NFL Nation: Eric Wood

Bills Camp Report: Day 32

August, 20, 2014
Aug 20
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PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Buffalo Bills training camp:
  • Another day, another practice where receiver Sammy Watkins suited up but wasn't a full participant. Watkins was in full pads, taking part in warm-up drills and stretching before watching the rest of the practice from the sideline. Coach Doug Marrone said the Bills' medical staff hasn't made a decision on Watkins' status for Saturday's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. At this point, it doesn't make sense to play Watkins unless he's completely healthy. The opener in Chicago is most important.
  • Tempers flared for some of the players who did practice. The highlight (lowlight?) of practice was a brawl in the end zone during a goal-line drill. Center Eric Wood, a team captain, and defensive end Bryan Johnson, an undrafted rookie, were at the center of it initially before it spilled off to the side. At one point, tight end Scott Chandler had to be restrained from Johnson. The language used between some of the players wasn't too family-friendly.
  • Cornerback Leodis McKelvin had just seemed to ramp his participation up to normal levels this week when he left Wednesday's practice with a groin injury. It's unclear if McKelvin will be available for Saturday's game. It has to be frustrating for McKelvin, who has taken several months to recover from offseason hip surgery and also dealt with a hamstring injury early last season. However, the Bills have some depth at cornerback to withstand any long-term blow.
  • It was another sharp day for quarterback EJ Manuel, who has been running against the scout team defense this week in practice. He went 11-for-15 in full-team drills, delivering his passes on-time and accurately on mostly shorter routes.
  • After Jeff Tuel received 26 snaps and Thad Lewis saw nine reps Tuesday, the two backup quarterbacks switched Wednesday. Lewis was the first to replace Manuel and finished practice with 25 snaps (compared to 33 for Manuel). Tuel had nine. Coaches are still giving both players a chance to win the backup job, but Tuel appears to be the front-runner. It wouldn't be surprising if he saw more reps Thursday.
  • Linebacker Stevenson Sylvester (torn patella) was placed on injured reserve, and cornerbacks Mario Butler (ankle) and Bobby Felder (groin), as well as safety Jonathan Meeks (neck) were held out of practice. Tight end Tony Moeaki (hamstring) continues to be limited; he spent team drills working with trainers on a side field.
  • The Bills will wrap up training camp at St. John Fisher College with a practice Thursday afternoon. They are off Friday before playing the Buccaneers on Saturday.
TAMPA, Fla. -- It's time to take a step back.

That was the message from Buffalo Bills coach Doug Marrone after rookie quarterback EJ Manuel had his worst outing of the season Sunday, throwing four interceptions in a 27-6 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"I think we've been giving him more and more. Now it's a point of where you have to re-evaluate that. He's been going fast with his progression and now we just have to look at it and get him started again," Marrone said. "It's not starting over -- don't get me wrong -- [but] we've got to look to see what we can do and probably cut down what we're doing."

[+] EnlargeBuffalo's EJ Manuel
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsEJ Manuel struggled against the Bucs, throwing four interceptions while taking seven sacks.
It's been an up-and-down season for Manuel, characteristic of most rookie passers, but his performance away from Ralph Wilson Stadium has been consistently poor.

Manuel is 0-5 in games played outside of Buffalo, while his completion percentage dips from 65 percent at Ralph Wilson Stadium to 53 percent at other venues. However, the 16th overall pick in April's draft downplayed location as a factor after Sunday's game.

"I'm not going to say because I'm not at the Ralph I played bad, or because we're on the road [I] played bad," he said. "Just didn't do well today. Very, very, very frustrating for me. But it's still a learning curve and just have to move on."

The Buccaneers sacked Manuel seven times Sunday, but that still wasn't the most the rookie was taken down this season. The New York Jets sacked him eight times in Week 3.

"We didn't do a very good job up front at times," coach Doug Marrone said. "You saw us having to escape the pocket. I think that's very difficult."

Center Eric Wood, however, was defensive about his unit's performance after the game.

"Bad, but you show me any offensive line that played good when you're down 21 points in the second quarter," he said. "I'd love to see it."

A reporter later followed-up, asking if Wood thought an offensive line couldn't play well, down three touchdowns.

"It's pretty tough," Wood responded. "You let a talented dffensive line tee off on you, play after play, they're going to get home. You have to be able to ... if you're not close, and you gotta do obvious passing downs -- first, second, third down -- they're gonna get home. That's how it generally works."

