ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — The first thing Leslie Frazier remembers from working with Ron Rivera and Sean McDermott was being stuck in the basement of Philadelphia’s Veterans Stadium, and the “varmints,” as he called them, lurking around every corner.
“We were doing our best kind of to work around them, sic cats on them as much as we could,” the Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator said with a laugh, reflecting back to 1999 when they worked on Andy Reid’s first staff with the Eagles. “We were all just fending for ourselves back in those days.”
Those early survival skills paid off handsomely. No longer working in dingy basements, they will find themselves on opposing sidelines Sunday, when the McDermott-coached Bills (1-1) face Rivera’s Washington Football Team (1-1).
Enjoyable as it was to spend much of the week reminiscing, Rivera made clear their mutual friendships will be suspended come kickoff.
“It’s kind of like when you fight your brother,” he said of facing McDermott, who was Rivera’s defensive coordinator in Carolina for six seasons. “You want to whip them, but you don’t want to hurt them.”
With both teams coming off their first wins, Washington might have its hands more full.
Washington is facing a Bills opponent featuring a resurgent and attack-minded defense to complement a Josh Allen-led offense which finally showed signs of getting on track in a 35-0 win over Miami.
Washington, by comparison, features a supposedly imposing defense led by a young and talented four-man front, which is off to a sluggish start. More questions revolve around a still-developing offense now headed by Taylor Heinicke, who took over after veteran — and former Bills starter — Ryan Fitzpatrick was sidelined by a hip injury in a season-opening loss to the Chargers.
In his second career regular-season start, Heinicke went 34 of 46 for 336 yards with two touchdowns and an interception, rallying Washington to a 30-29 win over the New York Giants. And yet, Washington would not have needed Dustin Hopkins’ game-ending 43-yard field goal if not for Heinicke’s interception with 2:16 left, which led to the Giants pulling ahead.
In his second season, Rivera regards Washington to still be in the building stages of its development despite winning its first NFC East title in five years — albeit with a 7-9 record.
Rivera impressively looks to how McDermott methodically built Buffalo since leaving his staff in 2017. After missing the playoffs for 17 seasons before McDermott’s arrival, the Bills have since made the postseason three times, capped by a loss to the Reid-coached Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC championship game in January.
“When you talk about teams that have opportunities every year now to compete and do some things, this is one of them,” Rivera said of Buffalo. “We feel like we’re coming up against a measuring stick and really kind of see where we are, and how far we have to go.”
THE REID PLAN
Rivera recognizes elements of Reid’s building philosophy influencing what McDermott has done in Buffalo, and similar to what Rivera did upon taking over Carolina in 2011.
The blueprint essentially revolves around building a roster starting with a young, talented quarterback, and having the patience to watch the pieces develop. Upon arriving in Washington, Rivera consulted with McDermott and Bills GM Brandon Beane on their approach.
“To me, the proof’s in the pudding,” Rivera said. “We started with Andy. We learned his way of doing things, and we’ve pretty much stuck with it.”
Rivera and Frazier go back to being teammates on the Bears’ famed 1985 Super Bowl-winning defense. It was Frazier who helped coax Rivera into coaching, which is how they wound up together in Philadelphia.
“Every time we talk, I do remind him of that, that he owes me some residuals for getting him into this occupation,” Frazier said.
RUNNING ON WASHINGTON
As much as Washington’s defense is concerned about what Allen can do in the passing game, the unit’s history against mobile quarterbacks is even more of an issue. Giants QB Daniel Jones ran nine times for 95 yards and a touchdown last week.
Allen has 13 games of 45-plus yards rushing in his NFL career.
“It starts with the quarterback,” Washington defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said. “Big, strong athletic guy, able to extend plays, tremendous arm talent, arm strength, tough guy to bring down.”
Washington rookie running back Jaret Patterson, who starred at the University at Buffalo, will finally do something he never did while in college: attend a Bills game.
“That’s my one regret,” Patterson said. “I wish I definitely would’ve went to the Bills games and just experienced the Bills Mafia up there because I feel like they have a great atmosphere, great fans.”
ANDY REID CUP?
Given how large Reid’s coaching tree has grown, Rivera liked the thought of having an in-season competition between former assistants, who include Baltimore’s John Harbaugh, Chicago’s Matt Nagy and former Philadelphia head coach Doug Pederson.
“That’s kind of a neat thing to start, just like the academies when they all play each other,” said Rivera, who has a 1-0 edge on McDermott following Carolina’s 9-3 win over Buffalo in 2017.
AP Sports Writer Stephen Whyno contributed.