Column as I see ‘em, Week One: Will the crazy news ever stop for the Bills? Offseason, preseason, regular season, it doesn’t matter. Scarcely a day goes by without some fresh, confounding development.
It wasn’t bad enough that the offense had its worst performance in a decade in Sunday’s opener. On Monday came a report out of New York that star wideout Sammy Watkins might be shut down because of lingering pain in his left foot.
By late Monday afternoon, Watkins was telling reporters he intended to play Thursday night against the Jets. He said it’s “not about the pain, it’s about just being smart.” He sounds like a player who isn’t 100 percent, but feels he needs to be on the field to help his team.
Who knows what to expect when it comes to Sammy’s health? There’s been mystery surrounding his left foot since word leaked out in mid-May that he had surgery for a stress fracture – on the same day it was revealed that rookie Shaq Lawson would miss half the season because of a shoulder injury.
You rarely get a straight answer about injuries from the Bills nowadays. But the reports raise some obvious questions. If Watkins was still troubled by his surgically repaired foot, why didn’t the Bills take a more cautious approach and consider shutting him down for the start of the regular season so his foot could get back to 100 percent?
Rex Ryan was asked about Watkins after Sunday’s loss and proclaimed ignorance. He said to “ask Sammy.” Meanwhile, Watkins was in the X-ray room having the foot examined.
It’s convenient to leave it up to the player. Watkins is a competitor. He’s had eight different injuries in his two-plus years with the Bills and is sensitive to the notion that he’s injury-prone. He’s played hurt in the past and will no doubt play on his sore left foot as long as he can function at a reasonable level.
I assume the Bills were desperate to have Watkins on the field for the start of the season. As we found out Sunday, the offense isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. They’re reeling and need Watkins to be a factor here Thursday against the Jets’ formidable defense. He’s their only elite playmaker at wideout. Robert Woods is an impostor as a No. 2 wideout.
History shows a broken fifth metatarsal is serious business. It’s unwise to rush back. Dez Bryant of the Cowboys came back too soon and had to have a second surgery. So did NBA star Kevin Durant. Julio Jones of the Falcons broke his foot in 2011 and again in 2013.
Considering Watkins’ injury history and his value to the franchise, you would expect the Bills to be especially cautious. I’m not sure he’s been 100 percent from the moment he showed up in Buffalo.
Of course, every time Watkins misses time, it makes the organization look worse for paying a king’s ransom to get him. You can’t anticipate injuries, but it accentuates the folly of spending two first-round picks on a wide receiver. It’s too dear an investment.
So everyone had motivation to see Watkins back healthy: The player, the general manager who staked his reputation on him, the head coach whose job could be on the line this season, the offensive coaches and players whose fortunes will be severely compromised without him.
Still, if the reports are accurate, Watkins could aggravate the injury at any time and eventually need to be shut down. I suspect this will be an ongoing saga at One Bills Drive, where every days brings some new intrigue.
• If Bills fans weren’t depressed enough Sunday, they could settle in and watch the Patriots rise above their issues with an inspiring 23-21 victory at Arizona later in the night. So much for the notion that the AFC East was up for grabs with Tom Brady missing four games for deflating footballs. The Pats are alone in first at 1-0.
New England was without Brady, Rob Gronkowski and their top two tackles.
No problem. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, making his first NFL start, played well against a Cardinals team favored to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.
Garoppolo completed 24 of 33 for 264 yards, a TD and no interceptions. He led a fourth-quarter comeback, something Tyrod Taylor has done once in his career. He was 8-for-10 on third down, with seven first downs. That’s a tad better than Taylor did in Baltimore.
It had to hurt, seeing Garoppolo hook up with Chris Hogan, the ex-Bill, for a 37-yard TD in the first quarter. Do you think the Bills could use Hogan in the midst of all this Watkins drama?
New England’s next three games are at home against Miami, Houston and the Bills. The Pats rarely lose conference games at home, so there’s a real chance they’ll be 4-0 – and two games clear in the division – when Brady returns at the season quarter pole.
• Watkins is a lucky man compared with San Diego wideout Keenan Allen, who suffered another apparent season-ending injury when he tore his ACL in the second quarter of an overtime loss to the Chiefs.
Last season, Allen was on his way to a career year when he lacerated his kidney while making a diving TD catch in the Chargers’ eighth game. How vital was he to Philip Rivers and the offense? In eight games with Allen, the Chargers averaged 423 yards of offense, 337 passing. In eight games without him, it fell to 320 total and 237 through the air.
That’s exactly 100 fewer yards passing per game. So it wasn’t all that shocking that the Chargers blew a 21-3 halftime lead in KC on Sunday. Allen had six catches for 63 yards when he went down in the second quarter. San Diego had scored TDs on its first three possessions. They didn’t score another the entire game.
• Sam Wyche, the long-time NFL head coach and former Bills assistant, is waiting for a heart transplant at the Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte.
According to Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, Wyche, 71, has been visited twice by Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, who got a new heart at the same hospital seven years ago.
Richardson has also been a constant source of comfort and support for Panthers special teams coordinator Bruce DeHaven, who is battling prostate cancer. DeHaven, the long-time Bills special teams coach, left the Panthers a month ago to return to Buffalo to resume his cancer treatments at Roswell Park.
DeHaven, 67, turned coordinator’s duties over to assistant Thomas McGaughey. He will serve as Carolina’s special teams advisor and was hoping to return to the Panthers for next week’s game against San Francisco.
• The Bills’ four sacks against Baltimore were their most in a game since 2014. In fact, they didn’t have more than two in any game a year ago. Jerry Hughes had two sacks against the Ravens. Hughes didn’t have his second sack last season until the eighth game at home against the Dolphins, when he had his only two-sack game of the year.
• Former Bills long snapper Jon Dorenbos will be a finalist on ‘America’s Got Talent’ Tuesday night on NBC. Dorenbos, 36, does a magic act. He was signed by the Bills as an undrafted free agent in 2003 and played two seasons here. He has spent the last 10 seasons with the Eagles. I might actually watch for the first time and vote for him.
• Kudos to Oakland head coach Jack Del Rio for going for a two-point conversion with 47 seconds left to beat the Saints, 35-34. More coaches should try for two points at all stages of NFL games, especially with the point after kick now at 33 yards.