NFL Nation: Stephon Gilmore

W2W4: Buffalo Bills

August, 16, 2014
Aug 16
PITTSBURGH -- The Buffalo Bills and Pittsburgh Steelers will meet in a preseason contest Saturday night (7:30 p.m. ET) at Heinz Field.

1. EJ Manuel's consistency: Speaking to reporters after his 17-for-22 performance in Thursday's practice, Manuel stressed how he wanted to be more consistent and to carry over his successes from one practice (or game) to the next. He'll have a chance to do that Saturday. It's a similar story to last season. He completed 69 percent of his passes in Week 2, only to see his rate drop to the mid-40s in Weeks 3 and 4. Likewise, he posted a 71.4 rate in Week 11 before dropping down to the mid-50s the next two games. Manuel completed 69 percent of his throws in last Friday's game and 77 percent in Thursday's practice. Staying in that general range Saturday will suggest an improvement over his inconsistencies from last season.

2. Sammy Watkins' strides: If Manuel is storyline No. 1A with the Bills, then Watkins is No. 1B. Outside of his early drop in Wednesday's session, Watkins had another strong week of practice. Last week, it translated over into the game, with Manuel finding his top receiver three times for 21 yards. The two are likely to see more playing time together Saturday -- potentially through the first half -- so there should more opportunities to build chemistry in a live game setting. We've yet to see the duo stretch the field vertically in the preseason. Perhaps that will change Saturday.

3. Can defense maintain its pace? Outside of the Panthers' early touchdown drive, the Bills' first-team defense hasn't allowed more than 5 total yards on any drives this preseason. They've been downright smothering and it starts with the defensive line. They'll have a longer run in Saturday's game and a tougher opposing quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger. Does the defense continue to hold up well, or are some holes exposed? Our attention will be on the cornerbacks, especially Stephon Gilmore's potential matchup with Antonio Brown. Expect Roethlisberger to test that one early.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills' luck with the weather ran out as they held their ninth and final organized team activities session Thursday.

Skies opened about halfway through the outdoor practice, with players initially toughing it out during an 11-on-11 drill before moving indoors to their practice facility.

Even before the weather was a factor, it was a practice to forget for quarterback EJ Manuel and first-round pick Sammy Watkins. In a routes-versus-air drill, three of Manuel's throws directed towards Watkins in the end zone were off-target. Watkins got his hands on each but couldn't haul them in.

Later in the practice, back indoors, Manuel hit Watkins with a well-thrown pass but Watkins couldn't get ahold of the ball. Manuel also had multiple passes on fade patterns sail over receivers in the end zone, a trend during the three weeks of OTAs.

The Bills wrapped up practice with a full-team red zone drill. Manuel's first pass was an incomplete fade pattern, while his second pass was overthrown. Following a hand-off to Anthony Dixon that went for a touchdown, Manuel's next pass was thrown away, while his final pass was intended for Dixon on a dump-off but was off the mark.

From a big-picture standpoint, the one sequence of the one OTA doesn't mean much, but it wasn't the way the Bills wanted to end their three weeks of practice. Manuel and Watkins will look to bounce back next week at mandatory minicamp.

Attendance-wise, linebacker Brandon Spikes was not spotted Thursday after participating in the first eight OTAs. Cornerback Leodis McKelvin, who has been practicing on a limited basis following hip surgery, was also not on the field.

Cornerback Stephon Gilmore took a step forward in his recovery from hip surgery, taking reps at first-team cornerback in an 11-on-11 drill. Linebacker Kiko Alonso (hip surgery) also had an increased workload Thursday.

Offensive lineman Doug Legursky returned to practice for the first time in a week.

Wide receiver Marquise Goodwin participated in positional drills Thursday but was limited as he recovers from a knee injury suffered earlier this week.

Defensive end Bryan Johnson, who was carted off the field with an apparent left leg injury Monday, will be out until training camp, coach Doug Marrone said.

Turnover woes return for Jaguars

December, 15, 2013
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars have been a better team since the bye week for various reasons, but one of the biggest was turnovers.

They were forcing them but not committing them.

They did the first part against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, but it was the other part that cost them in a 27-20 loss at EverBank Field. The Jaguars (4-10) committed a season-high four turnovers, including two on potential scoring plays, and that sloppy play ended their three-game losing streak.

"Four turnovers -- we’re not going to win any games," said quarterback Chad Henne, who threw two interceptions. "You lose the turnover battle your chances of winning are very slim, so our job is to protect the ball and score points when we’re down there and keep it in our favor when we’re on the field."

The Bills (5-9) turned two of those turnovers into field goals, although the second was a questionable call that did not get over-turned by replay.

Henne’s first interception came on the game’s third play. He had hooked up with tight end Marcedes Lewis for a 25-yard gain the play before. Henne tried to go back to Lewis but forced the ball and safety Aaron Williams picked off the pass. Four plays later the Bills had a 3-0 lead.

The Jaguars were driving to tie the game at 13-13 late in the first half when Bills cornerback Nickell Robey ripped the ball way from receiver Mike Brown. Replays appeared to show that Brown never had possession of the ball before Robey knocked it loose, but officials did not reverse the call.

The Bills, thanks in part to a 31-yard pass interference penalty, got into position for a 40-yard field goal and a 20-10 lead as the half expired.

The turnover that hurt the most, however, came on the Jaguars’ first drive of the second half. Denard Robinson broke free for what appeared to be a 25-yard touchdown run but Williams hit him from behind at the 1 and knocked the ball loose. It rolled through the end zone for a touchback.

"I didn’t see him [Williams] but I tried to double up once I [saw the goal-line]," Robinson said. "The ball was like this [out in front of him] and I was trying to grab it and it seemed like he just had perfect timing."

Henne is disputing the final turnover. Henne said Brown was being held in the end zone and he threw the ball to the back corner so they could get a penalty and a first down, but officials didn’t throw a flag and Stephon Gilmore’s interception stood with 3:15 remaining.

"You’ve got to throw it or they’re not going to see who the receiver is," Henne said. “If you don’t throw it they don’t call it. My job is to throw it where he’s supposed to be and obviously they didn’t see it.

Mike and I are sitting there and [coach] Gus [Bradley] went after him [the official], but you can’t do anything about it."

Henne said that play didn’t lose the game, but the offense’s collective carelessness with the ball did. It was reminiscent of the way the team played in the first eight games, when they turned the ball over 15 times and had a minus-7 turnover ratio.

In the first five games after the bye, the Jaguars’ turnover ratio was plus-5: five turnovers against 10 turnovers first. They were 4-1 in those games.

They didn’t follow that formula on Sunday. They picked off Bills quarterback E.J. Manuel once and forced him to fumble on a third-quarter sack, but the four turnovers wiped those out.

"It was a game of missed opportunities," Bradley said. "We had some missed opportunities in the game to capture and we didn’t play like we’re capable of playing, whether it was a fumble, interception, things like that. In the locker room our hearts are broken right now because of this but I felt like our spirit is not."
C.J. Spiller and Adrian Clayborn USA Today Sports; AP PhotoC.J. Spiller's Bills and Adrian Clayborn's Bucs are playing for pride -- with draft positioning at stake.
Aside from 2014 draft position, Sunday's game between the Buffalo Bills and Tampa Bay Buccaneers doesn't have a lot of obvious meaning.

At the moment, the Bucs (3-9) would hold the No. 5 overall pick in next year's draft, while the Bills (4-8) would hold the No. 9 pick. But Sunday's result could shake that order up. Bills reporter Mike Rodak and Buccaneers reporter Pat Yasinskas examine the matchup.

Yasinskas: Mike, this game features two rookie quarterbacks. Tampa Bay's Mike Glennon and Buffalo's EJ Manuel. Glennon is coming off his worst game of the season against Carolina. But, other than that, he has been fairly efficient. What's your assessment of how Manuel has played so far?

Rodak: Manuel has been up and down, both before his knee injury and after it. The 16th overall pick of the 2013 draft missed four games in the middle of the season after he took a shot to the side of his knee against the Browns in Week 5. The Bills' brass has liked to say that Manuel was on the right track before the injury, but the reality is that he had a completion rate below 50 percent in Weeks 3 and 4 and had three turnovers in that Week 4 win over the Baltimore Ravens. When Manuel came back in Week 10, he had perhaps his worst game of the season, in Pittsburgh. Those have been the low points.

On the other end of the spectrum, Manuel led the Bills on a game-winning drive over the Carolina Panthers in Week 2 and posted a passer rating of 121.9 against the Jets in Week 11. Those have been the high points. But on average, he has been a below-average NFL quarterback to this point, posting a 45.5 QBR for the season.

Pat, the Bucs looked like a disaster about two months ago. Now they have won three of their past four games. What has changed for them?

Yasinskas: The Bucs were in utter disarray at the start of the season. But, aside from Sunday's loss to Carolina, they've played much better over the past month or so. Part of it has to do with Glennon's steady improvement. He has shown signs he can be more than just a game manager. The other thing that has stood out has been how this team has stuck together. Despite some speculative reports to the contrary, coach Greg Schiano never lost the locker room. His players still believe in his system and have been playing hard for him. Finally, the defense, which has a lot of individual talent, has started to click and that coincided with the turnaround.

Speaking of defense, the Bills lead the league with 43 sacks, but they're allowing 25.6 points a game, which ranks 24th. What has gone wrong with this defense?

Rodak: Earlier in the season, much of the problem was with the secondary. The Bills battled through some injuries -- safety Jairus Byrd and cornerback Stephon Gilmore both missed time -- and they got torched by some teams early. But they've been healthy back there for a while now, and the results have been better.

The problem recently has been with the run defense. The Bills rank 24th in the NFL, allowing 121.5 rushing yards per game, and allow 4.18 yards per carry. Some of that has to do with time of possession. The Bills' offense ranks 31st in the NFL, which has put some stress on the defense. More alarmingly for Buffalo, the run defense has gotten worse as the season has gone on. The Bills allowed 5.83 yards per carry to the Jets and 5.03 yards to the Falcons, including two long touchdown runs. There's a lot of talent on this defense, but the consistency isn't there.

Pat, there was a lot of talk this offseason about the moves the Buccaneers made in their secondary. They drafted Johnthan Banks in the second round, traded for Darrelle Revis and signed Dashon Goldson. How have those moves paid off?

Yasinskas: The Bucs went overboard making moves in the secondary because they had the league's worst pass defense in 2012. There has been a noticeable improvement this year. But it hasn't been all roses. Banks has looked good at times, but also has had some rookie moments. Goldson missed two games due to injury and was suspended for another game for an illegal hit. Revis has been solid, although the Bucs brought him along slowly early in the year because he was coming off knee surgery. Overall, this is a decent secondary, but it has yet to approach its true potential.

Mike, what's your read on C.J. Spiller? He seems to be having an up-and-down season to this point. How much has his ankle injury been a factor?

Rodak: He has been a tough one to pin down. This much is for certain: He hasn't lived up to the expectations many on the outside had for him entering this season, and his ankle is a big factor in that. But even after coach Doug Marrone removed Spiller from the injury report about a month ago, things still weren't right. He had disappointing games in Weeks 10 and 11, rushing a combined 21 times for 29 yards. But then, out of the blue, he broke open a 77-yard run Sunday, the longest of his career. He followed that with a 36-yard touchdown run and finished with one of the best games of his career, tallying 149 yards.

Going forward, I'm not really sure what to expect with Spiller. This could be his identity within this offense: a home run hitter who is prone to more strikeouts than the norm.

Pat, speaking of running backs, Bobby Rainey seems to have cooled off since his huge game against Atlanta a few weeks ago. What has happened to the Bucs' running game?

Yasinskas: Rainey rushed for 163 yards against the Falcons, but has averaged just 49 yards in the two games since then. What's happening is that opposing defenses are loading the box to stop the running game. They're daring Glennon to beat them and he hasn't really done that. Until Glennon starts having more luck with the downfield passing game, defenses are going to continue to focus on bottling up the running game.

Rapid Reaction: Buffalo Bills

December, 1, 2013

TORONTO -- A few thoughts on the Buffalo Bills' 34-31 overtime loss to the Atlanta Falcons:

What it means: Wow. The Bills let this one get away. With the game tied late in regulation and the Bills driving, receiver Stevie Johnson fumbled after a catch, forcing overtime. Then, after the Bills won the overtime coin toss, tight end Scott Chandler lost another fumble after a catch, which led to the Falcons' 36-yard winning field goal. With a 4-8 record, the Bills' playoff hopes are effectively put to rest. This is their second overtime loss this season, and one that will sting.

Spiller's spark: Just when things haven't looked good for C.J. Spiller this season, he has pulled off some of the better runs you'll see. He did it again Sunday, sprinting for 77 yards in the first quarter to set the table for a Bills touchdown. In the fourth quarter, Spiller dashed for a 36-yard touchdown that put the Bills in the lead. He finished with 149 yards on 15 carries, not too far off from his career high of 169 yards.

Stock watch: Falling: Stephon Gilmore. It wasn't all bad for the 2012 first-round pick, but the Bills' top cornerback had his struggles. He was called for a penalty in the third quarter that bailed the Falcons out of a third-and-14 and eventually led to a touchdown. Gilmore was also beaten by Roddy White for a 22-yard gain in the second quarter, and later by Harry Douglas on a 13-yard catch in the red zone. After Gilmore told the team's official website last week that he feels like he did back in training camp, before his wrist injury, the Bills may need a little bit more out of him going forward.

Attendance drops: In their sixth regular-season game in Toronto, the Bills saw their attendance drop since last season's loss to the Seattle Seahawks. The announced attendance was 38,969, while 40,770 fans saw last season's contest. The Rogers Centre's football capacity is 46,470, not including luxury boxes. There was a wide swath of empty seats in the upper deck behind one end zone, but the close game kept the crowd in it.

What's next: The Bills will be back on the road the next two weeks, beginning Sunday against the 3-9 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. With the playoffs now a distant possibility, the Bills' focus in their final four games will turn to next season. What are their needs? Where can they improve? Those questions have now moved onto the radar.

W2W4: Jets at Bills

November, 15, 2013
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- It's hard to believe, but the Buffalo Bills' home schedule is nearing an end.

In what will be their second-to-last game at Ralph Wilson Stadium this season, the 3-7 Buffalo Bills will try to snap a three-game losing streak as they host the 5-4 New York Jets.

Like the first meeting between the two teams, when the Jets came away with a 27-20 win, there are are plenty of storylines in this one: two divisional opponents, two rookie quarterbacks, and two defensive minds -- Jets head coach Rex Ryan and Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine -- who are all too familiar with one another.

[+] EnlargeEJ Manuel
Rick Stewart/Getty ImagesThe pressure is on rookie quarterback EJ Manuel to show marked improvement throughout the Bills' remaining games.
Here's what to watch for:

1. How does Manuel bounce back? With the Bills' playoff hopes on the ropes, this is a game where fans want to see improvement not only for what's left in this season, but for next season. No player needs to get better more than EJ Manuel, who is coming off a disappointing outing in Pittsburgh. The Bills made it clear this week that they're going to let Manuel take his lumps and keep him on the field, so it remains highly unlikely that another sub-par performance would jeopardize his starting job. Still, the Bills' decision-makers would obviously prefer coming out next week and celebrating Manuel's progress rather than having to come to his defense once again.

2. Who catches passes? With Stevie Johnson and Robert Woods both out for Sunday's game, the Bills' passing offense, already among the NFL's worst, is in a major bind. The pressure will be on T.J. Graham to help fill the void, but the reality is, Graham hasn't proven to be much more than a speedy, deep threat. If he can show some versatility as a receiver capable of working the underneath part of the field, it will take pressure off Manuel. Otherwise, the Bills will have to turn to rookie Marquise Goodwin, another speed demon, or Chris Hogan and Marcus Easley, who have limited experience on offense. The odds are heavily stacked against Manuel with his group of receivers.

3. Getting to Geno: The strength of the Bills is their defensive line and pass rush, so if they want to take heat off the offense, forcing Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith to turn the ball over is a great place to start. Smith has been sacked 30 times, fourth-most in the NFL, while he has been intercepted 13 times, third-most in the NFL. The Bills have forced just one turnover in their past three games, and putting pressure on Smith is one way to force him into mistakes. Smith wasn't sacked in the teams' first meeting this season.

4. Monitoring Gilmore: Big plays were a big reason why the Bills lost in the Meadowlands back in September. Smith had four completions of 40 yards or more, targeting a hobbled Bills secondary that was without Stephon Gilmore. This time around, Gilmore is healthy and back at his post as the Bills' top cornerback. The problem for Buffalo, however, is that opposing quarterbacks haven't been afraid to throw at Gilmore in recent weeks. Pettine's defense requires cornerbacks with strong man-to-man coverage skills. Gilmore has that ability and as much potential as any cornerback in the NFL; he'll just need to step his game up Sunday. More successful deep passes or long catch-and-runs will hamper a defense that is getting good play from its front seven.
PITTSBURGH -- One month after returning from a fractured wrist, Buffalo Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore still isn't right.

That much was clear just looking at Gilmore, who hung his head in the Heinz Field locker room following the Bills' 23-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, his left wrist still noticeably swollen.

"It's not 100 percent, I wouldn't say that. It's sore after every practice, after every game," he said. "I'm just out there fighting."

For his first two games back, Gilmore wore a club over his left hand that essentially left him with one functioning arm. The club came off three weeks ago, but his play has still been noticeably impacted.

"I don't use it like I would use it if it was 100 percent," he said.

Gilmore was flagged for holding on the Steelers' opening drive, and later missed a tackle on receiver Jerricho Cotchery, springing a 26-yard catch-and-run.

Both of those plays can be explained in part by the wrist injury, but Gilmore appeared to be out of position for several other plays, with the Steelers finding success targeting his part of the field.

On one of those plays, Cotchery left Gilmore in his wake on a fade pattern for a 5-yard second-quarter touchdown.

"He came up and blocked me and then went out for a pass," Gilmore said. "He kind of lulled me to sleep a little bit on that play."

Not surprisingly, that was just how Steelers drew it up.

"[It was] a fall-asleep fade," Cotchery said. "We just try to lull the guy to sleep. Once he peeks [into the backfield], it's a touchdown."

Bills coach Doug Marrone was quick to defend Gilmore last week, when the Chiefs attacked him for most of the game. Marrone said Gilmore had the tough task of covering Dwayne Bowe and reacted similarly to Gilmore's performance Sunday.

"I think sometimes you have to give credit where credit is due," Marrone said. "Sometimes they are going to make a play. Cotchery is a good, veteran receiver. He made a nice move back there."

The problem, though, is that Gilmore is the Bills' top cornerback. As Buffalo's 2012 first-round pick, it's Gilmore's job to cover the best an opponent can offer and win consistently.

Injury or not, that hasn't happened lately. Under Mike Pettine, the Bills' defense requires strong man-to-man coverage to support blitzing and pressure, and if Gilmore isn't playing as well as he or the team would like, they will need to adjust.

"I'm getting better and better everyday. We're playing a lot of man [coverage]," he said. "That's what we like to do. That's what I like to do. So I'm trying to fight for my team."

Halftime thoughts: Steelers 10, Bills 3

November, 10, 2013
PITTSBURGH -- Offering some halftime thoughts as the Pittsburgh Steelers lead the Buffalo Bills 10-3:

1. This is the sort of day for defensive football. With wind whipping around Heinz Field, both quarterbacks had issues through the early going. Ben Roethlisberger is 13-for-18 for 125 yards, racking up most of his yards in the second quarter. EJ Manuel is 6-for-13 for 43 yards. He was nearly intercepted on his first pass attempt to Stevie Johnson, but later connected with Johnson for a 23-yard gain.

2. Making his return from a knee injury, Manuel's best play of the game so far was made with his feet. Manuel rushed for a first down on third-and-7, immediately sliding after gaining the necessary yardage. That's something the Bills wanted him to do, and you can bet they were happy about it after that play.

3. Jairus Byrd came up with an interception in the first quarter -- his first of the season -- and returned it 57 yards, but the Bills squandered the good field position. Buffalo continues to struggle in the red zone.

4. The Steelers have given the Bills a bevy of offensive looks so far, mixing in the Wildcat on a few plays. One of those plays -- a direct snap to Le'Veon Bell, who handed off to Emmanuel Sanders -- went for 25 yards. Otherwise, the Steelers have brought on an extra offensive lineman and tried to hammer away with Bell and Jonathan Dwyer. They haven't been overly successful.

5. Bills top cornerback Stephon Gilmore has struggled. He was called for defensive holding and also blew a tackle on the first drive, and was the defender in coverage on Jerricho Cotchery's 5-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter.

Upon Further Review: Bills Week 9

November, 4, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Buffalo Bills' 23-13 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs:

[+] EnlargeJeff Tuel
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty ImagesJeff Tuel completed 18 of 39 passes for 229 yards and one touchdown on Sunday.
Hackett simplifies Tuel's reads: One possession after Jeff Tuel threw his game-changing pick-six, the Bills drove to the Chiefs' 36-yard line, facing a long fourth-and-2. Instead of trying to run for almost 3 yards, the Bills opted for a quick lob pass down the left sideline. Receiver T.J. Graham appeared to have trouble finding the ball, which dropped between his arms and fell incomplete. Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett was asked after the game why there was such a risky play call on a fourth-and-short. "I took it all off of [Tuel]. I made it so he was throwing to one guy and one guy only," Hackett said. "We had already thrown a bunch of slants and they were getting beat up a little bit. We weren't getting some calls, so they were all up on him. I figured the best chance we had was to run by them in that situation."

Pass-rushers silenced: Anyone else surprised that, in a game featuring the two teams with the NFL's most sacks, there were just two sacks in this contest? With Kiko Alonso credited with a 1-yard sack after forcing Alex Smith out of bounds in the first quarter, it was Jerry Hughes who owned the game's only "true" sack. It wasn't Mario Williams, or Tamba Hali, or Justin Houston, who all entered the game with double-digit sacks. Hughes forced Smith to fumble, and if cornerback Leodis McKelvin was able to corral the loose ball instead of having it squirt away, we could be talking about a different result Monday morning.

Marrone defends Gilmore: Of the Chiefs' 210 total offensive yards, 163 came from running back Jamaal Charles and receiver Dwayne Bowe. Part of it may have been Smith's lack of other options, but Bowe was targeted 12 times Sunday, almost double that of any other Chiefs receiver. On the surface, that doesn't reflect well on Bills top cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who allowed Bowe to finish with seven catches for 67 yards. After the game, though, coach Doug Marrone didn't blame Gilmore for Bowe's performance. "I think [Gilmore] is playing, doing the best he can. He’s going out there against a guy, you’ve got to remember that’s Dwayne Bowe out there and he’s covering him man to man in a lot of situations," Marrone said. "He did a good job; at the end of the day when you look at it, they had three points. So how could you say anyone on defense didn’t do a great job out there?"

Chiefs perspective: Many Bills followers saw this game as an opportunity, facing an undefeated Chiefs team that has looked very beatable at times this season. The result Sunday in some ways validated that opinion, leading some to believe that the Chiefs have been "lucky." For those wondering if Kansas City views the win from a similar perspective, ESPN Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher's column is worth a read.

Upon Further Review: Bills Week 6

October, 14, 2013
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."

Bills defense porous against Bengals

October, 13, 2013
videoORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Quarterback Thad Lewis held up his end of the bargain. The Buffalo Bills' defense didn't.

That's one way to look at the Bills' 27-24 overtime loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.

Lewis -- coming up from the practice squad to start in place of an injured EJ Manuel -- dazzled on his first drive, completing a 47-yard pass to T.J. Graham before scrambling for a 3-yard touchdown.

But as Lewis steadied the Bills' offense, the defense struggled to contain Andy Dalton and the Bengals attack. Specifically, the Bengals were able to break four plays of 25 yards or more in the first half, mostly on catch-and-runs.

The size of A.J. Green and the shiftiness of Marvin Jones, two of the Bengals' top receivers, proved difficult for the Bills to match. Each player had a touchdown grab, while running back Giovani Bernard juked several Bills defenders en route to his own score.

Buffalo's defense allowed 284 yards in the first half, a total they gave up only twice last season, in losses to the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers.

The Bills would rather not look back towards last season's defensive unit, which was dismal. But despite gains made under defensive coordinator Mike Pettine this season, it's hard not to draw the comparison.

"It was very disappointing," safety Jairus Byrd said. "We knew, based on the situation that we were in, we were going to rely on our defense, and we didn't answer the call."

Byrd, who did not start but was rotated into the secondary, played in his first game this season. Same for cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who played with a large club on his left hand that limited his tackling ability.

"I give him a lot of credit," coach Doug Marrone said of Gilmore. "I think it's a very tough situation. Here is a guy that wants to come back, wants to get out there. Obviously he's not as comfortable as he wants to be."

Among healthier players, the Bills defense also struggled, especially early in the game. Defensive end Mario Williams' only contribution to the stat sheet came on a half-sack in the third quarter.

"They disguised it pretty well as [far as] quick passes, dinking and dunking," Williams said. "They did something a little different from what was expected on our defensive side."

The encouraging sign for the Bills' defense was that, after the Bengals did not punt through three quarters, the Bills forced Cincinnati to punt on their final five possessions prior to their game-winning field goal.

"We definitely put ourselves in a hole," Williams said. "But then even at the end of the game we still had a chance to win. So I wouldn't say it's discouraging, especially the way we came back."

Rapid Reaction: Buffalo Bills

October, 13, 2013

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- A few thoughts on the Buffalo Bills' 27-24 overtime loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

What it means: The Bills couldn't overcome a rocky start by their defense, which allowed 284 yards in the first half. Buffalo got a solid performance from Thad Lewis, starting in place of an injured EJ Manuel, but the offense sputtered in overtime. The Bengals won the field position battle in the extra frame, winning the game on a 43-yard Mike Nugent field goal. Another tough home loss for the Bills, who dropped a similar game in Week 1 to the New England Patriots.

Lewis proves capable: Lewis, making his second career start, wasn't spectacular against a stout Bengals defense, but more than proved he should keep the job going forward. Lewis' first pass was a 47-yard completion, the Bills' longest offensive play this season, and he capped the opening drive with a 3-yard touchdown run. Lewis finished 19-of-32 for 216 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, better than most of Manuel's performances this season. On the negative end, Lewis fumbled on a third-quarter scramble, which the Bengals turned into a touchdown.

Stock watch: Rising -- the punt unit (in regulation). The Bills swapped out second-year punter Shawn Powell for veteran Brian Moorman last week, a move that shored up a reeling punt unit. Moorman averaged 47 net yards on his four punts in regulation, two of which were downed inside the Bengals' 5-yard line. The longtime Bills punter received loud cheers when he stepped onto the field. However, Moorman's 51-yard fourth-quarter punt, with the Bills backed up against their end zone, was returned 29 yards by Brandon Tate, setting up the game-winning field goal.

Gilmore, Byrd quiet in returns: The Bills had two of their top defenders back, but neither made an impact in the game. Cornerback Stephon Gilmore played with a large club covering his injured left hand and struggled at times tackling. He rotated at cornerback with Aaron Williams. Meanwhile, safety Jairus Byrd was limited in his first game this season. Byrd served as the third safety behind Da'Norris Searcy and Jim Leonhard, who came away with the Bills' only interception of the game.

What's next: The Bills fall to 2-4 as they prepare for back-to-back road trips to face the Miami Dolphins and New Orleans Saints to close out the first half of their season. After Sunday, the Bills will play just three more times at Ralph Wilson Stadium this season, and only twice before Dec. 22.

Bills' Stevie Johnson will not play

October, 13, 2013
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stevie Johnson is inactive for Sunday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals, the team announced.

Johnson did not practice this past week, traveling to California following a death in the family. He was a game-time decision Sunday with a lower back injury.

Meanwhile, safety Jairus Byrd and cornerback Stephon Gilmore are both active for the first time this season.

With the secondary now nearly back to full strength, cornerback Justin Rogers, who started the first five games of the season in place of Gilmore, is inactive.

Doug Legursky is active for a second straight game and will start at left guard in place of Colin Brown. The Bills are expected to rotate both players at the position Sunday.

QB EJ Manuel
WR Stevie Johnson
OL Antoine McClain
LB Ty Powell
CB Ron Brooks
CB Justin Rogers
CB Brandon Burton

Checkpoint day for injured Bills

October, 9, 2013
The Buffalo Bills haven't had a full practice in more than a week, and when they step back onto the practice field Wednesday, it will serve as a sort of checkpoint for several injured players.

After hinting at their returns since last week, coach Doug Marrone confirmed Monday that cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore (wrist) and Ron Brooks (foot) will have a chance to participate in Wednesday's practice.

If Gilmore and Brooks get back into the mix, they may have a shot to play Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals. It's far from a guarantee, but either way, it would be a big step in both players' recoveries and a positive sign for their health going forward if they are practicing Wednesday.

What could be a stronger bet is safety Jairus Byrd seeing a larger role in practice. The Pro Bowler hasn't missed a practice yet this season, but at least in the portion open to reporters, he has only worked on the scout team. If Byrd lines up with the first-team defense Wednesday, he may be a good shot to play Sunday.

That leaves a pair of wide receivers to watch Wednesday. Marrone was cautiously optimistic that Steve Johnson (lumbar strain) and Marquise Goodwin (fractured hand) will be able to play Sunday. Goodwin has been increasing his workload in practice lately, but he may still be a game-time decision.

Johnson, however, may fall into the same category as C.J. Spiller, who is also dealing with multiple recent injuries. Marrone said that Spiller might sit out a day or two of practice this week, and it wouldn't be surprising if Johnson does the same.

Injuries are catching up with Bills

October, 4, 2013
EJ Manuel Ron Schwane/USA TODAY SportsEJ Manuel's sprained knee suffered Thursday night is just the latest bit of bad luck for the Bills.

CLEVELAND -- There’s a game that the Buffalo Bills’ brass must feel like they’re playing right about now, and it’s not just football.

It’s Whac-A-Mole.

The Bills have tried to navigate an early-season obstacle course of injuries, one that has taken key players out of the lineup on both sides of the ball.

The latest blow came Thursday night and struck EJ Manuel, whom Buffalo drafted in the first round this year to be their franchise quarterback. After scrambling for a first down in the third quarter, Manuel was hit in his right knee by Cleveland Browns safety Tashaun Gipson.

Manuel has a sprained knee, and with 10 days before the Bills’ next game, his prognosis is not immediately clear. But this much is obvious: The version of the Bills that finished Thursday’s game resembled something more like the squad that closed out preseason games.

Rookie Jeff Tuel -- the undrafted free agent from Washington State whom the Bills were ready to start in Week 1, if you need a reminder -- took over for Manuel and looked like, well, an undrafted rookie. He went 8-for-20 passing for 80 yards and threw a pick-six with less than two minutes remaining that ended any hopes of a Buffalo comeback.

The story would be much different, of course, if Tuel had been able to somehow pull out a victory on the road. But in an improbable scenario where both starting quarterbacks were knocked out with injuries Thursday night, nobody will blame Tuel for the Bills’ 37-24 loss.

In fact, it’s tough to place blame on anyone for the Bills’ 2-3 record thus far. This isn’t the team that general manager Doug Whaley and coach Doug Marrone, both in their first seasons, drew up.

Arriving from Syracuse, Marrone brought energetic 33-year-old offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett along to Buffalo and convinced defensive coordinator Mike Pettine to bring his aggressive scheme with him from the New York Jets. And at times, we’ve seen glimpses of the young, talented team that Whaley and his staff envisioned all spring and summer. This is far from the bottom-feeding roster that other so-called rebuilding teams must contend with.

It’s just not a healthy one.

The first signs of trouble came on the first day of training camp, when defensive end Mario Williams, one of the best at his position, showed up with a sore foot. Luckily for the Bills, he was able to shake that off.

That wasn’t the case with another Pro Bowl defender, Jairus Byrd, who signed his franchise-tag tender in late August and also arrived to camp with sore feet. Byrd has yet to play -- he was held out Thursday night on a coach’s decision -- and his presence as a back-end ball hawk has been missed.

As has cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who has been out with a fractured wrist since the preseason. Though only in his second season, the team believes Gilmore can become a top-tier NFL corner.

[+] EnlargeStevie Johnson
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsBills receiver Stevie Johnson went to the locker room during the second quarter with a back injury.
And on offense, the Bills have dealt with three significant injuries in recent weeks, even before Manuel went down. Their two-headed rushing attack of C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson has been slowed by multiple ailments, while top receiver Stevie Johnson could not finish Thursday’s game after hurting his back.

It’s been one injury after another, after another.

For a while Thursday night, it looked like the Bills were finally starting to overcome their problem. Cornerback Leodis McKelvin returned to the lineup after missing almost two full games with a hamstring injury, a step toward the secondary getting back to health.

And then came what the Bills probably weren’t expecting: Spiller, on short rest and a bum ankle, broke open a 54-yard touchdown run on the third play of the second half.

Spiller trotted back to the bench with a limp, and after the game was seen in the locker room walking even more gingerly. But for one play, the Bills got what they needed out of him, as they did with Jackson, who has a sprained MCL. Jackson carried 17 times for 53 yards and two touchdowns.

“Two gutsy players,” Bills center Eric Wood said. “Having them out there was vital tonight. Credit them. It wasn’t easy for either of them, but they both fought back.”

For Buffalo, though, it just wasn’t enough. They were too banged up to pull this one out.

The Bills may get Manuel back for their next game, Byrd looks close to returning and the extra days of rest may do wonders for Spiller and Johnson.

But the way this young season has gone for the Bills, it seems like the next injury is lurking around the corner, ready to pop up its head.




Thursday, 8/21
Friday, 8/22
Saturday, 8/23
Sunday, 8/24