To Wood's point, a big part of the problem for the Bills' offense was their inability to keep second and third downs at manageable distances, a result of an ineffective running game that gained 67 yards on 22 carries.

What wasn't the problem, Wood noted, was crowd noise. It was hardly a hostile environment for Manuel and his offensive line.

"Crowd wasn't a factor today," Wood said. "Shoot, you couldn't tell who made a good play, there was so many Bills fans down here."

Eric Wood adds insight on Incognito

November, 7, 2013
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The situation regarding suspended Miami Dolphins guard Richie Incognito seemingly changes by the hour, as new developments and viewpoints stream in on the topic.

On Wednesday, more reaction came from the Buffalo Bills locker room, specifically from team captain Eric Wood. In addition to being represented by the same agent, David Dunn, Wood and Incognito were teammates on the Bills in 2009.

Saying he's been in communication with "everybody" about the incident, Wood stepped cautiously around the subject Wednesday.

Wood
"Richie is by no means innocent, but there's usually two sides to stories and without knowing everything, I don't want to get on Richie too hard for what happened," he said. "I think the language was a terrible misjudgment. In today's society you just can't use racial language; that's just how it is. Whether they get along really well and they felt comfortable with that, you still can't use it. I think that's kind of like, the voicemail that was released, I think that was the biggest issue of it all."

Wood suggested that Jonathan Martin's agent may be the source of details that emerged about Incognito's involvement.

"Sometimes, from what it appears, the agents got involved. Jonathan was with his family for a few days. Nothing came out, and then all of the sudden the agent released stuff about Richie," Wood said. "I don't know if he's trying to defend his client and maybe throw someone under the bus at the expense of it, but I don't know. I think there's a lot more to the story than meets the eye."

Although teammates for just one season, Wood said he and Incognito remain friends and see each other at events, including the Super Bowl.

"He gets on me. I get on him. But I can take it. I have respect for Richie, he has respect for me," Wood said. "It sounds really weird to outside people, but it's part of the culture. Guys give people a hard time. Especially O-lines that are really close. But you really have to get a feel for guys. As a leader of a football team especially, just a case of misjudgment I believe."

Wood further stressed that Incognito may be misunderstood.

"I don't know what would have provoked him. I'm assuming he felt some back-and-forth banter, which is kind of how he produces his humor. He gets on guys and guys get on him back. He can take it. He's by no means perfect and guys give him a hard time, too," Wood said. "But you have to have respect for a guy, and when a guy is kind of down, which I'm assuming [Martin] was, you have to know when to pull off, and I think he just used some really bad misjudgment."

As far as his own experience, Wood said he has been on the receiving end of friendly banter.

"Guys got on me for a lot of meals. They get on me about my hair. But I'm fine with that. I just kind of roll it off," he said. "Outside the building we all hung out and we all got along. But there's different cases where guys can take it differently. As far as the meals they've gotten me for, I've enjoyed my fair share of meals. And they got me good because I was a first-rounder. First-rounders generally stick around for a while. And they know that you're going to get it back."

Draft status plays into how veterans treat "rookie nights," according to Wood.

"We've had a lot of undrafted offensive linemen who make the team and they might pick up breakfast on a Saturday, but they're not getting the big-time rookie nights that you hear about a Dez Bryant or somebody else getting," he said.

Upon Further Review: Bills Week 6

October, 14, 2013
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A review of four hot issues from the Buffalo Bills' 27-24 overtime loss to the Cincinnati Bengals:

[+] EnlargeStephon Gilmore
Timothy T. Ludwig/USA TODAY SportsBills CB Stephon Gilmore had a tough time playing in Sunday's game against Cincinnati with his left hand wrapped up.
Flynn in facility: There's no official prognosis on Thad Lewis' injury, which had him in a walking boot after the game. He was not spotted Monday morning, presumably undergoing further tests. As reporters were in the locker room, free-agent quarterback Matt Flynn was working out in the team's field house. "That's the business. Thad played through the injury, but we need to bring guys in so our team can stay strong," wide receiver Stevie Johnson said. "I think it's a good move. We'll see how his workout goes." EJ Manuel, who is dealing with a knee injury, made a brief appearance in the locker room Monday morning and appeared to be moving well.

