Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, avoiding a rush by the Bills’ Da’Norris Searcy, barely seemed to break a sweat on Sunday.
Photo courtesy: James P. McCoy /Buffalo News
ARLINGTON, Texas — Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo might as well have played Sunday’s game in a tuxedo. He could have left Cowboys Stadium without taking a shower. He could have sent text messages before throwing some of his passes.
“If you get that extra half a second, the game becomes quite a bit easier,” Romo said after leading Dallas to a 44-7 victory over the Buffalo Bills. “That is a lot of times the simplicity of it.”
Romo and the Cowboys made the game look simple and the Bills’ pass defense look awful.
Romo enjoyed the most accurate passing day ever by a Bills opponent. He connected on 23 of 26 passes — 88.4 percent — for 270 yards and three touchdowns.
In sending the Bills (5-4) to their second straight ugly defeat and their third loss in four games, Dallas exposed a multitude of flaws in Buffalo’s team.
The biggest, however, is the Bills can’t generate any pressure on the quarterback.
Romo wasn’t sacked once and was barely hurried. Take away their 10-sack game against Washington, and the Bills have managed just five sacks in their other eight outings.
“Pressure, coverage, tackling, everything you do on defense needed to be better,” Bills cornerback Drayton Florence said. “The sense of urgency throughout the whole game just wasn’t there.”
“We were trying to come after him a little bit, but we were trying to pick and choose our spots,” Bills coach Chan Gailey said. “You don’t want to commit all out and leave everybody one on one in the back end back there.”
The rush linebackers who were on the field Sunday have combined for just three sacks all season. Spencer Johnson has two. Danny Batten and Arthur Moats have half a sack each. Antonio Coleman, pressed into service due to the injuries to Shawne Merriman and Chris Kelsay, has none.
So Romo sat back and picked the Bills apart. He completed 13 straight passes to open the game and went 18 for 19 in staking Dallas to a 28-7 halftime lead.
On this day, the Bills’ pass coverage was as bad as its edge rushing.
On the first Dallas touchdown, cornerback Leodis McKelvin was stride for stride down the right sideline with 6-foot-2 receiver Dez Bryant. McKelvin looked back for the ball at the right time. But Bryant reached his big body over McKelvin’s head and grabbed the ball away for a 34-yard score.
The Bills blitzed, but safety Jairus Byrd couldn’t get to Romo.
“I was in position,” McKelvin said. “I looked back at the ball and I jumped. He just made the play that I didn’t make. That’s just the way the whole game went.”
“When it’s one on one, what you don’t do with Dez is overthrow him,” Romo said. “The kid played good defense, he had him covered decent. It was Dez just being Dez, going up and getting the ball.”
On the second Dallas drive, the touchdown pass went to Laurent Robinson, from 5 yards out on a third-and-goal situation. Once again, the Bills called a big blitz and safety Bryan Scott rushed free, right up the middle at Romo. But Scott didn’t make the play. Romo made a spin move to his left, and Scott never got a finger on him. Robinson was wide open in the end zone.
Dallas’ third touchdown was a one-play drive, after new Bills kicker Dave Rayner missed a 52-yard field goal try.
On first down, Romo went deep for Robinson, who blazed past Florence down the left side of the field and was wide open for a 58-yard scoring play.
It was clear from the postgame comments that Dallas caught the Bills in the perfect defense to be vulnerable to the bomb. George Wilson, the safety on Florence’s side, bit underneath on a hitch route run by tight end Jason Witten. Florence didn’t think Robinson was going long and hesitated as the receiver blew by him.
“There was something we saw that we thought was going to be favorable, based on what they were playing,” Dallas coach Jason Garrett said. “Laurent did a nice job of running up on the corner and beating him over the top. Jason Witten, if you watch that play closely, did a really good job of eating up the safety, as well.”
“They schemed us on that play,” Florence said. “I could have done better technique. I could have been a little bit higher on him. But that’s a play that we knew was going to come sooner or later in the game and they hit it on us.”
That made it 21-0 just 17:43 into the game.
The Bills’ offense responded with an 80-yard drive to a touchdown on a 3-yard pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick to David Nelson.
