SalSpeak: Nov. 24, 2020

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Bills Got Some Help on Their Bye Week

As the Bills sat out Week 11 resting on their bye, the still burning sting of their incredible loss to Arizona on the now infamous Hail Murray was mercifully eased just a bit by what happened over the weekend.

Miami had a chance to pull even in the AFC East, but after giving Bills Nation a scare, old friend Ryan Fitzpatrick – who came out of the bullpen to replace struggling rookie Tua Tagovailoa – threw one of his notorious Fitz specials, a killer interception in the end zone with just over a minute remaining to end the Dolphins’ comeback effort.

FitzMagic to FitzTragic in the blink of an eye and Denver was able to hold on for a 20-13 victory that allowed the Bills to retain their one-game lead.

It’s not like Bills coach Sean McDermott was plopped down in front of his TV Sunday watching Red Zone channel all day, but he was well aware of what was going on, most notably in Denver.

“Well it does help us,” he said Monday afternoon. “I don’t stay glued to the television looking for help and things; we’ve got to control what we can control, but it is nice to get some help when we’re not playing, in particular, and where we can take a minute to see what’s going on around the league and in the division.”

Had Fitzpatrick not thrown that pick and ultimately led the Dolphins to the victory – and it sure looked as if he was going to do so – that loss in Arizona would have loomed very large, and here’s why.

In the next two weeks the Dolphins play the 0-10 Jets and the 2-7-1 Bengals who are now without quarterback Joe Burrow for the rest of the season due to a torn ACL. Had Miami beaten Denver, it would have been easy to project a 9-3 record by the end of Week 13, and with the Bills facing much tougher games against the Chargers and 49ers, it’s very possible the Dolphins could have surged ahead of Buffalo.

Instead, the Bills still have some breathing room and they remain in control of their destiny. The New York Times playoff machine has them with an 87% chance to make the postseason, 77% to win the division. The Dolphins dropped to 47% to make the playoffs, 21% to win the division.

However, had Miami won in Denver, and then its next two, and Buffalo were to lose its next two, here’s what happens according to the numbers gurus: The Bills drop to 61% to make the playoffs, 42% to win the division. Miami leaps to 81% to make the playoffs, 61% to win the division.

Yes, that Fitzpatrick interception was meaningful.

Of course, none of those numbers mean a hill of beans because the games are decided on the field, not by computers, and so many things can happen over the final six weeks – injuries, Hail Mary losses, whatever – that could alter the landscape.

All the numbers do is provide some context, but I’ll offer this: What was Buffalo’s win probability in Arizona when it took the lead with 34 seconds remaining? Probably more than 90 percent yet look what happened. Numbers, odds, percentages, they give fans and media something to talk about, but in the end, they don’t matter all that much.

Let’s leave it at this: The Bills were gifted a nice break Sunday with Miami’s loss, and there were also a couple other results that went Buffalo’s way.

Late Sunday night, the Chiefs rallied in the final two minutes to knock off the Raiders 35-31. Buffalo most likely isn’t catching Kansas City in the race for highest possible seed so fine, let the Chiefs keep winning. But Las Vegas taking a fourth loss is meaningful in the event that the Bills get thrown into the wildcard mix. Now, like the Dolphins, the Raiders are 6-4 plus have a head-to-head loss to the 7-3 Bills.

Houston defeating New England 27-20 was pleasant on the surface because, hey, days in western New York are always better served when the Patriots lose. But more importantly, it knocks the never-to-be-counted-out Patriots down another notch in the “in the hunt” category. Also, there’s this: The Dolphins have Houston’s first-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, so the more the Texans win, the lower that pick slides.

Now, it wasn’t a perfect weekend because there was more help to be had that didn’t come through.

The Eagles are awful. Wow, what a bad team and they proved it again by losing in Cleveland 22-17. Thus, the Browns and Bills have the same 7-3 record and again, in the event Buffalo loses the division, the wildcard pool is ultra-competitive in the AFC.

By the way, if the season ended right now – I know, forgive me for that one – the third-seeded Bills would be hosting the sixth-seeded Browns in their opening playoff game.

Tennessee’s 30-24 overtime win in Baltimore wasn’t ideal because the Titans are also 7-3, and they have a head-to-head tiebreaker win over Buffalo.

But that Tennessee victory wouldn’t have been as important if the Packers had not blown a 28-14 halftime lead and lost to Indianapolis. Instead, the Colts 34-31 overtime triumph improved their record to 7-3 and kept them tied atop the AFC South with the Titans.

