My pregame photos on Sunday, capturing some of the excitement at Ralph Wilson Stadium before and during the introduction of Kim and Terry Pegula as new owners of the Buffalo Bills:
Nothing typifies the overall on-field futility of the Buffalo Bills this century like their miserable record against Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
Against Belichick since 2000: three wins, 25 losses.
Against Brady since 2001: two wins, 22 losses.
That’s total dominance by the Patriots, including five wins in a row since Buffalo last eked out a victory in September 2011. It’s due as much to Brady’s killer passing acumen as Belichick’s head-coaching wizardry. See the accompanying chart.
The AFC East rivals meet for the first time in 2014 on Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium (1 p.m. EDT, CTV Ontario).
At least by 21st century standards, the Bills appear to have more checkmarks in their favour heading into this meeting than perhaps at any time during their sad-sack streak. Such as:
** The Bills are tied atop the division with the Patriots, both with 3-2 records. A win by the Bills and they’d not only be a game up on the Pats, and not only be guaranteed at least a wash against them in head-to-head record (that’s the first tiebreaker to determine a divisional titlist), but they’d be two games up inside the division (the second tiebreaker) as Buffalo would improve to 2-0 and New England would fall to 0-2.
** The Bills’ defence, under new coordinator Jim Schwartz, ranks among the best in the league so far this season: tied for first in sacks (17.0), second in rushing yards allowed per game (71), tied for fourth in interceptions (6), tied for fifth in total takeaways (10) and eighth in total yards allowed per game (325).
** Until last Sunday night’s 43-17 crushing of the Cincinnati Bengals, Brady and the Patriots offence surprisingly had ranked among the least prolific in the NFL. Even now the Pats rank only 21st in total offence and tied for 19th in passing.
** Veteran quarterback Kyle Orton breathed new life last Sunday into a Bills offence whose downfield passing attack behind the uncertain arm of struggling second-year EJ Manuel had withered into non-existence.
** The Patriots’ two losses were decided thumpings at the hands of mediocre teams, Miami and Kansas City — both on the road.
** Brady (my photo from last year, above, top) was a surprise addition to the Patriots’ injury list on Friday, for an undisclosed ankle injury. He was limited in practice Friday and is officially listed as questionable to play. Although he’d probably have to have no ankle to be kept out of this game, to what degree the injury might hamper his already limited mobility is unknown.
That’s not all.
The topper for the Bills is that Ralph Wilson Stadium is sure to be a loud, emotion-drenched madhouse on Sunday. It’s the first game for the Bills under new owners Terry and Kim Pegula, after 516 games in 54-plus years under Wilson family ownership.
All but higher-priced club seats sold out by Thursday.
“We know the fans will be extremely excited,” Bills head coach Doug Marrone said. “They can play a big role in this game. I really believe in them helping us because they’ve done it before. We’re going to need everybody.”
“Everyone knows what’s gone on in the past,” Marrone said. “I’m not going to bring that up. We talked to our players … We know that we have to play extremely well to win.”
Brady, 37, last Sunday became just the sixth passer in NFL history to crack the 50,000-yard career barrier. He seemed as in command of his skills as ever, completing 23-of-35 for two TDs against a good Bengals defence, just six days after one of the poorest performances of his 15-season career in a blowout loss to the Chiefs.
“As great as last week was, that’s over,” Brady said on Wednesday. “(The Bills) are playing really well, so it’s just about us going out there to try to do our best and play a lot better than we’ve played on the road this year.”
While the easy conclusion to reach about Brady’s bounce-back performance against Cincinnati is that he’s back to his old lethal self, it’s not that simple.
The most shocking Brady statistic you might ever see shows up this week in NFL rankings for fourth-quarter passing leaders. The former Michigan star ranks 41st — dead last among qualifying quarterbacks. He has completed only 37% of his final-quarter passes for no touchdowns, one interception and an awful 38.4 passer rating.
Not even Bills offensive players, though, were under-estimating the three-time Super Bowl MVP this week. Especially eighth-year Bills veteran running back Fred Jackson, who has been on the wrong end of too many Patriots blowout victories in this rivalry.
“New England is New England,” Jackson said. “They’re going to show up and they’re going to be ready to play. Everybody thought they were going to get beat badly by (previously undefeated) Cincinnati last week, and you saw what they did to them.