But any thoughts that this might be an epic comeback like the Bills waged against New England were snuffed out when Romo took the Cowboys to a fourth TD in four possessions to push the lead to 28-7.
Romo was 7 of 8 for 58 yards on that 80-yard march. On third downs in the first half, he was 7 of 7 for 90 yards and a TD.
“Defensively one of the biggest things these past couple weeks has been getting off the field on third down,” said Bills linebacker Kelvin Sheppard. “That’s no secret. We have to go back to the drawing board. Teams are obviously seeing something we’re doing on film. We’re not executing properly. Everything’s drawn up for us, it’s just a matter of going out and doing it. We’ve got people in third and 7s, third and 8s. You’ve got to get off the field.”
Dallas (5-4) held the Bills to just 98 yards in the first half. The Bills allowed only one sack of Fitzpatrick — on a busted assignment on the first play of the game. But Fitzpatrick was harassed repeatedly by Dallas’ pass rushers.
Fitzpatrick finished 20 of 31 for 146 yards, his lowest output of the season. Bills back Fred Jackson finished with 114 yards rushing, most in garbage time in the second half.
Worse for the Bills was the fact center Eric Wood suffered what looked like a sprained knee late in the fourth quarter. Gailey said it probably will keep him out of next week’s game in Miami.
After two straight defeats, that game is shaping up as a must-win for the Bills.
“We’re a good football team but we didn’t show it today,” Florence said. “They whipped our [butt] — that’s the bottom line.”
Courtesy: Mark Gaughan | The Buffalo News
Fitz faces his first true test as the face of the franchise
On the road and in need of a win, this is where the Bills’ franchise quarterback has to be at his best
DALLAS — The Bills are 5-3 at the halfway point, tied for first place in the AFC East with the Pats and Jets. They’re in the thick of the playoff chase, with their destiny in their own hands. So how come it feels as if the whole thing is about to come tumbling down?
The first half of the year was one of the most consistently entertaining in years. But it’s been like watching your child ride a bicycle for the first time. You run alongside, proud and apprehensive, wondering how long it’ll be before they lose their balance and fall off.
Maybe it’s the injuries. If you had told me in August that Kyle Williams would have to shut it down at the halfway point, and that Shawne Merriman would be done even before that, I wouldn’t have given the Bills much of a chance.
There’s also the loss of kicker Rian Lindell, which is no small thing. If there’s one thing you could count on in the dark years, it was that Lindell and Brian Moorman would provide competence in the kicking game. Today will snap a streak of 136 straight games with both of them on the field.
Then there’s the lingering memory of last week’s Jets game, which dredged up a lot of essential questions. The offense seemed slow, overmatched and afraid to challenge Rex Ryan’s crew. The best thing you can say about the defense was they seemed almost adequate.
RIVAL HEADLINE: Offensive line has its work cut out against DeMarcus Ware and Dallas Cowboys’ pass rush
Photo by Associated Press
Scouting Report: Offensive line has its work cut out against Ware and Cowboys’ pass rush
Jackson should find more running holes today than last week
The Bills have already faced some of the league’s premier pass rushers in Jason Pierre-Paul, Jason Babin and Tamba Hali but Dallas linebacker DeMarcus Ware is peerless. Second in the NFL in sacks behind Minnesota’s Jared Allen with 12, Ware is on pace to enjoy a 24-sack season. A punishing pass rusher off the edge, Ware has excellent strength and size as well as great body control to leverage blockers in the run game. But he isn’t the only pass rusher the Bills must deal with. Linebacker Anthony Spencer is also strong off the edge and has four sacks on the season. The Bills will likely move Andy Levitre over from guard to left tackle, where he’s started the last two games. Rookie Chris Hairston is coming off a high ankle sprain and while he was active for last week’s Jets game, he didn’t play. Chad Rinehart will start at left guard.
DALLAS — Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo has not thrown an interception in his last 64 pass attempts. He has only one pickoff in his last three games.
“Good Tony” is in a groove, which could be bad news for the Buffalo Bills today when they face the Cowboys before a crowd of about 80,000 in Cowboys Stadium.
The Bills’ chances of pulling an upset would be enhanced if they could pad their league-leading total of 15 interceptions and make “Bad Tony” reappear.
