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: Three stars from Sunday night’s win vs. Pittsburgh

The Buffalo Bills made a victorious return to Sunday Night Football, topping the Pittsburgh Steelers to earn their 10th win of the season.

After their performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers, it’s safe to say that it definitely won’t take another 13 years for NBC’s Sunday Night Football to return to Bills Stadium in Orchard Park.

The Buffalo Bills celebrated their return to the NFL’s most sought-after primetime spot, topping the Steelers 26-15 on Sunday night in Western New York. Taron Johnson brought the invisible crowd to its feet through a 51-yard runback of a Ben Roethlisberger interception, while Stefon Diggs put up 130 yards and a score on nine receptions. Levi Wallace added another interception of Roethlisberger to seal the deal in the fourth quarter, while Josh Allen overcame an inconsistent start to throw two touchdown passes.

Not only did the Bills (10-3) star in their first Sunday night home game since 2007, but they also earned consecutive 10-win seasons for the first time since 1998-99. Buffalo will clinch a playoff spot on Monday if the Baltimore Ravens lose to the Cleveland Browns. The Bills also picked up a tiebreaker in terms of AFC playoff seeding. They’re a game behind Pittsburgh (11-2) for the second seed, while they also gained a game on the Miami Dolphins in the AFC East division race with the latter’s loss to Kansas City, the current kings of the conference.

ESM has a series of game balls to award after Sunday’s historic win.

3rd Star: P Corey Bojorquez

5 punts, 45.6 average, 2 Inside 20 

Bills fans may be unwilling to admit it thanks to the final result, but the early stages of their Sunday night return were rather boring, packed with three-and-outs and appearances of Bojorquez. To put things in perspective…Bojorquez was invited on the field four times in the first half after getting only four chances over the past two games.

But Bojorquez made the most out of his opportunities and put the Bills’ defense in management situations. Two of his five kicks on the night situated the Steelers inside their own 20 to start off, and every one of Pittsburgh’s post-punt opportunities in the first half yielded no points. Elsewhere on special teams, Andre Roberts averaged 31 yards per kick return to start the Bills off on the right foot when their offense came on the field.

2nd Star: CB Taron Johnson

7 tackles, 1 INT, 1 TD

At the risk of hyperbole, Johnson’s big play at the end of the first half may go down as one of the most impactful plays of the new century for the Bills franchise.

With the Bills’ offense struggling to gain traction and the Steelers holding a 7-3 lead, the first half scored appeared to be ready to read in favor of the visitors going into the halftime break. But, with Pittsburgh driving with barely over a minute to go in the half and looking to extend their lead, Johnson read Roethlisberger, his eyes fixated on the champion quarterback before stepping in front of JuJu Smith-Schuster to take the intended pass away. The ensuing 51-yard dash to glory gave Buffalo the lead at 9-7 and permanently shifted momentum in the primetime thriller.

Johnson, alas, wasn’t around to enjoy the postgame celebration. He left the game in the third quarter with a concussion and did not return.

1st Star: WR Stefon Diggs

10 receptions, 130 yards, 1 TD

Diggs’ propensity for yards after the catch came up big on Sunday night, consistently setting Buffalo up in Pittsburgh territory through eating chunks of yardage and clock. He was targeted 14 times during the contest, earning catches on all but three of those opportunities on a night where the Steelers were able to mostly hold his fellow catchers in check (though Gabriel Davis did break free for a touchdown). One of the biggest reasons behind the extension for general manager Brandon Beane, Diggs may well end this season as the most impactful veteran acquisition in the league this year.

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