T.O. sizzle has fizzled as Bills stumble into bye

BY foxsports • November 7, 2009

It wasn't that long ago, in the springtime of the Buffalo Bills' offseason, when T.O.-mania was in its infancy. A buzz of hope bloomed around town that this franchise might finally be relevant again. Where have all the good times gone? "That's self-explanatory," defensive tackle Marcus Stroud said. "They went with the losses." Off to a 3-5 start, the Bills stumbled into their bye this week resembling an all-too familiar team that's spent much of this decade floundering in mediocrity, and already is in jeopardy of going 0-for-the-century in playoff berths. Coach Dick Jauron is on the hot seat, the offense blindly inept and much of the team riddled with injuries. The fan base is frustrated, booing the team off the field during the past two home games, and raising enough money to rent a billboard last month urging team owner Ralph Wilson to clean house. Cornerback Leodis McKelvin's front lawn has been vandalized following his costly fumble in a season-opening loss at New England. Quarterback Trent Edwards, when not hurt, can't shed the "Captain Checkdown" label. And most of all, whatever sizzle Terrell Owens once generated has long since fizzled. "I think it can probably feel that way," Owens said. "I think with the expectations of the season, myself included by coming here, the bar was raised. And so, we're nowhere near it. And I think that's where the air's kind of been let out a little bit." The Bills' tire is flat for the most part because of a sputtering offense that's failed to overcome a tumultuous start when coordinator Turk Schonert was abruptly fired in September, replaced by first-timer Alex Van Pelt. More changes followed, with veteran tackle Langston Walker cut, leaving an offensive line featuring three players who had never appeared in an NFL game. And Jauron was eventually forced to scrap his pet project of a no-huddle offense before Week 6, when it became apparent the aggressive attack lacked bite. Buffalo has been held to under 250 yards four times this season, hasn't had a quarterback produce 200 yards passing in its past six games, and is coming off consecutive outings in which it mustered nine first downs. Things have been so bad that Owens and fellow receiver Lee Evans have been rendered nearly irrelevant in a popgun passing attack that can't get the ball deep because the young line has trouble protecting the quarterback. Owens, who ranks in the top six of nearly every NFL career receiving category, hasn't had a 70-yard game yet this season. With 281 yards receiving, it marks Owens' worst first half since his rookie year with San Francisco in 1996. So much for Owens' addition complementing Evans. Combined, they have 612 yards receiving, which would put them fifth in the NFL this season, just ahead of Pittsburgh's Hines Ward, who has 602 yards despite playing in one fewer game. Jauron has acknowledged he failed to account for what impact a young line and the no-huddle would have on his offense. "Yeah, I would have to say that I did misjudge on some (decisions) because we're not doing very well," he said this week. "And there's no place to go but me." If not for rookie safety Jairus Byrd leading a turnover-generating defense, the Bills might be in worse shape in the standings. A second-round draft pick out of Oregon, Byrd is tied for the NFL lead with seven interceptions. That included two interceptions in a 31-10 loss to Houston last weekend, making Byrd the first NFL player to have two or more in three consecutive games since San Francisco's Dave Baker in 1960. The defense generated six interceptions in a 16-13 overtime win over the Jets on Oct. 18, and followed a week later by forcing four more turnovers (three interceptions and a fumble) in a 20-9 at Carolina. The trouble for the defense is it's missing numerous starters to injuries, and also is being worn down by an offense that can't sustain drives. Buffalo and Oakland rank last in the NFL with an average time of possession of 26:38, and the Bills are being outscored by a whopping 70-40 in the fourth quarter. Owens blames the offense. "Just like the last game, we only had 45 plays, and the defense was out there for like 70-plus," Owens said. "When you give a team a short field, I mean, Barney Fife, Alvin and the Chipmunks can go out there and score."