It might be a bit of hyperbole to say Ross Cockrell is the one who got away.
But it wouldn't be a stretch to say there should be some regret on the Buffalo Bills' part for cutting Cockrell prior to the 2015 season. The former Duke cornerback, a fourth-round draft pick of the Bills in 2014, has gone on to make 19 starts for the Pittsburgh Steelers this season, including all 12 games this year.
"This was my fault," coach Rex Ryan said this week. "You know, I thought we could sneak him through" to the practice squad. "I never had as good a feel for him because he had been injured for so much of the training camp, and I thought, 'well he’s injured, he hasn’t played much, let’s try to sneak him though,' and that was a mistake. It was a mistake by me. It wasn’t a mistake by anybody else. It wasn’t by Whales (Doug Whaley) or anyone else. ... Obviously Pittsburgh had a good feel for them and he’s played well for them."
Cockrell made 44 tackles and had 11 passes defensed in 2015. He's matched those exact numbers through 12 games this season
"One man’s misfortune, or one organization’s luxury, is another one’s opportunity,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “We were thankful he was available to us. He’s been a consistent performer for us. We really liked him in the draft, liked his skill set, liked his approach to play, thought he had a very cerebral game, and that’s proven to be true.”
Cockrell has matched up with some of the best receivers in the NFL this season, including the Bengals' A.J. Green, the Giants' Odell Beckham and the Jets' Brandon Marshall.
He told the Post-Gazette he harbors no ill will toward the Bills.
"Personal vendettas don’t usually get you anywhere,” he said. “I’m just out here to play football. I love playing with the Pittsburgh Steelers. ... I think I’ve evolved with experience, being able to get on the field and demonstrate what I can do. “I don’t think much has changed, but I’ve been able to learn the NFL game and learn what it takes to succeed.”
Big Ben, Jim share special bond
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and Bills Hall of Famer Jim Kelly have become close friends.
Roethlsiberger, in fact, gave his third son, Bodie, the middle name of Hunter, after Kelly's late son.
In a story this week published by ESPN.com, Roethlisberger spoke of how his friendship with Kelly has evolved. There is a yearly hunting trip to Kelly's camp in Ellicottville, where "when you’re up and around each other for four or five days, and you’re sitting around a fire, you talk about everything," Roethlisberger said.
This offseason, they're going to New Zealand for a red-stag archery tournament. They'll have dinner Saturday night before the game.
"We talk a lot," Roethlisberger told ESPN's Jeremy Fowler. "It’s not like any specific things, but I’ll get texts after games like, 'Great job, keep it up,' things like that. Those mean a lot coming from a guy like that."
The last time the Steelers visited Buffalo, they came away with a 19-16 victory in overtime.
That game was memorable for one big reason: Stevie Johnson's God tweet.
With an opportunity to give the 2-8 Bills a victory with an overtime touchdown catch, Johnson dropped a perfect pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Bills punted, and the Steelers drove to a winning field goal.
Afterward, Johnson posted on Twitter: "I PRAISE YOU 24/7!!!!!! AND THIS HOW YOU DO ME!!!!! YOU EXPECT ME TO LEARN FROM THIS??? HOW???!!! ILL NEVER FORGET THIS!! EVER!!! THX THO…"
Sadly, the tweet has been deleted, but its content will live on forever.
What to root for
The Bills enter Week 14 as the 10th seed in the AFC, behind the Colts and ahead of the Titans at 6-6. Miami and the Steelers are directly ahead of the Bills at 7-5. Kansas City's victory over Oakland on Thursday night, which puts both teams at 10-3, means the sixth and final playoff seed is the only one the Bills have a faint hope for.
Here is how the schedule can break favorably for the Bills in Week 14:
• Tennessee over Denver: Any shot at the playoffs for the Bills involves them winning out and the Broncos losing at least of their remaining four games, so Buffalo has to root for the Titans here.
• Arizona over Miami: After the Dolphins' stinker last week in Baltimore, it's not out of the question that they could lose to the Cardinals.
• Houston over Indianapolis: Somebody has to win the AFC South. The loser here will be at seven losses, which the Bills would pass by winning out.
• New England over Baltimore: The Bills have to finish a full game ahead of the Ravens, who own the head-to-head tiebreaker.
The rest of the schedule could have an impact on tiebreakers like strength of schedule and strength of victory, but it's a bit premature to be worrying about those at the moment. If the Bills manage to beat the Steelers, that can be entertained.
On this week's BN Blitz podcast, Vic Carucci and I talk about the futures in Buffalo for both Tyrod Taylor and Rex Ryan, as well as the crushing loss in Oakland, LeSean McCoy's lost seasons and your questions, submitted via Twitter to @VicCarucci and/or @JaySkurski.
• Jerry Sullivan wonders what the loss in Oakland will mean for the home crowd Sunday.
• Rookie quarterback Cardale Jones is progressing nicely on the scout team, but the Bills don't want to put him in any time soon.
• Should the Bills go for two every single time after a touchdown? Nick Veronica looks at the numbers and lays out a convincing case.
• Defensive tackle Kyle Williams missed Friday's practice with a back injury and there is concern he might not be able to play Sunday. The complete Bills' injury report is here.
• Frustration boiled over for Tyrod Taylor during a testy 10-minute press conference Wednesday.