Walt Frazier’s game-worn Knicks jersey up for auction

In 2019, Walt Frazier’s 1970 Finals Game 7 jersey was sold for a whopping $100,081.20.

Two years later, another Frazier jersey believed to have been worn by the New York Knicks legend during one of their playoffs runs in the early 1970s is up for auction.

The Frazier jersey is among the iconic sports memorabilia items included in the Lelands 2021 Spring Classic Auction.

Walt Frazer jersey front

The auction runs through April 2, with the jersey forking over $8,000 so far after a starting bid of $5,000.

“The jersey has an interesting story. It was worn by Walt in the early 70s. Our consignor’s cousin was an employee for the Knicks at that time. He told us that each player has to hand in their jersey at the end of the season in order to pick up their [playoff] cheques,” Lelands director of acquisitions Jordan Gilroy told Empire Sports Media.

The consignor’s cousin was in charge of collecting the Knicks jerseys before turning it over to the late Danny Whelan, the team trainer for the Knicks’ two NBA championships.

The jersey’s tags are still intact, with Cosby size 46 and wash tag in the neck, partially stitched into the name’s lettering on the back. New York is stitched across the chest in individual lettering, number 10 on front and back, all in orange-on-blue tackle twill, while the name on the back is all blue. There is a minor stain on the left shoulder and a light pencil-written number 46 near the left armpit, possibly because the size was partially obstructed in the collar tag.

Walt Frazier jersey

In addition to Frazier’s jersey, the auction also includes Mike Trout’s 2011 MLB debut game-worn jersey, the penultimate Tom Brady rookie card, and a complete 132 card Fleer basketball PSA 10 set with the legendary Michael Jordan as a rookie.

The auction also marks Lelands’ biggest modern card offering ever, led by a fresh LeBron James 2019 Logoman 1/1 and Rookie RPA’s of Luka Doncic and Zion Williamson, among others. Also up for bid is a 2003 LeBron James Ultimate Collection Autographed Rookie, a PSA 9 Wayne Gretzky 1979 O-Pee-Chee Rookie, a 2003-04 Bowman Gold Chrome Refractors #123 LeBron James Rookie, a 2008 Emblems of Endorsement LeBron James, a 1998-99 Metal Universe Precious Metal Gems #53 Kobe Bryant, a 2013 Prizm Silver Giannis Antetokounmpo PSA 10/10, a 2000 SP Authentic Tom Brady Signed Rookie, and a Patrick Mahomes 1/1.

Another auction centerpiece is a fantastic collection of Buffalo Sabres memorabilia, headlined by the actual puck from the very first goal in franchise history and game-used sticks from the team’s 1975 Stanley Cup Finals appearance. Additional highlights include game-worn jerseys and other gear from Sabres greats Dominik Hasek, Tim Horton, and Roger Crozier.

Also on the auction block is Steelers Hall of Famer Jack Lambert’s personal collection, including game-worn gear and awards. The trove even features his teeth holder from his Steelers locker, where he put his fake teeth before each game.

Additional auction highlights include original photos and one-of-kind negatives from the famed Brown Brothers archive, a Bear Bryant personally owned and worn houndstooth hat, a Babe Ruth signed 700th home run game ticket, one of the finest Ruth single-signed baseballs, a Christy Mathewson 1910 single-signed baseball, an Ernie Davis 1961 Syracuse vs. Pittsburgh game-worn jersey and game ball, a 1952 Topps near-complete set, a 1938-43 Mel Ott Giants bat, a circa 1955 Ted Williams Red Sox game-used glove, and an array of Secretariat memorabilia.

The auction also sports a wide variety of impressive pop culture and historical memorabilia, including a Whitey Bulger archive of handwritten letters and the last known photos of him.

To bid for the Frazier jersey and other memorabilia items in the Lelands 2021 Spring Classic Auction, visit https://auction.lelands.com/Lots/Gallery.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

New York Jets: New deals elsewhere make the case to draft

As a decision at quarterback looms, the New York Jets can take a lesson from Dak Prescott’s new contract and Tom Brady’s restructures.

Tom Brady has taught, or has at least attempted to teach, the New York Jets countless lessons over the past two decades. As Brady plans to extend his career even further, the Jets can probably stand to take one more as light begins to flicker at the end of their tunnel of rebuilding.

Just over a month after he helped bring the Vince Lombardi Trophy to Tampa Bay…and a seventh ring to his finger…Brady is already laying down the blueprints for another. According to a report from Josina Anderson, the thrower whose “GOAT” label is becoming less debatable with each passing day and the Buccaneers are restructuring the two-year, $50 million deal bestowed to him last spring.

The plan is to open up enough cap space to keep the other key contributors from the recently wrapped Super Bowl run. Shaquil Barrett, Lavonte David, and Leonard Fournette are among the champions set to hit the market, while receiver Charles Godwin was franchise tagged.

This wouldn’t be the first time that Brady, 44, would adjust his contract to prolong a potential dynasty. In 2014, negotiations with the New England Patriots netted $24 million in cap space that played a role in three additional Super Bowl visits (two wins).

As things currently stand, Brady is the 16th-highest-paid quarterback in football. It’s probably the one quarterback list where he doesn’t appear in the top ten.

“When he restructures his deal, he’s getting a big bundle of cash up-front. But it is helping us create cap room,” Patriots owner Bob Kraft said of a prior restructure in 2012, per Mike Reiss of ESPN. “We are in the business of quality depth management,” Kraft said. “It’s a physical game and you have injuries, and you need depth on your team.”

