Bits From The Booth: Buffalo

I grew up a Buffalo Bills fan in Lakewood, NY. My childhood bedroom was a shrine to O.J. Simpson and my loving mother even went to the trouble of hand-painting Bills uniforms on the tiny plastic players in my vibrating electric football game (remember those?) since the only version available at the local store featured the Jets vs. Rams.

I vividly remember the thrill of attending a game at Rich Stadium for the first time (now Ralph Wilson Stadium), and broadcasting a game in Buffalo is always a reminder of how incredibly fortunate I am to do what I do for a living. I never take it for granted.

Van Miller

It will be a bittersweet return to Orchard Park this Sunday because I will not get to visit with my broadcasting hero Van Miller, the legendary Voice of the Bills who passed away in July. (I wrote about him here). For those of you that never heard Van broadcast a game, let’s just say he was as great as the Bengals fourth quarter comeback against Seattle last week.

Now let’s get to this week’s Bits From The Booth.

Classic Comeback

On Christmas Eve 1994, the Bengals rallied from a 17-point deficit to beat the Eagles 33-30 by kicking two field goals in the last three seconds.

That’s right, two field goals in three seconds!

Here’s how: Doug Pelfey tied the game with a 22-yarder, the Bengals recovered a squib kick, and Pelfrey hit a 54-yarder at the gun for the win.

That is the craziest comeback in team history.

But was last week’s 17-point fourth quarter rally against Seattle, the greatest comeback in team history?

I put that question to my partner Dave Lapham who has been with the Bengals as a player or broadcaster for 40 of the franchise’s 48-year history.

“I think it was,” Lapham said. “When you think of what was on the line – to remain undefeated – and when you consider the excellence of the opponent and how they did it. Seattle had allowed less than 16 points per game over a three year span and were third in the NFL in points allowed going into this game. To score 17 points on them in less than 14 minutes and then three more in overtime was phenomenal. It really was a remarkable performance and for all of those reasons, I consider it the greatest comeback story in franchise history.”

Hue On Boos

Last week, Sports Illustrated’s Peter King wrote an interesting story about Andy Dalton that quoted Hue Jackson saying that being booed at a celebrity softball game during MLB All-Star Weekend was a turning point in Dalton’s career.

It’s the first time that I had ever heard that suggested, so I followed up with Jackson this week and asked him why he felt that way.

“I talked to Andy after it happened and I know that it disappointed him,” said Jackson. “In our conversation it turned into some of the things that had been said about him, and I could tell that he was disappointed about it and it hurt him a little bit. I said, ‘We don’t want that to happen again. How can we stop this slide from going that way? There’s only one way. You’ve got to win and you’ve got to play good.’ So it just reinforced what we were trying to do. We set out this season to have him become the best quarterback he’s ever been. The conversation was, ‘How much more can you do? How much more are you willing to do? How much more of a price are you willing to pay so that these things don’t happen to you anymore?’ That’s where I think that it really started to turn for him.”

Dalton high five

Don’t Forget Zampese

While Jackson and Dalton has been receiving well-deserved praise during the team’s 5-0 start, don’t forget about the impact of quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese.

He’s the only QB coach that Dalton has had in the NFL and he’s put in countless hours in helping Andy refine his mechanics, read defenses, and handle the demands of the position.

Zampese says that Dalton is working harder than ever and that’s translated to his play on the field.

“Andy came in in 2011 without a spring (training camp) and spoke the language immediately which said that we were absolutely correct on his level of accountability and how much it means to him,” said Zampese. “Then after four years, it was a matter of realizing that we needed to do something different if we wanted to have different results. Those are huge character plusses in his favor because there had been a certain level of success and it would be easy to just say, ‘Well I won this many games and did this or that.’ But it’s not about that. It’s about winning everything and therein lies the challenge of doing something different to change the results.

“I’m happy for him because it’s a gauntlet. It’s a meat-grinder and people try to find ways to tear you down when you start for a football team early on – or at any age. It’s fun to see him come out the other end because I’ve lived the struggles with him. His success is my success and anything that doesn’t happen right is on my ledger as well. So I live it right along with him just like Coach Jackson and the rest of us. We’re a team coaching Andy – we’re Team Andy.”

The Tape of the Tape With Greg Cosell

One of our favorite guests on “Bengals Game Plan” heard every Wednesday night on ESPN 1530 is Greg Cosell from NFL Films. For my money, nobody covering football does a better job at breaking down game tape.

