ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Duke Williams stopped dreaming of scoring his first NFL touchdown some three years ago, when the receiver essentially walked away from football.
Williams had no desire to continue playing after going undrafted in 2016 and then being cut by the Los Angeles Rams before the start of the season.
And it sure looked as if the NFL had no interest in a once-promising player with a checkered past after Williams was kicked out of Auburn five games into his senior season following a bar fight in which he broke a teammate’s jaw.
“I wasn’t thinking about football no more,” Williams said Monday, when he rejoined the Cheap Buffalo Bills Jerseys
(4-1) for practice following the team’s bye week. “I didn’t know what I was going to do.”
Williams has made the most of second chances during a career arc that has impressed and surprised many, including him.
He spent two years in Edmonton, Alberta, where he led the Canadian Football League with 1,579 yards receiving last season. He signed with Buffalo in January but was among the team’s final cuts in August.
Williams then went from spending the first four weeks on Buffalo’s practice squad to scoring the decisive touchdown in a 14-7 win at Tennessee in his NFL debut as a 26-year-old rookie on Oct. 8.
With Buffalo facing third-and-3 from Tennessee’s 7, Williams burst inside and had a step on a defender to make a two-handed grab of Josh Allen’s pass with 9:46 remaining.
“Never give up. Never give up,” Williams said.
“I had my days and my doubts, like, ‘Man, this is not going to work out,’” he added. “But at the end of the day, I overcame adversity and it made me the man who I am today. I don’t regret nothing.”
He finished catching all four passes thrown in his direction for 29 yards, and was second among Bills receivers in playing 50 snaps as he took over the slot receiver’s role previously held by Zay Jones.
Williams’ performance was so encouraging, the Bills traded Jones — a former second-round pick — to Oakland the following day for a 2021 fifth-round draft pick.
General manager Brandon Beane said Williams’ promotion was likely going to cut into Jones’ playing time. Beane added he had previously turned down trade offers for Jones dating to the preseason.
“I think it was timing more than anything, but it helps to know the guy you brought up came in and it wasn’t too big for him, but I never thought it would be for Duke,” Beane said.
It’s Week 6 of the 2019 NFL season. With the halfway mark fast approaching, here’s one thing each of the league’s 32 teams and football fans should be thankful for this weekend:
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New England has allowed a league-low 6.8 points per game this season. That number includes 14 points off a special teams fumble returned for a touchdown and a pick-six against the New York Jets. The actual Patriots defence has allowed an average of 4.0 points per game. For perspective, the 2000 Baltimore Ravens allowed an average of 10.3 points per game. The 1985 Chicago Bears gave up 12.4 points per game. That isn’t to say that this defence is as good as either of those units. It certainly helps that four of their first five opponents have a combined 1-17 record.
Buffalo Bills (4-1): Scheduling
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are 4-1 heading into a bye in Week 6. Still, the best may be yet to come. Buffalo’s remaining schedule includes two games against the lowly Miami Dolphins as well as games against the Washington Redskins, Denver Broncos, Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Jets. If they win those six games, Buffalo will be guaranteed 10 wins. At the very least, that should translate into an AFC Wild Card spot.
New York Jets (0-4): A Healthy Quarterback
Maybe things would have been different for the Jets if Sam Darnold never contracted mono. Or, maybe not. But after watching Luke Falk average 109.0 passing yards over his last two starts, Jets’ fans will be thankful just to see Darnold return in time for Sunday’s date with the Dallas Cowboys.
Miami Dolphins (0-4): Tanking
Miami’s entire offence has 900 total yards through four games. Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey has 866 total yards. A Dolphins tank is legitimate. However, with a long list of top quarterback prospects eligible for the 2020 NFL Draft, including Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, all will be forgiven if Miami lands a franchise quarterback in April.
Baltimore Ravens (3-2): Running Backs That Play Quarterback
In all seriousness, Lamar Jackson is a stud. He just matched teammate Robert Griffin III’s NFL record as the fastest quarterbacks in NFL history to reach 1,000 career rushing yards, needing only 21 games. Coming off his worst performance of the season, Jackson will have an excellent opportunity to bounce back against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.
Cleveland Browns (2-3): Video Evidence
The video of Monday night’s loss to the San Francisco 49ers probably isn’t worth replaying, but at lease there is evidence that Baker Mayfield didn’t actually snub cornerback Richard Sherman.
Pittsburgh Steelers (1-4): Minkah Fitzpatrick
Fitzpatrick has looked every bit the part of a rising star at his position since being drafted 11th overall by the Dolphins in 2018. While we won’t know the true value of the first-round pick the Steelers traded away to get him until the end of the season, we can at least acknowledge that Fitzpatrick has provided a substantial upgrade for Pittsburgh at a significant position of need.
Cincinnati Bengals (0-5): A.J. Green’s Return
The star wide receiver won’t practice this week but he could return in time for a Week 7 matchup with the Jaguars. Or, he could be back just in time to fetch a decent return should Cincinnati opt to trade him. Would the Bengals pull the trigger on a trade involving Green?