The Brady situation is a direct contrast to the ongoing passing situation in Dallas. Dak Prescott is now the second-highest paid quarterback in football at the end of a two-year game of chicken between him and Cowboys management. He’ll make $40 million in each of the next four seasons, a price tag bested only by Patrick Mahomes’ seemingly eternal deal in Kansas City.

It’s great to see a high-character, high-ceiling athlete like Prescott get a good deal, but it’s not the transaction that’s going to bring an elusive sixth Lombardi Trophy to the metroplex. With the signing of Prescott, the Cowboys bare sit above the cap, now working with less than $1 million of space. It could necessitate some painful cuts in the coming future…some say talented blocker Tyron Smith could be a part of that, for example.

Prescott’s deal should not be seen as greed on his part, but rather getting what’s necessary for the Cowboys to merely remain relevant. Some have grilled Prescott for a lack of postseason success, but it’s clear he has the skills to be a game-changing NFL quarterback. Dallas had a taste of life without Prescott when he was lost for the season with an ankle injury after five games. A cursed quarterback hydra of Andy Dalton, Ben DiNucci, and Garrett Gilbert mustered a 4-7 mark in Prescott’s absence. Through four seasons as a full-time starter, Prescott has yet to post a losing record with a star on his helmet.

What do these situations have to do with the Jets? They should avoid a similar predicament in all circumstances.

Unlike the Buccaneers and Cowboys, the Jets’ quarterback future is anything but settled. The only thing anyone knows about the situation is the unspoken guarantee that it will all be over no later than the evening of April 29, the first round of the NFL Draft. Just over a month of relative chaos, however, awaits on the horizon.

The Jets have enough stress with an NFL equivalent of a first-world problem: deciding what to do with the second overall pick. But it seems like every elite, disgruntled, veteran quarterback wants in on what Robert Saleh has to offer, as rumors have linked Deshaun Watson ($39 million in 2021) and Russell Wilson ($35 million) to a green future. Watson and Wilson respectively rank third and fourth in terms of the best-paid quarterbacks, but the Jets, blessed with a cap space number in the area of $70 million that’s been talked about endlessly in the NYC area, are one of the few teams that can perhaps afford to take on such a financial burden.

Tantalizing as such a union would be, however, the cases of Brady and Prescott dictate that the Jets would be best off starting fresh with a rookie contract.

New York Jets
(Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

There’s a sense of “when you have nothing, you have nothing to lose” with the Jets, which can allow them to play with a sense of reckless abandon under a first-time head coach seeking an identity. With so many holes to fill and so many established contenders in the AFC, ending their postseason drought still seems like a tall task. But progress must be made in this perpetual rebuild, particularly in the franchise quarterback role that’s felt vacant since Joe Namath left Shea Stadium for the final time.

For the Jets to do that, they need to fill as many holes as possible and settle as many of their affairs as they can…similar to what Brady’s doing in Tampa Bay. Save for the front four and one of the tackle slots…which appear set to be anchored by the talents of Quinnen Williams and Mekhi Becton respectively…the Jets face uncertainty at almost every spot on the depth chart. Thus, the Jets are not in a position to dedicate most of their offseason funds, no matter how expansive their surplus becomes, to a Prescott-like situation.

It’s better, at this point, to follow the Brady method and restructure around a quarterback that’s not among the highest-paid names in football. Even if they wanted to even extend Sam Darnold’s fifth-year option (currently valued at circa $18 million, per Over the Cap), that would be a better, more affordable trek on which to embark.

When you accumulate a 30-8 record against the Jets in your NFL career, you tend to teach the metropolitan area a lesson or two. With Brady taking on less to ensure his reign lasts even longer, finally heeding and emulating his example…even in mere roster management…can help finally end the perpetual rebuild.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

ESM’s Super Bowl LV Preview: Everything you need to know

While the quarterback matchup has rightfully taken center stage, Super Bowl LV will be decided through team endeavors.

The road to the Super Bowl was a bit bumpier this time around. Nonetheless, the countdown to the regularly-scheduled has finally ended.

Sunday will mark the end of the tumultuous 2020-21 NFL season, culminating in a slightly stifled celebration at Raymond James Stadium’s hosting of the 55th Super Bowl (6:30 p.m. ET, CBS). The Kansas City Chiefs will look to defend their Super Bowl crown carrying over from South Florida last season against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who return to the so-called Big Game for the first time since their victory over Oakland in 2003. The game also has the added subplot of being staged at Tampa Bay’s home of Raymond James Stadium, which will host its third Super Bowl.

This game has generated a significant amount of hype for its quarterback matchup, which unites greatness from the past, present, and future. Kansas City will send out Patrick Mahomes, the defending Super Bowl MVP from their prior triumph over San Francisco, while the Buccaneers counter with Tom Brady, who is almost as much of a staple as the halftime show and the commercials combined. Brady will partake in his 10th Super Bowl, seeking to win his seventh championship.

“Could you imagine if Michael Jordan got his team to the Finals in ’98 or when he was older, against a young LeBron James, who’s really the face of the league?” game analyst Tony Romo said of the matchup, per Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times. “It would be the greatest thing in the history of sports. I think we might actually have that Super Bowl. We might have that game. It just has never happened.”

But, of course, this isn’t a matchup between the Patricks and the Bradys…it’s the Chiefs and Patriots.

