Brandon Tate wasn’t in the Buffalo Bills’ plans two months ago.
At that time, he was still property of the Cincinnati Bengals, and the Bills were content to go into the 2016 with Reggie Bush as their primary return man.
But when Tate was let go by the Bengals on Aug. 30, the Bills had to reconsider.
“When Tate became available, we were like, ‘wow, this guy is exceptional, let’s pick him up,’ ” coach Rex Ryan said. “And he’s done a great job. … That was a great pickup for us.”
Tate ranks eighth in the NFL in kickoff returns, averaging 23 yards, and tied for 11th in punt returns, with a 10.8-yard average that is currently the best of his eight-year career.
“When I first got here, it was a little whirlwind, but coaches did a great job of helping me adjust to their system and what they’re trying to do,” Tate said. I’m “grateful that the Bills picked me up when all that stuff happened. I try to go in and do my job, whatever they ask me to do.”
Led by Danny Crossman, the Bills’ special-teams units as a whole have been nearly flawless in recent weeks. Buffalo ranked eighth in Football Outsiders’ rankings through six weeks, and that’s sure to go up after the special teams was perfect against Miami.
“Coach Crossman, he’s done a great job of putting players in the right position and preparing us for our opponent,” Tate said. “We’re happy, but there’s still a lot that we can do better. So just try to attack every week the same – go out the and just try to make plays.”
Tate that with the Dolphins with a 30-yard punt return that set up a Buffalo field goal in the first quarter. Later in the game, he downed a punt at the Miami 1-yard line. It’s the type of performance that makes you wonder, just what the heck were the Bengals thinking when they cut this guy? Tate’s current averages are better than anyone on the Cincinnati roster, so it’s not like the Bengals had someone better waiting in the wings.
“It’s part of the business,” he said of his reaction to being released. “I’m happy the Bills picked me up. Right now we’re focusing on New England this week and going out there and trying to get a victory.”
Tate ranks fourth among active players in both kickoffs returned (202) and yardage (4,956), while his 166 punt returns is eighth and his 1,545 yards ranks 12th.
The new touchback rule instituted in the NFL this season brings the ball out to the 25-yard line instead of the 20, which has led to some indecision by return men. The competitor in them wants to try and make a play, but the smart money is on simply taking a knee and putting the ball at the 25. Coverage units are faster than ever, making big returns a rare commodity. There have been just two kick returns for touchdowns in 2016, both by the Philadelphia Eagles.
“I always put the team first,” Tate said of his return philosophy. “I don’t try to make no selfish decisions. … Whatever the team gives us, if it’s in the end zone, I set it down. If it’s returnable, I just run.”
Tate has also seen some action at wide receiver given the Bills’ rash of injuries at the position, playing a season-high 20 snaps against the Dolphins. He finished with two catches for 31 yards, coming about a foot short of his first receiving touchdown since Oct. 4, 2015 with the Bengals.
“In practice all week, you always prepare for what may happen,” Tate said. “It just so happened my number was called. I went out there and did what the coaches asked me to do.”