Big win for Bills heading into the bye week

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Facing a 2018 playoff team on the road, Buffalo escaped with a 14-7 victory over the Tennessee Titans Sunday afternoon.

The Titans, now 2-3, clearly are a playoff-caliber team. They have a top-10 defense, play physical on both sides of the ball, and with more help from their kicker, may have sent the Bills to a second straight loss.

Other than a 46-yard shovel pass from Josh Allen to Isaiah McKenzie, Buffalo’s offense moved in small increments. But, with the game hanging in the balance, the dormant running game produced four straight first downs to run out the clock on the Titans.

Now at 4-1 – the best start for Buffalo in eight years – the Bills kept pace with the unbeaten Patriots, and the stingy defense will likely maintain its number two overall standing behind New England.

The Bills head into their bye week with a ton of momentum, and here are five quick observations from yesterday’s win:

Where has this guy been hiding?

Jordan Phillips had three sacks – in the first half! Phillips put up nearly half his career sack total over five seasons in the league in the first 30 minutes of the game.

While touted rookie Ed Oliver is still looking for his first sack (he did share today’s team lead with six tackles), it was nice to see Phillips provide a pass rush from the defensive tackle position.

Since the Bills rarely blitz, getting a steady pass rush from the front four makes a tough Bills defense even tougher.

Allen makes better decisions (mostly)

Allen was 23 of 32 today (72%), and many of those nine incompletions were well-placed throwaways when the defense had the Bills’ receivers covered up. He also slid feet first a couple times on scrambles (probably to his chagrin).

However, he was hit hard by Tennessee linebacker Rashaan Evans on a scramble, and Allen never saw Evans coming. Bills fans likely exhaled a breath of relief as Allen bounced back up, and ran off the field.

Later, on his only improv moment, Allen inexplicably through into double coverage that ended in an interception. The Titans took advantage of the short field driving for the tying score.

Overall, Allen served as a capable game manager in his return from a concussion, and one would expect the offense to open up a little more in two weeks when the Bills play the winless Dolphins.

The right-wing offense

Talk about conservative offensive play calling. Other than a couple first-half intermediate throws to John Brown, the Bills took no real shots down the field Sunday. Unlike last year, when Allen connected on some deep balls, the chunk plays are coming few and far between.

For most of this season, the Bills have looked to drive the field with time-consuming drives.  While the time of possession advantage is admirable, the dearth of big plays is a direct correlation to the Bills’ low point production.

The Bills have the second lowest scoring offense (points per game) of any NFL team with a .500-or-better record. For the Bills to score, they have to execute to near perfection on offense.

Fortunately, the Titans’ defense broke down on Allen’s shovel pass to Isaiah McKenzie. The 46-yard play led to a short TD pass to roster promotee Duke Williams. Speaking of number 82…

The Duke makes his mark

While presumptive number three receiver, Zay Jones**, wasn’t targeted one time in Sunday’s victory, Duke Williams proved an integral part of the Bills’ close win.

A standout in the preseason, Williams was one of the Bills’ last preseason roster cuts. He was quickly signed to the practice squad, and was added to the 53-man roster 24 hours before the game.

Early on, Williams got some looks, and he finished with four catches including the winning TD grab. Williams may not be a speed guy, but he has a big body, soft hands, and is a great complement to the speedy Brown, and crafty slot receiver Cole Beasley.

With Jones’ role fading fast, Williams may have solidified the Bills’ number three receiver spot.

Special teams not on par with offense and defense

The Buffalo defense is number two in yards allowed, the offense is in the top-half of the league, but the special teams?

In the third phase of the game – and the least heralded – the Bills have been mediocre at best.

Special teams was the tangible difference between the Patriots and Bills last week, and it didn’t look much better this week.

Punter Corey Bojorquez got off a couple of boomers, but they ended in dreaded touchbacks. And touchbacks are the equivalent of an unforced error: You didn’t force the opponent to return the ball; you didn’t give your special teams a chance to down the ball inside the 10; and touchbacks are terrible for the net punting.