ESM has everything you need to know about Sunday’s matchup…

Positional Battle

The Matchup
Buccaneers Position Chiefs
X Quarterback
Running Back X
X Receivers
Tight Ends X
Offensive Line X
X Defensive Line
X Linebackers
Secondary X
Special Teams X

Last Time Around

This is a rare case of a modern Super Bowl rematch, as the two teams previously faced off in the regular season. On November 29, Kansas City took home the finest Floridian souvenir, a 27-24 triumph in Tampa. Mahomes threw for three scores and 462 yards, 269 of which went to Tyreek Hill.

What lessons can be gleaned from that game?

  • Get out to an early lead: Facing a Tampa Bay team that was, at the time, in the thick of a crowded NFC playoff picture, the Chiefs jumped out to an early 17-0 lead on the road and never looked back, withstanding a late Tampa Bay comeback to hold onto the win. Kansas City has made a living off big playoff comebacks…they trailed in each of their three games to the Lombardi Trophy in last year’s playoffs…but champions won’t be so forgiving. If Kansas City jumps out to a big lead again, they must keep their foot on the gas pedal and not relent. Even a 25-point second-half lead wasn’t enough to put Brady away in the Super Bowl…as Atlanta found out the hard way.

 

  • Don’t forget the defense: Hopefully, Raymond James Stadium has a backup scoreboard ready to go. Offensive fireworks are expected, but fans are quick to forget that Brady is only two years removed from a Super Bowl where the final score was 13-3. It may be a dying trend, but defense can still win championships. Kansas City certainly proved that in their November victory, forcing Brady into consecutive interceptions in the second half that helped secure the victory. Defensive antics came up big in the Chiefs’ triumph last season. As they mounted their effort, the unit preserved the win with a late interception and turnover on downs to wrap things up.

 

  • This matchup goes well beyond the quarterbacks: Make no mistake…Brady and Mahomes will go down as two of the greatest names to play the most complex and scrutinized position in sports. But the respective Super Bowl treks have come through team efforts. New heroes have arisen each week, each playoff level. In the conference championship round, it was speedy, reserve receivers like Mecole Hardman and Scotty Miller who helped fuel victories. There’s no reason to believe that the Super Bowl, producers of such unexpected heroes like Timmy Smith, Jermaine Lewis, and Adam Vinatieri, won’t have one here.

The Matchups to Decide It

Steve Spagnuolo vs. Tom Brady

Much to the presumed chagrin of the metropolitan area, there is plenty of local representation in Super Bowl LV. Kansas City has perhaps packed a secret weapon from East Rutherford, as defensive coordinator Steve Spagnulo’s ultimate claim to fame is his shutdown of the all-powerful, undefeated unit in Super Bowl XLII. The reunion has crossed Brady’s mind as he comes into the ultimate rematch.

“I think he really caters to the strength of his players,” Brady said this week, per Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News. “I think his scheme has evolved different times that I’ve played him several times over the last I dunno 13, 14 years. I think he’s a tremendous coach and everyone seems to love to play for him. I know he’s gonna have those guys ready to go.”

Jason Pierre-Paul vs. The Replacements

One of the most intriguing stories coming out of the 2021 postseason has been a delightful resurgence of Jason Pierre-Paul, one of several Giants defenders who made Brady feel uncomfortable in one of the two Super Bowl victories over New England. Now working with Brady in a collaborative Super Bowl effort, Pierre-Paul has been invading opposing backfields for him. Those efforts culminated with two sacks of Aaron Rodgers last week in Green Bay.

Making things even more difficult for the Chiefs is the loss of blocker Eric Fisher, leading to a reshuffling on the line in front of Mahomes. Andrew Wylie will take on an extended role in trying to contain JPP, as will Steven Wisniewski. While Kansas City has been lauded for their depth, trying to keep a hungry Pierre-Paul under control is one of the most unenviable tasks in Tampa on this Super Bowl weekend.

The Buccaneers will win if…

If you wanted to beat the Chiefs? Be the Chiefs.

Don’t take your foot off the offensive gas pedal. Go for it on fourth down. Take deep chances down the field whenever the opportunity presents itself. And, for the love of all things holy, make things difficult for Patrick Mahomes.

In our coverage of the Buffalo Bills’ AFC playoff endeavors, we’ve talked about how the best way to keep Mahomes in check is to keep him off the field entirely. Since Mahomes too over starting duties, Kansas City has lost nine games. In all but one of those contests, Kansas City lost the time of possession battle. To his credit, Brady was one to note this during the pair’s first playoff showdown in the 2019 AFC Title game. Including the extra session, New England held the ball for over 43 minutes of game time, leaving Kansas City a mere 20 minutes.

The Chiefs will win if…

Their defense is the difference-maker.

Everyone knows that the Chiefs’ offense should not be trifled with, and they’re well prepared to endure a shootout situation. But bigger games have often come down to down to defense, and the Chiefs have been happy to acquiesce. When Mahomes had to leave the Divisional game against Cleveland, the defense put Chad Henne in comfortable situations. Pressure allowed them to shut down Buffalo’s high-powered offense in the AFC title game, to the point where the Bills lost their composure entirely. This well could shape up to be a career-changing night for guys like Tyrann Mathieu, Chris Jones, Bashaud Breeland, and others. Coming back against the 49ers is one thing. But dealing a Super Bowl loss to Tom Brady…

Prediction: Chiefs 31, Buccaneers 27

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Giants: Justin Tuck shows love to Tom Brady ahead of Super Bowl

New york Giants, Justin Tuck, Michael Strahan

The New York Giants aren’t playing in the Super Bowl, but there’s several names there that fans will recognize. Jason Pierre-Paul is back in the game with the Bucs, and his team’s quarterback is former Giants foe Tom Brady. For many, it might seem strange rooting for Tom Brady because JPP is on his team.