Again, as it relates to possibly being thrust into the wildcard race, the Bills would prefer the Titans just go ahead and win that division, and have the Colts lose more games.

  • In other news, McDermott again refused to commit to Mitch Morse as the starting center, saying only that he would “be in the mix.” Last week, Morse was active but did not play against the Cardinals and the day after the game, McDermott sent out some mixed messages on the situation, saying Morse wasn’t benched when indeed, that’s exactly what he was.

When asked for more clarification Monday he said, “I just think we had some momentum coming off of the two games, the two wins we had there back-to-back when Mitch was out. That doesn’t say anything in particular about Mitch, it’s more so we had some momentum going and some continuity for a small window of time and so we just felt like that was the right lineup for that week. He’s in the mix this week as are some others and we’ll see how the week flows.”

  • McDermott announced that Tommy Sweeney, who has missed the entire season with an injury and then cam down with COVID-19, will not play this year. He was recently diagnosed with myocarditis, a heart condition that is tied to COVID-19 and has sidelined a handful of players around the league.

“All I know is that I saw him today and he looks in good spirits,” said McDermott. “It’s unfortunate, he’s had a rough year with the injury the early part of the year, now with the COVID and then the residual piece of the COVID. It’s unfortunate but we know that he’s a good football player and we know he’s a guy that we believe in and can’t wait to get back on the field when we can here.”


  • Dallas Cowboys strength and conditioning coordinator Markus Paul was rushed to a local hospital early Tuesday morning after experiencing a medical emergency, the team announced. Paul, 54, is undergoing further medical tests, and additional information will be made available at the appropriate time, the family told the organization. "The organization extends its prayers and support to the Paul family, and asks for friends and followers of Markus, his family and the team to keep them in their thoughts and prayers," the Cowboys said in a statement. Here’s the story from ESPN

  • RIT officials have decided against cancelling the seasons for the men’s and women’s hockey teams and now the school has released an updated schedule. Here’s the story at the RIT website.

  • The Red Wings have a new parent club. The Washington Nationals have signed on to send its top prospects to Rochester for the 2021 season, assuming there is a season. And on that matter, we’re still not sure. The Nationals have not had a very good team at the Triple-A level for the past few years. In 2019, their Fresno team in the Pacific Coast League had a record of 65-75. Check out the story here at redwings.com

  • The Cincinnati Cyclones have extended their affiliation agreement to be the ECHL affiliate of the Buffalo Sabres (NHL) and Rochester Americans (AHL). Terms of the new agreement were not announced. The Cyclones recently completed their third season as Buffalo’s ECHL affiliate as part of the current agreement, qualifying for the playoffs in each of those seasons and posting a 128-60-15-4 record during that time. Here’s the story at Amerks.com.

  • The Empire 8 athletic conference announced that it will try to start its winter sports season on March 1, assuming it’s safe to do so. With a COVID-19 virus reportedly nearing availability, at least to certain segments of people, it seems like a reasonable target date to get the kids back into action, but I still almost no way that spectators will be allowed to attend any of the competitions. Here’s the press release from the Empire 8.


By Late April 1998, The Yankees Just Expected to Win Every Night

Moments after Tino Martinez ended one of the wildest games of the magical and historic 1998 season, he stood in the clubhouse at Yankee Stadium and called New York’s 9-8 victory over Seattle on April 30, “The worst game of the season.”

“When you’re playing good,” Martinez continued, “you know you’re going to win games like that. You know that you’re going to play well and the other team is going to lose.”

Martinez wasn’t being arrogant. He was telling the truth because once they negotiated the early April turmoil, the Yankees closed out the month winning 16 of 18 games. And with this pulsating win they improved to 17-6 and moved into first place ahead of Boston for the first time, a spot they would not relinquish the rest of the year.

Regardless of what Martinez thought of the game that he won with a bases-loaded RBI single in the bottom of the 10th inning, it was certainly one of the most entertaining.

“It was fun,” said Paul O’Neill, who snapped out of an 0-for-22 slide with four hits. “It’s really the first time that our bullpen has let somebody back in the game like that. It was good to show we can pick them up if we have to.”

The night began like an episode of home run derby. In the first 2 ½ innings Seattle’s Ken Griffey ripped a pair of bombs off David Wells and Alex Rodriquez also went deep, while Martinez and Daryl Strawberry countered for the Yankees off Ken Cloude.