Speaking of net punting, Buffalo was the worst in the league four games, and held the position after Sunday’s win.

Maybe you’re thinking: Who cares about net punting?

Coaches sure do.

Poor net punting, over the course of a game (or games) adds up to better field position for the opponent.

Statistically, Buffalo’s punt returners average 5.0 yards per return, while opponents come in at over 12 yards per punt return.

And, while Andre Roberts has sparked the Bills’ kickoff return game at 28 yards a return, Roberts has just four returns in five games. A lot of that may come from Buffalo not giving up scores, which lead to kickoffs.

Stephen Hauschka, the Bills’ money man on field goals the past two years, has only attempted six field goals through five games, while making four.

One common thread you see in all great teams is balance in all phases of the game. The Bills still have a long way to go to attain that balance.

**Local Buffalo websites are reporting that Zay Jones was traded to the Oakland Raiders Monday night.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickLNewell

 

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Making my case: The Bills have the NFL’s best defense

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So, what is your definition of a great defense?

Stifling the opponent’s offense? Forcing turnovers? Pressuring and sacking the quarterback? Keeping points off the board?

Putting aside the copious analytics and statistics, the only stat that really matters is the last of those four criterion: Points allowed.

By that measure, the Patriots have the best defense in the NFL, and consistently have among the best defenses because of that bend-but-not-break defense.

Since I’m a Buffalo Bills fan, and this piece will ultimately focus on Buffalo, I’ll make the case for the Bills having the better defense.

According to footballoutsiders.com statistics, New England’s and Buffalo’s defenses ranking 1-2 in fewest yards allowed per drive, fewest plays allowed per drive, and lowest time of possession allowed per drive, and fewest points allowed per drive.

Statistically, there is no doubt, through the first quarter of the season, that these two teams have the best defenses in the NFL

Now, my case for Buffalo.

Last Sunday, the Patriots started two possessions in the second half on Buffalo’s side of the field – one after a turnover, and a second after a poor Bills punt.

These are scenarios were the Patriots strike like piranhas to raw meat.

How many times have we seen the Patriots go for the kill right away, and dial up a big play that they cash in?

From those two possessions, the Patriots garnered a single third-quarter field goal.

Maybe the Patriots left some points off the board there, but not really. They went nowhere on the possession that started on the Bills’ 46, and ground out a couple first downs on the second one before settling for the field goal.

Overall, with the game in the balance, the Patriots did virtually nothing on offense in the second half punting on five of their six possessions (not counting the last possession of kneel-downs).

Patriots total yards in the second half? Just 76.

Coming into week four, the Patriots had a top-six offense that averaged over 408 yards per game, and were putting up points in bunches.

Let’s also factor in the Patriots are perhaps the best-coached team with Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniel, and they are led by Tom Brady, one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.

The Patriots sustained just two long drives the entire game – one that led to its lone touchdown, and the second ending in an uncharacteristic Brady interception.

That was New England’s only turnover, and Buffalo did not record any sacks of Brady, either. It was just sound, positional defense for four quarters that did the trick.

Let’s flip it over to Buffalo’s offense versus the Patriots’ defense.

No one will confuse Bills quarterback Josh Allen (or his backup Cole Barkley) for Brady. Allen made numerous mistakes, including three interceptions, the Patriots sacked him a bunch of times. Yet, after the first quarter, the Bills’ offense consistently moved the ball against the vaunted Patriots’ “D.”

The Bills had the ball seven times in the second half, and two of those possessions ended in interceptions. Of those seven possessions, the Bills had just one 3-and-out.

Overall, Buffalo’s offense accumulated 222 yards in the second half, and 415 gross total yards. Buffalo, who is not known for its offense, gained nearly 200 more yards than the Patriots.

Yet, the Patriots and Brady walked away with their 31st victory in 34 games over the Bills.

