Some NFL observations as the Bills hit the bye:
• When Jairus Byrd sat out the first five games of the season with a foot injury, skeptics felt he was hurting his chances to strike it big as a free agent. But on Sunday, Byrd reminded us that it takes only one game to remind the world that you’re one of the top safeties in football.
Byrd was fabulous against the Jets. He had two interceptions, a sack and a saving tackle on Chris Ivory early in the game. With apologies to Kyle Williams, Byrd was the best player on the field. If the Bills believe he wouldn’t command top money in the free market, they might want to burn the game tape. Byrd would not be lacking for suitors.
A team needs playmakers, and Byrd makes big plays. He has 21 career interceptions, tied for 17th among active players. All the players above him on the list are older. As I’ve said before, the Bills should have paid him elite money. They compromised the team’s short-term prospects by playing hardball and alienating a two-time Pro Bowler and leader.
I’m convinced that Byrd would have been on the field in the opener if the Bills had given him a long-term contract, instead of a one-year franchise deal. You can vilify him for milking the plantar fasciitis, but Byrd wasn’t going to play hurt for a team that wouldn’t give him what he considered fair value. It was the only leverage he had.
Byrd said all the right things after the Jets game. But he balked at the notion that he was “back,” which was his way of telling management that they had a Pro Bowl safety all along and should have compensated him as such.
There’s some thought that Byrd has softened his stance and might re-sign with the Bills. I can’t see it. There’s too much lingering ill will, and the Bills aren’t going to make Byrd the highest-paid safety in football. That would be an admission that they blew it in the first place. Another franchise tag would be lunacy.
The Bills don’t think safeties are worth the money. But a fully motivated Byrd could have meant another win or two for a team that lost several close games and has allowed the most TD passes in the AFC. In fact, considering the tight AFC playoff race, holding the line with Byrd might well cost them a spot in the postseason.
• So how close is the playoff race in the AFC? The Jets and Dolphins are currently tied for the sixth and final spot (the second wild card) with 5-5 records. There are SIX teams sitting a game back with 4-6 records. Talk about parity! That means 13 of the 16 AFC teams are within a game of the playoffs in the loss column. The Bills are 4-7.
The Jets play in Baltimore next weekend. Miami hosts a hot Carolina team. If both lose, the cutoff moves to six losses. So one week after being left for dead in Pittsburgh, the Bills would move to within one game of the playoff without even playing.
Plus, the Bills’ next three opponents (Atlanta, Tampa Bay, Jacksonville) are among the five worst records in the league. Then they host the beleaguered Dolphins. So it’s not crazy to think they could get to 8-8. Who knows? Considering that the Jets alternate wins and losses every week, there’s a decent chance that 8-8 will tie for the last spot.
Just imagine the tiebreakers.
• Rookie Marquise Goodwin has played only seven games, but he’s already earning comparisons to some of the best deep receivers in Bills history. On Sunday, Goodwin caught a 43-yard touchdown bomb from EJ Manuel, giving him three 40-plus TD grabs for the year.
Goodwin is the first Bills with three or more 40-yard touchdown receptions in a season since Terrell Owens had four in 2009. Lee Evans hauled in five of those scoring bombs from J.P. Losman in 2006, including two 83-yarders in the first quarter of a game in Houston.
Stevie Johnson has one touchdown catch of more than 40 yards in his career.
• It was almost lost in the excitement over Manuel’s performance, but kicker Dan Carpenter had a nice day Sunday in the Buffalo winds, too. Carpenter made all three of his field-goal attempts (40, 42 and 43 yards), and all three went toward the tunnel end of the Ralph into the teeth of the wind.
Carpenter, who was let go by three teams in training camp, is now 21 of 23 on field goals this season. It won’t be easy for Dustin Hopkins, who missed his rookie season with an injury, to unseat Carpenter for the job next summer.
• Was it really such a big deal that Rex Ryan called off team meetings to take his team to Dave & Buster’s on Saturday night? My only question was why a bunch of overgrown adults would go there in the first place. Can you imagine Bobby Layne, Joe Namath or Hollywood Henderson bonding with the boys at an arcade?
• Don’t look now, but Arizona is tied with the Niners at 6-4 and in the thick of the NFC playoff hunt. The Cardinals are 0-3 inside the NFC West, 6-1 outside it. They’re third in the NFL against the run behind the Jets and Carolina. Rookie Tyrann Mathieu, the Honey Badger, has been a force at safety and the Cards’ version of Kiko Alonso.
• The Bills ran on first down on their first 12 series against the Jets, for a grand total of 10 yards. I know they won the game, but if they want Manuel to make throws down the field, why not dial one up on first down now and then?
• I’ll start the whining now: The Bills win a big home game against the Jets, reviving talk of a playoff game. After a bye, they’ll look to build on that momentum in front of another rousing home crowd – up in Toronto.