By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The year was 2010. The mighty Buffalo Bills were fresh off a 6-10 season, having fired head coach Dick Jauron the previous November. New head coach Chan Gailey was on the job, and Buddy Nix was in as the team’s new GM.
It was time for a new era in Buffalo, one that wiped away the stench that going 66-94 over the previous decade left lingering.
And so, in the second round of the 2010 draft, with the 41st overall pick, the Buffalo Bills selected … Torell Troup.
And at No. 42, the very next pick, the New England Patriots selected … Robert Gronkowski.
Troup, a defensive lineman, would go on to play 21 games with the Bills. He made 31 career tackles. Zero sacks. Zero forced fumbles. He was out of the league by 2012.
Gronkowski would go on to torment his hometown Bills every time he met them, a tradition that’s carried on all the way through this past weekend.
After catching five passes for 109 yards and a touchdown on Sunday, Gronkowski’s career stats against Buffalo now look like this:
11 games, 11 touchdowns, 52 receptions, 813 yards, 15.63 yards/reception
His stats when he plays in Buffalo are even more absurd:
6 games, 7 touchdowns, 35 receptions, 583 yards, 16.66 yards/reception
Gronkowski has also enjoyed nine victories in the 11 games vs. the Bills in his career.
And he could have been Buffalo’s. He grew up right under the team’s nose, and his size and skill were undeniable. But back injuries in college scared off the Bills, like they did a lot of teams. So the Bills played it safe. And they selected Torell Troup.
Now let’s act like a flying silicone cylinder in upstate New York and go diving right in to some leftover Patriots thoughts from the team’s 41-25 win in Buffalo.
–You know, by many measures, the Patriots’ defense had a pretty mediocre day. They allowed the Bills to go 378 yards and score 25 points, they committed too many penalties, and they didn’t force any turnovers. And to be fair, it wasn’t the most inspiring day for the defense as a whole.
But — BUT! — what really stood out to me was how dedicated the Patriots’ defenders were to just absolutely laying the wood on Buffalo ball carriers.
On the second snap of the game, running back Mike Gillislee broke off a 28-yard run and was feeling mighty confident, giving a “shh” signal to the world.
(Likely to the Patriots, right? Telling the home crowd to shush doesn’t make much sense.)
Well, on the very next play, the Bills gave the ball to their confident running back. Dont’a Hightower very quickly recalibrated the running back’s system.
The message was sent pretty early, and the delivery of that message was aided by the officials missing a blatant late hit by Hightower on quarterback Tyrod Taylor later in the drive, which ended with a Buffalo field goal.
Later, Devin McCourty hit Brandon Tate so hard that the receiver’s face entered another dimension.
Late in the third quarter, Malcolm Butler ran like a locomotive right through Robert Woods, stopping the receiver in his tracks.
Perhaps this was how the Patriots decided to respond to the pregame shove of Jacoby Brissett a few weeks ago. Or maybe they just felt like delivering some pain.
Whatever the case, it was just a physical brand of football. Ten years ago, it would have been commonplace and not worth mentioning. But nowadays, it just feels like such a rarity.
–The Patriots also accepted some pain, too. Midway through the fourth quarter, with the game all but over, Julian Edelman could have (and probably should have) stepped out of bounds for a four-yard gain on a second-and-11.
Instead, Edelman hopped back toward the field to accept a beating from four people looking to break his bones. They obliged.
You respect the guy’s courage, but come on, man. That’s a lot of unnecessary pain. (The next play resulted in a sack, and the Patriots settled for a field goal.)
–For the life of me, I can’t figure out why Tyrod Taylor is more difficult to tackle than Godzilla. Sure, he’s got very good speed, but with the way would-be tacklers bounce off him, you’d think the guy was a 6-foot-5 refrigerator who’s pushing 260 pounds. The guy is 6-foot-1, 215 pounds. Why can’t linebackers and giant D-linemen bring him down? I need answers.
Taylor’s most impressive escape Sunday came in the fourth quarter, when safety Patrick Chung (one of the surest tacklers on the Patriots) had Taylor wrapped up by the ankles and falling to the turf:
But Taylor managed to drop his hand to the ground, pop himself back up and sprint to turn a loss of 10 into a gain of 17. It was pretty incredible, any way you look at it.
–In his pregame interview on 98.5 The Sports Hub, Patriots president Jonathan Kraft said this about the Redskins-Bengals game in London: “It’s great when we can go over there and it can be a really good demonstration of what live NFL product is.”
I have to agree with Kraft there, though not for the same reasons he was using. I thought the fact that this blatant facemask penalty went uncalled despite an official standing a mere five feet away properly put the NFL product on display for the people of Europe:
It was just the latest example of the NFL’s emphasis on “player safety” being a bunch of hogwash. The NFL is lucky that Jamison Crowder didn’t suffer a broken neck when Shawn Williams grabbed on and did not let go. It might have turned off the London locals to see a man paralyzed on the football field, especially on a play where a flag was not even thrown.
This is a league that fined a player $12,154 for holding up an imaginary camera and snapping an imaginary photograph of his teammate while celebrating a touchdown.
