It has been nearly two years since Doug Marrone opted out of coaching the Buffalo Bills. Now the offensive line and assistant head coach in Jacksonville, Marrone makes his return to Western New York on Sunday when the Jaguars face the Bills at New Era Field.
“I hope it's a miserable experience,” current Bills coach Rex Ryan said. “We want to win, man. Our fans, this is as loyal a fan base as there is, so we want to create that miserable day for people, and the fans are a big part of it.”
This has been a miserable for the Jaguars (2-8), who have lost five straight and will miss the postseason for the ninth straight year.
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“Same old story, same old script, every week,” cornerback Jalen Ramsey said after last week's 26-19 loss to Denver. “It's been frustrating, but it's really getting extremely frustrating.”
That frustration has been accompanied by questions about the job security of coach Gus Bradley, whose 14-44 record in three-plus seasons is the second-worst winning percentage (.241) by any coach in NFL history.
Bradley told the Buffalo media on a conference call this week that he only hears criticism of his performance, “when guys like you bring it up.”
Ryan, like Marrone before him, has faced criticism in Buffalo, despite winning as many games as he has lost since the start of last season. The Bills (5-5) snapped a three-game losing streak with a 16-12 win in Cincinnati last season, keeping alive their hopes of ending their 16-season playoff drought, the longest in the NFL.
Buffalo can improve to 6-5 for just the second time since 2009 and third time since 2001.
“We need this game in the worst way,” Ryan said. “This game is far too important for us not to put everything into it, and the preparations got to be tight.”
The Bills offense has been depleted by injuries but could be bolstered soon by the return of star wideout Sammy Watkins, who has missed the last seven games due to pain in his surgically-repaired foot. Watkins remains on injured reserve, but Ryan is hopeful he can play Sunday.
“If I'm healthy enough to play and they think I'm healthy, then I'm going to be out there,” Watkins said. “I'm not going to go out there unhealthy.”
Buffalo will be without its other starting receiver, Robert Woods (knee), while running back LeSean McCoy (thumb) is expected to play after undergoing surgery on Sunday night.
On defense, Pro Bowl lineman Marcell Dareus appears to be healthy — and rounding into football shape — after missing eight of the first nine games due to suspension and injuries to his hamstring and groin.
Emotionally, the Bills are still healing from 34-31 loss to the Jaguars in London last season.
“It left a bad taste in our mouth,” guard Richie Incognito said. “We definitely aren't overlooking them.”
Ryan called the Jaguars, “the best two-win team I've ever seen.”
The Jaguars do have the No. 7 ranked defense but lead the NFL but have the least takeaways (five) and the most giveaways (22). Quarterback Blake Bortles has been intercepted in eight of 10 games and is tied with the Jets' Ryan Fitzpatrick for the most interceptions in the league (13).
Bortles is dealing with a sprained right throwing shoulder but doesn't expect that to keep him out of the lineup. “I'll be ready to go Sunday,” he said.
Running back T.J. Yeldon (ankle) is less likely to play, and the Jaguars could also be without defensive end Jared Odrick (shoulder), cornerback Aaron Colvin (concussion), linebacker Dan Skuta (back) and Abry Jones (ankle). Tight end Mercedes Lewis (calf) and left guard Patrick Omameh (foot) were placed on injured reserve this week.
A winning record may not be possible, but the Jaguars are still hoping to string together wins down the stretch.
“There is no sense in folding up shot and getting ready for next year,” Bortles said. “We've got six more games to play and a chance to go 8-8. … I think the guys are excited about the opportunity. Not excited about where we're at, but excited to have six more chances.”