“He has a lot of weapons, and Tony is one of those guys who can make all the throws,” said Bills cornerback Terrence McGee. “I just hope we can harass him a little bit and get him to give up some picks.”
Romo has a split-personality reputation — Good Tony versus Bad Tony — thanks to some highly publicized fourth-quarter mishaps during his six-year career.
This year alone there was a Romo fumble at the Jets’ 3-yard line late in the season opener to secure a New York comeback victory. And there was a three-interception second half in a Cowboys’ collapse against Detroit.
The fact Dallas has won just one playoff game in Romo’s tenure only fuels criticism of Romo’s every miscue in football-mad Texas. Until he wins more in the postseason, Dallas fanatics likely will keep bringing up his fumble on a hold of a field-goal try to lose his first playoff start. Or Dallas’ home loss as a No. 1 seed a week after Romo’s quickie vacation to Mexico with then-girlfriend Jessica Simpson.
Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo has a 43-26 career record, but just one playoff victory.
Photo courtesy: Associated Press
It’s moment of truth time for both the Bills and Dallas Cowboys as they gather at the halfway point of the NFL schedule today. The Bills are shaken from their second-half collapse against the Jets in The Ralph. The Boys are full of themselves again, having quarterback Tony Romo healthy once more.
The boys from Buffalo are concerned about three straight road games, Dallas, the Jets again and now with even Miami actually stirring.
There is actual talk in Dallas about a possible Super Bowl ending in Indianapolis in February. But that’s what it’s been for the last decade, talk. The Boys from Dallas have been all hat and no cattle. They lost three of their last four games in ’10 and missed the playoffs.
But enough about them. The Bills have to prove they are playoff ready and not nose-dive ready. This team has been promising, but promising only wins a good seat in front of your own TV when the playoffs begin.
The Bills’ brass has to be thinking upon two levels if their first-half-of-the-season record turns from 5-3 to 6-5 or, horrors!, 5-6. That would put the 2012 draft on a higher level than any playoff gab.
There has to be clear thinking about how far they can go in ’12 with the existing talent. Two of the team’s cornerbacks, Leodis McKelvin and Drayton Florence, are among the candidates for new addresses. McKelvin makes far too many mistakes while Florence soon hits that undesirable 10th year as a pro.
The Bills also have to improve at offensive tackle. It doesn’t require an NFL scout to figure out that weakness. A few are good enough to be backups but the Bills meet the Jets twice a year and a lot of other pass-rushing talent. They need to get better.
Even some of their stars need to be challenged. Wide receiver Stevie Johnson is a sometime game-breaker but he drops too many catchable balls. The Bills have to find a couple of top-of-the line receivers to challenge Johnson.
We saw some of the changing of the guard at linebacker with Kelvin Sheppard making his first start. If the Bills can’t find a consistent pass rush among all the new guys maybe they better use more of their old stuff from the 4-3 defense. Successfully nagging Romo today would clarify the defensive coaches’ thinking.
Courtesy: Larry Felser | The Buffalo News
The Buffalo Bills’ offense carved out an interesting identity in the first half of the season.
The Bills are a spread offense that can run the ball with authority. Call it Chan Gailey’s “power spread.” If the Bills can stay reasonably close to their production of the first eight games, they should be in the playoff race going into the final weeks of the season.
The Bills, mired in the bottom eight of the NFL on offense the previous eight years, begin the second half of the season Sunday in Dallas with the 12th-ranked offense in the NFL in terms of yards gained.
The Bills are seventh in rushing, 15th in passing, and — more important — tied for fourth in scoring.
The Bills play out of a spread formation — with four or more players split out as receivers — on 47 percent of their plays, according to News figures. That’s among the most in the league. However, the Bills are the eighth most run-oriented team in the league. They run on 44.5 percent of their plays.
Gailey has done a great job of keeping defenses honest and utilizing running back Fred Jackson, who is an All-Pro candidate.
Dallas native, Fred Jackson, returns home as a Buffalo Bill … will face his favorite childhood team, the Dallas Cowboys (Video)
One spot in the southeast corner of Cowboys Stadium literally will feel like home to Bills running back Fred Jackson this Sunday.