The game was decided by the Patriots’ ability to stiffen on defense at critical moments, or force mistakes from the Bills’ inexperienced signal-callers.

Buffalo’s offense already showed in its three wins a lack of a killer instinct when it had the opposition on the ropes. That came back to bite the Bills against a team of the Patriots caliber.

So yes, if you judge defense solely by points allowed, the Patriots’ defense is/was better than Buffalo’s. But, consider this:

Which team has, demonstrably, the better offensive players? New England

Which team is more experienced on offense? New England

Which team has the better quarterback? New England

Which team has the proven track record of executing offense in clutch situations? New England.

But, which team, last Sunday, struggled the most to move the ball? New England.

Take away Josh Allen’s ill-timed interceptions (two of which were complete mental mistakes), from the eye test, the better defensive unit was the Buffalo Bills. The Buffalo defense gave up a paucity of yards against the better offensive unit, and made Brady look like a backup.

Who does that against Tom Brady? Like, ever?

The best defensive team in the NFL.

  • Pre-game disclaimer if Buffalo’s defense has an off game today against Tennessee. 😊

Bills lose their first game – what did we learn?

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Some experts have been talking up another 16-0 season for the New England Patriots. Surely, no one was holding that same hope for the Buffalo Bills.

The Patriots still have 16-0 in play, but the Bills’ unbeaten start to the season came to an end with a 16-10 loss to the Pats at New Era Field Sunday afternoon.

Buffalo (3-1) threw three interceptions, had a punt blocked in the first half that was returned for a touchdown, and gave up sacks – or committed untimely penalties – at crucial times.

And, 2nd-year starting quarterback Josh Allen left the game early in the fourth quarter with a head injury. That left backup Matt Barkley with the task of leading another comeback victory.

Despite the copious mistakes, Buffalo had the ball late in the game with a chance to take the lead.

What did we learn from the Bills after suffering their first loss? Here are five things:

Buffalo’s defense is legit

Cincinnati poked some holes in Buffalo’s defense in the second half last week, but those holes were filled as the Bills faced the Tom Brady-led Patriots offense.

Brady completed just 46 percent of his passes, and had an abysmal 45.9 quarterback rating – his worst of the season. Brady wasn’t sacked, but was consistently moved off his spot, and threw the ball away numerous times to avoid big losses (Were you watching Josh Allen?).

The Patriots did spring two or three good runs, but overall averaged just 3.2 yards per carry. The Patriots had the best offense the Bills have faced this season, and they were definitely up to the task.

Allen took a step back

We hope Allen makes a speedy recovery from the suspected concussion, and doesn’t miss any time. That said, when his head was clear, he made far too many costly mistakes. Two of his three interceptions should have been throw-aways, he fumbled twice (although one didn’t count), and he took ill-timed sacks with Buffalo driving that likely cost his team three to six points.

Looking at the bright side, the Bills didn’t lose faith in Allen, and the second-year quarterback was driving the Bills toward the go-ahead touchdown before he was knocked out of the game.

If yards equaled points…

Buffalo racked up over 400 yards of total offense against the Patriots (less 40 yards for sacks), or double the yards the Patriots were giving up per game over the first three weeks of the season.

The Bills’ nearly 390 yards per game puts Buffalo among the top 10 offenses in the NFL. Yet, the 19 points per game on offense ranks Buffalo among the lowest eight scoring teams in the league.

One doesn’t need a degree in statistical analysis to recognize that is inefficient offense.

Buffalo won the battle today between the two 20-yard lines, but obviously lost the war. Cashing in on its scoring opportunities will likely be a point of emphasis for head coach Sean McDermott and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll.

Gore still has it

It’s unlikely Buffalo would have had much success running it wide, so Gore’s one-read-and-hit-the-designed-hole style worked great for most of today’s game. Gore was stopped for a loss in the fourth quarter when Buffalo was inside the five, but Gore was typically able to make some positive yardage even when the Patriots sniffed out plays, and his 41-yard run in the second quarter was a thing of beauty.

