Bills replace playoff objective with progress

No longer in playoff contention, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick

and the Buffalo Bills believe they still have something important

to compete for before the season is over.

Job security.

With questions being raised about his future as well as that of

coach Chan Gailey’s, Fitzpatrick can’t predict what changes might

be coming this offseason. What he and the team can control is

salvaging what’s left by using the final two games to show they’re

making progress.

That’s the argument Fitzpatrick laid out Monday, a day after an

embarrassing 50-17 loss to Seattle that formally knocked the Bills

(5-9) out of the playoff race for a 13th straight season.

”We all understand the situation we’re in right now,”

Fitzpatrick said. ”And I think we all understand the importance of

these last two games in terms of effort and the product that we put

on the field to show that we have made progress and there is hope

with the guys that we have in this locker room.”

Buffalo closes the year facing two AFC East rivals and a chance

to avoid finishing last in the division for a fifth consecutive

season. The Bills travel to play Miami (6-8) on Sunday, followed by

a home game against the New York Jets on Dec. 30.

So much for the high expectations the Bills had in opening the

season. They’ve instead been replaced by the familiar frustrations

of a franchise that’s spent much of the past decade spinning its

wheels.

Buffalo’s playoff drought is the NFL’s longest active streak.

And the team is also guaranteed to finish with a losing record for

an eighth straight season.

That’s not what Bills players and re-energized fans believed was

in store following a free-spending offseason in which the team made

a big splash three days into free agency by signing defensive end

Mario Williams to a six-year, $100 million contract.

Williams’ arrival was supposed to improve a defense that had

been one of the NFL’s leakiest. He has helped to improve the Bills’

pass rush, but the defense is still experiencing trouble in other

areas.

In giving up 50 points to Seattle, Buffalo became the eighth NFL

team to allow 45 points four times in one season, and the first

since the New York Jets did that in 1986, according to STATS LLC.

The NFL record is five 45-point games, shared by the 1950 Baltimore

Colts and 1966 New York Giants.

The Bills have now allowed 402 points this season, which already

ranks as the team’s fifth-worst total. The franchise low is 454

(1984).

”Just giving up too many big plays, simple as that,”

linebacker Kelvin Sheppard said. ”We didn’t get the results that

we were expecting or everyone else was expecting. So it is what it

is.”

The same holds true for an offense that was supposed to build on

last year, when it showed glimpses of a spark during a 6-10

finish.

Fitzpatrick is 65 yards passing short of his third consecutive

3,000-yard season, but he’s been inconsistent in having thrown 22

touchdowns versus 15 interceptions. He’s also coming off a sloppy

outing against the Seahawks in which he threw two interceptions and

lost a fumble on three consecutive drives to open the second

half.

That’s left Fitzpatrick unsure of his status some 14 months

since signing a six-year, $59 million contract extension.

”Yeah, that’s a great question,” Fitzpatrick said, when asked

if he feels he’s done enough to merit another shot at being the

starter. ”Unfortunately, the product on the field and the results,

especially the win-loss record, isn’t where it needs to be. And so,

again, I think, the last two games are important.”

Gailey’s on the hot seat, even though general manager Buddy Nix

insisted last month that the coach’s job is safe.

What’s missing, though, is an assurance from Ralph Wilson, the

Bills owner. Though he’s in regular contact with team officials,

including Nix and Gailey, Wilson has not spoken publicly since he

was briefly hospitalized in late August.

Gailey is focused on preparing for the final two games. And he

has no plans to tinker with his lineup, including a change at

quarterback. Fitzpatrick will remain the starter even though the

team gave up a draft pick to acquire Tarvaris Jackson in a trade

with Seattle in August.

Jackson, who is 17-17 as a starter, has been inactive for all 14

games this season.

”The focus is to win,” Gailey said. ”We’re going to put the

players on the field that help us win games. That’s the

responsibility of an organization, and for me in particular.”

Online: http://pro32.ap.org/poll and

http://twitter.com/AP-NFL