“This is a team that’s coming in and we have to be ready to play and we have to be ready to match that.”
Jackson banged up an ankle last week in Detroit and, also because of a Friday illness, he’s listed as questionable. But on Wednesday he vowed he’ll play.
Defensive tackle Kyle Williams, who missed the Lions game after hurting a knee in Houston the week before, returned to practice this week on a limited basis and he, too, is questionable.
The Bills would sure love to have him in there to help shut down the Patriots running game, which twice carved up the Bills a year ago, and to get as much pressure on Brady as possible through a suspect New England offensive line.
If Williams cannot go, keep an eye on one of his two backups, second-year Canadian Stefan Charles. The native Torontonian had a solid game in the first significant playing time of his career in the win in Detroit.
It’s also the first homefield start Orton. Few NFL players get cheered louder than an ascended backup quarterback who shines in his first opportunity. Right — no visible warts yet.
All of which sets the stage for one of the most anticipated mid-season Bills home games in a long, long time.
“I don’t think there’s any bigger games during the season than playing divisional opponents at home,” Marrone said. “You can’t lose those games.”
Not if you’re serious about ending a 14-season playoff drought, lowlighted by all those miserable losses to the Patriots.
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Brady kills Bills — the proof
It’s no secret that Tom Brady has feasted on the Buffalo Bills in his career as the New England Patriots’ starting quarterback. The eye-popping stats that back that up:
** Won-loss record: 22-2.
** That includes wins in the past 5, and in 18 of the last 19.
** 13 times his Patriots have scored 30+ points.
** 3 times his Patriots have scored 40+ points.
** 2 times his Patriots have scored 50+ points.
** 7 of the wins have been by 4+ TDs.
** Brady has thrown 54 TD passes against the Bills, far more than against any other foe. Against Miami he has 43 TDs and against the New York Jets he has 32.
** Brady has thrown for 300 yards seven times vs. the Bills, again most of any opponent.
** Brady is 495-of-771 (64.2%) for 5,817 yards, 54 TDs and 19 interceptions — for a 100.1 passer rating.
** In the current 5-game series win streak, Brady has thrown 11 TDs against only 3 interceptions and the Patriots have averaged 39 points.
‘Crazy’ atmosphere at the Ralph
Buffalo Bills fans again have been asked to arrive in their seats a half-hour before kickoff Sunday against New England.
This time they’ll be paying tribute before opening kickoff to the team’s new owners, Terry and Kim Pegula, who completed their NFL-record $1.4-billion purchase transaction on Thursday.
That the Bills might have been bought by an owner intent on relocating the franchise to Toronto or elsewhere was a fear that had saturated and eaten at the souls of Bills fans for years.
But at Friday’s introductory news conference in Orchard Park, as expected, new controlling owner Terry Pegula assured Western New Yorkers that the team is there to stay. He unsuccessfully fought back tears in explaining as much.
Pegula, a multi-billionaire who amassed his fortune mostly in natural-gas drilling in the Appalachians, later told WGR 550-AM radio host John Murphy that his family’s whole idea in pursuing the purchase was to “try to alleviate our fans’ suffering, and hopefully we have a long run (as owners).”
To a man, Bills players said after the Dolphins game that the fans’ excitement and emotion inspired them.
“It’s going to be even crazier (this time) because it’s a division game, first of all,” Bills receiver Mike Williams said. “It’s a chance for us to be in first place in our division, so I think the game is going to be crazy just within that.
“But to be under the new regime and everything, it seems like a start-over for everybody. It’s going to be crazy Sunday.”
Don’t be shocked if PKs get a workout
It figures Dan Carpenter and Stephen Gostkowski will get their kicks on Sunday. By making their kicks. As usual this season.
The respective placekickers of the Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots have successfully made more field goals than any others in the NFL, each with 13.
That two of the stingiest defences in the league will be on the field at Ralph Wilson Stadium probably means these kickers will be called on at least as often.
Gostkowski hasn’t missed a field-goal attempt this year, while Carpenter has missed just twice. An important asterisk is that Gostkowski hasn’t attempted a single field goal beyond 49 yards. To Carpenter’s credit, he nailed a 58-yarder last Sunday with four seconds left to defeat the Lions in Detroit.
Gostkowski already holds the Patriots club record for most made field goals in a season, with 38 last year. He’s on pace to make 41.
