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Sully's Mailbag: Cam Newton channels his inner Bobby Riggs, plus Bills, Eichel & more

Cam Newton caused a kerfuffle Wednesday when he laughed at a female beat writer, Jourdan Rodrigue, for asking a question about pass routes. It's one thing for women to cover sports, but it's pushing it for the fairer sex to delve into the profound tactical mysteries of football.

It's sad, at a time when NFL players are reminding us how far we have to go in racial relations, for a major star to demonstrate a backwards attitude on gender issues.

Newton later apologized, but I have a better idea:

Newton should be required to watch "Battle of the Sexes," the terrific movie about Billie Jean King striking a blow for women's equality in a tennis match against hustling male chauvinist Bobby Riggs in 1973.

Speaking of routes, on to the Mailbag:

@buffalodad asks: New England won the offseason. Buffalo was tanking. How did all the observers miss the first four games of the NFL season?

Sully: There certainly were a lot of surprises in the first quarter of the season, including the Bills. Who would have expected the Rams, who were last in the NFL in scoring a year ago, to be 3-1 and leading the league in points? Or for the Chiefs to be 4-0 and the tanking Jets 2-2?

That's the charm of the sport, which prides itself on parity and the chance for teams to make dramatic changes from one year to the next. But conventional thinking prevails in the offseason. I felt the Patriots would be close to unbeatable and the Bills would go 4-12. I didn't see this coming.

But it's only four games, so let's wait and see how the season plays out. The Bills have issues, particularly on offense. Their passing game is limited, their offensive line has struggled, and their running game isn't remotely as formidable as it was the last two seasons.

They can't rely on the defense to carry them. If you don't get significant contributions from wideouts, it catches up with you sooner or later. Teams will continue to crowd the box and dare Tyrod Taylor to beat them down the field. Sunday's game against a third-ranked Bengals defense will be a telling test.

As for the Patriots, it was silly to think they would go 16-0, especially after they lost Julian Edelman. But it's never wise to underestimate them, as long as they have Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. The Pats have generally gotten better as the year wore on in the Brady-Belichick era.

Going back to 2001, the year Brady took over as quarterback, the Pats are 103-25 in the second halves of seasons. They're 93-35 in the first half. Their record improved in the second half eight times and got worse only once. They've gone 8-0 four times and 7-1 four times during that run.

New England has started 2-2 or worse five times in the Brady era. They made the playoffs every year and won the Super Bowl in three of them. So it was no surprise when they tightened up the defense, got a big game from Brady, and won in Tampa on Thursday night to get to 3-2.

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Larry Schiro asks: Can you give us an update on the players who left in the Bills' "talent purge" this offseason, and how much they're missed?

Sully: I'll start with the guys who went to the Pats. Stephon Gilmore was bad in the first four weeks, but solid against Mike Evans on Thursday. Mike Gillislee has 246 yards rushing for a 3.6 average and four TDs for the Pats. That's better than LeSean McCoy in all three areas. The Bills miss him. Gilmore, not so much.

Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods have been solid additions to the Rams offense, which leads the NFL in scoring. Watkins has 14 catches for 211 yards and two TDs, Woods 12 grabs for 186 and no scores. They've combined for nine 20-plus yard receptions. All Bills wideouts have combined for five.

Marquise Goodwin has nine catches for 127 yards and no TDs with the winless Niners. Goodwin has never been reliable or healthy enough to be a top wideout in the league. He's currently recovering from a concussion. Still, he brings a downfield element that the Bills sorely miss this season.

Manuel came on when Derek Carr was injured last week and will get the start at QB this week against the Ravens. Todd Downing, Oakland's coordinator, says Manuel "fell back in love with the game." Let's hope EJ doesn't strain the relationship by playing the way he did in London two years ago.

* * *

Sam Ruggeiro asks: Want to join me for some Kool-Aid? With all the high draft picks we own, wouldn’t it be wise for Beane & Co. to try and set up a trade for, oh say, a quality wide receiver or linebacker?

Sully: Put down the pitcher, Sam. The Bills got off to a hot start, but that doesn't mean they'll over-react by trading assets to win now. They're laying a foundation. Beane and Sean McDermott know they're not ready to win big yet. They collected picks to give them more currency to draft future stars.

The Bills have a lot of holes to fill to become a true contender down the road. Even if they wanted to deal, it's rare to make those deals in the NFL. It's not like baseball and hockey, where there's a lot of action at the trade deadline. Can you recall one big in-season NFL trade? The Pats dumped Jamie Collins last year and got better.

I know you've waited 17 years, but be sensible. Sit back and enjoy this team. If they make the playoffs, great. But keep the larger goal in mind. When you're building something to last, you don't throw away the building blocks.

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Robert Kreppel asks: Marvin Lewis has been head coach in Cincinnati 12 years. Didn’t the Bills interview him and choose Gregg Williams instead?

Sully: This is actually Lewis's 15th year as the Bengals' head coach. Yes, he interviewed for the Bills' head job in 2001, after Wade Phillips left. Lewis, who was defensive coordinator for the Ravens at the time, interviewed with new Bills GM Tom Donahoe, who gave the job to Gregg Williams.

There was talk that Lewis's wife didn't want to live in Buffalo. But his agent told the New York Times that Lewis never even visited Buffalo or met with Ralph Wilson. Lewis got only two interviews in '01 after leading a great Super Bowl defense, and there was speculation that race as an issue.

Lewis got the Cincinnati job two years later. The Bengals have reached the postseason seven times under Lewis after missing 12 straight years before his arrival. He lost a wild-card game all seven times. I imagine Bills fans would have taken that.

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@behrnsie asks: Does #15's deal have a NMC?

Sully: Yes, Jack Eichel's new eight-year, $80 million contract extension does contain a no-movement clause. It's for the last four years of the deal, though, so it doesn't seem terribly relevant at this point.

While we're on the subject, I couldn't believe Phil Housley didn't send Eichel out for the shootout on opening night. Come on, he went with the statistics? An aggressive, forward-thinking coach has to be better than that. Eichel is the franchise. How about having a sense for the moment?

* * *

910 Bills fan asks: Will your Sox get swept?

Sully: Well, they're losing early in Game 2 against the Astros as I write this. But regardless, I had no faith in them coming into this postseason. Their starting pitching simply isn't good enough. My biggest concern -- that Chris Sale fades late in seasons -- was confirmed in the opener. Boy, can the Astros hit!

* * *

@lebronstein asks: Bird or Durant?

Sully: Bird, Please, Bird was a transcendent team player. The Celtics went from 29 to 61 wins his first season, before Parish and McHale got there. Durant is a fabulous talent, but he wasn't great in the playoffs until he went to Golden State. Bird was a better passer, rebounder and shooter.

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