When Devin Singletary returns from his hamstring injury, the Gore-Singletary contrast should make Buffalo’s running game even more dynamic.

More Knox please

I used this line with my sister during the game: “Dawson Knox is pure gold like Fort Knox.”

Eh, too cheesy?

Knox came up with more big plays today (especially the sideline reception late in the first half), and one has to wonder why the Bills are not featuring him more. I was scratching my head in the first half when, the Bills were in an obvious passing situation, and Lee Smith was out running a threatless route, and Knox on the bench. Smith may be the better blocker, but it’s patently obvious that Knox is making the quick ascension as the Bills’ best receiving tight end.

My sister called Knox “our Gronk.”

I’ll take even a semi Gronk.

Extra points: Buffalo’s two coach’s challenges were suspect at best. It was pretty obvious the Patriots reached the first-down marker in the first half – first challenge lost. The second, Levi Wallace tripped over, well, nothing. The challenged pass interference call equaled lost challenge number two… .Buffalo was out of timeouts by the early part of the fourth quarter. One was lost on the aforementioned lost challenge, a second was a Bills staff that was uncomfortable with New England’s punt formation, and it called timeout to protect against a fake. The last one was on the coaching staff and Josh Allen as the play clock was winding down during an important second-half drive.

NY scholastic sports should get with the times

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In my 20 years writing sports in New York, I wrote a few columns critical of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association’s inclusion of non-public schools in its public high school championships. There was an inherent unfairness to allow private schools, that do not draw students from geographic boundaries, to compete against true public schools that do.  Some private schools do not prioritize excellence in athletics, while many others do. 

Those schools that do prioritize athletics and consistently compete at the highest level of New York prep sports are merely reclassified to higher enrollment classifications, rather than address the incongruous playing field.

This is a criticism I have long eschewed, but it doesn’t appear anyone in a position to effect change will even consider a revision of this practice.

My other criticism of the NYSPHSAA was born more of my three-plus years covering New Mexico high school state tournament events as a freelance sports writer.

Robert Zayas, current chief of the NYSPHSAA, was formerly the executive director of the New Mexico Activities Association, which oversees New Mexico’s prep athletics. 

New Mexico’s tournaments underwent some tweaking under Zayas’ stewardship, and I like what they’ve done.  Instead of “sections,” which is a New York term, New Mexico has districts. District playoffs are held at the end of the regular season, and the district champions earn automatic bids to the state tournament.

The next points are where New Mexico differs from New York.

After wrapping up my final tournament story last night, I learned from veteran reporters that the NM tournaments have undergone numerous changes. One of the more prominent ones was the expansion of the field – in each enrollment class – from eight to 16 teams.

From what I can tell, half the tournament fields are at-large bids.  And better yet, there aren’t templated regional matchups.  Teams are actually seeded one through 16, and aside from the opening round games, which are hosted by the higher seed, the entire field comes to Albuquerque to finish the quarterfinals through finals at one of two sites over six days.

Semifinals and finals are all played at “The Pit,” home of the University of New Mexico, and through countless interviews with coaches and players, it’s every high school basketball player’s dream to make it to “The Pit.”

Perhaps the most important point to make, for me, is the request to abolish standardized regional matchups, and just “seed” the teams.  College and professional sports conduct their season-ending tournaments with a seeding process, and little ol’ New Mexico has been doing it for years.

The seeding process, indeed, has some subjectivity involved, but there are dozens of sports writers across the state that could easily come together as a committee to seed all teams – to the best of their given knowledge. Sure, they’ll get it wrong from time to time, but the benefit is to see the “best” teams meeting in the semifinals and finals.

Five years ago, I saw one of the best state playoff basketball games in my two decades covering Chenango County sports. Norwich and Westhill played in the traditional Section 3 vs. Section 4 regional quarterfinal.

