BALTIMORE (AP) Antonio Brown’s game-winning touchdown last Christmas night still hasn’t faded from Eric Weddle’s memory.
Probably never will.
The score capped a 21-point fourth quarter for the Pittsburgh Steelers [url=http://www.authenticsmiamidolphins.com/cheap-jerome-baker-jersey]Cheap Jerome Baker Jersey[/url] , who clinched the AFC North title with a 31-27 victory over Baltimore. Weddle and the Ravens had their playoff hopes end with this bitter defeat against their longtime rivals.
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”You never forget the bad plays or the plays that are so monumental to your season,” said Weddle, who had Brown in his grasp as the wide receiver stretched into the end zone to complete the 4-yard play. ”We’ve never forgotten that play, that game.”
Not long after the season ended, Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome embarked on a mission to add depth to a defensive backfield that was decimated by injury on that pivotal night.
Newsome signed free agents Brandon Carr and Tony Jefferson, then drafted cornerback Marlon Humphrey with the team’s top draft pick.
”We’ve made strides this offseason of building our team to get in that situation and win the game,” Weddle said. ”We’ve added players (through) free agency and in the draft to build our team for that situation. Should it come, we’ll be ready for it and ready to go win the game.”
It’s hard to predict how the Ravens’ mindset will impact the rematch.
”Some guys are motivated by experiences such as that, some guys do not need it,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said. ”I really think it is individual as a fingerprint.”
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has turned the page, even though he directed a 75-yard touchdown drive that put Baltimore ahead with 1:09 left.
”It does not matter what happened,” he insisted. ”There is already enough motivation for us to go out there and kick some butt.”
Some things to know about Sunday’s AFC North showdown:
ABOUT LAST WEEK: Both teams are coming off upset losses. Pittsburgh fell in overtime at Chicago and the Ravens were dismantled in London by Jacksonville.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh said, ”Last week, we’re past it. We’re done with it. We’ve looked at it and we’ve moved on from it.”
MIND GAMES: The Ravens rank last in the NFL in total offense and managed only one first down in the first half last week. The Steelers have been only slightly better on offense, and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger went public with his analysis of the situation.
”The quarterback needs to play better ,” he declared.
TIGHT SQUEEZE: The past four games between these teams were decided by one score or less. In 12 of the past 18 games in this rivalry, the difference has been no more than a field goal.
UNFRIENDLY NEST: The Steelers are just 3-7 in Baltimore under Tomlin and have beaten the Ravens on the road just once since 2011, the victory coming in 2012 with Roethlisberger sidelined.
The Steelers are averaging just 16.1 points in Baltimore over the past decade.
”It seems like when we play this game one side always starts high, whether we go down and score the opening series and then we can’t get anything after that or vice versa,” Roethlisberger said. ”We just have to make sure that we don’t get frustrated.”
UNITED WE STAND: Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey says the team will stand for the national anthem on Sunday.
Pittsburgh chose to remain in the tunnel during the anthem in Chicago in an effort to stay out of the ongoing debate over anthem protests. Left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, a former Army Ranger [url=http://www.authenticsnewyorkgiants.com/cheap-cody-latimer-jersey]Cheap Cody Latimer Jersey[/url] , stood alone on the fringe of the field while the anthem played.
The fallout sent the franchise into two days of spin control. That won’t be an issue in Baltimore.
”I think if you’re divided you get brought together,” Roethlisberger said. ”This is a group that is very close and I feel strongly that we will be stronger than ever.”
The Ravens have a plan in place for their action on the sideline during the anthem, but are keeping it to themselves.
AP Sports Writer Will Graves in Pittsburgh contributed to this story.
The Chiefs won the AFC West, only to blow an 18-point halftime lead in a playoff loss to Tennessee on Saturday. The Bears met with Nagy in Kansas City on Sunday.
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Chicago has also interviewed Philadelphia quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo [url=http://www.dolphinsauthorizedshops.com/authentic-minkah-fitzpatrick-jersey]Dolphins Minkah Fitzpatrick Jersey[/url] , Minnesota and New England offensive coordinators Pat Shurmur and Josh McDaniels, Vikings defensive coordinator George Edwards and Chicago defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.