One-handed Gilmore: Cornerback Stephon Gilmore played just 30 percent of defensive snaps in his return Sunday. Coach Doug Marrone praised Gilmore after the game, saying it was a "tough situation" and Gilmore wasn't "as comfortable as he wants to be." Gilmore wore a large club over his left hand Sunday that left none of his fingers exposed. That caused problems for him as a tackler, and the feeling here is the Bills will continue to limit Gilmore's playing time until he can be more effective. Asked if he would move back to safety with Gilmore returning, Aaron Williams hesitated Monday. "I don't know if I'm going back to safety yet," Williams said. "I feel like Gilmore's still trying to come back to his rhythm. He told [me] that yesterday was awkward for him, especially with a big club like that. It's hard for a cornerback to play with one arm."

Johnson a no-go: Johnson's streak of 53 consecutive games played was snapped Sunday, as was his streak of 48 consecutive starts, which was second among active NFL receivers. Johnson said he first tweaked his lower back against the Ravens in Week 4, and tried to play through it in Week 5, eventually leaving the game. After traveling to California last week, Johnson felt he wasn't sharp enough to make a difference in Sunday's game, had he played. "I was close. Not well enough to be effective," he said. "Unfortunate situation. Me not being able to really focus on the plays and then with how I was feeling in my body, I knew I just wouldn't be a factor in the game." Johnson is optimistic he can play next Sunday.

Bengals' goal-line stand: The Bengals' goal-line stand early in the second quarter, which proved to be a decisive moment in the game, was something the Bills had seen on film from Cincinnati's Week 5 win against the Patriots. "We knew they had a good goal-line defense going in," center Eric Wood said. "We just weren't able to make the plays. Ultimately, that caught up to us, because that changed a lot of the momentum in that point in the game. In an overtime game, all points are crucial." Running back Fred Jackson, who was kept out of the end zone on three straight carries, pinned the failed scoring chance on himself. "That's something that I want to put squarely on my shoulders. I have to make something happen," he said. "As a running back with three opportunities to score on the goal line, you want to put that on yourself. I didn't get the job done, and that's something I need to be motivated about and make sure it doesn't happen again."

Upon Further Review: Bills Week 3

September, 23, 2013
9/23/13
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A review of four hot issues from the Buffalo Bills' 27-20 loss to the New York Jets:

Pinpointing Mario's departure: Defensive end Mario Williams looks to be among the several Bills injured in this game. His final play came on the Jets' extra point following their 69-yard touchdown catch with 9:23 left in the fourth quarter. The Buffalo News reported that Williams was "limping mightily" after getting X-rays after the game. The Bills did not announce any injury to Williams, and a team spokesperson deferred comment to coach Doug Marrone, who will speak to reporters Monday afternoon.

[+] EnlargeC.J. Spiller
Anthony Gruppuso/USA TODAY SportsThe Jets made sure to put the clamps on Buffalo running back C.J. Spiller on Sunday.
Spiller says Jets stacked box: Running back C.J. Spiller, who ran for 9 yards on 10 carries before taking himself out of the game with a thigh injury, said the Jets were trying to force him to the edges of the field. "They wanted me to bounce it," he said. "They put a lot of people in the box and dared our passing game to beat them." Spiller, who acknowledged after a 41-yard performance in Week 1 that teams are game planning against him, echoed those thoughts again Monday. "If I'm a defensive coordinator, that would be my biggest thing, too, is to stop our run and pretty much make our rookie quarterback beat us," he said.

Wood on "unacceptable" performance: Other than Spiller's struggles that highlighted a bleak offensive day for the Bills, center Eric Wood was penalized twice for holding (one was declined). On Monday, Wood said some of Buffalo's mistakes "were terrible, [mine] included." Wood and the rest of the Bills' offensive line allowed EJ Manuel to get sacked eight times, part of an ugly 19-of-42 performance by the rookie. "We've got to complete more balls and we have to get better protection," Wood added. "Yesterday was unacceptable."

Marathon of a game: At 3 hours, 33 minutes, this was the longest Bills game in at least their past three seasons. Much of that, of course, is due to the Jets' 20 penalties, as well as their two challenges, and two booth reviews. Meanwhile, the Bills tied a team record with eight first downs off Jets penalties. They last "achieved" that feat in 1987.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills center Eric Wood responded Wednesday to a message that New York Jets defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson sent to Bills quarterback EJ Manuel.

Wood
"[That] just kind of fits their mold. They talk, they follow the lead of their head coach, who we have a lot of respect for," Wood said. "They're a cocky bunch and they talk, but in the past they've backed it up."