Confused? Don’t be. Our friends at BuffaloBills.com can explain.
|Bills running back Fred Jackson will have homefield advantage when he plays at Cowboys Stadium on Sunday. (BuffaloBills.com/)|
You see, right in that area of Jerry’s World is where Jackson’s childhood home once stood (we’re not kidding) — that is until Cowboys owner Jerry Jones tore it down to build his own $1.3 billion home for his team.
The Jackson family home wasn’t the only one swept aside, though. Plenty of other folks suffered the same fate.
This all happened in 2004, when Jones was planning where to build his palatial football palace and happened to settle on the Arlington neighborhood where Jackson grew up. At the time it happened, Jackson was paying his dues playing for the Sioux City Bandits of the National Indoor Football League.
One might think Jackson would be bitter about this. Hardly. He’s pretty excited to return for the critical showdown against the Cowboys, whom he and his family rooted for during his childhood. Right when he walks into the building, he’ll be trying to map out the old neighborhood.
“Definitely during pregame,” Jackson said, “when I’m out there getting loose, trying to figure out, piece it together, you know, ‘This is my friend Jason’s house, would be right here where I am now.’ Things like that, I’m sure, will be going through my head during pregame, and I’ll definitely be looking for stuff like that.”
Don’t get too nostalgic, though, Fred. You have a big game to play.
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HOMER NEWSPAPER: Fred Jackson returns home to Dallas, as a star
The Cowboys’ DeMarcus Ware, right, has 12 sacks, three fewer than the Bills have as a team.
Whoever starts at left tackle Sunday for the Buffalo Bills — the options are Andy Levitre and rookie Chris Hairston — will spend a considerable amount of time opposite quarterback agitator DeMarcus Ware.
Indeed, Levitre and Hairston will receive their stiffest test yet trying to muzzle Ware when the Bills (5-3) visit the Dallas Cowboys (4-4) at Cowboys Stadium on Sunday.
“It’s an opportunity of a lifetime to be able and go out and compete against a guy who has shown his ability over a long period of time,” Hairston said. “It will be good to go out there and say, ‘I went against the best,’ because that’s what he’s proven time and time again.”
Time and time again, Ware has proven to be difficult to contain. The Bills defense has 15 sacks this season, only three more than Ware — who has more sacks than Kansas City and the same amount as Tampa Bay.
So who will be Ryan Fitzpatrick’s personal protector? More than likely, it will be Levitre to start.
“Probably over a 50 percent chance that he’ll play left tackle,” Bills coach Chan Gailey said. “We’re still holding hope for Hairston but I think that will be the way it is, at least to start the game.”
We know it won’t be Demetrius Bell who started the first four games of the season before suffering a shoulder injury in the loss to Cincinnati during Week Four. While Bell said his rehab is going fine and he’s felt, “better than I have in a long time,” he’s not practicing this week and his return is still to be determined.
Levitre practiced this week at both left tackle and left guard. When Hairston was injured following the New York Giants game, Levitre filled in at left tackle and played well in holding off the likes of Washington linebacker Brian Orakpo and the Jets’ Calvin Pace.
“He did a good job and it’s such a tough thing,” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s so hard for him to move from inside to outside and now that he’s had a few games where he’s been out there you can see him getting comfortable. We’ll see what happens there this week, but Andy’s a really good player for us and somebody that we put a lot on his shoulders and he’s really stepped up.
If Levitre starts at left tackle, Chad Rinehart will start at left guard.
“I don’t know what [the coaches] plan is, but I’m taking reps at both,” Levitre said. “The last few weeks I’ve been playing against some of the best pass rushers in the league. It’s definitely going to be a big challenge because Ware is a good pass rusher and a great player. I feel like we have our work cut out for us every week but this is going to be a challenge for us.”
Hairston, the rookie from Clemson, missed the last two games against Washington and the Jets with a high ankle sprain. After Bell was injured, Hairston started against Philadelphia and the Giants and was activated for last week’s Jets game.
“You have to be ready,” Hairston said. “I have to get a good week of preparation in, get myself together mentally and physically so I can go out and have my best game. … You have to be on top of everything with Ware.”
