LET’S FLIPPING GO, BILLS MAFIA! Buffalo didn’t just sweep Emperor Palpatine and the New England Patriots for the first time since 1999, they demolished them. On offense, Allen and Diggs broke records, Dawson Knox caught everything in traffic, and (*checks notes*) Lee Smith caught two passes for 31 yards and a touchdown.
(*Takes a deep breath*) Once again, the defense dominated, allowing just 201 total yards on 48 Patriot plays. (Shout out to Quinton Jefferson, who got his third sack of the season.) Finally, on special teams, Jaquan Johnson made a magnificent touch pass to Siran Neal on a fake punt, and Bojo had a perfect game (two punts, two downed inside the 20-yard line).
There is a player who deserves an extended shout out: Matthew Vincent Milano. I know he’s been playing since Week 13, but this was his welcome back game. On 44 defensive snaps, he racked up eight tackles, one sack, one tackle for loss (TFL), and one quarterback hit. (He led the team in all those categories.) He’s not the only one who’s back to form; Tremaine Edmunds has also returned to his pro-bowl-caliber self.
No offense to A.J. Klein, but Edmunds is better when Milano’s on the field. When they are 100%, they are as dangerous as any linebacker duo in the league. Yet, the question remains, where do they (as a duo) land among the all-time Bills linebackers? In the penultimate installment of “2020 Vision”, we will address this question. (Since this is a duo article, *cue the corny ’60s Batman intro.*)
Mike Stratton & John Tracey (1962-67)
Stats: Mike Stratton and John Tracey forced 30 turnovers (27 interceptions, three fumble recoveries) in 81 games together. As a duo, they played 62 consecutive games together; an (unofficial) professional record. They were part of a stout run defense that, at one point, went 17 straight games without allowing a 100-yard rusher.
Awards/Honors: Stratton made five all-star teams and earned all-pro honors three times from 1962-67. Tracey made two all-star teams in 1965 and 1966.
Jim Haslett & Shane Nelson (1979-82)
Stats: Thanks in large part to Haslett and Nelson, the Bills ranked 14th, first, seventh, and second in fewest yards allowed from 1979-82. In 1980, they combined for 269 tackles, three sacks, and four turnovers.
Awards/Honors: Haslett won NFL Rookie of the Year in 1979. Neither made a pro bowl or received all-pro honors.
Cornelius Bennett & Darryl Talley (1987-94)
Stats: In 115 games together, Cornelius Bennett and Darryl Talley recorded over 1500 tackles, 70 sacks, and 40 turnovers.
Awards/Honors: Bennett made the pro bowl five times in Buffalo (1988, ’90-’93) and earned all-pro honors in 1988. Talley made consecutive pro bowl appearances in 1990 and 1991.
London Fletcher & Takeo Spikes (2003-06)
Stats: In 47 games together, London Fletcher and Takeo Spikes racked up over 890 tackles, 40 TFLs, 15 sacks, 20 turnovers, and 50 passes defensed. They were part of the 2004 squad that ranked top ten in all major defensive categories and recorded the fourth-best DVOA in the last 30-plus years.
Awards/Honors: Fletcher was a pro bowl alternate several times. Spikes earned pro bowl nods in 2003 and 2004 and all-pro honors in ’04.
Tremaine Edmunds & Matt Milano (2018-present)
Stats: Edmunds and Milano have done well in their young careers, logging over 560 tackles, 40 TFLs, 10 sacks, 10 turnovers, and 40 passes defensed in 37 games.
Awards/Honors: Edmunds has been named to two pro bowls. Milano has no pro bowl or all-pro honors to his name.
How do they stack up?
The main differences between these linebacker duos are the defensive schemes and the eras they played in. In regards to scheme, Edmunds & Milano, Fletcher & Spikes, and Stratton & Tracey played in a 4-3 based defense; Bennett & Talley (OLB) and Haslett & Nelson (ILB) played in a 3-4. Additionally, the players (and rules) were different back in the day. In the ’60s, Tracey played LB and DE at 226 lbs. Bennett & Talley weighed in around 235 lbs. as edge rushers. Fletcher & Spikes were both 242-lb. beasts in the aughts (2000s).
That being said, Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano are athletic linebackers who can make plays anywhere on the field just like their predecessors. Some were stellar players on their own. Some were merely decent, yet all are/were light-years better together. To quote the Beatles, sometimes players need to “get by with a little help from their friends”. Furthermore, while Edmunds & Milano are not quite at the level of these legendary duos, the sky is the limit.
* All player stats, except Haslett and Nelson tackles, provided by Pro Football Reference. (Tackles were not recorded prior to 1983; TFLs & passes defensed were not recorded before 1999.)
- Haslett and Nelson tackle numbers provided by Pro Football Hall of Fame (see below). They were excluded from the table due to lack of accessible data.
* Supplementary Articles
- Ben Blakely (Buffalo Fanatics): Blue Collar Worker: Darryl Talley
- Buffalo Bills: Bills Today: Bills 2004 Defense Ranks Fourth in Last 30 Years; Bills “Bermuda Triangle” Reunites for the First Time in 30 Years
- Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame: Mike Stratton
- Dan Lavoie (Buffalo Rumblings): Buffalo Bills All-Drought Team: Linebacker 1
- Mike Luciano (Fansided): Matt Milano and Tremaine Edmunds Form a Ferocious Duo
- Sal Maiorana (Rochester Democrat & Chronicle): 10 of the Best Free Agent Signings in Buffalo Bills History; Mike Stratton, Buffalo Bills Legend, Dies at 78
- Robyn Mundy (Bills Wire): Ranking the Top 11 Bills in Franchise History: #11-Darryl Talley; #10-Cornelius Bennett
- Pro Football Hall of Fame: Buffalo’s “Bermuda Triangle”
- Paul Taylor (Fansided): Buffalo Bills: Top 5 Linebackers in Franchise History
What do you think? Are Edmunds and Milano the next great Bills linebacker duo? Let me know on Twitter (@zvaughn2712).