According to the Newark Star-Ledger, Richardson sent Manuel a Facebook message saying the Jets "were after him" and that he should "make sure he's in his playbook." Manuel did not respond to the message as of Monday, the paper said, but Richardson also told Manuel "good game," so the message may have been more friendly banter than anything else.

Either way, Wood emphasized that what Jets players say is a reflection of the personality of their head coach, Rex Ryan.

"He lost the weight, but I don't think he's lost his edge," Wood said. "He's entertaining. Every coach is different. His deal is he's cocky, he's in your face, and then his teams mimic it. In the past it's worked for him."

Wood will line up across from Richardson in the trenches on Sunday, but said his days of letting pregame chatter get under his skin might be passed.

"Anytime there's talking it definitely adds some fuel to their fire. When I was a guard I would always think about that stuff a lot more before a game and really get fired up and try to knock some people's heads off," Wood said. "At center, I feel like you get too fired up, you lose some of your responsibilities from a schematics standpoint. It might be in the back of my mind, but I can't let it affect me or get me too fired up or I'll probably end up blowing an assignment or not get somebody going in the right spot."

Eric Wood's extension adds four years

September, 3, 2013
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First-year Buffalo Bills general manager Doug Whaley made his team's most significant financial commitment to date on Friday, signing center Eric Wood to a four-year contract extension.

Per NFL Players Association records, the deal extends Wood's contract four seasons, with the following base salaries:

Wood
2014 -- $3.35 million
2015 -- $4.05 million
2016 -- $4.125 million
2017 -- $4.125 million

The Bills also made a sizable commitment to cornerback Leodis McKelvin in March, re-signing him through 2016 with a value of about $20 million, the Associated Press reported.

So which Bills players might be next in line for a new deal? Tight end Scott Chandler and defensive lineman Alex Carrington may be the top candidates. Both are set to become free agents next spring, and Carrington in particular has impressed the new coaching staff.

Here's a snapshot look at each player's contract length, sorted by the final year of their deal:

SIGNED THROUGH 2013
RB Tashard Choice
WR Chris Hogan
FB Frank Summers
TE Mike Caussin
TE Scott Chandler
OL Thomas Welch
OL Sam Young
DL Alan Branch
DL Alex Carrington
DL Jay Ross
OLB Jamaal Westerman
LB Arthur Moats
S Jairus Byrd

(Read full post)

Wood among three Bills selected captains

September, 2, 2013
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Center Eric Wood was among three Buffalo Bills selected as captains by his teammates, the team announced Monday.

This will be Wood's first year as a captain. The fifth-year center signed a contract extension last week.

In addition, Bills players selected running back Fred Jackson and defensive tackle Kyle Williams as captains, the third consecutive season each has been chosen by their teammates.

Each player will wear a "C" on his jersey this season.
The Arizona Cardinals hope rookie first-round draft choice Jonathan Cooper can recover from a broken leg in time to play the final six or so games in 2013.

The injury was a tough one for the Cardinals. They are rebuilding their long-neglected offensive line around Cooper, the seventh overall pick in the draft. Injuries sidelined multiple starters on the line last season, including left tackle Levi Brown and center Lyle Sendlein. Losing Cooper before he plays a regular-season game reduces the margin for error even though overall line depth is improved.

There is hope for Cooper. Other highly drafted offensive linemen have bounced back from injury-shortened rookie seasons in recent years. Russell Okung, taken sixth overall by the Seattle Seahawks in 2010, rebounded to earn Pro Bowl honors in his third season. Cincinnati's Andre Smith and Atlanta's Sam Baker have been more durable lately after rough early stretches.

The chart below ranks first-round offensive linemen from 2008 through 2012 by most games missed as rookies.

Chris McIntosh, Steve Hutchinson, James Carpenter, Okung and Jason Smith are five first-round offensive linemen from NFC West teams to miss time early in their careers since the NFL realigned into eight four-team divisions for the 2002 season. All but Hutchinson suffered significant injuries as a rookie. Hutchinson suffered a broken leg four games into his second season.

Bills have bigger problems than Toronto

December, 19, 2012
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The Buffalo Bills (5-9) would not have won Sunday's game whether it was played in Toronto, Ralph Wilson Stadium or a high school field.

That's how bad the Bills were during a listless, 50-17 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Fixing those problems should be their primary focus.