Feel free to rip each other’s heads off. Fake photographs cannot be tolerated. The National Football League.
–Despite the four-game Brady absence and the two-plus game Jimmy Garoppolo absence, the Patriots find themselves with the fifth-best scoring offense and the eighth-best offense in terms of yards per game. What’s been most important since Brady has returned has been the third-down offense, which has incredibly gone 29-for-52 (55.8 percent) since Week 5. For perspective, the best third-down team in the league is Green Bay at 51.6 percent.
The ease with which Brady converted a number of third downs on Sunday really stood out. On the opening drive, third-and-6, Buffalo up 3-0, crowd going wild, Brady just nonchalantly flicked a short pass to James White, knowing he’d have plenty of space to operate and pick up the first down.
Brady knew the Patriots had the first down before the ball was even snapped.
On a third-and-10 three plays later, the crowd was even louder. Brady casually slid up in the pocket to buy time before hitting Chris Hogan for yet another all-too-easy first-down pickup. And then again, three plays later, third-and-2, Brady gave a hand signal to Edelman before the snap. They figured out just by reading the defense that they could get this:
That’s just way, way too easy.
Brady ended that drive with a touchdown pass to Danny Amendola on — you guessed it — another third down, making Brady 4-for-4 for 43 yards and a touchdown on third down, on the road, in the rain, with his team trailing early. That’s how you win games.
–The man also essentially died for a touchdown that didn’t count. OK, well, he didn’t die; he survived. But he sacrificed himself in order to throw a 47-yard bomb to his buddy Jules.
It didn’t count because Marcus Cannon was here, having nothing to do with anything:
Can you imagine how miffed you’d be? Not only did you get steamrolled by a linebacker, but it was all for naught, because Marcus Cannon was trotting a few feet from the line of scrimmage. That would be so utterly deflating (absolutely no lame pun intended, there’s just no better word for the moment).
Yet Brady went ahead and threw the 53-yard touchdown to Chris Hogan on the very next play. I went to the stopwatch: 71 seconds elapsed between Brady getting run over by Zach Brown and Brady throwing the deep bomb for the TD. It’s just remarkable. That is all.
–Brady getting hit 10,000 times from the Bills wasn’t all that dissimilar to last year’s meeting on Monday Night Football. That night, he unveiled his Crash Test Dummy mode, wherein he managed to go fully limp from head to toe whilst in mid-air after getting walloped by an angry man. Nearly a year has passed, and nobody has put those highlights to Strauss yet. Missed opportunity.
Brady is obviously tough as nails, and he’s proven capable of withstanding a beating, but maybe the Patriots ought to try harder to ensure this doesn’t happen too often:
–This had to have been the proudest moment in history for the entire Gronkowski clan:
–I liked the high school picture that CBS shared, which confirmed that Rob Gronkowski in high school looks exactly as you might have imagined:
(Which is to say, he looks almost the exact same as he does now at 27.)
–NFL ratings are a big discussion point these days, and while Sunday will almost certainly represent an uptick for the league that condones domestic violence, the end of the Patriots-Bills game perfectly displayed why watching football can at times be more painful than a root canal.
Look at this play, for example. With 5:29 left to play in a 41-17 football game, Malcolm Butler was flagged for illegal hands to the face. Problem was, Butler didn’t actually contact Robert Woods’ facemask. He whiffed. Woods head-faked the would-be head shove. Yet the game stopped anyway. The official just had to throw that flag.
The delay was minimal, but it was one of many unnecessary flags that only worked to kill any flow by stopping the clock and the game for yet another needless announcement.
(Putting the Bears on national television four times in eight weeks definitely does more to harm NFL ratings, though.)
–Do you know who didn’t have any fun on Sunday? Jimmy Garoppolo didn’t have any fun on Sunday. He went in late in a blowout and had to suffer the wrath of some angry Bills who decided to go all old-school WWF on him with a tag-team body slam.
That’s not a very good time!
–Good sports photograph:
–Good old-school high-step photograph:
–If I’m going to be completely honest with you, dear reader, then I would have to admit that I miss the old Rex Ryan. The old Rex Ryan was a massive ball of unwarranted swagger, a guy who stomped into a room flapping his gums and not backing down to anybody.
The new Rex Ryan is just kind of sad. He said earlier this week that the Patriots don’t ever get swept by a divisional opponent in a season, thereby setting the tone that his team didn’t really stand a chance on Sunday. During the game, Rex and brother Rob looked stoically bewildered after Edelman scored a touchdown in the third quarter:
And here was Rex laughing as he lost his composure and threw a challenge flag in the final minutes while losing big:
New Rex is fine with losing. He waved a white flag in the division race after the game. Boo, new Rex. Boo.
He didn’t get a penalty this time, because his team was penalized a timeout instead. But last year, you might recall Rex getting flagged 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct vs. New England. This time he did it again and just didn’t care.
–In case you were curious, Bill Belichick, whose team was winning big with 30 seconds left, looked miserable in that same moment:
–“So, Ed, look, I’m sure you enjoy coaching, but I know you’re getting sick of the Ryan brothers. Plus, we could always use safety help, especially as the cold weather starts to come into play and we need those hard-fought postseason wins … “