jets the early lead.

While Mims is off to a strong start, the Jets’ remaining offensive exploits should be centered on trying to get him involved over the entire 60 minutes. Mims set an infantile career-best with 62 receiving yards on the evening, but all of that production came in the first half.

2nd Quarter: Fourth and Folorunso

We’ve spoken in this column before about the Jets’ propensity to go for it on fourth down. Entering Monday’s game, they were tied for fifth in the league with 13 attempts (converting four). Defending them, however, has been a bit of another problem. Opponents had gone attempted to go for it on six fourth downs against the Jets this season, the concept often rendered null and void because of one-sided leads. But members of the Jets’ defense got a case to show their stuff against Cam Newton and the Patriots’ offense.

While rookies took center stage on defense during Monday’s proceedings (namely Ashtyn Davis, Bryce Hall, and Bryce Huff), veterans seeking football longevity also had a chance to prove why they’re allowed to stay for the long haul. Anyone calling for the already-ludicrous notion of tanking should be immediately silenced by the efforts of some veterans fighting to extend their careers.

Folorunso Fatukasi is one such veteran. A 2018 sixth-round pick that has been on-and-off the Jets’ roster, Fatukasi made one of the biggest plays of the evening in terms of momentum shifting. The Jets held a 10-7 lead after a 93-yard trek by the offense, but New England was threatening to take it right back with a drive on their own. Facing a fourth-and-one just past the Jets’ 40, they attempted to continue their quest to a potential go-ahead score. Knowing what we know about the Jets’ offense, it may have well been insurmountable for the unit.

Instead, Fatukasi plowed through veteran blocker David Andrews in a backfield invasion, not only bringing down James four yards behind the line of scrimmage but forcing a fumble as well. It was recovered by the Patriots, but the Jets took over on downs and later earned a field goal on the earned possession to go up 13-7.

3rd Quarter: Go Joe Go

With Joe Flacco and Frank Gore leading the Jets’ offense, one could be excused for believing we had been transported out of the 2020 nightmare and dragged back to 2012. It was a particularly inspiring performance for Flacco, who threw for 262 yards and three touchdown passes, the last of the latter going to Perriman in the dying stages of the third quarter. It was also the first time he broke the 200-yard plateau this season, and first overall since September of the prior campaign.

While it was nice to see Flacco have some fun, shades of the 2012-13 AFC title game, it raises a question that a lot of Jets fans probably don’t want to have: the Jets’ strongest offensive showing of the season (322 yards of offense) came not with Sam Darnold under center, but the aging Flacco instead. Even if the Jets somehow fall out of the top overall slot, will they need to find a new franchise thrower? Time will only tell, but it’s yet another reason they should not take these final seven games for granted.

4th Quarter: My, Oh, Myers

Following Perriman’s score, the Jets only touched the ball for only 1:24 more during the fourth quarter. Jakobi Myers was the biggest factor, even when he wasn’t the one catching the ball. With the Patriots (3-5) advancing for the tying score, Davis appeared to make the play of the night on a penalty-induced 1st-and-20, knocking a big gain out of Myers’ hands after a video review. Myers, however, would have his revenge. Not only did a massive block allow Damiere Byrd to reach the Jets’ three-yard-line (leading to a one-yard punch-in by Cam Newton), but his 20-yard diving catch on the next passion allowed Nick Folk’s field goal to be booted, giving the Jets a 30-27 loss…vital for those who demand to see them tank.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

The New York Jets-New England Patriots rivalry hits new lows, yet has hope, on both sides

Seeking a win of any kind, the New York Jets can add to the New England Patriots’ woes or play an unwilling role in their redemption.

If you told New York Jets fans that their team would be only two and a half games behind the New England Patriots headed into a nationally televised Week 9 meeting, that would probably leave fans of the metropolitan green team with at least a sliver of hope. After all, New York fans have more or less grown accustomed to professional athletic dominance from the New England area over the last decade. If the Jets would be able to at least somewhat keep pace with the juggernaut from Gillette Stadium, that’d be enough to provide some warm feelings as the season grows colder.

Alas, it appears the Jets may finally be able to catch up to the Patriots…if only because New England has sunk with the face of its franchise absconding to Florida for a de facto early retirement.