Instead, Buffalo center Eric Wood created national headlines Wednesday by calling the Bills series of games in Toronto "a joke." I’ve heard similar grumblings from Buffalo players in the past, although certainly not as strong. The fact is that many Bills players feel they are cheated of a true home game -- and it’s a legitimate point. The Bills are 1-4 all-time during the Toronto series.

But let's not let the location of Sunday's game deflect from the fact the Bills were sloppy and disorganized. Buffalo didn't bother showing up, and that's a problem. Seattle led 31-7 a quarter and a half into the game.

The Bills have coaching issues. The Bills have quarterback issues. Based on Week 15, the Bills may have effort issues. Playing in Toronto had nothing to do with Ryan Fitzpatrick's three turnovers or the defense looking helpless as Russell Wilson ran circles around them.

The Toronto series was a business move by Bills ownership that hasn't been great in terms of fan turnout. But an extended agreement is in place until 2017.

Bills players need to get their minds off Toronto and focus on playing better football.

Final Word: AFC East

December, 7, 2012
12/07/12
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» NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 14:

Protecting Brady: The New England Patriots' biggest key to success is protecting quarterback Tom Brady, and they will have a tall task blocking the Houston Texans on "Monday Night Football." Houston is third in the NFL with 36 sacks, and defensive end J.J. Watt is second in the NFL with 16.5 sacks. New England’s pass protection has been up and down this season. Brady has been sacked in nine games, including last week when the Patriots allowed four sacks against the Miami Dolphins. Houston and Watt will be bringing the heat to disrupt Brady, and the Patriots have to do a better job of keeping Brady upright.

[+] EnlargeChris Johnson
AP Photo/Wade PayneThe Texans could have trouble finding room to run against Vince Wilfork, right, and the Patriots.
Focus on Foster: The Texans can beat you in a variety of ways, but their first option is the running game. Houston runs the ball more than any other NFL team at 34.4 attempts per game. Texans running back Arian Foster is fifth in the NFL with 1,102 yards and first with 13 rushing touchdowns. He is the engine for the Texans. In Houston’s only defeat, Foster rushed for 29 yards on 17 carries in a 42-24 loss against the Green Bay Packers. The Patriots have a physical front seven and are ninth against the run. So expect a war of attrition in the trenches.

Sanchez’s time to respond: New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez returns under center against the Jacksonville Jaguars after getting benched last week in the third quarter. This was a stern wake-up call for the four-year starter. Sanchez has a good chance to have a bounce-back game Sunday against the lowly Jaguars (2-10). The Jaguars are 28th against the pass and 31st against the run, which is tailor-made for the offensively inept Jets. New York coach Rex Ryan proved once that he’s not afraid to pull Sanchez if he’s playing poorly. Expect Sanchez to be on a short leash.

Martin vs. Smith: Miami rookie Jonathan Martin will make his first NFL start at left tackle Sunday at the San Francisco 49ers. Martin's reward: San Francisco pass-rusher Aldon SmithJake Long (triceps) for the season this week and put him on injured reserve. Long will be an unrestricted free agent in March. Martin has a four-game audition for the left tackle spot. If Martin does a good job, starting this week against Smith, the rookie could replace Long next season.

Buffalo's shift at center: The Buffalo Bills lost starting center Eric Wood for the next two to four weeks with a knee injury. If last season was any indication, this is awful news for the Bills. Wood is one of the top leaders on offense, but he has been injury prone. Wood missed seven games last season with an ACL tear, and the Bills were 1-6 without him. Buffalo has been working guard Kraig Urbik and rookie David Snow at center this week.
Buffalo Bills starting center Eric Wood tore his MCL and could miss the rest of the season, according to the team's website.

Wood was injured in Sunday's 34-18 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars. The minimum recovery time is two weeks. But with just four games left, Wood may not return this season.

Wood has a history of leg injuries. Last year he tore his ACL and missed the final seven games.

The Bills struggled last year without Wood, who is one of their best offensive linemen. They tried different players at center last year and never found the right combination. Buffalo was 1-6 without Wood last season.

Buffalo guard Kraig Urbik will play center next weekend, according to Bills head coach Chan Gailey.