Here are a few snippets of the Q and A when Cosell joined us on this week’s show.

When you watch tape of Andy Dalton, what stands out?

“Timing, rhythm, anticipation, and accuracy and I always felt that those were the traits that he needed to show to be a higher-level NFL quarterback and through five games he’s exhibited those traits – probably for as long a stretch as any point in his career. He’s playing very, very well right now.”

Is Tyler Eifert the missing piece to the Bengals offensive puzzle?

“He’s the match-up piece because he lines up anywhere. He often lines up at what we call ‘X-Iso’ where he’s the single receiver on the short side of the field and they have three wide receivers on the other side. When you do that, you get match-ups that normally favor you. If the other team plays man-to-man, who covers Eifert? A safety? A linebacker? Rarely in that situation with three wide receivers on the other side would a team put a corner on Eifert. But in the red zone, he twice beat corners. He beat (Oakland’s) Brandon Flowers and Keith McGill for touchdowns. So Eifert is really the match-up weapon to this offense.”

How are the Bengals playing on defense?

“I think they’re playing really well and I think it’s a different defense than it was previously under Paul (Guenther). I think they’ve gone much more to being a coverage team instead of a blitz team. They selectively blitz depending on down and distance and field location, but they’re not a high percentage blitz team. In fact, they’re one of the lower percentage blitz teams in the league. They’re relying on a front four that’s playing very well, and I think they’re playing to what they perceive to be their strengths.

“The guy who always both exhilarates and frustrates me is Carlos Dunlap. There are times where he plays like he’s the best defensive end in the game and you wonder why he can’t play that way on a week-to-week basis because he’s so gifted.”

Dunlap has certainly delivered on a consistent basis this year. He’s tied for the NFL lead in sacks with 5 and has him graded as the 5th-best defensive end (4-3 defenses) in the NFL through five weeks.

The Rex Effect

Despite not having made the playoffs in the last 15 years, the Buffalo Bills set a franchise record by selling more than 57,500 season tickets this season.

New head coach Rex Ryan helped to generate that excitement according to Bills radio voice John Murphy.

“He infuses the whole area with energy, enthusiasm, and a positive outlook that is in stark contrast to his predecessor,” said Murphy. “You know how head coaches have to be careful with what they say, well he always tries to tell the truth – I’ll put it that way. He doesn’t want to mislead anybody and he doesn’t want to play a lot of games. He’s just a good guy and a brilliant defensive mind – one of the best in the NFL probably over the past couple of decades.

“The community loves him. There’s a drive-through coffee shop around the corner from Ralph Wilson Stadium and I’ve had the misfortune of being behind him in line. People jump out of their cars and take cell phone pictures – he says that he hasn’t paid for a cup of coffee in weeks because people are buying his coffee. He’s a bona fide celebrity coach and I’ll tell you this; I’ve never met anyone in any walk of life that is more comfortable in his own skin than Rex Ryan.”

The S.I. Reverse Jinx?

In its NFL preview edition, Sports Illustrated tackled the impossible challenge of trying to predict the outcome of every NFL game before the season began. Here’s what they expected out of the Bengals in the first five weeks:

SI picks

Wallace Gilberry doubts that many people expected the Bengals to have a perfect record at this point.

“If you had told me that we would be 5-0 right now, I would believe it, but would you have believed it?” said Gilberry. “Looking at our schedule, every week we’ve played playoff-caliber teams and no one expected the Bengals to be sitting here 5-0. They can say they did, but they’re not telling the truth. All we can do is to keep doing what we’re doing. If our record was 0-5, we would still feel the same way. We have to go out here and do the little things to get the job done.”

Fun Facts With Chad

On Sunday’s pregame show, this week’s “Fun Facts” interview is with Chad Johnson who attended last week’s game against Seattle.

Chad and AJ Green

The first thing that Chad tweeted to his 3.5 million followers after arriving in Cincinnati last Saturday was that it was “good to be home.”

In my interview with the six-time Pro Bowler, I asked him if he still considers Cincinnati to be home.

“I always have,” Chad said. “They welcomed me with open arms and Cincinnati is all I know other than my birthplace so I consider it home.

“It’s been love man. Everywhere I went it’s been love – like literally. They’re still wearing the jersey! That’s dope.”

You can hear the entire interview at approximately 12:30 this Sunday on the Bengals radio network.

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