Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier was a starting cornerback on one of the greatest teams in NFL history, the Super Bowl 20 champion Chicago Bears who dominated the 1985 season the way few teams ever have.
But as Frazier recalled this week, before those 1985 Bears recorded their Super Bowl Shuffle song, and before William “The Fridge” Perry crashed his 320-pound body into the end zone for a touchdown and spiked the ball with more ferocity than Rob Gronkowski could have ever dreamed at the end of Chicago’s 46-10 Super Bowl evisceration of New England, that team had to swallow a valuable and painful lesson.
In 1984, the Bears were starting to build toward their championship when they won the NFC Central with a 10-6 record, then beat the Redskins in the divisional round to advance to the NFC Championship Game in San Francisco against Bill Walsh, Joe Montana and the soon-to-be dynastic 49ers.
And out there in Candlestick Park, the Bears got their helmets handed to them 23-0, and Frazier has never forgotten the disappointment.
“It hurt, and it hurt a lot,” Frazier remembered. “We really felt like going into that game we were going to win and we were the better team. And it just didn’t work out. And I remember the plane ride, myself, my teammates, how disappointed we were. But also, there was a motivator to come back the next season, really understanding how much of a grind it was and hard it was to win a championship, and it kind of opened our eyes a little bit.”
It is that lesson that Frazier hopes the Bills have learned in the aftermath of last January when they botched the final 13 seconds of regulation in the divisional playoff game at Kansas City and eventually lost a 42-36 overtime thriller that some have called one of the greatest games in NFL history.
Sure, it was great for the general football fan who had no skin in the game, but not for the Bills, and certainly not for Bills Mafia. All that game did was create misery in western New York, and some have still not gotten over the disappointment because the feeling was that if Buffalo had survived that game, it would have won the Super Bowl.
I asked Frazier if there were similarities to how Bears coach Mike Ditka and Bills coach Sean McDermott handled those terrible defeats on the respective plane rides home.
“I mean, it was hard for all of us, in both those situations,” he said. “When we were coming back from Kansas City, Sean was pretty much to himself and I think when we were flying back from San Francisco it was about the same with coach Ditka. He was pretty much processing what had just happened. I think they handled it probably similar, both kind of to themselves a little bit.”
Ditka’s team had quite a response in 1985 as it won 18 of 19 games behind one of the most dominant defenses in league history, the 46 defense of Buddy Ryan with Frazier at right cornerback and making a team-high six interceptions. The Bears went 15-1 in the regular season, then destroyed the Giants (21-0) and Rams (24-0) before finishing it off with a laugher over the overmatched Patriots.
Now, the Bills will try to do the same thing - use that horrible loss in Kansas City as a spring board to glory.
“Can I say that there are similarities with our teams? Maybe,” Frazier said. “We’ve got some strong leaders on our team and I know it sits in our craw that we haven’t gotten to the point where we want to get to, and that’s getting to that Super Bowl and winning the Super Bowl.
“Our guys are really motivated, but it’s a process. There are going to be some growing pains, but you just want to know that you’re tough enough as a group to fight through those moments and you got to be talented enough, but also mentally tough enough to be able to do that as well.”
Just what we need ... more penalties
Dean Blandino, the former NFL vice-president for officiating, writes an occasional column for a website called 33rdteam.com, and recently, he warned that we may be dealing with more illegal contact calls this season, meaning defensive backs, especially young ones like the Bills corners Dane Jackson and Kaiir Elam, could be in for a frustrating time.
Blandino pointed out that last year there were only 36 illegal contact penalties called in the league, the second-fewest ever in a season since the original rule was changed back in the late 1970s where DBs couldn’t have contact with a receiver five yards beyond the line of scrimmage.
In combination with the low number of defensive holding calls we saw, fewest since 2002, what that did was create a situation for teams to combine for 456 passing yards per game in 2021 which was 24 less than they did in 2020, and Blandino’s theory is that passing games took a step back because DBs were given more leeway to bump and grab.
Therefore, as is usually the case when there’s a statistical anomaly like that, Blandino thinks the point of emphasis this season for officials will be to pay closer attention to DBs making contact, which will probably lead to more penalties. Great. Just what the NFL needs.
Blandino said the last time the league’s competition committee, which votes on rule changes, made illegal contact a point of emphasis, the number of calls nearly tripled, from 52 to 148. As a result, with DBs having to play a little looser to avoid calls, the league had three of the five best passing seasons ever over the next three years.
Going into 2021, the big point of emphasis was the taunting rule. And after only 12 taunting calls in 2020, there were 61 in 2021. Yes, illegal contact is going to be a thing, so before you celebrate your team’s third-down stop, wait for the flag.
What they’re saying at camp
▶ DT Tim Settle on his loud and boisterous personality: “I want everybody to wake up when I come around. I don’t care, you could be getting treatment or you could be getting your ankle taped, I don’t care. You could be in a meeting or on your phone, I don’t care. I’m gonna scream when I come in the meeting room. You’re gonna know I’m around. This is just how I am, that’s just how it is and I’m not going to change at all.”
▶ QB Case Keenum on how Stefon Diggs has matured since their time together in Minnesota: “Yeah, I mean he’s Stef. He’s still my guy. I think for the first month, we would see each other and kind of be like, ‘This is kind of weird, we’re back together.’ We had such a cool time in Minnesota, but yeah, to see him, the growth he’s had on and off the field, as a leader, as a person, it’s really cool to see. I mean he’s big time, and he’s doing all the right things on and off the field, so I’m proud of him and excited to play with him again.”