The Buffalo Bills dare to dream

October, 9, 2011
10/09/11
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Fred JacksonKevin Hoffman/US PresswireFred Jackson had a productive day against the Eagles with 111 yards and a score.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Bon Jovi's "Livin' on a Prayer" blasted throughout Ralph Wilson Stadium in the final minutes of the Bills' 31-24 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday. The song was a fitting tribute to Buffalo's surprising start to the 2011 season.

The no-name Bills are 4-1 and first in the AFC East. The uber-talented and high-powered "Dream Team" Eagles are 1-4 and have a slim chance to make the postseason.

Who would have thought?

"We were a home [under]dog today at 3-1 against a 1-3 team," Bills center Eric Wood said. "You don't put a lot of stock into it. But you know it, you talk about it, and it ticks you off. But keep picking us to lose. We like it. It helps keep the chip on our shoulder. We don't need to be the media darling that we were two weeks ago before we lost."

Memo to NFL media and fans: It's time to take these Bills seriously.

Stop punishing Buffalo for past mistakes. Forget about last year's 0-8 start and 4-12 season. This season's Bills are young, scrappy, fearless and fun to watch. Most importantly, this season's Bills have staying power and are a legitimate threat for the playoffs in the AFC.

Buffalo still has a long way to go to become elite. For starters, it must improve a porous defense that has allowed 450-plus yards in each of the past four games. But you can lump the Bills in with the "very good" of the NFL. And in this topsy-turvy league, that's a position a lot of teams wish they were in after five games -- including the desperate Eagles.

"We got talent, too," Bills safety George Wilson (11 tackles, one interception) said defiantly. "We don't back down from any challenge."

Buffalo didn’t go Frank Gore on the Eagles. But the Bills’ offensive players were not shy to admit that they believed they would have their way with Philadelphia’s struggling defense. The Eagles were ranked No. 30 against the run entering Week 5.

The Bills were correct. Buffalo running back Fred Jackson shredded Philadelphia’s soft front seven for 111 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries. The Eagles were blown off the ball and their tackling was horrendous. According to ESPN’s Stats and Information, 59 of Jackson’s 111 yards came after contact. Buffalo ran the ball 35 times and passed 27 times, the second time Buffalo’s offense has run more than it has passed this season.

“We knew that with the running game we’d be able to move the ball,” said Jackson, who also had 85 receiving yards. “We felt like we were bigger and more physical at the line. So we felt like we’d be able to move them off the ball.”

Buffalo’s early success on offense put a lot of pressure on the Eagles, and Philadelphia cracked by making poor decisions. The Eagles tried (and failed) at an onside kick to start the second half. Vick forced the ball into tight spots and threw a career-worst four interceptions. The mistakes added up and, by the start of the fourth quarter, Buffalo held a 31-14 lead.

Philadelphia went into full desperation mode and tried to orchestrate a comeback. But Buffalo, which blew a 14-point second-half lead in Week 4 against the Bengals, learned from last week’s mistakes and held on. After that loss, Buffalo heard all week about how it was a fluke team and couldn’t bounce back against the talented Eagles.

“If we had Tom Brady or a big-name guy, we wouldn’t be so easy to write off,” Wood said. “But we got some talented players and we got a great quarterback to go behind now. We like our chances.”

How far can these no-name Bills go this season? If they play like they did Sunday, Buffalo will make the playoffs.

"This is a different season, a different era and a different team," Nelson said. "We know how to win games and we're continuing to come out and surprising people. But we're not surprising ourselves."

Bills back-to-work FYI

July, 25, 2011
7/25/11
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» NFC: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South » Unrestricted FAs

Readiness factor: The Bills will need every moment they can find to prepare for the season. Their offensive skill players gathered at quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick's home in April. A larger contingent convened in Western New York for casual workouts in May.

Biggest challenge: Buffalo must find a defensive identity quickly. The Bills switched from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 with bad results last year. As it became obvious they had the NFL's worst run defense, they mixed their fronts. Head coach Chan Gailey has said that they will be a hybrid defense leaning toward a 3-4 base. Then he hired longtime 4-3 mastermind Dave Wannstedt -- not to replace defensive coordinator George Edwards, but as assistant head coach and linebackers coach.

Line in the sand: The Bills have a tenuous offensive line, although all the late-season starters are back. The line mostly has been mediocre and often riddled with injuries. Demetrius Bell has been a bargain at left tackle, but far from dominant. Right guard Eric Wood could eventually shift to center.