By the sixth inning, with Chad Curtis contributing a pair of RBI singles, the Yankees were up 7-3 and seemed to be cruising, but the bullpen coughed up all of the lead, and then some.

Jeff Nelson, Mike Stanton and Darren Holmes surrendered five runs, four coming in the eighth with a Chuck Knoblauch throwing error helping open the door to a rally that gave the Mariners an 8-7 lead.

“We did something tonight we’re not used to doing,” Joe Torre said. “We gave up the lead.”

But these Yankees were never out of anything until the 27th out was recorded, and in the bottom of the ninth Tim Raines took Bobby Ayala deep for a tying homer.

After a scoreless top of the 10th from Mariano Rivera who was back from his groin injury, the Yankees made quick work of Ayala. Knoblauch led off by getting hit by a pitch, Derek Jeter reached safely when his two-strike sacrifice bunt was misplayed by Ayala, and O’Neill and Martinez singled to end it.

“That’s the best spot to be hitting in, bases loaded and none out,” Martinez said. “You’re just trying to get a ball to the outfield somewhere. This is a great game for the team that wins and a bad loss for the other team. When you’re playing well, you expect good things to happen. This was one of our worst games, and we still came back to win.”


Mair, Weber, Added to Sabres Player Development Team

Adam Mair and Mike Weber both worked to be small pieces to a greater puzzle during their playing days with the Buffalo Sabres. Mair, a physical forward, played in all 82 games for the Presidents' Trophy team of 2006-07. Weber only appeared in 58 contests during the playoff season of 2010-11, but he recorded a team-high 158 hits.

Both are living testaments to the fact that role development can be a crucial component to carving out NHL careers, knowledge they will seek to impart on the organization's young players after being named as assistant coaches for the Rochester Americans on Thursday.

"When I started this search, when you're talking and searching through this and going through the interview process, you're looking for people that are going to be able to mentor young men," Amerks head coach Seth Appert said.

"They're going to be role models to try to help get these guys to understand what it's going to take to be successful in Rochester, but also to move and have careers in the National Hockey League and make the Buffalo Sabres better."

Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams emphasized role specialization when he introduced Appert as coach of the Amerks back in August. He said that call-ups will be tailored to specific needs on the NHL roster as opposed to just offensive production.

It is a philosophy shared with Sabres coach Ralph Krueger, who bases lineup decisions based on achieving the mix he feels best prepares the team to match up with a given opponent. Together with Appert, Mair and Weber will work to develop players who fill various roles.

"One of the biggest things that I can bring and help them understand is: Yes, you might be a star, you were a star wherever you were before," Weber said. "But now, to fit into the mold, how can you make the team better? What do you do on a daily basis to, one, obviously continue improving yourself and your details and your habits, but what else can you do to really boost the next guy beside you?"

Mair said roles are initially based on a player's foundational attributes. As a player progresses, they can add to their toolbox while still having that foundation to fall back on.

"For me, the imperative and the one thing that's important when you think about players and you think about roles, a player has to understand their role not only on their team with Rochester, but their eventual role that they're going to play when they get to the National Hockey League," he said.

"It's certainly not a situation where you want to put somebody into a box, but I always look at it as you have a foundational skill set and that skill set is your bread and butter. That's what you really have to hone and that is what is going to get your foot through the door to become a National Hockey League player."

Mair and Weber have both had their eyes on coaching since retiring from their respective careers. Mair's path took him into player development, beginning with a two-year stint as director of player development at Canisius College. He's spent the past five seasons as a development coach with the Sabres, fostering relationships with prospects like Mattias Samuelsson and Oskari Laaksonen.

Weber ended his career as captain in AHL Iowa, where head coach Derek Lalonde took him under his wing and turned him into a sort of player coach. He continued to absorb information during his final season playing for Frolunda in Sweden, then spent three years as an assistant for OHL Windsor.

Both maintained love for the organization wherever they went.

"You put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into trying to build something in Buffalo as a player," Weber said. "I'm extremely excited for the opportunity that Seth and Kevyn have given me here to be able to come back and be a small piece to the solution. That's all I ever wanted as a player here, to be part of a solution to getting us over the hump, to making this organization a great organization again."

Mair said his goal hasn't changed since first joining the organization in 2002.

"I've always wanted to win a Stanley Cup in this organization," he said. "I talked to Seth about this when I went through the interview process. The reason I wanted to take the step behind the bench this year is because I really feel like this gives me more of an opportunity to impact this organization to help them achieve that goal, but for me it's to be a part of that."