The rivalry between New York and Boston goes deep and Brady was the quarterback in the latter city for an entire era. The Giants went up against Brady in not one but two Super Bowls, only strengthening the rivalry between Patriots and Giants fans. However, there’s one former Giant that has come out and given high praise to Brady despite that rivalry.

Justin Tuck doesn’t praise quarterbacks often. He played defensive end and chased after them on the field, after all. He says that at times, it was even hard for him to like his own quarterback Eli Manning. But he told the New York Post that Brady is approaching greatest of all time status.

“So for me to say this is phenomenal in it’s own right. He’s the greatest football – he’s definitely the greatest quarterback of all time, and he’s approaching the greatest football player of all time. And he might already be there, considering how we judge our stars,” Tuck said.

He pointed out that Super Bowls and longevity are what we judge players on, and Brady is dominating in both categories.

Still, the Giants can say they’ve never been beaten by Brady in the Super Bowl and they defeated him not once but two times. And even as both teams move on from their previous quarterbacks, the Giants having Daniel Jones and the Patriots figuring out their next starter, those bragging rights still aren’t going away.

New York Giants: Comparing Daniel Jones’s turnovers to the rest of the league’s quarterbacks

New York Giants, Daniel Jones

Over the past two years, one major criticism has surrounded New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones: he is a turnover machine. Jones simply could not stop putting the ball in harm’s way in his rookie 2019 campaign. He threw 12 interceptions in 13 games and fumbled the football an absurd, league-high 18 times in that same span.

Daniel Jones suffered from a severe case of “fumble-itis” in his rookie season. In 2020, though, Daniel has still been criticized for his tendency to turn the ball over. He is still regarded as a turnover machine just a little over halfway through his sophomore season.

But is this a fair criticism of Daniel Jones in 2020? Has he really been turning the ball over at an extreme rate when compared to the rest of the NFL’s quarterbacks?

The NFL’s biggest turnover machines in 2020

This year’s top turnover machine is not Daniel Jones. Instead, it is another NFC East quarterback: Carson Wentz of the Philadelphia Eagles. Carson Wentz not only leads the league in interceptions (14 in 10 games), he also leads the league in fumbles (10 in 10 games). While Daniel Jones fumbled the ball at an extreme rate last season, he never threw interceptions at the rate that Wentz has this season.

There have been plenty of other, more-talented quarterbacks turning the ball over at a high rate in 2020. MVP-candidate Russell Wilson is fourth in the NFL with 10 interceptions. The G.O.A.T., Tom Brady, has thrown 9 interceptions, already surpassing his interception total from 2019 (8).

Many of the league’s top turnover-committing quarterbacks in 2020 are widely considered some of the best players in the sport. But they do not get trashed and disregarded the way that Daniel Jones does. The biggest reason why: wins. Jones has struggled to win football games in his career. But, coming off of a two-game win streak with no turnovers, Jones has an opportunity to flip this narrative.

Daniel Jones turnovers in 2020

Daniel Jones still ranks towards the top of the NFL in total interceptions + fumbles. But with all of these highly-talented quarterbacks turning the ball over at a higher rate than Jones, it is confusing to see why he faces so much criticism that other quarterbacks do not.

Daniel Jones has thrown 9 interceptions in 10 games. He has also fumbled the football 7 times in that span. Only 5 of those fumbles have been lost, though, meaning Jones has turned the ball over a total of 14 times in 10 games.

Turning the ball over more than once per game is not a sustainable winning formula. The Giants have learned this in recent weeks. Jones has gone two straight weeks without turning the ball over and won both of those games. If he can continue to play at this level, Daniel Jones can get rid of this bad reputation and begin to establish himself as a legitimate quarterback in the NFL.

New York Giants: James Bradberry will face off in key Week 8 matchup against Mike Evans

New York Giants, James Bradberry

The New York Giants will face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers tonight on primetime. The 1-6 Giants will be underdogs at home against the 5-2 Buccaneers who have recently emerged as Super Bowl contenders.

The Buccaneers’ offense has been nearly unstoppable in recent weeks as Tom Brady has begun playing at an MVP level. Tom “Terrific” reaps the benefits of having a slew of talented offensive weapons to share the rock with. But this week, one of his top two receivers, Chris Godwin, will be out with a finger injury. This leaves Mike Evans as the Bucs’ primary weapon on Monday night.

Mike Evans will have to face off against Giants cornerback James Bradberry, who is playing at an All-Pro level through the first seven weeks of the season. Bradberry and Evans have a history, as Bradberry formerly played in the NFC South as a member of the Carolina Panthers. This matchup could be the key to victory for the Giants in Week 8.

Mike Evans vs. James Bradberry

James Bradberry and Mike Evans have a long history playing against each other in the NFC South. Bradberry spent the first four years of his career with the Carolina Panthers before signing with the Giants this offseason. Evans and Bradberry have faced off twice per year since Bradberry entered the league in 2017.

In 2020, Bradberry and Evans will only matchup this one time. Based on their previous matchups, the Giants should feel pretty confident that Mike Evans will be contained on Monday night.

James Bradberry has held Mike Evans to mediocre or below-average performances on multiple occasions. Only a couple of times has Evans gotten the best of Bradberry. James Bradberry has never allowed Mike Evans to score a touchdown in his coverage.