Respect for Ware, who ranks second in the NFL in sacks, is league wide. New England’s Bill Belichick recently compared Ware to Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor, whom Belichick coached as the Giants’ defensive coordinator. He lauded Ware’s talent to rush and drop into coverage, adding his aptitude allows him to play multiple roles.
Not to be outdone, Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said of his centerpiece, “I mean, I saw Superman I and II but never saw the third one. I know Lawrence Taylor is obviously a fantastic player, but the best player I’ve ever seen on defense is DeMarcus Ware without a doubt.”
Ware has 12 sacks, which trails league-leader Jared Allen of Minnesota by half a sack. Last week’s game against Seattle is only the second time he didn’t record a sack in a game this year. That still leaves him on a pace for 24 sacks.
“DeMarcus Ware obviously is somebody you’ve got to have your eye on,” Fitzpatrick said. “Every play you’ve got to know where he is.”
Courtesy: Rodney McKissic | The Buffalo News
Arlington paved over Fred Jackson’s neighborhood and put up a parking lot.
Photo: Mark Mulville /Buffalo News
Running back Fred Jackson will feel right at home Sunday when he and the Buffalo Bills go to Dallas to face the Cowboys.
That’s because he literally will be playing in his old backyard.
The house in which Jackson grew up was located on what now is one of the parking lots for the massive new Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
“It will literally be home-field advantage for me,” Jackson said.
Jackson said he and his family lived in the house from the time he was in fourth or fifth grade through his senior year of high school. Jackson then went off to Coe College in Iowa, and his parents moved to a different home in the Dallas area shortly thereafter. The City of Arlington eventually had to arrange for the purchase of about 168 properties to make room for the 140 acres needed for the stadium and surrounding parking lots.
“They were clearing out all that stuff five to six years in advance of the building of the stadium,” Jackson said.
This will be Jackson’s first professional game in Dallas.
“I’m excited,” Jackson said. “I grew up a Cowboys fan. I think it’s every boy’s dream if they live in a place where there’s a professional team, you either want to play for that team or play against them.”
Jackson, of course, is making a hero’s return. He currently is the No. 3 rusher in the NFL, with 803 yards, behind only Philadelphia’s LeSean McCoy (825) and Chicago’s Matt Forte (805). Jackson is second in the NFL in yards from scrimmage with 1,194 yards, behind only Forte (1,241).
At his current pace, Jackson would break O.J. Simpson’s single-season team record for yards from scrimmage of 2,243, set in 1975.
No one saw such success coming when Jackson was playing for Lamar High School, about 5 miles from the current Cowboys Stadium, in Arlington. He was a late bloomer.
“I went back [to Lamar] a couple years ago, and people didn’t even recognize me,” Jackson said. “I was a minute person in high school. I was 5-8, all of 140 pounds. So to come back 6-1, 220, is completely different.”
Jackson barely played for Lamar, which is a prep football power and had about 4,000 students when he attended. He was the third-string running back entering his senior year. He moved up to second string after the season opener but still managed only about five carries for 40 yards for the season. The first stringer, Tommicus Walker, went on to play for Nebraska. Jackson and his Lamar team did make it to the Cowboys’ old home, Texas Stadium, for the state playoffs his senior year.
Jackson was a big Cowboys fan growing up, and Dallas Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith was his favorite player. But he never attended a Cowboys game as a kid. This will be Jackson’s first trip to the new Cowboys Stadium, built at a cost of $1.1 billion and opened in 2009. Jackson gave his parents his two tickets to the Super Bowl at Cowboys Stadium, played last January.
Jackson said he has 25 tickets for Sunday’s game, and he knows too many people in the area to try to accommodate more friends at the game.
“Just family — mom, dad, brothers and sisters,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun. It’ll be fun to see a lot of different people. I’m sure I’ll see a lot of them in pregame in the stands hooting and hollering.”
Courtesy: Mark Gaughan | The Buffalo News
Scott Norwood is the 31st former Bills player to receive the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Distinguished Service Award, which honors past players for their contributions to the franchise on and off the field.