The Jets’ ineptitude has perhaps taken the shine off the fall of the Patriots (2-5). It used to take two full years for New England to experience five losses. This time around, it took less than two months. Even the surefire staple of a win over the Buffalo Bills was denied to them in 2020, as the Patriots fell 24-21 to a team that held a 4-34 record against them since 2001. The Buffalo dilemma followed a 33-6 defeat to San Francisco…the worst loss the Patriots had ever suffered at Gillette Stadium since its 2002 opening. This active four-game losing streak even caused stoic head coach Bill Belichick to break character, remarking to former assistant Charlie Weis on SiriusXM NFL Radio that the Patriots had “sold out” in an attempt to immediately win more Super Bowls. New England’s four losses are the most consecutive defeats the team has suffered since Belichick’s debut year in 2000.

This comes while Tom Brady has resumed his status as an ageless wonder in Tampa Bay, to the tune of 20 touchdown passes (having thrown 24 over his final year in Foxboro) and a 103.5 passer rating. Several other familiar faces and contributors to the non-stop AFC East title-spewing machine (i.e. Julian Edelman and Stephon Gilmore) have missed time with injuries. But those in New England know that the way they’ve played during this streak is unacceptable no matter the circumstance.

“Losing is not acceptable in this locker room, in this county, in this state, in this area, in this region, so, Cameron Newton, you need to pick your (expletive) up,” Cam Newton, Brady’s successor, said after the San Francisco debacle, per Mark Daniels of The Providence Journal. “I understand that type of football play is unacceptable. I’m all about putting the football team in the best position to win. That’s what I have to do here moving forward.”

Much as they’d probably like to, the Jets (0-8) and their fans are in no position to laugh at and openly revel like the rest of the football world in New England’s demise. They continue to hunt for a mere single, though a close game would probably set off a parade down the Canyon of Heroes after enduring an average margin of defeat of three possessions over the first half of the season. The winless first half of the year was addressed by general manager Joe Douglas earlier this week. He immediately dismissed any idea of tanking and called the Patriots out by name in his statements, directly referencing the teams’ Monday night matchup (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN) when asked about the idea of the Jets being better off with a loss.

“That’s not our thought process,” Douglas said. “We’re focused on the New England Patriots and we’re focused on getting better every day. As cliché as that sounds that’s, that we’re focused on.”

The Patriots’ struggles and the fact they’re traveling to MetLife Stadium on Monday have placed the Jets in a most unusual spot: even with no wins, they might just well be in a…trap game?

After all, if the Jets are going to eke out a win at some point, doing so against the cold Patriots might be the best chance left on their slate. With the exception of the Patriots and their first visit to SoFi Stadium to battle the Chargers in two weeks, each of the Jets’ remaining opponents are either in a current playoff spot or no more than a half-game out. Predictably, the players on the Jets’ current rosters are giving no credence to clinching the top draft pick. As the NFL’s only winless team, the Jets have the inside track for the top overall pick next spring. But doesn’t matter to the guys already dressed in green.

Starting quarterback Sam Darnold, 0-2 in his career against the Patriots, likely won’t play on Sunday due to a shoulder issue. But his words can serve as inspiration to he remaining teammates that will take the MetLife Stadium field on Sunday.

“Obviously everyone wants to win,” Darnold said, Dennis Waszak of the Associated Press. “That’s why we’re in this business. That’s why we’re professional football players. We got here by winning football games. For us, we’ve just got to put our heads down and go back to work. I feel like if we do that, we can win this game and worry about the next when it’s up.”

Darnold will likely be forced to give way to Joe Flacco, who knows at least a little something about getting the best of the Patriots. Though he’s 3-6 as a starter against New England, one of those wins came in the 2013 AFC title game, where he threw for three touchdowns in the Baltimore Ravens’ trek to Super Bowl XLVII.

But the true focus on the Jets’ young players, particularly on the offensive front. First-round choice Mekhi Becton will partake in the first of what’s envisioned to be many Jets-Patriots matchups. Fifth-round pick Bryce Hall will possibly taking on a bigger role in defense upon the release of Quincy Wilson. Denzel Mims has gotten off to a solid start after the second-round receiver was mostly forced to the bench with injuries.

Mims, chosen in the second round, is expected to be joined by Jamison Crowder and Breshad Perriman, each of whom have likewise missed time due to medical woes. Should they all partake in Monday’s game, it’ll mark the first time that the Jets have the the top receivers they envision having at the top of their depth chart at the start of the season.

