From our table in Mac's City Bar on Hertel Avenue in Buffalo, the BillStuff coverage team had access to four televisions. Three were connected to the NFL Sunday Ticket, the service that allows subscribers access to every game not blacked out in a particular market.
The two over the bar, a big screen and a more reasonably sized one, carried the Buffalo-Green Bay game. To our right, the third satellite hookup brought us Chicago vs. Carolina, for no good reason. And to the left was the only television in the place carrying the over-the-air version of the Bills' visit to Lambeau Field.
I didn't notice any difference until late in the second quarter. Buffalo had just taken over on downs and I was watching Drew Bledsoe get ready to take the snap on one of the bar televisions, when Dave yelled out "interception!"
Sure enough, a few seconds later, Bledsoe's pass wound up in the hands of Green Bay linebacker Na'il Diggs.
Man, I thought. Dave really knows his football. Or he's really, really intuitive.
The truth came out before the next snap. While the rest of us viewed the game on the bar televisions, Dave was the only one watching the broadcast feed. Which was about four seconds ahead of the satellite version.
To this point, the game hadn't been much to watch. The Bills defense put on its best performance of the year to date in the first half, keeping the Packers in check and even making a few plays to set up opportunities for the offense. Chances which Bledsoe and his formerly fearsome cohorts almost immediately squandered.
The pattern established itself early. Little-used Bills cornerback Kevin Thomas intercepted Brett Favre's second pass of the game, giving Buffalo the ball at Green Bay's 9-yard line. But Bledsoe's third-down throw bounced off Peerless Price's hands and into those of Packers safety Darren Sharper.
That set the early tone, and by the end of the first half, the Packers were a touchdown away from causing a serious loss of interest.
But Dave's discovery injected life into the proceedings, even after it became painfully clear the Bills weren't going to score on this day unless the Packers either fumbled in their own end zone or decided to leave the field early.
Clearly, nobody else in the place outside our table noticed this revelation at first. Even though Dave very loudly and very accurately predicted the outcome of the last four plays of the half.
"I will not stop," said Dave, a professional educator, gesturing toward the two dozen fans at the bar who remained oblivious to the time delay. "I will continue until they learn."
What, precisely, we were going to teach them remains unclear at press time. But teach them we would.
After halftime, we realized it was even more fun to react to the play as it unfolded live, rather than simply announcing the result. As in "Bledsoe's looking deep ... he sees the open man ... Oh! It's incomplete."
We soon realized the gap was long enough to repeat the outcome a few times before the satellite version of the play ran, even speculate on the "upcoming" play a little.
"The Packers have been face-masking all day? When are they going to start calling it?"
A split-second later, the flag flies.
Someone at a neighboring table finally got in the swing of things early in the third quarter, in between plays.
"Yeah! Bledsoe's stats! Woooooo ... " he shouted, moments before Drew's dismal numbers appeared in graphic form on the bar televisions.
When we saw Bledsoe had completed just five of 15 first-half throws, with two interceptions, we decided to renew the Buffalo tradition of demanding the insertion of clearly inferior backup quarterbacks that dates back to the days of Gary Marangi, starting a chant of "We want Van Pelt! We want Van Pelt!"
After a few moments of such diversion, we regained our focus.
"The key," said one late arrival, "is going to be finding the right moment to tell them the wrong play."
We pondered the possibilities -- imagine being in this position for Super Bowl XXV, and as the most of the crowd watches Scott Norwood line up and waits for the snap, suddenly yelling out "It's good! It's good! The Bills win the Super Bowl! The Bills win the Super Bowl!" before the kick sails wide right.
Unfortunately, this game never reached that sort of pivotal, dramatic moment. It looked like it had arrived when Ahman Green seemingly fumbled and Bills cornerback Nate Clements looked touchdown-bound after scooping it up, but the referee's whistle doused even that moment of tension.
One play later, Favre connected with Donald Driver for the game's only touchdown, ending any suspense that remained.
Not that that kept us from "predicting" every play for the rest of the afternoon.
The only disappointment -- no one at the bar ever reacted to us. Whether they were too caught up in their bets on the game to get distracted by a table full of obnoxious louts, or just too anesthetized to notice, there was not a single "Shut the (expletive) up," or even an annoyed look.
"That's OK," said Dave, clearly satisfied with his afternoon's work. "They understand."
BILLS MVP: Buffalo's defense still needs major renovation in the offseason, particularly up front, but it's hard to imagine a defensive tackle playing much better than Pat Williams did Sunday.
THE OTHER GUYS' MVP: Um, shouldn't someone have been blocking Vonnie Holliday? Or maybe double-teamed him, at least after his first four sacks?
MORONIC SPECULATION OF THE WEEK: We were kidding about benching Bledsoe. Alex Van Pelt is a solid backup and generally decent guy, but c'mon. We joked about putting him in to provide a "spark," the cliche used to justify replacing a struggling quarterback with a worse one. Sure enough, on the drive home, a caller insisted that Van Pelt could have had that incendiary effect. This, even though the wind that tossed the much harder throws of Bledsoe and Favre violently off target would likely have blown Van Pelt's throws back to him.
The call brought to mind the aforementioned Marangi. As a kid, I heard fans at the former Rich Stadium chant for the untested backup whenever Joe Ferguson struggled. Midway through the 1976 season, their wish was granted when Ferguson went down for the season with a back injury. They got Marangi, who turned in seven games of the most pathetic quarterbacking in Buffalo's history.
BUT ... : That said, Bledsoe stunk the place out on Sunday. The wind certainly didn't help, and Favre struggled nearly as badly. But Bledsoe's regression since the first game against New England raises some serious questions heading into the offseason. Can he, or offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride, find a way to get defenses out of the cover-two schemes that flatlined Buffalo's passing game in November and December? Or are they going to just keep throwing into it, no matter how many incompletions or interceptions result? Patriots coach Bill Belichick clearly got into Bledsoe's head -- what will it take to get him out?
BYE, BYE, PEERLESS: Hopefully, anyone fooled by Price's admittedly impressive numbers this season into thinking the Bills should waste their hard-earned salary cap cushion on resigning him watched on Sunday. He didn't make the play on Sharper's interception, and he dropped the one decent deep throw Bledsoe made all day, snuffing Buffalo's last, best chance to get anywhere near Green Bay's end zone.
Still mad because you didn't make the Pro Bowl, Peerless? Please watch Sunday's game film before doing any more whining.
PUNT OF THE YEAR: Brian Moorman's 84-yard missile, the longest punt in Bills' history, pinned the Packers at their own 3-yard line and led to Buffalo taking over at its own 49 on its next possession, trailing by just a field goal. It could have turned the game around. If Bledsoe hadn't fumbled three plays later.
WING REPORT: Tasty, but a bit underdone. The hots were more flavorful than spicy, which is a plus or a minus, depending your palate. BS is flexible on this point, but there absolutely must be some crispness involved. Sadly, there was none. The complimentary pizza provided balance, and some extra credit. Grade: B.
BS FAN OF THE DAY: Tenacity can not go unrewarded. Dave, thanks to you, I think they understand.
|Niagara Falls Reporter||www.niagarafallsreporter.com||December 23 2002|