Column as I see ‘em, Week 7:
Early in the third quarter Sunday, after Marlon Mack popped a 15-yard run on the Colts’ first offensive play of the second half, I got a text from an old friend. This Mack kid is having a good day, he said. It might be time to update the list.
He was referring to a list I began keeping six years ago, after a Patriots back named Branden Bolden had rushed for 137 yards against the Bills. It was remarkable how many obscure running backs had enjoyed a breakout performance or career day against Buffalo.
The list was born the day after Bolden had his big day in Buffalo in Week 4 of the 2012 season. It dates back to the 2004 season and has been updated a few times since then. Sadly, when a new name goes on, someone has to drop off. Here’s the revised top 12.
—1. Willie Parker. The breakthrough captain. He was an undrafted free agent with 84 career yards when he ran for 102 yards for the Steelers in the infamous 2004 season finale. Pittsburgh won, 29-24, spoiling the Bills’ playoff hopes. Afterwards, a befuddled Terrence McGee said, “Who is this Willie Parker?”
—2. Marlon Mack. A fourth-round pick in 2017, Mack rushed for a career-high 126 yards in Indy’s 37-5 rout of the Bills on Sunday. Coming into the game, the Colts didn’t have a single back with 200 yards rushing on the season.
—3. Brandon Bolden. The man who inspired the list after the Pats’ 52-28 win in Buffalo in 2012. An undrafted rookie, he had 15 career yards before that game. Now a special teamer in Miami, he hasn’t rushed for more than 58 in a game since that day.
—4. Spencer Ware. Ware was activated off the Chiefs’ practice squad at midseason in 2015 and went off for a then-career high 114 yards as a third-teamer in a win over the Bills. He exceeded that total once and is now backing up Kareem Hunt in KC.
—5. Ryan Moats. Who? Moats had a career-high 126 yards and three touchdowns, all in the fourth quarter, for the Texans in a win over the Bills in 2009. Moats didn’t rush for 50 yards in a game the rest of the season. He was out of the league a year later.
—6. Bilal Powell. He ran for 149 yards for the Jets in a 27-20 win over the Bills in Week 3 of 2013, double his previous career best at the time. He set a new career high of 163 last year. Powell is in his eighth year with the Jets and is 10th on their rushing list.
—7. Jerome Harrison. Had a 72-yard TD (his first ever) in the fourth quarter of Cleveland’s 29-27 win at the Ralph on Monday night in 2008 (the Bills' last home game on Monday night). He surpassed his single-game rushing high with that carry. Will some Patriot emerge from obscurity next Monday?
—8. BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Speaking of Pats, “The Law Firm” rushed for 105 yards, then his career high, in a 20-10 win at New England in 2008. Green-Ellis moved on to Cincinnati, where he had modest success before calling it quits after the 2012 season.
—9. Pierre Thomas. He was an unknown in New Orleans until he broke out for 126 yards and two TDs in a 27-7 win at the Ralph in 2009. He had one more 100-yard game in a career that lasted through the 2015 season. Scored a receiving TD in Super Bowl 44.
—10. Bobby Rainey. Broke an 80-yard TD for the Bucs on the first play of the game and rushed for 127 yards in a 27-6 win over visiting Bills in the 2013 season. He had one more 100-yard game with Tampa. He played later with the Giants and Ravens, who cut him last November.
—11. Ahmad Bradshaw. He had 39 career yards before a trip to Buffalo late in the 2007 season. Ran for 151 yards, including an 88-yard touchdown, longest ever TD run against the Bills. The Giants won 38-21 and went on to beat the Pats in the Super Bowl.
—12. Shane Vereen. Had a career-high 101 rushing yards in New England’s 23-21 win at the Ralph in the ’13 opener. It’s the only 100-yard day of his career. He signed with the Saints last July but was released with an injury settlement before the opener.
(Bumped off the list along the way: Danny Woodhead, Reggie Bush, Sammy Morris, Joe McKnight and James White.)