The Bears fired John Fox after a 14-34 record in three years and a .292 winning percentage that ranks as the second-lowest in franchise history. They were 5-11 this past season.
THOUSAND OAKS [url=http://www.authenticsoaklandraiders.com/cheap-ryan-switzer-jersey]Cheap Ryan Switzer Jersey[/url] , Calif. (AP) Just four games into Sean McVay’s tenure, the Los Angeles Rams look nothing like the sad-sack franchise that hasn’t had a winning season since its new head coach was in high school back in 2003.
The Rams are 3-1 and on top of the NFC West after their 35-30 comeback victory over Dallas in their most impressive performance since the franchise’s return to Los Angeles last year. Even more improbably, the Rams are doing it with offensive flair: They lead the NFL with 142 points after fielding the league’s worst offense in each of the past two seasons.
”The guys have done everything we’ve asked,” McVay said Monday. ”We’ve got a lot of good players, and we’ve got great coaches that are leading the way, and I feel fortunate to be a part of that.”
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Yes, the Rams also started 3-1 in their homecoming season under coach Jeff Fisher before losing 11 of their final 12. But the Rams think this year’s start feels different – more real [url=http://www.authenticsoaklandraiders.com/cheap-johnny-townsend-jersey]Cheap Johnny Townsend Jersey[/url] , more exciting and more likely to lead to long-lasting success, particularly on offense.
The 2016 Rams scored just 63 points in their first four games. These Rams have more than doubled that total under the direction of McVay, who already has fashioned a potent offense out of the remnants of last season’s team and a few important additions.
”I feel like we are on the right page right now,” said receiver Tavon Austin, who rushed six times for 48 yards while McVay used him as a ball-carrier against the Cowboys. ”Coach had a good plan for us. He worked us to death in practice. He works us until we get it. If anyone knows Coach Sean, he demands perfection. That’s (what) I like about him.”
After Jared Goff went 0-7 as a starter last season, the No. 1 pick’s quarterback rating has almost doubled to 112.2. Todd Gurley has already scored more touchdowns this season (seven) than he did in all of last season [url=http://www.authenticsoaklandraiders.com/cheap-nick-nelson-jersey]Cheap Nick Nelson Jersey[/url] , and the running back is also the Rams’ leading receiver with 20 catches for 234 yards and three touchdowns.
Left tackle Andrew Whitworth has made one of the NFL’s biggest free-agent impacts, stabilizing the Rams’ lousy line and providing leadership. New receivers Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods have teamed with remarkable rookie Cooper Kupp to provide plenty of targets for Goff, who has already passed for 1,072 yards.
Gurley was the NFC’s offensive player of the month for September, rebounding from a dismal 2016 in which he described the Rams’ scheme as a ”middle school offense.” He has recaptured his dynamic rookie form at the center of McVay’s offense, and he was at his best against the Cowboys, gaining 215 yards from scrimmage as a runner and a receiver who scored on a 53-yard catch.
Even kicker Greg Zuerlein has been perfect on 14 field goal attempts, including his franchise-record seven at Dallas. The Rams’ inability to finish those drives with touchdowns is gnawing at McVay, but that’s a tiny complaint compared to the massive problems faced by this offense in previous seasons.
When asked about those red-zone failures, McVay blamed himself as the Rams’ play-caller. Los Angeles scored just one touchdown on four trips inside the Dallas 20, and McVay lamented his own decisions as the only thing standing between the Rams and even more points.
”What you try to do is you look at what are those things that can be corrected,” McVay said. ”We did move the football fairly well [url=http://www.authenticsoaklandraiders.com/cheap-martavis-bryant-jersey]Cheap Martavis Bryant Jersey[/url] , but I think just looking at the red zone overall, that’s something we’ve got to do a better job of, and I think that starts with me.”
More AP NFL: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL
The Baltimore Ravens (6-5) lead the NFL with 18 interceptions and 26 takeaways. They have three shutouts, and last Monday forced Houston quarterback Tom Savage into three turnovers in a 23-16 victory .
Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford has thrown six interceptions and lost six fumbles this season. If the Lions (6-5) are to stay in the playoff hunt, Stafford must protect the football.
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”They rally to the ball,” Stafford said of the Ravens. ”The ball gets tipped in the air, and it doesn’t seem to hit the ground much when they’re playing. So, they’re doing a nice job of turning it over. They get after the passer. They stop the run. They’re tough against the pass. I mean they’re just a really, really solid defense.”
Lions coach Jim Caldwell was the Ravens’ offensive coordinator when Baltimore won the Super Bowl in 2012. Suggs was a member of that team, and to Caldwell, it seems as if the outside linebacker hasn’t lost a step.
”He’s one of those guys where he’s taken great care of his body,” Caldwell said. ”He’s diligent about everything that he does in that regard, and besides that he’s just an unusual cat physically. He’s a big, powerful man that can still run.”
As it stands now, the Ravens are the No. 6 seed in the AFC playoff picture. Detroit took a step back in the NFC with its Thanksgiving loss to Minnesota, which ended a three-game winning streak.
The way Flacco sees it, his job description has changed because the defense is playing so well.
”You do what you have to do to win football games, especially in the second half when we get up on teams and our defense is turning the ball over,” he said. ”You get to a point in the game where it is like, `All right, we have this game won unless we do something crazy.”’
COMING FROM BEHIND: The Lions have been outscored 73-30 in the first quarter this year. Last week marked the first time the Ravens won a game after falling behind.
Clearly, getting off to a fast start is important.
”Sometimes you get in a little bit of a rut . You got to battle your way out,” Caldwell said. ”We’ve just got to find a way to get ourselves where we’re consistently good.”
RUN OFF: Detroit has gone 63 straight games without a 100-yard rusher. The last time it happened was on Thanksgiving 2013, when Reggie Bush hit triple digits.
”If you win football games you hear less about all that kind of stuff, if you lose football games you hear more about it,” Stafford said. ”Everybody on our team is fighting tooth and nail to make every play a huge success, whether it’s a run or a pass.”
SHORT WEEK: The Ravens will be playing for the second time in seven days, while Detroit hasn’t seen action since Thanksgiving.
”They get a little more rest, and that’s the nice thing about a Thursday game,” Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said. ”I’m sure that’ll help them to some degree.”
The Atlanta Falcons are going to be happy not to face any AFC East opponents for a while after this week.
Atlanta lost last season’s Super Bowl in epic fashion to the New England Patriots 34-28 in overtime [url=http://www.billsauthorizedshops.com/authentic-tremaine-edmunds-jersey]Bills Tremaine Edmunds Jersey[/url] , after blowing a 28-3 third-quarter lead. This season, the Falcons were tasked with playing not only the Patriots, but the entire AFC East — strangely, in consecutive weeks. The last of the four comes Sunday at MetLife Stadium, when they take on the New York Jets (3-4).
The first three meetings with the AFC East resulted in three straight losses to the Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins and Patriots, each in more embarrassing fashion than the one before.
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Now, Atlanta is back at .500. The Falcons have scored only seven points in the last six quarters. The offense is averaging 21.3 points per game under new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. Last season, the Falcons scored 33.8 points per game when current 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan led the offense.
“Frankly, I don’t really care to go back to 2016. It’s not useful for us.”
What will be useful for the Falcons is getting back to running the ball, according to head coach Dan Quinn. The New Jersey native, who was the Jets’ defensive line coach for two seasons under Eric Mangini, said he’d like to have “in the high-20s” rushing attempts per game.
Then, more play-action passes will open up to Julio Jones, who has 466 receiving yards in six games but scored his first touchdown only last week against New England.
“He’s going to be a load,” Jets head coach Todd Bowles said about Jones. “He’s been triple-teamed and quadrupled. … He’s that great.”
The Jets, who are five-point underdogs as of Wednesday evening, will be playing their first game this season against an NFC opponent. They are coming off two straight losses to division rivals after holding a 14-point lead in each.