The game went to overtime, and Norwich was a rimmed-out three-pointer from extending the game to double overtime. Westhill went on to pummel its remaining opponents, and also cruised through the Federation tournament.

Those were clearly the two best teams in the state that year, and that game should have been a state final, not a quarterfinal game.  With appropriate seeding, that may well have happened.

Fast forward five years to this year’s state tournament.

Unadilla Valley’s boys and Norwich’s girls each made state tournament appearances, and both bowed out in the first round of their state playoff games – again in the usual Section 3 vs .4 matchup.

UV lost by 15 to Cooperstown, but made things interesting for a while in the second half.  Cooperstown, meanwhile, rolled through its semifinal game, and may well capture the state title.

An easy argument can be made that with tournament seeding, Cooperstown and UV should not have seen each other until perhaps the semifinals.

With Norwich, it’s an even clearer argument for tournament seeding.

Norwich dropped its intersectional playoff game to South Jefferson, a game it was leading by as many as 10 points in the second half.  South Jeff narrowly lost its semifinals game to Irvington by one possession, and Irvington blew out its finals opponent to capture the state title.

Norwich and South Jefferson, based on their respective bodies of work in the regular season (Norwich did beat Class A state finalist Seton Catholic Central multiple times) should never have met so early in a tournament.

Sure, Norwich may have lost to another school in the final eight, but at least it wouldn’t be to a fellow top-four seed.  The same with Unadilla Valley.

Zayas was an agent for change during his tenure in New Mexico. Perhaps he’ll put his thumbprint on New York as well, get with the times, and run a 21st-century state tournament – with actual seeds.

‘Effort’ the constant in NHS girls’ basketball’s success

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This past Friday, Norwich’s girls’ basketball team won its first Southern Tier Athletic Conference championship in 18 years. Other than maybe a senior or two, no one on the current team was even born in February, 2001 when Norwich claimed that title, and current head coach, Josh Bennett, was a senior guard on the boys’ basketball team.

The fact that Norwich has had a winning basketball team most of those 18 years – and highly competitive at that – it’s almost an anomaly that Norwich hasn’t won a STAC title. Perhaps it’s due to another great conference team stepping up year after year.  When Norwich was really good, it always seemed like a Binghamton, a Seton Catholic Central, an Oneonta, a Susquehanna Valley were a little better.

Not this year.

Granted, the 35-point championship win came against a previously-unbeaten Owego team that was missing a key starter and some reserves, but at this level, unless that missing player is a LeBron James-type talent, one player probably will not make a 35-point difference in a high school basketball game.

Bennett said as much in a post-game quote in the Press and Sun Bulletin.

The Purple Tornado have not taken the easy road to a 19-1 record.  Owego came into the game, as mentioned, unbeaten; Elmira, who Norwich beat on Wednesday, was the STAC large school division champion with nearly three times the enrollment of Norwich; and other wins have come against Horseheads, Utica Proctor, and Seton Catholic Central (multiple times). 

Norwich’s only loss was to one of the top-ranked AA schools in the state – Bishop Kearney – which may compete for a state title in New York’s largest enrollment classification.

I’ve been out of the day-to-day mix of Chenango County sports for three years, but still passively follow local results reading published stories on newspaper websites.  Through most of the season, I wasn’t sure what to make of Norwich’s girls, other than the fact they were winning regularly. 

I was aware of that one loss to Bishop Kearney in December, but did not know Norwich’s overall record until a couple weeks ago.  I definitely did not know that the one loss in December was the only blemish on Norwich’s record. 

Earlier this month, I tuned into what was probably the first Norwich girls’ basketball broadcast I had ever heard – radio or otherwise – on the Mixlr app.  Norwich was playing Seton Catholic Central, and I believe it was the win over the Saints in which Sydney Coggins buried a bunch of 3’s. 