This year, it is even more likely that Bradberry contains Evans based on the way James has performed throughout this season. James Bradberry is the fifth-highest graded cornerback in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus. Bradberry made PFF’s First-Quarter All-Pro Team four his dominant first four weeks of the season.

The Giants’ secondary has suffered from a revolving door at the second cornerback position. However, James Bradberry has held the defensive together like glue with consistently excellent play as the primary cornerback. It would be surprising to see Mike Evans break out against the Giants’ defense tonight.

New York Giants: Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense heating up ahead of primetime matchup

New York Giants, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New York Giants

The New York Giants will face off against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 8. New York will play its second primetime game in a row after suffering an embarrassing loss to the Philadelphia Eagles last Thursday night. Heading into this week’ss matchup, the Giants are once again staring defeat in the face on primetime.

Anything is possible, and we have seen the Giants upset Tom Brady in the greatest of fashion, but the Giants will be major underdogs in this Week 8 matchup. Tom Brady and the high-flying Buccaneers had a slow start to the season but have recently emerged as legitimate Super Bowl contenders over the last couple of weeks.

High-Flying Offense

Six-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady is leading the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ high-flying offense in 2020. After two decades of dominance with the New England Patriots, Brady moved on to do things without Belichick in Tampa Bay. So far, Brady has found far more success than the Patriots, nearly putting to rest the “system quarterback” criticism he was dealt in New England.

Tom Brady is playing at an MVP level through seven weeks of the 2020 NFL season. He might not be winning the MVP race right now, but that is not an indictment on Tom, but, rather, praise to sing for the rest of the league’s star quarterbacks.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have scored 83 points in the past two weeks. Tom Brady is coming off of an elite Week 7 performance that saw him throw for 369 yards and 4 passing touchdowns, and 1 rushing touchdown with 0 interceptions. Brady is Pro Football Focus’s third-highest graded quarterback in the NFL so far, trailing only Aaron Rodgers and Rusell Wilson.

Tampa Bay’s offense has been connecting on countless deep shots downfield. According to PFF, on 20+ yard throws, Tom Brady has totaled 15 Big-Time-Throws and 0 turnover-worthy-throws. He has been near-flawless when airing the ball out deep.

The New York Giants’ defense has allowed opposing offenses to gain an average of 251.7 passing yards and 24.9 points per game. Cornerback James Bradberry has been performing at an elite level, but he will have his hands full when matching up against Mike Evans and Tom Brady.

The Giants are hosting a beastly Buccaneers offense on Monday night. Unfortunately for New York, Brady and the Bucs are out of their sluggish phase. Now, they are exploding to the forefront of the NFL in a dominant fashion. The Giants’ defense has a tough task ahead of them as they gameplan to slow down the GOAT and his talent-loaded offense.

The Buffalo Bills’ ultimate test comes on Sunday against New England

The somewhat reeling Buffalo Bills have a golden opportunity to pass the ultimate test against the New England Patriots.

Wide right. No goal. New England Patriots.

The preceding phrases have struck fear into the heart of Western New York sports fans for years on end. In the case of the first two, the smallest of consolation could be granted through time, as they were single-game incidents that continue to build distance from the next generation of supporters. The latter case, however, is a twice-yearly ordeal, a painful, yet necessary endeavor on par with jury duty or inventory at a retail job.

The Buffalo Bills’ rivalry with New England was even but uneventful in the 20th century (New England led 41-38-1 in a series that dated back to 1960), but the tide turned with the rise of Tom Brady in 2001. Since Brady faced the Bills for the first time, a 21-11 New England triumph at the late Foxboro Stadium (in what became Rob Johnson’s final start as a Bill), the Patriots own a ridiculously one-sided 34-4 advantage in the series.

Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

It’s not enough that the Patriots have straight-up owned this yearly pair, but the way they’ve done it could be constituted as outright bullying. Former Bills (Antowain Smith and Stephon Gilmore among them) have played central roles in the team’s demise. The method of defeat has featured increased creativity. In 2006, a Ty Warren sack of J.P. Losman became a difference-making safety in a 19-17 loss on opening weekend. A 2009 Monday night tilt saw the Bills lose a 24-13 lead over the final three minutes of game time.

There have been several potential “turning point” of the rivalry. A 31-0 Buffalo shellacking in the 2003 season opener threatened to end the New England dynasty before it truly got rolling. One of Ryan Fitzpatrick’s earliest miracles was the erasure of a 21-point deficit in 2011. But, for the most part, even the Buffalo victories were nothing to celebrate. A win in the 2014 season finale came with most New England backups on the field, the starters resting for yet another playoff run. The Bills did the unthinkable with a 16-0 shutout two seasons later, but it included the massive asterisk of having Brady sit out due to his Deflategate-induced suspension.

At long last, the winds of change have finally descended upon the AFC East. The Bills situated themselves perfectly to succeed when New England finally fell, and their efforts have paid off with a 5-2 record that has them destined toward prime playoff positioning in the conference. This season has been the reaping of meticulous planning by the Bills in their attempt to usurp New England’s throne, a quest partially assisted by Brady’s sojourn to Tampa Bay.

Buffalo has accomplished much over the past three seasons. The team has developed a defense to be reckoned with, found a franchise quarterback, and become a destination for big-name talent from elsewhere…salvation after building a playoff drought that nearly became old enough to legally purchase a six-pack of Flying Bison.

Much has been accomplished over the past three seasons, but there are many lofty goals that have proved elusive. A playoff win is one, but they can’t be gained until winter. First thing’s first…beat the Patriots on Sunday afternoon in Orchard Park (1 p.m. ET, CBS).