They led 28-14 in Miami this past Sunday going into the fourth quarter, but the Dolphins scored 17 unanswered points to win. Two weeks ago, the Dolphins were down 17-0 in Atlanta before scoring 20 unanswered points in the second half to stun the Falcons.
“When you look at the film, you don’t see them slumping,” Bowles said about the Falcons. “They make a mistake here and there, but they definitely move the football. … We have our work cut out for us.”
In the injury department, the Jets might be without cornerback Buster Skrine due to a concussion. He played all of Sunday’s game in Miami but didn’t complain of symptoms until he reported to the team facility on Monday.
For the Falcons, rookie linebacker Duke Riley will likely need knee surgery after getting hurt against the Patriots#3# while running back Tevin Coleman (knee) was limited at Wednesday’s practice but should play Sunday.
Coleman has 229 rushing yards this season, and Devonta Freeman has 425, for a total of 654, which is more than the combined total for the Jets’ three running backs Bilal Powell (283), Elijah McGuire (205) and Matt Forte (157), who have 645.
But surprisingly, Jets quarterback Josh McCown has thrown 10 touchdown passes to Matt Ryan’s seven.
Yet if there’s one bugaboo for each team, it’s penalties for the Jets and lack of takeaways for the Falcons.
The Jets lead the league with 546 penalty yards, including a whopping 12 for 124 yards against the Dolphins#4# while the Falcons are last in the league with three takeaways (one interception and two fumble recoveries).
Still, nobody is panicking on either side.
Said Quinn: “The term we have around here is ‘the bear is not loose.’ And the reason we say that is because … we do have a talented group, who are tougher than hell and want to battle and get it right.”
Whatever that means.
Bowles, as he usual does, put things more succinctly. When asked what the Jets have to do this week, he said: “Just finish and play mistake-free football.”
Asked if that was easier said than done, he responded: “Always.”
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The No. 2 overall draft pick got thrust into the starting lineup sooner than anticipated. And with that, the adjustment accelerated, the learning curve ramped up, a few gears.
Though the results so far are mixed, there is hope for him – and the franchise, too.
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The Bears (3-5) hit their bye and the halfway mark of the season showing signs they’re starting to head in the right direction, though they are last in the NFC North.
They have matched their win total from last year’s 3-13 nightmare [url=http://www.authenticnewenglandpatriots.com/cheap-vincent-valentine-jersey]Cheap Vincent Valentine Jersey[/url] , and their defense is starting to pile up the takeaways. Chicago has 11 on the season, eight in the past three games. The Bears put together back-to-back wins for the first time since 2015 before a tight loss to Drew Brees and the NFC South-leading Saints at New Orleans last week.
But as promising as that sounds, the Bears’ long-term success largely hinges on their prized quarterback’s development. With his arm strength and quickness, Trubisky gives Chicago hope, though he is far from a finished product.
”I just need to be more efficient and continue to take care of the football, but be aggressive at the same time,” Trubisky said. ”I need to make more plays for this offense while playing within the offense and being myself and continuing to be a leader. We need to score more points. You’ve seen us moving the ball and we just have to continue to not make mistakes and finish with points.”
In the four games since he took over for the struggling Mike Glennon, Trubisky has completed 38 of 80 passes for 512 yards with a 66.2 rating. He has been sacked 11 times and has as many touchdown passes (two) as interceptions. He got picked off trying to hit tight end Zach Miller late in his debut against Minnesota [url=http://www.authenticnewenglandpatriots.com/cheap-trey-flowers-jersey]Cheap Trey Flowers Jersey[/url] , leading to a winning field goal for the Vikings. Against New Orleans, an apparent miscommunication with Tre McBride led to another interception that sealed the Saints’ win.
”When my feet are right and my eyes are right, I’m on the money,” he said. ”But when I change up or do the wrong footwork or my base isn’t good because of the rush in the pocket, that’s usually when the inaccuracies come.”
The Bears opened the season with Glennon as their No. 1 quarterback, thinking Trubisky would basically redshirt. After all, he started just 13 games at North Carolina. But Glennon struggled, so the Bears made the switch following a blowout loss at Green Bay in Week 4.