Houston Texans (3-2): Deshaun Watson
Watson earned his second AFC Offensive Player of the Week nod of the season after throwing for 426 yards and five touchdowns in a 53-32 win over the Atlanta Falcons. Despite being pressured on 41 per cent of his drop backs, Watson has thrown for 1,364 yards and 11 touchdowns with just one interception. He ranks fifth in DVOA at his position, according to Pro Football Focus.
Indianapolis Colts (3-2): Jacoby Brissett
The Colts are coming off a road win in prime time, at one of the most hostile stadiums in the NFL, against the previously undefeated Kansas City Chiefs. Pretty impressive for a team that lost its franchise quarterback a week before the season started. Jacoby Brissett has done his part to get to 3-2.
Jacksonville Jaguars (2-3): Minshew Mania
Has Gardner Minshew III already done enough to earn the nod at quarterback over Nick Foles when the latter returns from injury? The Jaguars are relevant again and Minshew is the biggest reason for it.
Tennessee Titans (2-3): Made Field Goals
The Titans didn’t waste any time replacing Cairo Santos with another former Bears kicker in Cody Parkey after the former missed four field goal attempts in a 14-7 loss to the Bills. Parkey’s next attempt will be his first since the memorable double doink that cost Chicago a chance to advance in last year’s NFC Wild Card Game loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Kansas City Chiefs (4-1): New England Patriots
Kansas City won four straight to open the season before hitting a wall against Indianapolis. Sure, the Chiefs have been hit hard by injuries. Still, it isn’t like their franchise quarterback retired abruptly in the middle of the preseason. What stood out most from the loss was the way the Colts were able to execute the same plan of attack that New England used in last year’s AFC Championship Game. Indianapolis pounded the rock with Marlon Mack on offence and played tough man-to-man coverage to slow down Patrick Mahomes on defence. The Cheap New England Patriots Jerseys
may have exposed a potential formula for beating Kansas City. But if Mahomes and company can learn from those losses, address their vulnerabilities and make an effort to correct them before the playoffs, it could be the difference that puts them over the top as a Super Bowl contender.
Oakland Raiders (3-2): Disco Dancing
Apparently, Jon Gruden considers the moves he broke out after last week’s win over the Chicago Bears “Disco Dancing.” Who knew?
Los Angeles Chargers (2-3): Potential
The bad news is that Melvin Gordon looked awful in Sunday’s 20-13 loss to the previously winless Denver Broncos. The good news is that the Chargers are still talented enough to contend for a playoff spot in the AFC. Five of the 12 playoff teams from last season had records below .500 after Week 5. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Phillip Rivers and company were one of the teams that turn things around this season.
Denver Broncos (1-4): A Win
Denver will no longer be mentioned in the same conversation as the NFL’s four remaining winless teams. That in itself is a win. However, the schedule won’t get any easier for the Broncos with games against the Titans, Chiefs and Colts over the next three weeks.
Philadelphia Eagles (3-2): Carson Wentz
Injuries, drops and penalties have taken their toll on his numbers but Wentz has persevered. According to Pro Football Focus, Russell Wilson is the only active quarterback with a higher passing grade than Wentz heading into Week 6.
Dallas Cowboys (3-2): Returning Tackles
The bad news is that the Cowboys offence looked terrible in back-to-back losses to the New Orleans Saints and Green Bay Packers. The good news is that offensive tackles La’el Collins and Tyron Smith could be back in time for a must-win game against the New York Jets. Dallas will need them the rest of the way.
Williams will be expected to do more of the same on Sunday when Buffalo hosts Miami (0-5).
At 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, Williams is Buffalo’s tallest receiver, and has also shown an ability to use his big body as a blocker and outmuscle defenders.
Williams first caught the Bills’ attention in the preseason when he had eight catches for 71 yards and two touchdowns, mostly against second- and third-string defences.
Failing to make Buffalo’s season-opening roster didn’t bother Williams, who instead took it as one more challenge to overcome.
“I wasn’t mad. I was happy I still had a job,” Williams said. “It was a blessing. I still attacked the day and attacked practice as if I was playing that Sunday. I never took a day off.”
Co-ordinator Brian Daboll said Williams is the type of player he roots for because of his work ethic and perseverance.
“First, let’s talk about the man. He’s come up the hard way,” Daboll said.
“He has had a lot of obstacles in his life that he’s had to overcome which have made him into the guy he is,” he added. “He came to work every day when he was on the practice squad, got better, knew the game plan. And those are the guys you bring up in-house that you’d like to give an opportunity to when they earn it. And he’s certainly earned it.”
Williams knows better than to take his debut lightly. He initially balked at an interview request because his first priority was heading to the weight room for a post-practice workout.
“You can never take anything for granted because as soon as you do, that’s how fast it can be taken away,” Williams said. “It was all fun and games last week, but it’s a business now, you know.”
NOTES: Backup RB Devin Singletary, who has missed three games with a left hamstring injury, and TE Tyler Kroft, who has yet to play this season with right foot and left ankle injuries, both took part in a brief non-contact practice. … LB Matt Milano (hamstring) worked out individually. … The Bills signed WR Jordan Veasy to their practice squad.