Sunday, September 22, 2013
Buffalo Gameday, September 22, 2013
Today, rookie quarterback EJ Manuel embarks on his first professional road start as the Buffalo Bills (1-1) travel to East Rutherford, NJ to battle their division rivals, the New York Jets (1-1). Florida State's Manuel was the first signal caller selected in the 2013 draft, while New York made West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith their second-round choice. The rookie vs. rookie QB matchup certainly colors this late-afternoon clash with a bit more intrigue than the usual Bills-Jets hookup might. More on that in a moment.
While the careers of Manuel and Smith are just beginning, today's Gameday post reflects on the closing of a fine career. Farm boy Phil Hansen was a little-known prospect out of North Dakota State before the Buffalo Bills tabbed him in the second round of the 1991 draft. Hansen went on to play 11 seasons for the Bills, collecting 61.5 sacks while manning the defensive end spot opposite Hall of Famer Bruce Smith. He played in three of the Bills' four Super Bowls and rightfully became a member of Buffalo's Wall of Fame in 2011.
Hansen's final NFL season was 2001, which also happened to be one of Buffalo's worst ever. The club finished with a 3-13 mark, which included a 1-7 division record. That one divisional victory came in Week 16 of the season, a game against the Jets at the Meadowlands. At 9-5, New York would clinch the playoffs with a win, while the 2-12 Bills were obviously playing out the stretch.
With his team trailing Buffalo 14-9 in the fourth, Vinny Testaverde drove the Jets to the Bills 35 yard line at the two-minute warning. It seemed inevitable that Vinny and the Jets would pull out the comeback victory. But, the script was spoiled on the first play out of the timeout, when Hansen tipped and intercepted Testaverde's attempted pass and returned in 17 yards to the New York 37. A stunning reversal, no doubt, but Buffalo would still need to survive one more Jets advance which, fortunately for the Bills, fell flat as time expired.
This certainly isn't a game or a highlight which will make any Top 10 lists in Bills annals, but the memory of Hansen picking off Testaverde and throwing a wrench into New York's playoff chances on that December day remains vivid with me. And it was a pretty neat way for Hansen to ride off into the sunset, so to speak.
As far as today's engagement, the Bills are underdogs for the third consecutive week, but this should be a pretty even affair throughout. I think Buffalo has the better personnel on offense, and that includes Manuel, but New York's defense stands to be the best the Bills have faced so far. One of these rookie quarterbacks is going to be 2-1 when the smoke clears, and that has both fanbases excited I'm sure. Even though Rex Ryan has had Buffalo's number over the past four seasons, I like the chances of Doug Marrone's team to escape with a hard-fought win.
Other picks for today: Give me the Ravens (+1.5) to knock off the Texans; the Redskins (Pick 'Em) over the Lions; and San Fran (-11) to cover against Indy.