And in every game since that time, Norwich has buried a bunch of three balls from a variety of players.  Bennett hit the nail on the head in a post-game quote pointing out that he has a team with multiple players that can drive to the basket, and multiple players that can hit the three.  If you sag the defense, Norwich will take the three; but if you press up on defense, the players will drive to the basket.

It’s a pick-your-poison scenario, and so far, no one in Section IV has solved that dilemma.

This isn’t, however, a new Norwich offensive philosophy.  Since Bennett took over the NHS program, the approach has been to push the ball up the floor, encourage dribble penetration to the basket, and when the driving lanes close up, kick the ball outside to an open shooter.

And to complement that offense, Norwich is pressing full-court on defense to create chaos and tempo to its advantage.

So why is this approach, familiar to everyone who watches Norwich basketball, working so much better than previous years?  Reading game accounts and listening to recent games, it doesn’t appear Norwich has that one go-to all-star player that coaches circle as “the player” to stop.

Norwich doesn’t have a dominant forward or center, who blocks shots, rebounds, and scores 15 points a game.  There isn’t that one standout point guard either, who controls the offensive flow with a bunch of assists, steals, and points.

You’ve all heard of the “committee” approach? Norwich starts five interchangeable parts, and substitutes at least four more reserves – regularly – with little to no drop-off.  They can all dribble, shoot, and play relentless, hustling defense.

We all marvel at the offensive numbers Norwich produces with the quick surges of points fueled by dead-eye outside shooting. But, count the cumulative scrapes and floor burns after each game that are born of dives for loose balls and selling out for an extra offensive possession.

It’s one thing to have a couple of those players on your team, but to have a team full of those players?  That’s a winning formula. 

You can’t control the aggregate level of talent on your team, but what you can control is your level of effort.  Norwich certainly has talent, but that supreme level of effort may send these girls to their first state playoff appearance in over a decade.
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This past Friday, Norwich’s girls’ basketball team won its first Southern Tier Athletic Con

ference championship in 18 years. Other than maybe a senior or two, no one on the current team was even born in February, 2001, and current head coach, Josh Bennett, was a senior guard on the boys’ basketball team.
The fact that Norwich has had a winning basketball team most of those 18 years – and highly competitive at that – it’s almost an anomaly that Norwich hasn’t won a STAC title. Perhaps it’s due to another great conference team stepping up year after year. When Norwich was really good, it always seemed like a Binghamton, a Seton Catholic Central, an Oneonta, a Susquehanna Valley were a little better.
Not this year.
Granted, the 35-point championship win came against a previously-unbeaten Owego team that was missing a key starter and some reserves, but at this level, unless that missing player is a LeBron James-type talent, one player probably will not make a 35-point difference in a high school basketball game.
Bennett said as much in a post-game quote in the Press and Sun Bulletin.
The Purple Tornado have not taken the easy road to a 19-1 record. Owego came into the game, as mentioned, unbeaten; Elmira, who Norwich beat on Wednesday, was the STAC large school division champion with nearly three times the enrollment of Norwich; and other wins have come against Horseheads, Utica Proctor, and Seton Catholic Central (multiple times).
Norwich’s only loss was to of the top-ranked AA schools in the state – Bishop Kearney – which may compete for a state title in New York’s largest enrollment classification.
I’ve been out of the day-to-day mix of Chenango County sports for three years, but still passively follow local results reading published stories on newspaper websites. Through most of the season, I wasn’t sure what to make of Norwich’s girls, other than the fact they were winning regularly.
I was aware of that one loss to Bishop Kearney in December, but did not know Norwich’s overall record until a couple weeks ago. I definitely did not know that the one loss in December was the only blemish on Norwich’s record.
A couple of weeks ago, I tuned into what was probably the first Norwich girls’ basketball broadcast I had ever heard – radio or otherwise – on the Mixlr app. Norwich was playing Seton Catholic Central, and I believe it was the win over the Saints in which Sydney Coggins buried a bunch of 3’s.
And in every game since that time, Norwich has buried a bunch of three balls from a variety of players. Bennett hit the nail on the head in a post-game quote pointing out that he has a team with multiple players that can drive to the basket, and multiple players that can hit the three. If you sag the defense, Norwich will take the three; but if you press up on defense, the players will drive to the basket.
It’s a pick-your-poison scenario, and so
far, no one in Section IV has solved that dilemma.
This isn’t a new Norwich offensive philosophy, though. Since Bennett took over the NHS program, the approach has been to push the ball up the floor, encourage dribble penetration to the basket, and when the driving lanes close up, kick the ball outside to an open shooter.
And to complement that offense, Norwich is pressing full-court on defense to create chaos and tempo to its advantage.
So why is this approach, familiar to everyone who watches Norwich basketball, working so much better than previous years? Reading game accounts and listening to recent games, it doesn’t appear Norwich has that one go-to all-star player that coaches circle as “the player” to stop.