The turbulent transition of power of the AFC East cannot be completed otherwise.

The ultimate changing of the guard could’ve come last season, when a meeting in the penultimate week of the campaign decided the modern division’s fate. Such a battle had made its way to 21st-century national television…a 56-10 New England win in Buffalo was notably flexed to Sunday night during the former’s undefeated regular season run in 2007…but this game in an unusual timeslot carried enormous importance. Chosen to partake in a Saturday night spot at Gillette Stadium, the winner would have prime position in the chase for the AFC East. The title was routine for New England but could’ve made a return trip to Buffalo for the first time since 1995.

Buffalo had previously played the Patriots well in the first portion of the yearly pair, a 16-10 defeat at what was then New Era Field. It was a game they had to end without the aforementioned star under center, Josh Allen, who was sidelined with an injury. The opportunity to strike was perfect: the Bills had previously succeeded in their first taste of true prime time action, topping the Pittsburgh Steelers in a flexed Sunday night game six days prior. With the Bills at 10-4, their first accumulation of double-digit wins since 1999, and New England reeling from losses to Houston and Kansas City (not to mention dealing with another camera-induced controversy from their win in Cincinnati a week prior), the time to strike seemed perfect.

Inklings of a team of destiny appeared to be on display throughout the evening. The Bills were playing Patriot games to throw New England into a state of chaos. An unusual receiver scored a touchdown, with Dion Dawkins playing the role of Mike Vrabel. The Buffalo offensive charge was led by coordinator Brian Daboll, a former New England tight end coach who oversaw some of Rob Gronkowski’s finest hours. Daboll’s unit oversaw a 53-yard scoring hookup between Allen and John Brown, one that gave Buffalo a 17-13 lead for a good portion of the second half.

Alas for the Bills, further Patriot-induced heartbreak awaited in the game’s latter stages. New England scored the final 11 points of the game, the majority of which were earned on Rex Burkhead’s one-yard score with just over five minutes to go. With the exception of a 30-yard hookup between Brady and Julian Edelman, a major of the drive comprised of short, but methodically effective, rushes spearheaded by Burkhead and Sony Michel. The opposing defense forced Buffalo into a pair of three-and-outs while the deficit was erased, and stopped Allen’s would-be heroics through relentless pressure and a fourth-down spot just 15 yards away from the tying tally. Celebrations of the Patriots’ 11th consecutive division title soon commenced, relegating Buffalo to wild-card purgatory through a 24-17 victory.

Even in defeat, players and analysts saw the Bills’ respectable performance against the team that routinely tormented them as a potential sign of things to come. But Buffalo’s leaders, like Allen and cornerback Jordan Poyer, weren’t interested in making excuses or relishing symbolic wins.

“We knew we had to finish the game,” Poyer said of the honorable defeat, per Nate Mendelson of BuffaloBills.com. “He’s the greatest quarterback to ever play the game and we knew they were going to come back and try and strike. Like I said, they just made more plays than we did today. I’m proud of our guys today, but in the end, there are no moral victories.”

“It’s one of those games you learn from. “If you don’t learn from it, it’s a complete loss,” Allen added, according to Nicole Yang of Boston.com. “It (stinks). Obviously, they’re an AFC East division rival, and that’s their consecutive whatever it is year winning the division. We got to find a way to get over that hump.”

New York Giants could look into Devin Mccourty this offseason.
Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Brady is gone, but the opportunity lingers for the Bills, whose prosperity lies at a crossroads. They got off to a red-hot start at 4-0, but endured consecutive losses to contenders from Tennessee and Kansas City…each in newly customary primetime slots. The Bills got back into the win column last weekend against the New York Jets, but had to rely on six Tyler Bass field goals after failing to reach the end zone. With the winless Jets and the Miami Dolphins more or less focusing on the future with the transition to Tua Tagovailoa, the AFC East appears to be the Bills’ to lose.

It’s great that the Bills sit at 5-2, situating themselves handsomely in terms of the premature AFC playoff picture. They’re taking care of business and ensuring that they don’t have to be scoreboard-watching in December. Yet, as long as items remain unchecked on Buffalo’s to-do list of returning to respectability, questions and doubts will likely follow them. Failing to visit the end zone against the lowly Jets (even if the defense allowed only four green yards in the second half) is only going to raise more quandaries over whether they truly deserve to be counted amongst the NFL’s elite.

“We have to find ways to finish in the end zone,” Allen said, in a report from WBEN-AM. “It has to be better on my part. A couple of penalties pushed us back and put us in a bad position. Shout-out to T-Bass for making those field goals and getting us the win.” In the same statements, running back Devin Singletary mentioned the need to “get back to the drawing board” and described Sunday’s win as “rough”.

There’d be no better way to get back on track than exorcising the New England demon.

The mere thought seems impossible, but the matchup with the Patriots presents rare ground…a trip game. New England enters with a 2-4 record, reeling from the worst kind of uncharted territory in the Bill Belichick era. The Patriots have lost three consecutive games (their first such ledger since 2002) and the most recent defeat was almost Jets-ian in nature. Their 33-6 loss at the hand of the San Francisco 49ers was the worst margin of the Belichick era at Gillette Stadium and provided little if any bright spots in terms of growth and developments. It’s only perhaps added to Brady’s legacy. Whereas the Patriots have faltered under Cam Newton (whose fast start was stifled by a positive COVID-19 diagnosis), Brady has performed well enough in Tampa to warrant the NFC’s Offensive Player of the Month Award.

