Banged-up Bills beginning to limp after fast start

The Buffalo Bills and their fans can’t say they weren’t warned

about potential trouble ahead.

It was at the height of their surprising start, when general

manager Buddy Nix was expressing concerns about the Bills’ lack of

experienced depth at several positions. Those fears are now being

realized on a team that’s lost much of its momentum while suddenly

attempting to plug untested rookies into key starting spots to

replace injured veterans.

”It’s showing up,” Nix said Wednesday.

The Bills (5-4) have lost three of four and are in jeopardy of

slipping further out of the AFC playoff race in preparing to play

at Miami (2-7) on Sunday.

And if the Bills no longer resemble the dynamic team with the

prolific offense and opportunistic defense that rolled to a 4-1

start, it’s in part because their roster has been decimated by a

rash of injuries.

Center Eric Wood (right knee) became the third regular to go on

the season-ending injured reserve list in as many weeks on Tuesday.

That leaves the Bills preparing for Miami with a starting lineup

featuring as many as 10 players who had five or fewer starts before

this season.

That includes rookie Chris Hairston expected to start at left

tackle for Demetrius Bell, who’s missed five games with a shoulder

injury. Second-year defensive lineman Alex Carrington is now

starting at left end in place of rookie first-round pick Marcell

Dareus, who has shifted to nose tackle to replace Kyle Williams

(season-ending left foot injury).

And then there’s linebacker Danny Batten, who missed his entire

rookie season last year, but has started in place of both Shawne

Merriman (season-ending Achilles tendon surgery) and Chris Kelsay

(left calf).

”We think we have some good players. The problem is we don’t

have experienced depth,” coach Chan Gailey said. ”They’re all

young players, and they’re having to learn on the fly. That’s not

an easy thing to do.”

And that’s something the Bills could not afford given that Nix

and Gailey are only into Year 2 of an extensive building process

that relies more on improving the team through the draft and not

free agency.

Bills players are refusing to use injuries as a crutch.

”Some people might be more affected by it, but to us that’s not

an excuse,” quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said. ”You have to take

advantage of your opportunities. And that’s kind of the theme for

this team. We are the no-names.”

No-production has been more like it of late.

Buffalo’s scores 18 points total in its past two games after

scoring 20 or more in each of its first seven.

Fitzpatrick’s numbers have dropped. He had 1,040 yards passing

with nine touchdowns and four interceptions in his first four

games. In his past five, Fitzpatrick has 1,036 yards passing with

seven touchdowns and nine interceptions.

Buffalo’s receivers had little experience to begin with at the

start of the season. And the group’s been thinned further with

Roscoe Parrish (ankle) on injured reserve and no one stepping in to

provide a reliable deep threat.

”We’re cool,” receiver Stevie Johnson said. ”We can handle

this. Every team goes through something like this. We lost two

games, but we’re still a good team.”

Johnson leads Buffalo with 44 catches and 531 yards, but he was

hampered by a groin injury earlier this season. And his status to

play this weekend is uncertain after he hurt his left shoulder

against Dallas.

The troubles are apparent on a defense that remains leaky and

incapable of establishing a pass rush.

Buffalo has 15 sacks, but 10 of those came in a 23-0 win over

Washington three weeks ago.

What’s worse, the Bills are also no longer forcing takeaways.

After leading the league with 16 takeaways (12 interceptions and

four fumble recoveries) through Week 5 of the season, Buffalo’s

managed just four (three interceptions and a fumble) in its past

four games.

”It might be a little bit of a lack of experience because we

have a lot of veterans that have been hurt,” linebacker Nick

Barnett acknowledged. ”We’re going to go through some struggles of

getting guys ready. But it’s all in the energy. If you’re going to

have mistakes, just go out there and play 110 percent and I think

we’ll be fine.”

Barnett understands that the Bills need to turn things around

quickly.

”We’re still in the hunt of it,” Barnett said. ”It’s

definitely now or never.”