Column as I see ‘em, Week 12:
• Before Sunday’s game, I tweeted that if Spencer Ware had his first 100-yard rushing day, I would update my “Dirty Dozen” list of obscure running backs who have their breakout games against the Bills.
Consider it done. The list, which I first compiled in October of 2012, needed some tweaking because it’s become so common for no-name backs to go off against the Bills. A few players had to fall off because new, even more obscure players have tormented Buffalo in the last three years.
The list goes back to the 2004 season. There were some guys on the first list who weren’t no-names, but had their biggest games against the Bills. Let’s take a stroll down memory lane:
1. Willie Parker. He remains the captain. Parker, an undrafted rookie free agent, had 84 career yards when he ran for 102 yards against the Bills in the 2004 season finale. The Steelers, playing mostly backups, knocked off the Bills at the Ralph, 29-24, to ruin their playoff hopes. Terrence McGee uttered these famous words afterwards, “Who is this Willie Parker?”
2. Brandon Bolden. He inspired the list when he ran for 137 yards in New England’s rout of the Bills here in 2012. Bolden, another undrafted rookie, had 15 career yards before that game and hasn’t rushed for more than 58 in a game since. Oh, his 63-yard TD reception from Tom Brady in Denver on Sunday night was the longest play of his career.
3. Spencer Ware. Hey, it’s fresh in my mind. Ware, a sixth-round draft choice by Seattle in 2013, gained 10 yards as a rookie and didn’t play last year after being cut. He was activated from the Chiefs’ practice squad at midseason. The third-teamer gashed the Bills for 114 yards on 19 carries and a TD.
4. Bilal Powell. He ran for a career-high 149 yards for Rex Ryan’s Jets in a 27-20 win over the Bills in Week Three of the 2013 season. Powell, still a Jets backup, hadn’t rushed for more than 76 yards in any other game in his career.
5. Ryan Moats. No one remembers this guy. But Moats had a career-high 126 yards and three touchdowns, all in the fourth quarter, of Houston’s 31-10 win in Buffalo in 2005. He had one other 100-yard game earlier in his career, but he sure seemed obscure when he torched the Bills that day.
6. Jerome Harrison. He went 72 yards for a TD in the fourth quarter to ignite Cleveland’s 29-27 win in the Bills’ last Monday night game at the Ralph in 2008. It was Harrison’s first career TD; he exceeded his previous rushing high for a game on that one carry.
7. Ahmad Bradshaw. He had 39 career yards coming into a game late in the 2007 season at the Ralph. He went for 151 yards and had an 88-yard touchdown gallop, the longest TD run ever against the Bills. Brandon Jacobs had a career-high 143 yards rushing that day in a 38-21 win that propelled the Giants toward the Super Bowl.
8. Shane Vereen. Rushed for a career-high 101 yards in the Patriots’ 23-21 win at the Ralph in the 2013 opener, the debut of the Marrone-Manuel era. Vereen is now with the Giants and yes, it remains his career high.
9. BenJarvus Green-Ellis. The man they called “The Law Firm” rumbled for a 105 yards, a career high at the time, in the Bills’ 20-10 loss at New England in 2008. He had a couple good years with the Bengals and retired after the 2012 season.
10. James White. Run on, Patriots. I had to put him in there. White, forced into action by an injury to Dion Lewis, scored the only two TDs of his two-year career – on four total touches – in the Pats’ 20-13 win over the Bills last Monday night.
11. Pierre Thomas. This Saint was an obscurity when he ran over the Bills for 126 yards and two TDs in a 27-7 win at the Ralph in ‘09. Still a career rushing high, check. Undrafted, check.
12. Bobby Rainey. I knew people would be asking, how about that guy who went 80 yards for the Bucs on the first play of the game two years ago? Rainey rushed for 127 yards in a 27-6 win. He had an earlier 100-yard game, but this was his hello to Bills fans. I’m sure Kiko Alonso hasn’t forgotten.
(Falling off the list: Danny Woodhead, Reggie Bush, Sammy Morris and Joe McKnight.)
• I’m thinking the end is near for Mario Williams as a Bill. The Bills have some serious financial decisions to make at the end of the season, and Williams is the most obvious candidate when it comes time to shave salary off the roster and create room for free agents.
Williams will count for $12.9 million on next year’s salary cap. The Bills are roughly $7 million over the projected 2016 cap of $150 million. They have three starters who will be free agents after the season: Left tackle Cordy Glenn, linebacker Nigel Bradham and left guard Richie Incognito.
The Bills are also considering an extension for cornerback Stephon Gilmore. They picked up Gilmore’s option next year at $11 million, but might want to extend him to keep him out of free agency.
Glenn has played well this season, so he appears to have moved ahead of Bradham, who has struggled, on the pecking order. They’ll surely want to re-sign Incognito, who has been their best player, relative to his position, and might make the Pro. He’s on a one-year deal for about $2 million, a bargain.
You can’t say the same for Mario, who has had an average season after making the last two Pro Bowls. He’s had a run of injury and illness over the past month, which makes you wonder about his emotional commitment to the franchise. He’s not likely to accept a huge pay cut, so it’s best to part ways.
• Alex Smith didn’t throw an interception against the Bills, extending his streak of passes without a pick to 283. It’s the longest streak of any active player and the fourth-longest in NFL history.
Tom Brady holds the record with 358 straight throws with an interception, set in the 2010-11 seasons. Cleveland’s Bernie Kosar had 308 in a row without a pick from 1990 to 1991. Bart Starr, who was honored by the Packers on Thursday, had 294 straight in 1964-65, when interceptions were a lot more common.
By the way, the Chiefs haven’t turned the ball in their last five games. It’s no surprise they’ve won all five.
• The Bills might be getting the Texans at a bad time, too. In his last five games, J.J. Watt has 9.5 sacks. Watt has two sacks and seven quarterback hits in Houston’s 24-6 domination of the Saints on Sunday. Seven QB hits! The Bills had zero against Smith in their loss to Kansas City.
Watt has 24.5 sacks in his last 16 games, dating back to last season. He has 70.5 sacks in his five years, which ranks him 14th among active players. He’s only 26. Every player above him on the list is at least four years older.
• Stevie Johnson has become the most reliable target for Philip Rivers in recent weeks due to injuries to the Chargers’ top receivers. Johnson had seven catches for 92 yards and the decisive TD in San Diego’s 31-25 win at Jacksonville on Sunday. The former Bill has seven catches in each of his last three games, the most in a three-game stretch since his breakthrough year in Buffalo in 2010.
• Throw the challenge flag on Sully. I erred in Sunday’s column when I said Joe Montana played his final game in the AFC title game against the Bills in January 1994. Montana retired after the 1994 season. His final game was a wild-card loss in Miami on Dec. 31, 1994.