But the fact of the matter is that Brady isn’t the Bills’ problem anymore, at least not until slated to play the Buccaneers in 2021. In fact, Brady wasn’t even the Bills’ biggest problem during the most recent editions of their yearly pair. Over the last six get-togethers between the divisional rivals…all of which went the Patriots’ way…Brady only broke 300 yards once and threw only four touchdowns in that span. The real enemy has been the defense, which has held Buffalo to no more than 17 points in each of those past six showdowns. Allen has partaken in three of them…and has thrown five interceptions.

Veteran receiver Stefon Diggs, a newcomer to the Bills-Patriots story, but he knows just how important it will be to master the New England defense. He knows what it’s like to be neutralized by the unit, being held to 49 on five receptions (most of it coming on a 24-yard grab in the first half) in the Minnesota Vikings’ 24-10 loss to the Patriots in December 2018.

“They’re fundamentally sound, Diggs said, per Dante Lasting of BuffaloBills.com. “They do a lot of things well on defense, they are active, they have some great players and they’re smart. All the guys play as a unit, everybody’s always on the same page, they are big on communication, and everybody’s in the right spot so it’s definitely a challenge for us. It’s something that I look forward to for our offense to go out there and try to execute at a high level, make some plays, and fly around. It’s more so that we have to execute better than they do. They do a great job, have a great scheme, and have great coaching staff so it’s definitely going be fun.”

Furthermore, the Patriots show no signs of giving up divisional rights with a battle. Enough living, breathing cautionary tales have been written about declaring the Patriots dead in the Belichick era. Sure, a lot of those redemption chapters have been authored by Brady, but nobody needs to prove their mettle less than Belichick. Brady missed almost the entirety of the 2008 campaign, and that still didn’t stop Belichick-supervised destruction with Matt Cassel leading the way under center in a traditional sweep…one of which was a 13-0 shutout to complete an 11-5 ledger in the season finale.

Defensive captain Devin McCourty was blunt yet confident after the San Francisco debacle in analyzing just what the Buffalo game means to the Foxboro dwellers.

“They’re first in the division. We’re 2-4. So I definitely wouldn’t call us the team to beat this year,” McCourty said in a report from Nick Goss of NBC Sports Boston. “I know, me personally, I talk about it every year, it doesn’t matter what’s happened here in the past. I’ve always said that when you talk about the Super Bowls won in the early 2000s, that doesn’t have anything to do with us. Super Bowls after 2010, they have nothing to do with us.”

“I would say right now, we’d be crazy to think coming into the game that we’re the team to beat. They’re No. 1. They’re gonna be a huge challenge for us on the road. The top team, we’ve got to really bring our A-game coming off three straight losses. I think, for us, our backs are against the wall. We’ve got to go out there and play well.”

McCourty is right in his analysis; the past means nothing as the Bills-Patriots Rivalry enters its sixth decade. That message apparently has resonated through the New England locker room.

If it hasn’t in Buffalo, the clouds of questions over the Bills’ place in this evolving NFL world will continue to hover over Orchard Park more dangerously than that of any snowstorm.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

The New York Jets’ New England nightmare isn’t over just yet

Tom Brady’s AFC East departure may be cause for celebration, but the New York Jets’ yearly set with New England only gets marginally easier.

In September 2001, the New York Jets inadvertently unleashed the Tom Brady nightmare on the NFL when a Mo Lewis hit knocked Drew Bledsoe out of their Week 2 showdown.

Nearly two decades later, it’s apparently over. Like many in the near-retirement community, Brady, 42, is headed to Florida courtesy of a two-year, $50 million deal bestowed to him by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Uprooted from New England will be Brady’s six Super Bowl titles, three MVP awards, five All-Pro nominations and a 30-8 record against the Jets.

Needless to say, the response from a metropolitan area desperate for good news is perhaps comparable to the galaxy-wide celebration after the fall of the Galactic Empire in Return of the Jedi‘s closing act. Social distancing and quarantining might be the only thing stopping a parade down the Canyon of Heroes bidding Brady farewell. Brady is now the NFC’s problem. Sure, Tampa Bay visits East Rutherford in 2021 but that’s an extremely tolerable substitute for the yearly couple.

It thus feels like the Patriots’ day of reckoning has finally come. Two decades of torture, perhaps straight-up bullying, will finally come back to bite them. Long have fans of the Jets, and probably every football fan outside of the New England area, waited to see the departure of Brady plummet the Patriots back to the dark times: the days of Pat Patriot on their helmets, the days where 8-8 was considered Patriot progress. The will of Foxboro patrons could well be tested in the coming months. Brady did leave New England with no concrete succession plan in place. Their current savior under center is slated to be Jarrett Stidham, a 2019 fourth-round pick whose already minuscule playing time was dramatically slashed when Jamal Adams victimized him for a pick-six in the meaningless stages of yet another Jets defeat.

But, if Jets fans are smart, they won’t crack open the Brady-induced bubbly just yet.

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ. – OCTOBER 21: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots meets up with Sam Darnold #14 of the New York Jets after the Patriots beat the Jets 33-0 at MetLife Stadium on October 21, 2019 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Staff Photo By Matt Stone/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)

For one thing, the Jets really can’t gloat about anything until they gain some sustainable success against the Patriots. The series, of course, has been ridiculously one-sided since that fateful September late afternoon and, even in Brady’s declining years, things weren’t shifting in the Jets’ favor.