Norwich doesn’t have a dominant forward or center, who blocks shots, rebounds, and scores 15 points a game. There isn’t that one standout point guard either, who controls the offensive flow with a bunch of assists, steals, and points.
You’ve all heard of the “committee” approach? Norwich starts five interchangeable parts, and substitutes at least four more reserves – regularly – with l

ittle to no drop-off. They can all dribble, shoot, and play relentless, hustling defense.
We all marvel at the offensive numbers Norwich produces with the quick surges of points fueled by dead-eye outside shooting. But, count the cumulative scrapes and floor burns after each game that are born of dives for loose balls and selling out for an extra offensive possession.
It’s one thing to have a couple of those players on your team, but to have a team full of those players? That’s a winning formula.
You can’t control the aggregate level of talent on your team, but what you can control is your level of effort. Norwich certainly

has talent, but that supreme level of effort may send these girls to their first state playoff appearance in over a decade.

The Buffalo Bills are reverting to the mean

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If you’re not a Buffalo Bills fan, then this post will be of little interest. Two weeks ago, I was pleased, but cautiously optimistic about the 5-2 start. I saw message boards on Bills’ fan sites and read local columnists’ pieces touting a possible end to the 18-season playoff drought. I chatted with my youngest sister after the victory over Oakland, and I played devil’s advocate. If you’re a suffering fan of the Bills, there is ample evidence for the “Debby Downer” attitude.

 Noting the upcoming schedule, I pointed out to my sister upcoming dates with New Orleans, Kansas City, and two games with New England. The lighter side of the schedule was the Jets Colts, Chargers, and two games against Miami.  I wasn’t confident my team could get to 10 wins – a playoff team benchmark – and after an embarrassing loss to the Jets 10 days ago, my concerns were amplified.

With the latest drubbing handed down by New Orleans (perhaps the worst home loss in my recollection), the playoffs seem more and more unlikely. The Saints are one of the hottest teams in the league and maybe one of the top three or four teams in the NFL right now. It was a litmus test for Buffalo to establish where it stacks up. Based on today’s performance, the Bills are closer to the preseason predictions of mediocrity than a playoff team. It was an egregiously bad performance, but I know at least one of my family members was pleased.

My oldest daughter attended the game with her boyfriend – her first NFL game – and she confessed to me before the game that she was actually a Saints fan.  I understand, though. She had no choice inheriting my genes, but had free rein to select her favorite sports team. And she had the good sense to avoid jumping into the cauldron of frustration and disappointment that is a Bills fan.

The Bills turned over more than 60 percent of its roster from last year, which has to be one of the most sweeping overhauls in the league. Despite the revamped roster, the Bills are reverting toward the mean.  They’re not that good on offense (26th in the league through nine games), and just as bad on defense (25th in the league).

I guess we should be pleased with the won-loss record. No other team in the NFL is among the worst eight teams in offense and defense, yet maintains a winning record.

I guess it could be worse. At least I’m not a Cleveland Browns fan.