Key players without contracts for 2011: Inside linebacker Paul Posluszny and safety Donte Whitner have been two of the Bills' most prolific tacklers. Cornerback Drayton Florence is an overlooked free agent who could be popular on the open market. Disappointing former first-round pick John McCargo is a goner.

Draft Watch: AFC East

April, 7, 2011
4/07/11
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» NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: history in that spot.

Buffalo Bills

The Bills' top pick is No. 3 overall. Here are the last seven players taken in that spot, with their NFL teams in parentheses:

2010: DT Gerald McCoy (Buccaneers)

2009: DE Tyson Jackson (Chiefs)

2008: QB Matt Ryan (Falcons)

2007: T Joe Thomas (Browns)

2006: QB Vince Young (Titans)

2005: WR Braylon Edwards (Browns)

2004: WR Larry Fitzgerald (Cardinals)

ANALYSIS: Some sexy picks have been made in this spot. None of the players have been out-and-out busts, although character concerns have overshadowed a couple. Only McCoy and Jackson haven't been selected for at least one Pro Bowl. Fitzgerald is an elite receiver, arguably the best in the business. Edwards can be a dangerous playmaker when not dropping passes, which he didn't do last year. Ryan is an emerging star. Young has been a lightning rod, but he did win rookie of the year and has gone to a pair of Pro Bowls. Thomas is a star blocker with four Pro Bowls on his résumé already.

Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins' top pick is No. 15 overall. Here are the last seven players taken in that spot, with their NFL teams in parentheses:

2010: DE Jason Pierre-Paul (Giants)

2009: LB Brian Cushing (Texans)

2008: G Branden Albert (Chiefs)

2007: LB Lawrence Timmons (Steelers)

2006: CB Tye Hill (Rams)

2005: LB Derrick Johnson (Chiefs)

2004: WR Michael Clayton (Buccaneers)

ANALYSIS: This is a region of the first round where picks can break either way. There have been solid players drafted here, but no superstars. Cushing was a rookie of the year, but his career has been tainted by performance-enhancing drug usage. Clayton made an immediate impact with 80 catches for 1,193 yards and seven touchdowns as a rookie, but hasn't caught more than 38 passes since. Johnson has been a solid linebacker for Kansas City, while Timmons has been an influential member of Pittsburgh's defense the past two seasons. Hill has been the biggest disappointment. He has been with four teams, starting 25 games.

New England Patriots

The Patriots' first-round picks are Nos. 17 and 28 overall. Here are the last seven players taken in those spots, with their NFL teams in parentheses:

2010: G Mike Iupati (49ers) and DE Jared Odrick (Dolphins)

2009: QB Josh Freeman (Buccaneers) and G Eric Wood (Bills)

2008: T Gosder Cherilus (Lions) and DE Lawrence Jackson (Seahawks)

2007: DE Jarvis Moss (Broncos) and T Joe Staley (49ers)

2006: LB Chad Greenway (Vikings) and TE Marcedes Lewis (Jaguars)

2005: LB David Pollack (Bengals) and DE Luis Castillo (Chargers)

2004: LB D.J. Williams (Broncos) and CB Chris Gamble (Panthers)

ANALYSIS: Results have been mixed with these slots, but the 28th pick actually has found more starters than the 17th in recent years. Freeman showed signs of developing into a future star last year, and Cherilus has started 40 of his 43 games at right tackle. Williams and Greenway have been regular starters. But Moss and Pollock didn't work out. In the 28th slot, Odrick is the only one who hasn't been a regular starter. Injuries detonated his rookie season.

New York Jets

The Jets' top pick is No. 30 overall. Here are the last seven players taken in that spot, with their NFL teams in parentheses:

2010: RB Jahvid Best (Lions)

2009: WR Kenny Britt (Titans)

2008: TE Dustin Keller (Jets)

2007: WR Craig Davis (Chargers)

2006: RB Joseph Addai (Colts)

2005: TE Heath Miller (Steelers)

2004: RB Kevin Jones (Lions)

ANALYSIS: What strikes me is that all seven selections not only are offensive players, but also ball handlers. Perhaps teams in the back of the draft feel they can gamble a little bit and try to hit big on a skill position. Whatever the reasoning, it seems to have worked. This has been a successful spot. Jones and Addai rushed for 1,000 yards as rookies. Best appears to be the Lions' running back of the future. Miller and Addai have gone to Pro Bowls. Britt was the Titans' leading receiver last year. Keller is one of the NFL's better tight ends.

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