When the Bills were on the clock in the first round of the NFL draft in May, they had a tough decision to make: Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack or Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins, among others.
The Bills were so enamored with Watkins that they had surrendered the No. 9 pick in the 2014 draft, as well as their first- and fourth-round picks in the 2015 draft so that they could trade with the Cleveland Browns and move up to No. 4.
Therefore, whichever player they coveted is someone that they were willing to pay a king’s ransom. That player turned out to be Watkins.
The Raiders wasted little time in taking Mack. As it turned out, both teams landed an impact player. At the time, Watkins said he wasn’t sure where he was going. The Raiders were even a possibility, he said.
“I thought it was possible, but you never know going through that whole process,” Watkins said. “I never really had an interview. I didn’t go out there and meet, so I really didn’t have a clue.”
The Raiders and their fans are thrilled with how well Mack has panned out. On Sunday, they get their first look at Watkins, a player the Raiders might have contemplated taking at No. 5 if the Bills hadn’t taken him off the board.
Raiders interim head coach Tony Sparano said Wednesday that he and the Raiders were high on Watkins when they studied Watkins before the draft.
Watkins has started all 14 games, and he leads the Bills with 59 receptions for 850 yards and five touchdowns. There’s no mistaking that Watkins is the Bills’ go-to receiver.
Bills coach Doug Marrone said he likes what he sees from Mack on video and that the reality has matched the hype.
“I just think he’s someone that’s getting better and better,” Marrone said. “From our standpoint, we’ve got to know where he is on that field. He’s that type of player.”
– Time and again Sunday, it was pointed out that the Raiders were foolish for playing Carr the entire game, especially given the fact Carr had an injured ankle and the Raiders trailed 31-6 after three quarters.
Calling for Carr to be yanked had nothing to do with the Raiders needing to take a look at backup Matt Schaub — Matt McGolin was inactive. It had everything to do with being prudent with a player who has the look of a franchise quarterback.
Sure enough, Carr hurt his right (throwing hand) thumb on the final drive of the game, with the Raiders driving for a meaningless touchdown.
As promised, we asked Carr about whether he entertained the prospect of coming out of the game and the value of playing until the bitter end.
“There’s going to be a time, I know that there’s going to be a time, where it’s a playoff game, something is going to happen, a tweak or something, and we got to go finish a drive.
“These situations go on through my mind constantly. I’m sitting there thinking, this is going to happen someday, or maybe it’s going to be in this exact stadium again and we’re playing for a division title.
“These things go through my head, and I’m sitting there (thinking), hey, we got to go put this thing in. In no way, shape or form was I going to come out of that game. They could have wrapped up my ankle so more. I was going to stay in there.”
– The Raiders and Bills are the two teams that have gone the longest without a playoff appearance. The Bills are in a position to end their drought this season.
For now, the Bills haven’t been to the playoffs for 14 seasons, more than any other team. The Raiders are second at 12 straight non-playoff seasons – the Browns can tied the Raiders if they get eliminated this season.
“That’s the stigma with Buffalo,” Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins said in a conference call with Bay Area media Wednesday. “That’s all you hear. They never talk about the four Super Bowls that they went to. All you hear about is the 14 years that they didn’t go to the playoffs. It’s bad and we know that as a team and an organization. We’re going to fix it.”
The Bills are 8-6 and one game out of the chase for one of two wild-card berths in the AFC Playoffs. They likely need to beat the Raiders on Sunday and the New England Patriots on Dec. 28 just to have a realistic shot at making the playoffs.
Watkins is a rookie. He was selected with the fourth pick in the NFL Draft in May, one spot ahead of Raiders linebacker Khalil Mack. He leads the Bills in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns.
He also has a firm grasp of how starved Buffalo fans are to see their beloved Bills in the playoffs again. The ongoing quest to make that a reality continues Sunday at the Coliseum.
“It’s a lot at stake,” Watkins said. “We’ve got to come out and win every game and we know that. We have to win our last two weeks. It will be big for not only this team, but the fans and this organization because we haven’t won over eight games or went to the playoffs in 14 years. It needs to happen and it needs to happen now.”
Bills coach Doug Marrone and general manager Doug Whaley don’t shy from the fact that there’s a sense of urgency to get back to the playoffs.
“A lot of us weren’t here for all of that time,” Marrone said in a conference call. “That’s what a lot of people will obviously print, that’s what a lot of people write
“Like I told the players, for us we’ve just got to make sure we do a good job and not get distracted by anything that’s going on around us. If we are distracted, the only people that can distract us is ourselves.”
– The positive that has resulted from the Raiders having so many players injured this season is that they have had ample time to take a look at just about every person on their roster not named Tony Bergstrom.
As a result, the Raiders are going to be better served next season, when young players such as Latavius Murray, TJ Carrie, Ray Ray Armstrong, Gabe Jackson and Khalil Mack, among many others, build upon this season.
“My experience is, when you get that kind of playing time, and there is significant playing time here – we’re talking about a lot of guys playing a lot of snaps right now that are young players – that’s very, very valuable.
“There’s huge carry-over. That that provides a real easy transition into Year 2 for them. The game doesn’t surprise them. The speed of the game doesn’t surprise them. The preparation that it takes to play the game doesn’t surprise them. More importantly, they kind of know these opponents.”
Sparano also shows that he is leap years ahead of other coaches in terms of understanding the value of getting something out of a losing season, when most coaches keep playing their regular starters once they have been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.
“One of the biggest mistakes is when you’re sitting here a year from now looking at your football team – or not a year from now, a month from now – and you think, ‘Man, I wish I knew something about that guy. I don’t know anything about him. I’ve never seen him play in a game.’
“That’s kind of like where we were with Latavius [Murray] last year. The end of the season last year when you’re going into this season, you’re saying, ‘Really, I don’t know about this guy.’ Well, we know clearly about Latavius now, so those are good things.”