Bills remain work in progress under coach Marrone

Buffalo Bills coach Doug Marrone has gradually come to the same

realization his four immediate predecessors encountered during

their first years on the job.

Transforming the Bills into winners doesn’t happen

overnight.

Though not counting the Bills out just yet, Marrone grudgingly

acknowledged this week that the high expectations he had after

taking over in January have begun giving way to the reality that

his young, inconsistent team remains a work in progress.

”Yeah, I have a hard time with that,” Marrone said. ”We have

players here who are capable of winning games. We have coaches here

that are capable of winning games. And we’re not getting that done.

And that’s where I’m struggling to get ourselves over that top and

creating consistency.”

The only thing that has remained consistent is the team’s losing

record as the Bills (4-8) prepare to travel to play Tampa Bay (3-9)

on Sunday.

Buffalo is in jeopardy of extending the NFL’s longest active

playoff drought to 14 seasons. That would tie Cincinnati

(1991-2004), Tampa Bay (1983-96) and Kansas City (1972-85) for the

11th longest stretch in league history.

Following a 34-31 overtime loss to Atlanta last weekend, the

Bills are guaranteed their ninth year without a winning record.

It’s as if, Marrone said, that he’s fighting an uphill battle

against the franchise’s losing past.

”Make no mistake, I think that you do fight those things,”

Marrone said. ”But that’s why we’re here. That’s why I’m here.

That’s why our staff is here. That’s why the players are here to

change that.”

Easier said than done for a team now on its fifth coach since

2001.

Under Marrone, Buffalo has shown glimpses of progress.

The Bills have been competitive particularly at home, where

they’re 3-4, including last weekend’s game at Toronto. The four

losses have been decided by a combined 17 points, including two in

overtime.

They’ve shown signs of resilience in overcoming injuries,

especially at quarterback after rookie starter EJ Manuel missed

four games with a sprained right knee.

And their defense has improved under new coordinator Mike

Pettine.

Buffalo’s NFL-leading 43 sacks are the most by the Bills through

12 games. Buffalo is also tied for second in the league with 16

interceptions.

What’s been most promising is the play of their crop of rookies.

It’s a group led by linebacker Kiko Alonso, a second-round draft

pick, who has merited mention as a rookie defensive player of the

year candidate.

Manuel, the team’s first-round pick, has been inconsistent but

efficient at quarterback. He has a 3-4 record in games he’s started

and finished. Overall, Manuel has thrown nine touchdowns versus

four interceptions and also scored a touchdown rushing.

The trouble has been the Bills’ inability to consistently

manufacture their own breaks.

They squandered a 14-0 lead to Atlanta, and then lost the game

by losing fumbles on their final two possessions. In a 23-13 loss

to Kansas City on Nov. 3, Buffalo held a 470-210 edge in yards

offense, but still lost after the Chiefs returned two turnovers for

touchdowns.

Those are among the telltale signs of growing pains that were

expected from a team that went through a top-to-bottom offseason

overhaul.

”It’s definitely tough, but it part of it,” running back Fred

Jackson said. ”There are some growing pains there.”

Linebacker Manny Lawson likes what he’s seen in his first year

with the Bills.

”I haven’t been here for the past years, so I don’t know

everything that’s gone on,” Lawson said. ”But I see a lot of

promise.”

The Bills’ season so far can be summed up by a motivational

message, ”Don’t confuse effort with results,” Marrone had painted

prominently on the two end zone walls inside the team’s practice

facility.

It’s a message that hits home to Jackson.

”That’s something we talk about probably every week. We say,

`We’re giving the effort, we’re still not getting the results,”’

Jackson said. ”That means we’ve still got to keep working.”

NOTES: TE Scott Chandler was excused from practice because his

wife is expecting a child. … WR Marquise Goodwin was held out of

the final portion of practice as a precaution after hurting his

calf. … DT Kyle Williams returned to practice after getting a day

off to rest his sore right foot.

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org