Each week between now and the Super Bowl, Marc Sessler will scan the NFL landscape for people, places and things -- events both evil and just, noble and impure, delightful and inglorious, filled with wise men and anti-heroes -- that burn bright on his radar.
Here's this week's briefing:
Road-warrior Bills roam from burgh to burgh laying waste
Dust and nothingness.
Hand-picking 32 teams from bustling meccas boasting money-in-the-bank television markets, new-day gridiron architects would brush off the tractor beam of Western New York in favor of the Orlando SunSpots, San Antonio Droid-Mares or London Underground.
Thank the Maker we have the Bills, pro football's beloved rough-and-tumble band of heavies completely unwilling to play along with the script. These delightful, red-white-and-blue clad footballers have attacked the NFL as would any plugged-in military general worth his salt: house-by-house and town-by-town until the region -- and beyond -- is won.
The Bills have opened the campaign by setting their in-state rivals on fire, marching 369 miles by night from Buffalo to East Rutherford, New Jersey, where the sleeping Jets were camped a week ago. Tired by their on-foot journey, Buffalo fell into a 16-0 hole against Sam Darnold, Le'Veon Bell and a Gang Green squad that generated a dash of playoff buzz in August. The Bills would not be held down, though, squelching the Jets in a blaze of holy fire, leaving their AFC East rivals banged, tattered and nursing strange viruses.
Buffalo's defensive unit returned one week later to thump the New York Football Giants, pulling the plug on Big Blue's paint-by-numbers offense led by a since-benched Eli Manning. Josh Allen's bruising Bills attack did the rest, with the second-year quarterback overcoming spats of pocket pressure to author touchdown drives of 75, 70, 98 and 75 yards.
The Bills walked into MetLife Stadium and torched the place to terra firma, opening 2-0 on the road for the first time in franchise history. You can bash these merits by dismissing the Giants and Jets as suspect operations, but I'd point to Buffalo's makeup: One of the game's top defenses armed with an early Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate in first-rounder Ed Oliver, who coaxed a trance-state Eli into a batted pass late in the second quarter that wound up being picked off, killing a scoring chance for New York in Buffalo territory.
Allen is far from crystal clean. He spat out four turnovers against the Jets, but showed resiliency as Buffalo put up 17 unanswered points for the win. On Sunday, the quarterback displayed the brand of progress you hope for in a second-year passer, eschewing the desire to scramble in favor of finding targets John Brown and Cole Beasley in space. Coach Sean McDermott has worked seamlessly with defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier and offensive play-caller Brian Daboll to milk the most out of a roster light on stars but heavy on crush-you-into-salt cohesiveness.
It's easy to forget McDermott tugged a much-lesser Bills club into the postseason two years ago, falling 10-3 to the Blake Bortles-led Jaguars in a low-wattage slugfest that left viewers questioning human existence. I have no memory of covering the tussle, but it happened, as I noted in a lonely January report: "This white-knuckle affair resembled a brand of football your grandfather's grandfather watched on a 12-inch black-and-white boob tube in fire-lit parlors during ancient days of old."
We're farther along in history now, Super-Woke in a new world where Buffalo rolls into autumn Sundays as one of the game's more intriguing, rugged-but-lovable offerings. Unbeaten and untied after a fortnight on the road, the Bills return home to face a work-in-progress Bengals team before hosting the Patriots in Week 4.
The NFL's acid test approaches -- and it's fair to wonder if this year's club will simply blend into previous editions of Bills Team X vs. Little Miss Perfect Patriots: A few punches to New England's chiseled midsection before Tom Brady -- or fill-in-the-blank recently acquired superstar -- lands a right hook that reduces Buffalo's wannabe lineup into a blubbering King Hippo.
That's how it's been for two decades of despair in those old Western New York towns of Tonawanda, West Seneca, Getzville and Depew. Rochester, Lackawanna, Blasdell and Sloan have known little but sadness from Orchard Park as Buffalo's football team appeared destined to spend every January shoveling the driveway.
This year's plot feels punched up in all the right ways: Dismissed bumpkins from a distant corner of the Empire State ride into the big city and lay TOTAL WASTE to their tabloid-generating in-state foes, turning the G-Men into g-men and the Jets into a child's paper plane fluttering toward a puddle of godless fire.
Today's Bills roam from town to town, barrels blazing, eyes open for the next overstuffed heavy to flatten into a memory. This time around, Week 17 won't do for an endpoint.
The anti-hero we need is among us.
Cowboys stumble into NFL's dazzling new 'it boy': KEVIN!
"Kevin's got great communication skills. It doesn't surprise me at all that we're seeing a lot of play action, that we're mixing it up for the defense out there."
So said Cowboys owner Jerry Jones after newly minted play-caller -- 30-year-old KELLEN Moore -- helped Dallas to its second straight victory, a 31-21 smashing of the Redskins highlighted by Dak Prescott's pristine 26-of-30 outing for 269 yards and three scores, most all of it coming after the super-charged Cowboys quarterback overcame an early pick to hit on 18 straight second-half throws.
Dak's consecutive strikes failed to set a franchise record -- those kind of accolades are saved for mythical figures like Brandon Weeden, who pinpointed 21 lobs in a row a few years back -- but Prescott has been nothing short of sensational inside a Moore-infused playbook heavy with pre-snap shifts and motions richly inspired by the scheme he played in at Boise State under then-coach Chris Petersen. These add-ons were painfully absent during Scott Linehan's overly long run calling plays, but Moore -- the quarterbacks coach in 2018 -- was promoted just in time to light the fuse of his extension-seeking signal-caller. As chronicled by friend and colleague Chris Wesseling:
In 2019, I'd give it a month tops before Moore's name bubbles up as a head-coaching candidate drawing interest around the league as doomed teams melt into liquid waste. Today's gaggle of forward-thinking owners aren't cowed by the idea of hiring a barely 30-something to run the show post-Sean McVay. The trend is bound to result in a few titanic swing-and-misses, but teams have been hiring the wrong 58-year-olds for a thousand generations, so what's the difference?
It's fair to ask why Jones can't remember Moore's name. Does he casually misplace it as some type of half-baked alpha-male lever pull? After all, Jerry previously botched Moore's name as "Keelan," which, in theory, rests closer to the mark.
All that matters is Jones nailing Kellen Moore's Christian name on his game-day checks, which are bound to double and triple if the Cowboys plan to keep him around.
I fully expect Moore to field head-coaching interviews next offseason. Whether he desires the role so early in his career is another story, but nobody else is waiting around in 2019. If Jones blinks, "Kevin" might be making friends elsewhere come 2020.