Pegula said a few words than answered three questions:
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“How’s everybody doing? I’m doing pretty well.
“Kim and I are honoured that the NFL owners have approved us as the new owners of the Buffalo Bills, and we’d like to thank the owners for their support. As we said, we’re not going to take any questions today. But this is a significant step in us owning the team, but we still don’t own it yet. There’s a small matter of having to pay some money. And wires have to be sent from banks, paperwork has to be signed and what-not. But we’ll get that done.
“We’re going to head back to Buffalo tonight or tomorrow morning. We’ll be at our Sabres home opener tomorrow evening, and we’re guessing that Friday is probably when we’ll be able to speak to you as the owners of the Bills, OK? Thank-you.
IS THIS THE REALIZATION OF A DREAM?
“Yes it is.
“If you would have asked me 10 years ago if I was going to own the Sabres and the Bills, I would have called you a liar.”
WHEN DID YOU DECIDE TO PURSUE BILLS?
“It goes back further than you may think. I obviously — when I was asked when I bought the Bills, ‘Are you interested in the Bills?’ Did you expect me to say yes? But it goes back further than you may imagine.”
THINK YOU GOT A GOOD DEAL?
“I got a helluva deal. I own the team.”
“I got a helluva deal. I own the team.”
NEW YORK – Terry and Kim Pegula are going halfers on the Buffalo Bills.
Sun Media learned Tuesday that the married couple will each have a 50% ownership stake in the NFL club, a source said.
For official NFL purposes, Terry will be principal owner.
The Pegulas are expected to be unanimously approved Wednesday as the new owners of the Bills at the NFL owners’ fall meeting, which kicks off at 8:30 a.m. EDT at the Conrad hotel in Lower Manhattan.
The Bills ownership vote is first on the agenda.
Terry Pegula is an oil and gas multi-billionaire who agreed in principal to buy the NFL club on Sept. 9.
Eric Grubman, executive vice president of NFL Ventures and Business Operations, explained Tuesday how the vote will take place:
“The first thing would be a presentation without the Pegulas present, and that would be a presentation on the process, and their background and their financial condition, with an opportunity for questions.
“When that is finished, the Pegulas would be invited into the room, they’d be formally introduced. It’d be their first opportunity to meet with many of the owners. They’ve met with some and they’ve met with the (league’s finance) committee. After a Q&A period the Pegulas would leave and the vote is taken.
“Assuming the vote is in favour, they would be then invited to join the meeting as representatives of the club.”
The Pegulas bought the Bills for $1.4 billion from the estate of Ralph Wilson, the club’s founding owner in 1960. The couple far outdistanced the two other known bidders. Sun Media has reported that the Toronto group led by rocker Jon Bon Jovi submitted a binding bid on Sept. 8 of $1.05 billion, and celebrity real-estate tycoon Donald Trump bid $800 million.
At least one other mystery bidder placed a bid substantially higher than Toronto’s, Sun Media has learned.
The Pegulas’ purchase transaction is expected to be completed by as early as Wednesday, Grubman said.
The Bills are expected to introduce the Pegulas to Bills fans at Sunday’s big home game against arch-rival New England Patriots. The teams are tied atop the AFC East with 3-2 records.
Grubman said the NFL’s “understanding is Terry would be the voting owner of the franchise.” But Sun Media later confirmed that that indeed is the plan the Wilson trust has submitted to NFL owners.
“There is one person who has the vote,” Grubman told reporters. “That vote can be given to (another person) either on a meeting basis or a more permanent basis by that principal owner.”
The Pegulas also own the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres and are spearheading a business and cultural renaissance of sorts in downtown Buffalo.
At least 75% of NFL owners (meaning at least 24 of 32) must approve any ownership transfer. The finance committee last month unanimously approved the Pegulas, so owners likely will follow suit and unanimously approve the couple, whose primary residence is in Boca Raton, Fla.
Mark Murphy, president and CEO of the Green Bay Packers who grew up in Western New York, on Tuesday said “there shouldn’t be any issues” with the ownership vote.
“(Terry) has got some big shoes to fill, stepping in for Ralph Wilson,” Murphy said.
“I had a chance to meet Kim. She and a number of people from the Sabres came out to Lambeau (Field, the Packers’ home) probably two years ago, and I think they’ve done a fine job and done a lot for the city of Buffalo.