There’s no denying that Brady at his worst is better than many quarterbacks at their best. He’s undoubtedly in a position to make the Buccaneers better. But there was no denying that the past few years saw Brady lose a step or two. In Brady’s last eight matchups against the Jets, his passer rating dipped under 90 on four separate occasions. New England won each of those games by an average of two touchdowns, including a 33-0 shellacking in a Monday night game back in October.

In fact, even when the Jets managed to keep Brady in relative check, victory isn’t guaranteed. When Brady posted a passer rating under 90, the Patriots were nonetheless 10-7 in games against the Jets.

It should be obvious by this point that the Patriots are the Patriots…not the Bradys. They’ve built their dynasty by a team effort, not by any one individual effort. Nobodies, spare parts left for football dead by other squads, have risen to play crucial roles in New England victories. Sure, the on-field brilliance of Brady has served as a jolt to several of these resurrected careers, but no amount of offensive prowess could explain what the defense has done.

Last season, no team allowed fewer points, first downs, or yards than the Patriots. Opponents converted only an astonishing 24 percent of their third downs against them. Their 25 interceptions were five more than their closest competitor (Pittsburgh). This is a fearsome unit that has lost some crucial pieces, but they still retain vital weapons like both McCourty brothers (Jason and Devin, the latter of whom inked a two-year deal).

September’s visit to Gillette Stadium, for example, saw the Jets score their first touchdown in defeat when they jumped on a muffed New England punt in the end zone. It was their first touchdown scored in Massachusetts in nearly four calendar years. You can’t pin that one on Tom Brady.

Fellow secondary hawks like Stephon Gilmore and Patrick Chung will likewise be back, as will experienced pass rushers like Dont’a Hightower, Adam Butler, and Chase Winovich. Such firepower is enough to keep any quarterback on edge, much less one vying to be the face of the franchise.

EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY – OCTOBER 21: (NEW YORK DAILIES OUT) Dont’a Hightower #54 of the New England Patriots in action against Le’Veon Bell #26 of the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium on October 21, 2019 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Patriots defeated the Jets 33-0. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Whoever succeeds Brady on offense, be it Stidham, be it a veteran free agent, be it a rookie from the upcoming draft, has been set up in a relatively pleasant situation. Protection will be available from an experienced line that let up only 28 sacks last season. The Patriots even denied the Jets a chance to let one of those men block for Darnold, franchise tagging All-Pro guard Joe Thuney. New England has routinely gotten by with a strong rushing attack, and the current edition is no exception. Sony Michel is the lead back, complimented by dual-threat James White and the powerful Rex Burkhead. An arsenal of receivers both experienced and young will be available to the new thrower. Julian Edelman leads the way, while the Patriots worked their way into first-round receiver N’Keal Harry with last year’s 32nd pick. Phillip Dorsett could leave via free agency, but reliable reserves are on hand via Mohamed Sanu and incoming free agent Damiere Byrd.

Of course, the whole thing revolves around the constant of Bill Belichick. The famous scowler was there before Brady and he’ll obviously be around afterward. His mind games and expertise will still be around to haunt the Jets. Enough has been said about his relatively fruitless days at the helm of the Cleveland Browns, but remember that this is a guy that won 11 games with a full season of Matt Cassel at quarterback.

The departure of Brady does indeed present the Jets with an opportunity. It apparently took his leaving to finally convince the Jets to fix their long-lingering blocking problems, problems addressed by the arrival of up-and-comers George Fant and Connor McGovern. Fellow divisional foes Buffalo and Miami have also used the offseason funds afforded to them to improve. The Dolphins, in fact, plucked linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts from the Patriots’ lineup.

There’s little argument to the idea that the Jets have gotten better over the past few days, especially on paper. Their backfield saviors of Darnold and Le’Veon Bell have the potential to move freely with improved blocking. They’ve maintained secondary depth with the re-signings of Brain Poole and Arthur Maulet. Is it enough to finally deal a fatal blow to this monster? We’ll see in September.

It’s time to work on the field. The Jets have finally been granted a silent wish in the form of Brady leaving. Time will only tell they’ll wake up soon or if a new, scarier nightmare has only just begun.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets are stifled by New England in pursuit over top offensive guard

New England Patriots, Joe Thuney

The New York Jets can no longer sign  New England guard, Joe Thuney. Thuney was a player the Jets really really liked and he now remains in the AFC East with the Patriots. Thuney has consistently ranked as one of the best guards in football. He has played every game in the last four years for New England. He would’ve been a great addition but now the Jets have to adapt and overcome. So, where do the Jets go from here?

Other Options

Graham Glasgow and Greg Van Roten have both been linked to the Jets and Connor Hughes reports that the Jets are expected to ramp up their pursuit of Glasgow. The Jets will likely aim to add Jack Conklin as well. If the Jets can add a guard and Conklin then this would be a major success. However, losing out on Thuney is missing out on a guy who immediately would’ve bolstered the line and provided leadership. The Jets now have to adapt and change their plans and aim to find other solutions like Conklin and a guard.

The State Of The AFC East

There are suggestions the Pats tagged Thuney to prevent him from staying in the AFC East with the Jets or Dolphins. The Pats could trade him which is  likely because if he remains, he and Shaq Mason take up a lot of their cap for the guard slots. With their re-signings and now Thuney, the Patriots need to do something to achieve cap feasibility. Whether that is trading Thuney or trading or releasing other pieces, they’re in a tough spot. If they keep Thuney then it’s less feasible for Brady to return and this move as a whole could drastically alter the climate of the AFC East.