There are times when going for it on fourth down isn’t advisable. There are also times — like the Bills’ game in Houston a couple of weeks ago — where playing for overtime is the wisest choice.
But I had no problem with Titans coach Mike Vrabel going for two points and the win on Sunday in London. OK, it didn’t work. The Chargers beat Tennessee, 20-19. That doesn’t mean it was “stupid”, as various old-school critics suggested afterward.
The Titans tried from the 2-yard line, which Pro Football Focus calculated as a 47.2 percent shot. Marcus Mariota threw incomplete, but a penalty gave them another shot at two points and the win from the 1-yard line. That supposedly raises the odds to a 58.4 percent success rate.
Either way, it wasn’t some outrageous decision. The chance of the Titans making it were around 50-50, even better from the 1. What are the odds of winning in overtime? Around 50-50. That assumes the Titans would have been successful on the extra-point kick, which isn’t quite a sure thing as we found out elsewhere Sunday.
My issue was the pass call on the second play. With 1 yard to go, I would have preferred a run, especially with a mobile quarterback like Mariota. Rolling him out would have been smart (it also would have been a good idea for Seattle in a certain Super Bowl.)
But old-school football people, including all the former coaches and quarterbacks in the TV studio, had the same knee-jerk reaction. The old conservative call is the correct one, even when common sense and modern analytics insist it can go either way.
Is he owned? This week’s featured fantasy find is Dallas wide receiver Cole Beasley. Maybe the Cowboys don’t have a true No. 1 receiver, as Jerry Jones says, But Beasley has become the clear top target for quarterback Dak Prescott over the past two weeks.
Beasley had seven catches for 56 yards in a loss to Washington. A week earlier, he had nine grabs for 101 yards and two TDs in a rout of Jacksonville. He has 33 catches for 350 yards on the year. No other Dallas wide receiver has 20 receptions through seven games.
A seventh-year vet out of SMU, Beasley has never been a deep threat. His career average is 10.3 yards per catch. He had 75 catches two years ago. He’s available in all my fantasy leagues. Anyone who gets 10 targets a week is worth consideration.
You have to hand it to Justin Tucker. On Sunday evening, Tucker missed the first extra point of his career, costing the Ravens a chance to go to overtime against the Saints.
Tucker, the most accurate kicker in NFL history (overall and from 50-plus), was the most stand-up player after the toughest moment of his career. He told Baltimore PR he knew the media would have to speak with him en masse. He wanted to face the music in the interview room.
Here’s how he opened his remarks:
“I’ll just offer this to you guys. Every kicker, ever football player is going to come across a moment, a challenging moment. If you play long enough, you’re going to have a kick you want back, and tonight was that night for me.
“ … if I was ever going to teach my son or any young person about accountability, I felt like it was really important that I stand up here and answer any questions you might have.”
My question would be, why don’t more professional athletes have that sort of class?
Stats Incredible: The Patriots’ Josh Gordon has 193 career catches for 3,330 yards. He’s seven receptions away from qualifying for the NFL list for career yards per catch. He’s averaging 17.25 yards a catch, second among active players to the Bucs’ DeSean Jackson (17.5) … Patrick Mahomes set an NFL record with 22 touchdown passes in his first eight games by throwing for four against the Bengals. Kurt Warner had the previous record with 21 … The Bills haven’t had a quarterback throw for 22 TDs in a season since Ryan Fitzpatrick had 24 in 2012. They have 22 TD passes in their last 25 games … Washington hasn’t finished in the top half of the NFL in total defense in nine years. They’re currently fifth at 326 yards per game. The Bills are fourth … The Ravens hadn’t allowed a fourth-quarter TD all season, and only one in a second half, before the Saints scored 17 in the fourth of a comeback win … Chiefs coach Andy Reid got his 200th career win, counting playoffs. You might assume he knew what he was doing when he traded with the Bills to get Mahomes in the 2017 draft … Colts linebacker Darius Leonard, the favorite for NFL rookie defensive player of the year, had 17 tackles and a fumble recovery against the Bills …