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.
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