”You’ve got to trust your feet and trust your eyes,” veteran backup Mark Sanchez said.
That trust comes with developing a familiarity with the system, timing with receivers, and knowing what works against certain defenses.
”He’s doing a lot of this for the first time,” Sanchez said. ”If you think about it as a defensive coordinator [url=http://www.authenticnewenglandpatriots.com/cheap-tedy-bruschi-jersey]Cheap Tedy Bruschi Jersey[/url] , these guys stay up all night and they try to wreck your day on Sunday. These guys aren’t knuckleheads. They know what the hell they’re doing.”
Most encouraging to quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone are Trubisky’s work ethic, instincts and understanding of the game. They stand out more than the spotty completion percentage.
Ragone sees a quarterback with an unflinching demeanor who learns from his mistakes. One who can point out what works and doesn’t work when he looks at the video. A guy who understands when to throw the ball away rather than force a pass. And who knows how to connect with his teammates.
”I think his football IQ, in terms of the feel of the game, he’s a really good feel player,” Ragone said. ”He’s done this multiple times. He’ll leave (offensive coordinator Dowell) Loggains’ and my side and go talk to his teammates. That’s not forced. That’s leadership. He’s got an innate ability of when to do that, and all those things kind of add together in terms of the makeup of a quarterback. Things that don’t go on a stat line.
”But as you’re sitting there and you’re truly judging a player and the totality of who he is and what he needs to do – or who he is to his teammates – in my opinion he’s done a great job of understanding how to push, how to pull on his teammates. And they’ve obviously responded to him.”
The prized rookie said Monday they have a ”great relationship” and praised the coach and his staff for showing the patience he needs as he adjusts to playing in the NFL.
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”They just allow me to be who I am as a person, as a player,” said Trubisky, the No. 2 overall draft pick. ”They’ve been patient with me, allowed me to develop. And I think they just truly believe in me and what I can do for this football team moving forward.
”Sometimes [url=http://www.authenticstennesseetitans.com/cheap-luke-falk-jersey]Cheap Luke Falk Jersey[/url] , it’s tough having a rookie quarterback because you know there’s gonna be mistakes and there’s gonna be bumps in the road. But they’ve stuck by me and they know it’s a learning process and they’ve taught me a lot throughout this whole year.”
Fox said he has seen enough to believe Trubisky will be a successful NFL player, though they might not be working together much longer. With a 13-33 record over three seasons, there’s a good chance Fox’s time in Chicago is winding down.
The Bears (4-10) host winless Cleveland this week in their final home game, and even beating the Browns hardly seems like a certainty.
Chicago has dropped six of seven. An ugly loss to Detroit secured the Bears’ fourth straight season with double-digit losses and wiped out the good feelings they generated with a lopsided win over Cincinnati the previous week.
The Bears committed 13 penalties and got little from their run game on Saturday. For Trubisky, it was a mixed performance at best.
”There was really a lot of good that Mitch did,” Fox said. ”You know I don’t know that fans and everyday people that don’t get a chance to study the tape and kind of know what he’s been taught and told (think). Everybody looks at the box score they see the three picks. But it was probably, arguably, his best game.”
The Bears turned to Trubisky after Mike Glennon struggled to hang onto the ball in the first four games.
Signed to replace Jay Cutler, the veteran threw more interceptions (five) than touchdowns (four) and lost three fumbles.
That forced the Bears to make the switch and abandon their plan to have their highly touted rookie watch from the sideline this season. There have been promising signs and more than a few growing pains for Trubisky, and the Detroit game summed up his season.
He mentioned Trubisky’s mechanics and decision-making as well as the fact that he recognized when teammates were out of place – and got them into proper position. Fox said that might not have happened a few weeks ago.
Not that there weren’t rough spots.
Trubisky rolling to his left on a play action and overthrowing Kendall Wright stood out. So did his attempt to hit Dontrelle Inman in double coverage in the end zone. Both passes got intercepted.
