FIVE FANTASTIC FINISHES
The first 57 minutes of the Bills-Lions game were forgettable. But the final three minutes provided one of the best finishes in recent Bills history. Buffalo's 15-play, 80-yard touchdown drive ranks right up there with the most improbable, exciting finishes in the last few years.
I've decided to rank my top five fantastic finishes in the 11 years I've been doing the Bills play by play on the radio:
1. September 2011- Bills beat New England 34-31
Drayton Florence's pick-six with ten minutes left tied it, and then Ryan Fitzpatrick led the Bills downfield in the final minutes to set up a Rian Lindell field goal as time expired. We all know the story of the Bills-New England series. This one was one of the sweetest victories in the last ten years.
2. Sunday October 19 2014 -Bills beat Minnesota 17-16
It was a game that had very little to offer until the final three minutes. Buffalo looked listless for much of the afternoon, and Minnesota was struggling with its' young quarterback. But a masterful touchdown drive engineered by veteran Kyle Orton ended with Sammy Watkins touchdown catch. A spectacular end to a lackluster game.
3. September 18, 2011-Bills beat Oakland 38-35
It was Buffalo's home opener in 2011, but the Bills got off to a terrible start, down 21-3 at the half. The Bills scored touchdowns on every one of their five second half possessions but still trailed the Raiders 35-31 with 3:40 left. The Raiders dropped an end zone interception that would have ended it, and then Ryan Fitzpatrick hit David Nelson in the end zone with: 14 left to win it.
4. September 15, 2013-Bills beat Carolina 24-23
In EJ Manuel's second NFL start, he led the Bills 80-yards down the field with 1:36 left on the clock. Manuel found Stevie Johnson in the end zone for a two yard touchdown pass with: 02 left in the game to win it.
5. September 21, 2008-Bills beat Oakland 24-23
The Bills went to 3-0 to start the season with a frantic come from behind win at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Down 23-13, Buffalo's Trent Edwards hit Roscoe Parrish with a 14-yard touchdown pass with 4-minutes to play. And then Lindell drilled a 38-yard field goal with: 03 on the clock to win it.
UNDER THE YELLOW
The Bills up-and-down 2014 season has been punctuated by penalty flags through seven games. They're averaging just fewer than nine penalties per game, second in the NFL (to New England). And even though there's no real correlation between penalties and losing, Buffalo's penalties seem to have come at critical times.
Head Coach Doug Marrone was particularly upset about penalties on his special teams unit against Minnesota. Three of Buffalo's 6 first half penalties were called on special teams.
""Special teams, I'm concerned about the penalties, " Marrone said Monday. "Penalties, our leverage awareness and our situational awareness too with some of the things that are going on."
One of Sunday's special teams penalties is impossible to find upon review of the game tape. The penalty called on the Bills squib kickoff with 9:28 to play in the second quarter went to Nickell Robey for an illegal formation. Referee Ed Hochuli said Robey lined up too deep. It's not there on tape. All ten of Buffalo's kick-cover men had at least one foot on the 35, the kickoff line. The five yard penalty set up the Vikings at their forty and five plays later they were in the end zone and had the lead back again.
KEEPING UP THE PRESSURE
Jim Schwartz's new Buffalo defense continues to impress. And you can put aside your pre-season worries that the switch in style from Mike Pettine's pressure packages to Schwartz's more conventional approach might result in too much time for opposing quarterbacks. It's not happening.
With five sacks against the Vikings, the Bills now lead the league with 24-sacks. Thirteen of those sacks coming in the last three games. Marcell Dareus, who's playing at a Pro Bowl level again, is on pace to finish the year with 16-sacks, which would be more than double his previous season high (7.5 in 2013). Jerry Hughes is also playing lights out, and he's on pace to end the year with 13 sacks, as is Mario Williams.
VAN IS STILL THE MAN
Longtime Voice of the Bills Van Miller is the 2014 Buffalo Bills Wall of Fame inductee. Here are a few photos from his storied career with the team.
Along with the last second victory, I'll always remember Sunday's Vikings game for the wonderful tribute to Van Miller at halftime. Give credit to the big crowd for welcoming the new Wall of Famer as he and his wife, Gloria, rode to the fifty yard line in a vintage Cadillac. I went over to talk to Van and Gloria briefly after his name was unveiled on the wall, and they were genuinely touched by the outpouring of affection.
There are many uproariously funny Van Miller stories and we got a chance to remember many of them over the entire Wall of Fame weekend, which included a private party for his friends and family in the Van Miller Club at the stadium Saturday night, the on-field ceremony Sunday, and the evening meeting of the Monday Quarterback Club in which Van was the honored guest.
But I also took some time over the last few days to remember what made Van a Wall of Famer.
My all-time favorite Van Miller play call came in his last season behind the mic, the 2003 home opener against New England. Buffalo demolished the Patriots 31-0 that day, and I can still hear Van's voice on Sam Adam's interception return for a touchdown in that game.
"Am I dreaming? Am I dreaming?" he said after big Sam rumbled into the end zone. It was perfect and it perfectly captured the emotions of Bills fans in the stadium and listening on the radio.
Van's play calls were honest and genuine, never pre-planned or scripted. He not only described the action on the field, he felt it and he let those feelings come out through the microphone. He was gifted.
I worked alongside Van for 16-years and learned over time how important it was for the home team announcer to feel the game, not just describe the game. It's the big edge we have over network guys, who parachute in on Fridays or Saturdays, and proceed to do a nice, technical, play by play job.
But 16-years to work side by side with a Wall of Famer like Van? How lucky was I? Was I dreaming? Was I dreaming?