Revamped Bills believe doormat days are over
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP)
Buddy Nix isn't afraid of the New England Patriots, and the Buffalo Bills general manager gets a big chuckle out of how the statement he's made several times this offseason can create such an eyebrow-raising stir.
Then again, Nix doesn't see a need to take back what he's said in what can be interpreted as yet another sign of how the expectations have changed on a team eager to shed its longtime reputation of being the AFC East's doormats and, more specifically, the Patriots' patsies.
''Listen, I want you to write this,'' Nix said. ''The Patriots are where we want to be. If we're going to win the division, we've got to beat them. Then our next step is we want to be the favorite every year, just like they are.
''And if we're scared of them, we got no chance of doing that.''
Believing - or Bill-ieving as it's phrased in Buffalo - they're pushovers no longer, the Bills have assumed a sort of swagger in preparing to open the season on Sept. 9 against the New York Jets.
''It's got to be go time,'' receiver Stevie Johnson said. ''Playoffs, I don't want to be the guy who says, `Playoffs or bust,' but you get the sense. I'm confident in my team. I don't want to speak too soon, but I think we've got the talent to make big steps this year.''
The raised expectations are new to a once-proud franchise that's barely made a peep during a 12-season run of missing the playoffs - the NFL's longest active drought. It's a stretch in which Buffalo's enjoyed one winning season (9-7 in 2004) and gone 10-22 in two years under Nix and coach Chan Gailey.
After spending the past two seasons methodically and gradually rebuilding the roster from scratch, Nix upped the ante significantly this offseason by making a big splash.
After surprising many around the NFL by first luring defensive end Mario Williams to visit Buffalo hours after the free-agency period opened in mid-March, the Bills then delivered by signing the two-time Pro Bowl pass-rusher to a six-year, $100 million contract, the richest deal ever awarded a defensive player.
The Bills weren't done yet in their bid to revamp an anemic pass rush, by signing defensive end Mark Anderson a week later.
These were uncharacteristically aggressive moves made by a small-market franchise that had been previously regarded as too cheap and/or too inept to attract star players in the primes of their careers.
And Nix understood the consequences had the Bills failed to land Williams.
''Once we got him here, had we not signed him, it would've done more damage than you could imagine,'' Nix said. ''Yep, same old crap.''
Instead, it has the potential to be a new beginning.
With 88 1/2 combined career sacks, Williams and Anderson give the Bills a bookend pass-rushing duo they've lacked, particularly against the pass-happy Tom Brady-led Patriots, who have burned them far too often over the past decade. And they help transform what had been a patchwork defensive line into a potential powerhouse that's anchored by tackles Kyle Williams, who's healthy after having season-ending foot surgery, and Marcell Dareus, who is coming off a promising rookie season.
Add in the selection of first-round draft pick, cornerback Stephon Gilmore, and the Bills defense has the potential to be vastly improved over the porous unit that allowed a franchise-worst 5,938 yards last season.
The Bills offense returns mostly intact after showing flashes of potential in finishing 14th in the NFL in yards gained - it's best finish since 2002. The question is whether returning starter Ryan Fitzpatrick can become more consistent after he and the rest of the offense unraveled down the stretch.
Questions remain regarding depth at several positions, including backup quarterback, where the Bills gave up on Vince Young and acquired Tarvaris Jackson in a trade with Seattle this week. Concerns have also been raised over how inconsistent the Bills have looked in opening the preseason with three straight losses.
''I think we're headed in the right direction, I've got no doubts about that,'' said Nix. ''I'm very confident we're on the right track.''
Nix has never been afraid to speak his mind.
In first introducing himself to Bills season-ticket holders, Nix quickly won them over with a colorfully turned statement about how he shared their impatience and frustrations. ''Don't tell me about the labor pains, just show me the baby,'' he had said.
''Well, we've had the labor pains,'' Nix said, reflecting on how the past two seasons have gone. In 2010, Buffalo opened losing eight straight. Last year, the Bills got off to a 5-2 start before losing eight of their last nine.
Now, it's time to start producing.
''We expect to be competitive and a factor throughout the year,'' Nix said. ''We expect to be good.''
Online: http://bigstory.ap.org/NFL-Pro32 and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL