KICKING OFF WITH THOUGHTS ON THE BUFFALO BILLS...
The Bills suffered their second straight frustrating loss Sunday – 27-23 at home to the New York Jets. The two teams now share the basement in the AFC East with 4-9 records.
+++With no hopes for a playoff berth, an entertaining, competitive loss could reasonably be viewed as a plus in terms of raising a team’s stock in the ensuing college draft.
+++The game was billed as a matchup of 2018 first-round quarterback picks Josh Allen of Buffalo and Sam Darnold of the Jets. Here are my grades on their Sunday play:
Josh Allen (Buffalo) – Started impressively, particularly with his legs. He might be the NFL’s best-running QB in a very long time. He did a good job dashing out of bounds and sliding to avoid hits. Maybe he should’ve continued to run more in the second half. Some of his completions were perfectly zipped. But his lack of accuracy on short passes remains a problem. Can the Bills rely on rollouts on screen passes if Josh has trouble on the short throws? I’m sure he’ll break the bad habit of throwing the ball up for grabs deep downfield while scrambling. He’s obviously a leader and an exceptional competitor. A C+ for Sunday
Sam Darnold (NY Jets) –Started slowly but clearly was the better more poised QB in the second half. Doesn’t have Allen-like the velocity on the ball – few do – but he is more accurate than Allen. He doesn’t run as much or as well as Allen – again, few do – but his impressive scramble set up the game-winning TD pass. A solid B on Sunday.
New England’s Tom Brady has a year or two left. Who knows what will happen at QB in Miami? But the Bills and Jets look to be set at the most important position in team sports for a long time. Darnold won the first chapter in what figures to be a long and entertaining football saga.
+++The Bills are a fairly young team with a relatively inexperienced head coach and they need to learn how to win. We know they’re good at finding ways to lose. In the last four games, the Bills have dominated yards gained (1,567 to 949), total plays and time of possession. But they commit way too many penalties and usually lose the turnover battle.
+++Speedy Robert Foster looks like a keeper but I’m hoping the Bills plan to add at least two more wide receivers via the draft or free agency this offseason. As we all should know by now, having a strong running game is OK, but having a strong passing game is better.
+++The new regime prefers younger players but if there is not room on the roster next season for linebacker Lorenzo Alexander – who’ll turn 36 on May 31 – nearly every Bills fan alive would be extremely upset.
SOME THOUGHTS ON THE NFL...
It was a crazy Sunday even by NFL standards.
How come the Dolphins are so good at home against New England? Miami won Sunday 34-33 on a last-play, double-lateral TD from its own 31-yard line. What was New England’s lumbering Rob Gronkowski doing on the field to bat down a Hail Mary pass when Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill can’t throw the ball that far? Kenyan Drake cruised by Gronk for the TD.
Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes took a big step toward league MVP honors with two big fourth-down throws in the game-winning drive in a 27-24 home win over Baltimore.
Dallas owner Jerry Jones is looking good for trading a first-round draft pick to Oakland for super wide receiver Amari Cooper, overtime over Philadelphia. The Cowboys have won five straight games and figure to win the NFC East going away.
The Los Angeles Rams dropped to 11-2 with a 15-6 loss in chilly Chicago. Quarterback Jared Off had four INTs and was sacked by the fired-up Bears. The entire Rams team appeared turned off by the chilly weather and eager to get back to balmy California.
Cleveland, 0-16 last season, is 5-7-1 after a 26-20 home win over Carolina. Interim coach Gregg Williams is 4-2. The Browns clinched their first winning season at home (4-2-1) since 2007 (7-1). The Panthers have lost five straight games.
Both New York teams won: Jets 27-23 in Buffalo and Giants 40-16 in Washington.
Houston’s nine-game winning streak ended with a 24-21 home loss to Indianapolis.
Green Bay won 34-20 at home over Atlanta in Joe Philbin’s first game since replacing coach Mike McCarthy. QB Aaron Rodgers had 2 TD passes and extended his NFL record to 359 consecutive pass attempts without an interception.
Oakland shocked visiting Pittsburgh 24-21 and the slumping Steelers appear to finally be missing holdout star running back Le’Veon Bell.
SADLY, THERE WILL BE NO ERIC DUNGEY VS. WILL GRIER QUARTERBACK SHOWDOWN
One of the top quarterback showdowns of the college football bowl season was supposed to be Syracuse’s Eric Dungey versus West Virginia’s Will Grier.
Grier is the NCAA’s career leader in yards passing per game (305.6) and had 71 TD passes and 19 games with at least 300 yards passing in his two seasons with the Mountaineers. Dungey is a multi-purpose QB and the heart of SU’s offense.
They were supposed to collide in the Camping World Bowl on December 28 in Orlando, but Grier on Saturday announced that he’ll be skipping the game to prepare for the 2019 NFL college draft. He’s No. 5 on ESPN Mel Kiper’s list of QBs eligible for the draft and is expected to be selected late in the first round or in the second round. West Virginia tackle Yodny Cajuste also will skip the game to prepare for the draft (that means to avoid injury).
Jack Eilison, a transfer from Miami, is expected to start at QB for the Mountaineers.
The Las Vegas oddsmakers quickly recognized the defection of Grier from the Camping World Bowl. West Virginia went from a 6 ½-point favorite over Syracuse to a 1 ½-point favorite, and the over/under (combined points by both teams) dropped from 74 to 68 ½.
AMERKS ARE HOT AND SABRES ARE NOT
The Buffalo Sabres (17-9-4 record) and the Rochester Americans (16-6-2 record) and a combined 33-15-6 and hockey lovers in Western New York aren’t complaining.
The two teams are coming off contrasting weeks. The Sabres lost their three games to extend their losing streak to five games (after a 10-game winning streak) and the Amerks won all three of their games by a combined 11-6 over Utica, Providence and Syracuse.
This week’s games:
Amerks – home vs. Binghamton Devils Wednesday, 7:05 p.m.; home vs. Cleveland Monsters Friday, 7:05 p.m.; at Cleveland Monsters Saturday, 7 p.m.
Sabres – home Tuesday, 7 p.m., vs. Los Angeles Kings; home Thursday, 7 p.m., vs. Arizona Coyotes; at Washington Capitals, Saturday, 7 p.m.; at Boston Bruins, Sunday, 5 p.m.
TWO THINGS I NEVER THOUGHT I’D SEE IN GOLF-LOVING ROCHESTER...
1—Rochester no longer on the LPGA Tour schedule after decades of being hailed as one of the very best stops on the circuit.
2—A Rochester golf club reject the opportunity to host the 2020 U.S. Senior Women’s Open. That’s what the Country Club of Rochester just did. It’s their club. It was their call. But it was another little step backwards on the national stage for the sport in our community.
THE TWO NEWEST BASEBALL HALL OF FAMERS ARE SURPRISES – LEE SMITH AND HAROLD BAINES
The two newest members of baseball’s Hall of Fame were announced Sunday night at the winter meetings – relief pitcher Lee Smith and long-time outfielder/designated hitter Harold Baines.
The New Era committee’s 16 voters included 9 Hall of Famers. 12 votes were needed for election. Smith shockingly received 16 (100 percent) and Baines surprisingly received 12 (75 percent required for election). Lou Piniella just missed with 11 votes. Albert Belle, Joe Carter, Will Clark, Orel Hershiser, Davey Johnson, Charlie Manuel and George Steinbrenner each received fewer than 5 votes.
Smith pitched in the majors with eight teams for 18 seasons. His pitching line: 71-92 record; 3.03 ERA; 478 saves (third-most); 1.,022 games; 1,289 1/3 innings; 1,133 hits allowed; 1,251 strikeouts; 486 walks.
Baines, the No. 1 overall pick in the 1977 baseball amateur draft, played 22 seasons in the majors with five teams. He was a designated hitter for 1,643 of his 2,830 games played. His career batting line: .289 (2,866-for-9,908); 1,299 runs; 488 doubles; 49 triples; 384 HRs; 1,628 RBI.
They were surprising selections Sunday because they didn’t fare will in the normal BBWAA balloting. Election by the writers required 75 percent votes. Smith’s best showing was 50.6 percent in 2012. Baines appeared on only five ballots, including 2011, when his 4.8 percent resulted in being dropped from further consideration.
Speculation says the elections of Smith and Baines could open the doors of Cooperstown for more relief pitchers and designated hitters in future elections.
