Bills rookie WR Robert Foster steps up for fan
Robert Foster couldn’t help but remember being in the same shoes — literally and physically.
So when a 14-year-old boy was trying on an expensive pair of Adidas Yeezy’s and uncertain if his mother could afford them, the Buffalo Bills rookie receiver stepped in.
“I just felt like how he felt,” Foster said. “I would always ask my mom and dad for a certain pair of shoes and sometimes they’d do it for me, and sometimes they didn’t. So I just said, ‘Let me do something special for somebody today.’ So I got them for him.”
The story of what happened at a Buffalo-area mall in late-November came to light when Lori Stearns praised Foster in posting a note on her Facebook page. She said her son was trying on the shoes when a customer at the register, who turned out to be Foster, asked if she liked them.
When Stearns responded, “No way, they are too expensive,” Foster insisted he’d pay for them. It was at that point, Foster introduced himself to Stearns and her son.
“It made my young man’s night,” Stearns wrote, while including a picture of her son and Foster on the post. “Definitely one beautiful memory he will carry into adulthood! So we wanted to thank you Robert for being so thoughtful and wishing you a very merry Christmas.”
It was nothing, said Foster, who wasn’t expecting to attract publicity.
“That’s my motto: Give and you shall receive,” Foster said. “God has been working throughout my life and my family’s life, so I just wanted to do something special for the kid.”
Foster’s career has taken an upturn over the final half of the season. In six games since being promoted from the practice squad, the undrafted rookie out of Alabama leads Buffalo with 21 catches for 490 yards and two touchdowns.
Nick Foles has completed seven passes of 30 yards or more in the past two games, including four to Alshon Jeffery, and he has 10 such throws in four games. He also threw an 83-yard touchdown pass to Nelson Agholor last week. Carson Wentz only had 16 passes of 30 yards or more in his 11 starts.
“I think that’s one of the differences with Nick is he puts a little more air on the ball, gives the receiver an opportunity,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. “Every deep ball can be a little bit different, it can be a back-shoulder throw, it could be a down-the-field (throw) where they have to stretch out, so every deep throw can be a little bit different. I think our quarterbacks have really developed touch and feel for that. You’ve seen that with Nick now in the last couple weeks.”
Wentz still has a higher average than Foles on yards per attempt (7.7 to 7.4) and yards per completion (11 to 10.5).
The long road to a victory away from Lambeau Field for the Packers this season ended with Green Bay’s rousing 44-38 win in overtime last week over the New York Jets. It was so unusual that rookie receiver Equanimeous St. Brown learned a lesson about celebrating on the flight home.
“It was beautiful, it was funny because EQ mentioned something to me like, ‘What do we do on the plane after we win?’” veteran wideout Davante Adams recounted this week. “I was like, ‘What? What do you mean?’”
St. Brown didn’t know how to celebrate after the Packers started the season 0-7 on the road. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers was among players in the locker room who spoke about how happy a flight back to Green Bay can be following a road victory.
“They haven’t actually felt that togetherness and that happiness of being on the plane after an NFL road win, being in the league,” Adams said. “So it was a good win for those guys, and obviously it boosted the morale of the team on the way back, so it was a good feeling.”
There’s no love for long snappers when it comes to Pro Bowl voting.
It’s the only position in the NFL that isn’t picked in balloting by the fans, coaches and players. The coaches of the AFC and NFC teams choose the player — sometimes with input from the kickers and punters — to make the trip to the NFL’s all-star game.
“Yeah, definitely, they should be voted on,” Jets special teams coordinator Brant Boyer said.
Of course, the likes of the Jets’ Thomas Hennessy, the Giants’ Zak DeOssie, Atlanta’s Jon Condo and Miami’s John Denney might not be as easily recognized as, say, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Antonio Brown and J.J. Watt. That also comes with the territory.
Anonymity is a good thing for snappers, who usually only gain notice — and notoriety — when something goes awry.
“I will be honest: I think it is something that’s probably a little tough to vote on,” said Hennessy, in his second season with the Jets. “It’s tough to the untrained eye, the differences in long snappers, other than not having any bad snaps. That’s the most obvious thing a fan would look at, but the actual protection and coverage, it usually takes a little bit of tape study. It’s something I wasn’t even fully aware of until I got to the NFL, the differences in guys.”
Skill players — quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends — and defensive players all have production-based statistics that can set each other apart in Pro Bowl balloting. Offensive linemen are similar to long snappers in that there aren’t any easily accessible stats with which fans could choose who the best ones are. Still, O-linemen are on the ballot and long snappers aren’t.
“It would be cool if it were voted on,” Hennessy said. “I do think it’s tough to vote on and could turn into something that’s a popularity contest, solely based on the snapper who might have the most social media exposure and they would probably win it, I would guess. I could be totally wrong, though. It would be cool and interesting to see.”
Falcons offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian wasn’t interested in discussing his future with Atlanta when asked if he expects to return next year.
“My focus is on the game,” he said. “You control what you can control in this business, and what I can control is going out and getting our guys prepared and going and playing a great game Sunday in Tampa.”
The Falcons haven’t exactly whiffed on offense since Sarkisian was hired, but they were nowhere near the level of productivity they had under his predecessor, Kyle Shanahan.
When Shanahan left to take charge of the San Francisco 49ers after helping the Falcons lead the league in scoring and win the 2016 NFC title, the Falcons turned to Sarkisian, a former head coach at Southern Cal and Washington whose recent stint was on the staff at Alabama.
His plan was to add wrinkles to Shanahan’s zone blocking scheme, but the relationship never quite clicked. Last year ended in the playoffs with the Eagles stopping Matt Ryan and Julio Jones on fourth-and-goal in a close loss. This year’s season opener sputtered again on the final drive at Philadelphia, and the offense, due in part to season-ending injuries for running back Devonta Freeman and both starting guards, never got going.
Jones, a six-time Pro Bowl receiver, insists that Sarkisian doesn’t deserve all the criticism.
“He’s been a great coach for us, man,” Jones said. “Everything about him. The way he wants to attack defensive coordinators and things like that, the battles we go through week in and week out, the chess matches throughout the game, changing things. As far as what we see, he’ll adapt. He’ll call the plays that we want in the games. Things like that. He’s been a great coach for us this year.”
Ryan agrees with Jones.
“In all honesty, it’s about trying to find a way to get a win, and Sarkisian has done a good job,” Ryan said. “He’s put us in a good position to be successful, and as players it’s our job to go out there and make the plays. I’m not worried about that right now.”
Sarkisian wouldn’t say whether he wants to return next year or possibly look for another college job.
“The rest of it, when you starting worrying about what other people control or emotions of other people and whatnot, that’s when you get yourself in trouble and you get yourself distracted, and you don’t do the best job you can do.,” he said. “You can stay focused on the task.”
AP Pro Football Writers Barry Wilner, Arnie Stapleton, Dennis Waszak Jr., and Rob Maaddi, and Sports Writers Genaro C. Armas, John Wawrow and George Henry contributed.