Bills offense hits speed bump at midway point

BY foxsports • November 10, 2011

Receiver Stevie Johnson doesn't need to analyze the numbers to realize Buffalo Bills once-prolific offense has hit a sudden speed bump.

''Yeah, I kind of sense it. I think we all sense it,'' Johnson said before practice Wednesday. ''We feel like we should be more explosive than what we are.''

Turnovers are up and production's down for a unit that was among the NFL's best in helping the Bills get off to a surprising 4-1 start. Buffalo (5-3) has dropped two of its past three in preparing to open the second half of its season facing a daunting three-game road swing that starts at Dallas (4-4) on Sunday.

And if the Bills are serious about staying in the playoff picture, the offense needs to regain its uptempo swagger.

''It's something we've got to fix now,'' receiver David Nelson said. ''We're in the AFC East hunt. We're trying to get to the playoffs. And guys have to step up and make plays.''

The Bills are coming off their first dud of the season in which they were stymied in a 27-11 loss to the New York Jets. But their troubles on offense were becoming apparent well before Sunday.

After scoring 133 points and racking up 93 first downs in their first four games, the Bills have managed just 89 points and 69 first downs in their past four.

They're no longer perfect when it comes to scoring in the red zone. After scoring 96 points (12 touchdowns and four field goals) on 16 drives inside an opponent's 20, the Bills have managed just 51 points (six TDs and three field goals) in their past 12 trips.

Running back Fred Jackson hasn't scored in his past two games, after having six touchdowns in his previous five. And quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick's numbers have suddenly sagged.

He had1,040 yards passing, with nine touchdowns and four interceptions in his first four starts. In Fitzpatrick's past four, he has 890 yards, six TDs with six interceptions and a lost fumble.

''At times, me in particular, I've been a little bit more careless than I probably need to be,'' Fitzpatrick said. ''And that's something that I'll address and look at, move forward and try to eliminate.''

One thing Fitzpatrick's sure of is the faith he has in himself and the offense's ability to bounce back.

''We don't like the losses that have come. But I think we've still got a lot of confidence,'' Fitzpatrick said. ''We still think we're going to do good things every week.''

The offense will need to produce to compensate for a defense that's allowing 381 yards and 22 points a game and banged-up - linebacker Shawne Merriman (Achilles tendon) and defensive tackle Kyle Williams (left foot) are on injured reserve.

Despite the offense's recent struggles, the Bills are still off to one of their best starts in reaching the midway point of a 16-game season.

Their 27.8 points per game rank fourth in team history, while their 368.5 yards per game rank fifth.

Individually, Jackson's 1,194 yards from scrimmage through eight games is the second-highest total behind O.J. Simpson, who had 1,300 yards at this point in 1975. And Fitzpatrick's 92.3 passer rating through eight games is the fourth highest.

Coach Chan Gailey is disappointed by the sudden rash of turnovers and how his offense has lacked finish. And yet he also chalks up part of the sputters to going up against some imposing defenses.

Two of Buffalo's three losses have come against teams whose defenses are currently ranked among the NFL's top 10 - Cincinnati (fourth) and the Jets (eighth).

As disappointing as the loss to the Jets was, Gailey reminded his players this week that the Bills still control their own destiny.

It's a message that resonated with Fitzpatrick.

''There were a lot of guys that were disappointed and frustrated and down, me included,'' Fitzpatrick said. ''You can lay an egg, which you don't want to, but sometimes it happens. But you put it in the past, and then you get back on track.''

NOTES: Gailey said Williams had surgery to repair his injured left foot on Wednesday, a day after being placed on injured reserve. ... PK Dave Rayner practiced for the first time a day after signing with the Bills to replace Rian Lindell, who's out indefinitely with a broken bone in his right shoulder. ... Fitzpatrick has combined to throw six TDs and seven interceptions in the first half this season, and eight TDs and two interceptions in the second half.

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