“I think that’s really where we’ve got to make some strides there,” Gase said of his young receivers. “Just kind of like hearing the call and that picture pops in, you go to exactly where you need to go, you know the adjustments and you can play fast. And we’ve just got to keep working through all that stuff, that’s part of the growth process.”

Though the standings are a lost cause, to say the least, the Jets will have something major to play for on Monday, namely missing out on dubious franchise history. Should the Jets fall to New England, the 2020 edition would become the first team in franchise history to start 0-9. Even the one-win squad under Rich Kotite in 1996 avoided such a mark, doing so in Arizona in the ninth game.

On the other side, the Patriots aren’t so concerned about their recent dominance of the Jets as they are with getting back on track. New England still believes they can continue a postseason streak dating back to 2009, but any chance of continuing that hinges on a victory against the Jets. The Patriots currently sit two-and-a-half games behind Cleveland for the final AFC wild-card spot.

“I don’t think we’re a bad football team,” center David Andrews said, per Mark Daniels of Metro West Daily News. We don’t have a great record, but I don’t think we’re a bad football team.”

On the subject of winless teams, New England cornerback Jason McCourty has some prior knowledge. A former Cleveland Brown, McCourty was a part of the NFL’s last winless effort, the 2017 edition that joined the 2008 Lions in 0-for-16 infamy. Two early wins will help New England avert such a fate, but McCourty hopes that lessons learned during the harrowing 2017 campaign will help the his current compatriots get back on track.

“Don’t forget where you came from. I went through an 0-16 season and a 2-14 season and a 3-13 season. So, I’ve been through worse,” McCourty said in Daniels’ report. “You’re not going to change it by walking around here being negative or with your head down or declaring your season to be over. The only way you’re going to create change or get out of the situation you’re in, is to continue to work.”

“I think that if you’re negatively working, those are going to be the results you’re going to get. Something that’s often said around here is ‘turn the page’ and ‘On to whatever the next team is.’ For us right now, it’s the Jets. That’s our main focus. We can’t do anything about the loss to the Bills or the loss to the Niners.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

History is Against the Giants This Monday Night

New York Giants, John Mara

The New York Giants host the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday Night Football to open their 2020 regular season schedule this week. If you are a fan of the Giants and history, you will not like their odds.

Las Vegas oddsmakers have made the Giants a home underdog by six points in this game and rightfully so. They really haven’t shown a whole lot in Monday games in the 51-year history of the venture. Some context courtesy of the Giants PR dept…

  • The Giants are 25-41-1 on Monday Night Football, including 9-11 at home. They lost both of their Monday night games last season, vs. Dallas and at Philadelphia.
  • Pittsburgh has an enviable Monday night record: 48-24, a .667 winning percentage that is second in the NFL to Seattle’s .722. But the Seahawks (26-10) have played exactly half as many games as the Steelers. Under 14-year coach Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh is 15-2 on Monday nights and 41-22 in all night games.
  • This will be the second Monday night meeting between the Giants and Steelers and the first in 29 years. On Oct. 14, 1991, Matt Bahr’s 44-yard field goal with four seconds remaining gave the defending Super Bowl champion Giants a 23-20 victory in Three Rivers Stadium.
  • The Giants will host Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday night, Nov. 2. This season marks the first time the Giants will host two Monday night games in the same season in the 51-year history of Monday Night Football.

The Giants really shouldn’t have any nationally televised games give the fact they are 12-36 over the last three seasons. But….the NFL is anticipating sagging ratings and needs the New York Metro Area market to maintain some stability.

Again, football fans love matchups of ancient NFL rivals. A bit of history as I wrote in USA Today this week:

  • The Giants lead the series, 44-30-3.
  • The Giants and Steelers were common foes from 1933 through 1969,, playing time yearly for many seasons before the Steelers shifted over to the new American Football Conference along with the Baltimore Colts and Cleveland Browns in 1970 as part of the NFL-AFL merger.
  • Before the merger, the teams met 67 times, with the Giants leading in the series 40-24-3. Since the merger, they’ve only met 10 times in the last 50 seasons with the Steelers winning six.

Let’s not forget the common bond the Giants and Steelers have. Chris Mara, younger brother of CEO John Mara and Giants SVP of Player Personnel is married to the granddaughter of Art Rooney, the founding owner of the Steelers. They have four children, most notable actresses Kate and Rooney Mara, who have an interest on both teams.

History and tradition ar a good way to lure NFL fans back in these trying times and this matchup could be the perfect one to get the ball rolling.