“I think it’s going to be very positive … They’re very much committed to keeping ’em in Western New York.”
Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeff Lurie said he’s “very encouraged” about the Pegulas taking over the Bills.
“They’re very committed to Buffalo,” Lurie said. “They conducted themselves as a class act throughout the process, and we’re delighted to approve them. And I think they’ll be great for Buffalo.
“It’s really going to be a boon to honour the history of the Wilson family, and at the same time take it in a whole new direction. I’m very please for Western New York.”
GOODELL TO SPEAK:
Commissioner Roger Goodell is set to hold a news conference Wednesday at the conclusion of the owners meeting. It will be his first since his poorly received presser in mid-September at the height of the controversy surrounding the Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson scandals.
NEW CONDUCT POLICY:
The most buzzworthy business the owners will discuss is Goodell’s push to reinvent a player conduct policy, which he outlined in a leaked memo to owners on Monday.
Mark Maske of the Washington Post reported Tuesday that Goodell informed owners the league is considering establishing an independent panel of outside experts to decide how and when employee discipline should be administered.
“That’s going to be probably the key part of the agenda,” Murphy said of Wednesday’s full-owners meeting, “and I think there will be some real good discussion. I know Roger and his staff have put a lot of time over the last six weeks and talked with a lot of people with expertise in areas related to domestic violence and sexual assault.
“These are difficult issues. And hopefully having the input of everybody coming together on it we can come up with a policy and a plan that works for everybody.”
DETROIT — Until 9:57 remained in the Buffalo Bills’ 17-14 comeback win Sunday over the Detroit Lions, Kyle Orton quarterbacked no more effectively, or differently, than the benched EJ Manuel, really.
Same disappointing stuff.
Uncertainty in the pocket; a few treacherous throws (one of which the Detroit Lions returned for their second touchdown); a grating glump of dumpoff passes, mostly to running back Fred Jackson; and hardly any throws even attempted beyond the chains, let alone completed.
But on one long, pivotal, fantastic, perhaps season-saving heave, Orton earned his ascension — and justified Manuel’s benchin’. At least for one week.
The 42-yard completion not only set up the Bills’ tying touchdown and two-point conversion, but down the stretch seemed to crack open an actual downfield Buffalo Bills passing attack — one that possessed an element of danger and clutch effectiveness not seen in those parts since … well, exactly.
And provided by a quarterback who’s not exactly unsure of himself, his teammates noticed.
“I think that he’s a guy who exudes confidence,” Bills tight end Scott Chandler said. “He knows what he’s doing out there and it’s easy to follow a guy like that.”
As the game wound down with the score tied 14-14, Orton stayed hot and continued to connect downfield — with Buffalo’s No. 1 receiver, rookie Sammy Watkins, for 14 yards on one brief drive, then for 22 yards on another. Both drives ended in punts, though.
One play after job-imperiled Lions placekicker Alex Henery missed his third field-goal attempt of the second half, a 50-yarder with 21 seconds left, Orton had one more effective downfield throw in him to try to avoid overtime. Watkins made a spectacular snare of it, for a 20-yard gain to the Detroit 40.
One play later, Dan Carpenter nailed a game-winning 58-yard field with four seconds left, as silence fell over Ford Field.
“It was a slow start for us, playing against a great defence,” Orton said. “(But) if you can learn on the go and keep on winning, that’s a great deal.
“(This) is a young offence that has a lot of room to grow, a lot of room to become an explosive offence. But it won’t happen overnight.”
Back to that key pass play.
To set it up, in the first half Orton had attempted only two passes beyond the first-down marker, completing one for 21 yards. He missed his first two such passes in the second half, then started hitting them — as his comfort increased and Detroit’s pass rush slowed.
With Buffalo trailing Detroit 14-6 in a game dominated almost as much by flag-throwing officials as by powerful defences, the Bills faced third-and-10 from the Detroit 46.
Orton dropped back, pump-faked to the middle to hold the safety, then unhesitatingly ripped a pass down the far right sideline. It popped perfectly into the hands of designated speedster receiver Marquise Goodwin on a straight sprint. He’d got a step on Detroit’s best cornerback, Darius Slay.
Goodwin caught the ball a split-second before getting smacked by late-arriving safety Isa Abdul-Quddus and fumbled out of bounds at the Detroit four-yard line.