James P. McCoy /Buffalo News
It’s been 20 years since Scott Norwood has visited Ralph Wilson Stadium and the way the media greeted him before Sunday’s game, it was as if he never left.
“It’s been a while since I was besieged in this manner,” said Norwood, who played in 108 games for the Buffalo Bills from 1985 to ’91. “It feels terrific to be back.”
Norwood was honored with the 26th annual Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Distinguished Service Award, the 31st former player selected for the award, which honors past players for their contributions to the franchise on and off the field.
“I didn’t do it alone. I do remember that. I think coming back into this setting is definitely a time to look back,” said Norwood, who connected on 72.3 percent of his field goals (133 for 184) in his career. “It’s not something many of us do in our normal lives. We are pretty set toward what is going on that particular day or the next week. It is a time of reflection. For what I had to give, I think I performed and maybe exceeded what I could do.”
Norwood set a Bills record for most field goals in a season with 32 in 1988, a mark that was broken by Steve Christie in 1998 (33). His 670 career points ranks third on the Bills’ career scoring list.
“Kickers have come in since and have continued to take it notches up, which is great to see,” Norwood said. “I saw that firsthand when Stevie Christie came in. I certainly had acknowledged he was a great kicker at that time and I could see the reason they moved forward without me.”
Norwood was named to the Pro Bowl and earned All Pro in 1988 but is best remembered for missing a 47-yard field goal at the end of Super Bowl XXV in January 1991 against the New York Giants.
“I led the league in scoring, made Pro Bowls and did other things of that nature,” he said. “I was supported of course by a great team and franchise.”
Courtesy: Rodney McKissic | The Buffalo News
Fred Jackson is ready to hit the road.
James P. McCoy /Buffalo News
The Buffalo Bills are faced with a dreaded task in bouncing back from their worst loss of the season.
The Bills embark Sunday on a three-game road trip, beginning in Dallas. History says the results aren’t pretty.
From 1990 through the 2010 season in the NFL, there have been 106 road swings. Only nine teams went 3-0. Just 29 had a winning record at 2-1. Fifty-one of those trips ended with the teams going 1-2, and another 17 teams dropped all three games.
So the Bills have their work cut out for them getting right on the road. The team hasn’t played three straight on the road in the last 10 years.
“You deal with it,” Bills coach Chan Gailey said about the schedule. “What are you going to do? Sit around, gripe, moan and complain? You can’t do that. It doesn’t do any good, it’s still going to be there. You take them as they come and don’t worry about it.”
The last time the Bills had a three-game road trip was to end the 2001 season: They went 1-2, winning the middle game at the New York Jets. Other three-game trips for the Bills came in 1999 (2-1), 1996 (0-3), 1995 (1-2) and 1991 (2-1).
Of the 106 such trips, road teams won the first game 50 times. That number falls to 40 in the second game, then bounces up to 43 in the final game of the trip.
“One game at a time, for sure,” quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said when asked how to approach the trip. “Each game, the next three, they all present a different challenge. We’ve watched a little bit of the Cowboys. We’ve got some stuff we need to clean up and need to get better at. We made a lot of mistakes, stuff that we usually don’t do. There’s some stuff we need to clean up on our end and then we’ll get it going.”
This season, there are 10 teams that have three-game road swings. The Saints went 2-1 in Weeks 4-6, the only team that has found much success. The Bills, Browns (Weeks 14-16), Cardinals (Weeks 10-12) and Panthers (Weeks 11-13) have yet to start theirs.
Indianapolis (Weeks 6-8) went 0-3 on its trip, as did Miami (Weeks 3-6, bye included) and the Jets (Weeks 3-5). San Diego finished 1-2 from Weeks 5-8 (including a bye), while Jacksonville is in the midst of its trip, starting 0-1.
That’s a record of 3-13 so far.
“It will be a difficult stretch, but we don’t have to play all three of them at the same time,” running back Fred Jackson said. “We have to play one game at a time, go out and take care of our business and focus on the team that we have. If we go out and continue to make plays like we have been throughout the season we’ll feel like we’ll be OK.”
Courtesy: Jay Skurski | The Buffalo News
The Boys Are Back comment: History’s not on their side when they’ve faced the Dallas Cowboys in the Super Bowl either!