What would Tom Schwan think? He’d like this ‘Internet thing’

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I wonder what Tom Schwan would think about social media and the explosion of the Internet. Particularly, the Internet as a research tool.

Tom died in January, 1996, and for today’s athletes, his name is associated with an early-season basketball tournament hosted by Norwich, and a “Kids Court” at the annual Gus Macker Tournament that lines the streets of Norwich each July.

Tom wrote freelance for The Evening Sun from the late 1960s until his passing, and during that time, it still meant something to see your name in the paper. Sadly, any athletes who performed after 1996 never got to experience a Tom Schwan-written story.

Tom was an indefatigable researcher, and he made the most of what was available.  The Internet was not an efficient or logical resource of information at the time of his death. Dial-up modems made page navigation painfully slow, and there wasn’t the proliferation of sports sites that there are today.

If you read Tom – and his weekly columns – he was a fountain of news tidbits. In addition to his home paper, Tom took several other daily newspapers in the Central New York region. He had made outreach to countless colleges, and was also a recipient (by mail) of sports information updates.

How did I know this? I spent several afternoons at Tom’s house talking sports over coffee, and I bore witness to the hundreds of files, old newspapers, and stacks of notebooks he had stored. 

Tom also subscribed to the New York State Sports Writers Association weekly mailer where he gleaned more knowledge including the always-popular state rankings.

Nearly all of that work can now be done navigating various Internet sites.

Speaking of those state rankings, Tom liked to occasionally use them in his columns. Not because he was sold on their value, but they made nice conversation starters and drummed up interest in games.

Rankings at the high school level – at least through the first four or five weeks of the season – are a product of reputation, past results, and the historical competitiveness of one’s league or conference. 

Until recent years, Walton football usually had a state ranking in Class C or D; Chenango Forks is a staple in Class B (and previously Class C); and up until last year, Maine-Endwell was a regular in the rankings.

In boys’ basketball, Norwich remains a fixture in the Class B rankings.   But in all these sports, rankings do not equate to seedings in the big tournament, or quantify how good a team really is outside of its local bubble.

Coaches will tell you – on the record, at least – that rankings don’t mean anything.  Yet, I have rubbernecked a few coaches-players team conferences, and rankings have entered the conversation many a time.

Be it to extoll one’s own ranking, or to put the opposing team’s ranking on the billboard for motivational fodder, coaches know when it’s useful to mention state rankings.

The rankings, and the means by which we acquired those rankings, are now obsolete.  Tom was a chemist by trade, and he was recently retired from Procter and Gamble when I met him in August, 1995.

Everything we were doing at the time – and Tom’s research process – now seems woefully out of date by today’s standards. 

Tom suggested I subscribe to that same NYSSWA newsletter, and he also suggested I order a copy of Clell Wade high school directory for public and private New York high schools.

I ordered one for the 1996 year, and it was quite useful. It had addresses, enrollment numbers, phone numbers and fax numbers for athletics departments across the state. It also had the contact person in the AD’s office, and even gave the school’s nickname. 

I used that book faithfully for about five or six years until my copy seemed out of date. So, I ordered an updated copy around 2002.  The Internet was now an entrenched application, and page navigation speed was vastly improved. 

But MaxPreps was not nearly the source of high school information that it is today, so old-school research was still relevant.

None of what we used to do for research is now relevant.

I am no great sage and certainly not the first person to see the writing on the wall. Newspapers were creating online versions of their newspaper, and they were giving away their content for free.

I remember saying to a number of people probably around 2003, 2004, that newspapers would eventually succumb to the Internet.  Again, I wasn’t Nostradamus or any great soothsayer, any veteran journalist saw this coming.

Newspapers will survive, though. It may not be in the form we’re used to, but my next prediction is that someone a heck of a lot smarter than me will develop a business model that will make traditional newspapers profitable on the Internet.

They will adapt, and I’m confident Tom Schwan, if he were alive today, would have adapted nicely to this new technology.