“All week I’d been talking to Marquise,” Orton said. “He’s a great speed guy. I didn’t know when it was going to happen, but I just said, ‘Keep on running out there for me, and I’ll find a time when the safety kind of squeezes in (to the middle) and I can get one out there.
“It was a pretty big situation in the game. I threw a pretty good ball and he made a great catch.”
The 42-yarder set up a two-yard Orton touchdown pass to tight end Chris Gragg. Jackson scored the two-point conversion on a run up the gut, because Orton checked into it after surmising the play would likely work against Detroit’s defensive alignment — another savvy-veteran stroke.
The loss was tough to swallow for the Lions, who seemed sure early on to improve to 4-1, up 14-0.
But the Lions offence all but died over the final three quarters, picking up just 10 first downs and 192 totals yards on drives that ended thus: interception, punt, punt, kneel-down at the half, missed field goal, missed field goal, punt, punt, punt, missed field goal, fumble.
It didn’t help the Lions that in the second half they lost their all-world wideout, Calvin Johnson — when he apparently reinjured a gimpy ankle on a hard hit by Buffalo’s Leodis McKelvin — as well as fleet running back Reggie Bush, also with an ankle injury.
“We had our limitations, obviously with personnel, but that was a good defence,” Stafford said. “Well-coached and they had a good scheme coming in.”
That Bills defence is coordinated by Jim Schwartz, the Lions’ head coach for five years until January, when he was fired.
Schwartz pumped up his Bills players on Saturday by telling them a win over the team that dumped him actually would mean a lot to him. And for one other reason, Bills nickelback Nickell Robey said. Schwartz’s son Christian still lives in the Detroit area.
“He said he wanted his son to be able to walk into school (and dish it right back to his tormentors),” Robey said.
Both the Bills and Lions are now 3-2.
The victory ensured the Bills will be in no less than a tie for first place in the AFC East when they play host to the New England Patriots next Sunday.
‘Hollywood type script’ ends Wilson era
DETROIT — Home is where the heart-warming ending was for the Wilson family’s ownership of the Buffalo Bills.
Sunday’s 17-14 win over the Detroit Lions was the 416th game in Bills history, and the 416th and likely final game in which either Ralph or Mary Wilson controlled the club.
Ralph died in March after 55 years as the club’s founding owner. His principal residence always was in the posh Detroit suburb of Grosse Point Shores, on Lake St. Clair just 20 km (12 miles) from Ford Field.
His widow Mary has been interim controlling owner of the Bills since his death. Terry and Kim Pegula likely will be approved Wednesday at the NFL fall meeting in New York as the team’s next owners.
The Bills gave the game ball to Mary Wilson afterward at Ford Field. She had tears in her eyes as she left the locker room.
“It was a great scene in here, a great comeback,” Bills president and CEO Russ Brandon said. “For it all to come down that the Wilson’s last game was in Detroit, and would end like this, it’s a Hollywood type script — a special moment for everybody.”
The Bills won 17-14 on a 58-yard field goal with four seconds left.
The team’s final record under Wilson family ownership: 221-191-4 (.536).
Lasering ‘fires up’ Bills kicker
DETROIT — Lasers, shmasers.
The troublemaking Detroit Lions fan, or fans, at Ford Field on Sunday who tried to mess with Buffalo Bills players by dangerously aiming a laser at them from the stands only inspired them.
Especially Buffalo placekicker Dan Carpenter, who drilled the winning 58-yard field goal with four seconds left in a 17-14 Buffalo win.
“He was fired up,” Bills head coach Doug Marrone said.
Carpenter missed a 50-yard field goal in the third quarter, in part because he was distracted by someone aiming a red laser “down on the carpet,” Marrone said.
“We reported it to NFL Security, and they did a good job, but he was all fired up.”
Per NFL procedures, in such instances where fans distract or otherwise impact play (such as by blowing a whistle), on-field personnel inform the assigned NFL security representative (one per game), who then alerts stadium security, who attempt to solve the problem as quickly as possible.
The security rep for this game would be expected to file a report on the incident.
Bills quarterback Kyle Orton said he was lasered too.
“Early on,” he said. “Felt it a couple of times right after I got the ball, ya know, so we communicated with the refs and communicated with coach Marrone and let him handle that.”
Had that ever happened to him before in an NFL game? Nope.
“That would be a first,” Orton said.