CHEERS TO HERM SCHNEIDER
Herm Schneider was born in the Netherlands, grew up in Rochester, spent many days and nights watching Red Wings games and doing odd jobs at the stadium on Norton Street, graduated from Franklin High School and Monroe Community College, and until last week was the longest-tenured active head trainer in Major League Baseball.
After a few seasons as a trainer for lower-level teams in Baltimore’s farm system, Herm reached the big leagues in 1977 and spent two seasons as an assistant trainer with the New York Yankees. He was hired as head trainer of the Chicago White Sox in 1979. He never left, until last week, at age 67, when he became “trainer emeritus.”
Schneider turned down a “generous” two-year extension offer from the White Sox to remain as head trainer but he felt “it was time” to step down and make plans for his first-time summer vacation with his wife Janet.
From 2012 through 2018, Herm and his assistants helped the White Sox use the disabled list only 185 times for 9,057 days missed, the lowest totals in MLB. Herm and his staff have been voted MLB Trainer of the Year numerous times by the Professional Athletic Trainers Society – most recently for the 2018 season.
Here are a few examples of Herm’s great work for the White Sox:
1—He helped Bo Jackson rehab from his career-ending NFL hip injury to become a baseball star.
2 – He helped Robin Ventura rebound from a broken ankle in 1997 spring training to play that season.
3 – He might have saved Greg Walker’s life before a game in 1988, when Walker suffered a seizure and Herm alertly smashed the first baseman’s teeth so he could pull the tongue out of Walker’s throat after his jaw locked.
4—His quick response helped in a life-threatening situation when pitcher Danny Farquhar suffered a brain aneurysm this spring.
One of his famous work themes was, “I’d rather be an hour early than a minute late.” For White sox home games, he usually arrived at the stadium around a.m., and left after midnight.
Herm was elected to the Frontier Field Walk of Fame in 2014.
Soccer backers want everyone to know that the attendance at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium last Saturday night for the MLS Cup was 73,019. Atlanta United, in only its second season in the league, beat the Portland Timbers 2-0 for the championship. The season lasted nine months. Could it have worked in Rochester?
Fomer Amerk mainstay Phil Varone, last season’s American Hockey League Most Valuable Player (Les Cunningham Award) with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, has been recalled by the Philadelphia Flyers.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO...
Monday, December 10
Dion Waiters 27...Wil Meyers 28...Matt Forre 33...Gregorio Petit 34...D’Brickashaw Ferguson 35...Bryant Stith 48...Rob Blake 49...Luis Polonia 54...Mark Aguirre 58.
Tuesday, December 11
Jacoby Brissett 25...Malcolm Brogdon 26...Roman Harper 36...Joe Blanton 38...Vonnie Holliday 43...Daniel Alfredsson 46...Willie McGinest 47...Derek Bell 50...Dave Gagner 54...Stu Jackson 63...Larry Stallings 77.
ON THIS DATE IN SPORTS...
Monday, December 10
99 years ago (1919) – The National League voted to ban the use of spitballs by all new pitchers...79 years ago (1939), the Green Bay Packers beat the New York Giants 27-0 in the NFL championship game...50 years ago (1968), Joe Frazier beat Oscar Bonavena for the world heavyweight bixing title...13 years ago (2005), USC’s Reggie Bush won the 71st Heisman Trophy...6 years ago (2012), Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel won the 78th Heisman Trophy...3 years ago (2015), Former Syraqcuse Nationals star and National Basketball Hall of Famer Dolph Schayes died of cancer at age 87.
Tuesday, December 11
84 years ago (1934) – The National League voted to permit up to seven night home games per team...71 years ago (1947), the Pacific Coast League’s application for major league status was rejected...69 years ago (1949), the Cleveland Browns beat the San Francisco 49ers 21-7 in the final AAFC championship game...67 years ago (1951), Joe DiMaggio announced his retirement from baseball...59 years ago (1959), the Yankees obtained Roger Maris from Kansas City for Marv Throneberry, Don Larsen, Hank Bauer and Norm Siebern...37 years ago (1981), Muhammad Ali lost his 61st and final pro fight to Trevor Berbick...9 years ago (2009), Tiger Woods announced an indefinite leave from professional golf to focus on his marriage.