▶ RG Ryan Bates on working with new offensive line coach Aaron Kromer: “I’ve been learning so much from Kromer. He’s such a good teacher and it’s great having his little fresher perspective. He’s been around for a long time, he’s been working at a high level with very talented players throughout his career, and he’s been very successful with it. And he understands just the game of football so well. X’s and O’s, offensive and defense. It’s nice having to learn from him.”
Getting to know … LB Terrel Bernard
As we have come to see in so many of the personnel decisions made by McDermott and Brandon Beane, character and intelligence are critical qualities they look for in every potential player they bring in.
So while Bernard was a wildly productive linebacker at Baylor, averaging 8.4 tackles per game with a whopping 20 (plus two sacks) in his final game - Baylor’s 21-7 Sugar Bowl victory over Ole Miss - the Bills were even more impressed with his personality, his leadership ability and his work ethic.
“What we talk about at Baylor is, better people make better players, and I think Terrel would be the face of that, to me,” Bears coach Dave Aranda said before Bernard’s 2021 season, one where he went on to record 103 tackles and 7.5 sacks. “Just his heart, right? What’s inside of him, the class that he runs with, integrity that he lives with, that makes him a better player. And I think our whole team recognizes that; they’re all pushed to greatness because of him. I’m glad he’s on our side.”
Now he’s on the Bills’ side, and with the Pittsford portion of training camp complete, you can look back and say that the third-round pick had a productive two-plus weeks and has pushed himself into the conversation of being the first man off the bench if Tremaine Edmunds or Matt Milano need to come out.
He is certainly undersized at 6-foot and 224 pounds, but his instincts and athleticism have shown through so far and at linebacker, those intangibles may mean even more than size.
“He’s shown ability and he has to be able to play multiple spots,” Frazier said. “We drafted him with that in mind, being able to play both inside and outside in case we got an injury. The league is really becoming that way, you need guys that are versatile because of the chance of injury. Terrel has shown that he can do both. We thought he was smart enough; it was just athletically if he would fit and he’s shown that he can.
“Really like what we’ve seen so far. In college, he was a playmaking guy, a little bit undersized, but found ways to make plays. Really good blitzer, got his hands on a lot of balls. We’re seeing the same things.”
Here are a few things to know about Bernard:
He stayed in school: He was at Baylor five years (he played four seasons after red-shirting in 2017), so he could have left when he completed his undergraduate degree in health, kinesiology and leisure studies in 2020, but rather than declare for the 2021 NFL Draft, he came back for his last year of eligibility while starting work on a masters degree in sports management.
He made good use of his classwork: Bernard was an eight-time recipient of the Big 12 Commissioner’s Honor Roll.
Favorite athlete: Ray Lewis.
Skill he wants to learn: Play guitar.
Dream vacation spot: Aruba.
Favorite movie: Forrest Gump.
Favorite actor: Tom Hanks, which certainly makes sense given his movie choice.
Unique hobbies: Painting and juggling.
Favorite musical artist: Drake.
No. 1 thing on his bucket list: Visit Africa.
Buffalo Bills birthday bio: Kiko Alonso
The eccentric linebacker who turns 32 on Sunday was like a meteor passing above the western New York landscape during the one season he played for the Bills in 2013.
Alonso was a second-round draft choice out of Oregon that year and he came to Buffalo with a bit of baggage strapped to his 240-pound body. He had been arrested for a DUI in 2010, and a little more than a year later, he got drunk and somehow found his way into a stranger’s house where he passed out.
“Definitely college-kid stuff,” he said after the Bills picked him, trying to defuse the character questions that arose. “I was a young kid, immature, and I made mistakes. I’ve put it in my past. I’m just trying to focus on football.”
That first season in Buffalo, he certainly did that and the fans loved him, often referring to him as The Legend of Kiko Alonso. He played like a man possessed in Mike Pettine’s defense as he was in on 159 tackles, made four interceptions (all in the first four games he played), forced a fumble and recovered two.
For that, he finished second to Jets edge rusher Sheldon Richardson in balloting for AP defensive rookie of the year, though he won the Pro Football Writers’ Association award.
And then, poof. He was gone. He suffered a knee injury while working out on his own in the summer of 2014 that knocked him out for the entire season, and he never played again for the Bills because in March 2015, with Rex Ryan having taken over for Doug Marrone, he was traded to the Eagles straight up for running back LeSean McCoy.
McCoy, a superstar in Philadelphia who did not want to leave the Eagles, not only was angry that he was being traded, but he was insulted that it was for a one-year wonder like Alonso.
When McCoy’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, informed him of the trade, McCoy, in recounting the conversation, said, “The first thing he told me was, ‘Shady, this is not a joke, you’ve been traded to Buffalo for Kiko Alonso.’ So I said, ‘Drew, stop playing; who the hell is Kiko Alonso?’ You can quote that. I didn’t know who that dude was. I looked him up … I was pissed. I didn’t want to come.”
Alonso played only a portion of 2015 for Philadelphia which immediately made this one of the worst trades in Eagles history. He was dealt to the Dolphins in 2016 and he went on to play well in Miami with three consecutive 100-tackle seasons.
He was traded to the Saints in 2019, blew out his knee in a playoff loss to the Vikings, then was traded to the 49ers in November 2020 but never played for the team. After sitting out 2021 trying to get fully healthy, he just last week was re-signed by the Saints and will try to revive his career.
“He did a nice job in his workout,” Saints coach Dennis Allen said. “He was in shape. He looked good. When he’s been healthy, he’ s been a productive player in our league.”
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This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Perhaps the Bills can learn a lesson from the 1985 Chicago Bears