Even so, Trubisky said he sees progress in certain situations. And in others, room to improve.
”You could definitely see it in my footwork when I’m drifting when I don’t need to or when my feet are calm and I’m moving through my progressions very smoothly,” he said.
”You can tell which plays it’s slower and which plays it’s not. I’m definitely progressing and you want to see the games continue to get slower for me.”
Fox predicts big things for Trubisky. He just might not be around what that happens.
”I get to see it every day, not just game days like some people,” Fox said. ”(I) get to watch him, how he works, how he studies, the demeanor he has with his teammates. I think he’s got a bright future ahead of him.”
New England (11-3) wrapped up its ninth consecutive AFC East title with last week’s win over Pittsburgh. It can lock up a first-round bye this week with a victory over the Bills, combined with a loss by either Pittsburgh or Jacksonville.
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If the Patriots win and the Steelers and Jaguars both lose, New England will secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Meanwhile, the Bills (8-6) are still alive in their quest to break a 17-year playoff drought, and would not be eliminated from contention even with a loss to the Patriots.
”Of course, the big picture’s there, but you can’t move too far ahead,” said Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who was Joe Flacco’s backup for the Baltimore Ravens’ 2013 Super Bowl win. ”It’s definitely tough, but one thing about it is you can’t necessarily worry about what other teams are doing.”
There is also the subplot of this being the first time the teams have met since Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski’s late, gratuitous hit on Bills defensive back Tre’Davious White late in New England’s 23-3 win at Buffalo Dec. 3.
White was lying face down on the sideline after intercepting Tom Brady’s fourth-quarter pass attempt to Gronkowski. Gronk – upset about a flag not being called on White for pushing off – dived into him [url=http://www.authenticnewenglandpatriots.com/cheap-tom-brady-jersey]Cheap Tom Brady Jersey[/url] , driving his forearm into White’s back and head. Gronkowski was called for unnecessary roughness, but not kicked out of the game.
Afterward, Patriots coach Bill Belichick apologized to Buffalo coach Sean McDermott . Gronkowski also apologized, saying he let his frustration get the better of him.
In the days that followed, White condemned Gronk as ”a dirty player.” But he said this week that he has moved on .
”It’s just getting over it,” White said. ”It was still lingering on me. But as I got a chance to think about it, that was childish. I got over it and I’m past it. I’m focused on winning.”
”I don’t think either team is going to need what happened last game to get them going,” McCourty said. ”Two teams trying to win a football game at the end of the season is going to be chippy. It’s going to be everything from pushing and shoving to fighting for extra yards. You’re going to get all of that Sunday.”
Here are some things to watch for when the Bills and patriots square off again:
ONE-MAN SHOW: Most of the Bills’ success this season has come via the legs of running back LeSean McCoy.
He leads the Bills with 1,057 yards rushing and six touchdowns. He also has two TD catches. In all, he has accounted for eight of the 26 touchdowns scored by the Bills’ offense. His 1,407 yards from scrimmage (including 350 receiving) make up 33 percent of the net yards of offense Buffalo has produced.
McCoy has eclipsed 100 yards rushing four times this season. Buffalo is 3-1 in those games. New England has allowed a 100-yard rusher only four times and is 2-2 in those contests.
DEFENSIVE STRUGGLES: While McCoy has been the catalyst offensively when Buffalo has had success this season, Buffalo’s defense has mostly struggled with stopping the run.
It has allowed 140 or more yards rushing six times and given up a league-worst 19 of its 32 touchdowns on the ground. That included two against New England and six in a 47-10 loss to New Orleans on Nov. 12.
TOM TERRIFIC: The Patriots have won four of the last five meetings with the Bills, but Buffalo has taken two of the last three games in Foxborough.
Brady was serving his four-game ”Deflategate” suspension during Buffalo’s 16-0 win at Gillette Stadium last season. But the 40-year-old QB has a 27-3 regular-season record against the Bills, his highest win total over any opponent. He has also thrown for more touchdowns (66) against the Bills than any other opponent.
AP Sports Writer John Wawrow in Orchard Park, New York, contributed to this report.