Sunday, December 20, 2009

A forgettable Bills decade is coming to a sad conclusion

ORCHARD PARK - Following Sunday’s 17-10 loss to New England at the Ralph, Bills wide receiver Terrell Owens told us: “This is not the brand of Buffalo Bills football that I think these fans are used to.’’

Au contraire, T.O.

Au contraire.

Owens has only been here for one mediocre season, so he can be forgiven for not knowing that Bills fans are intimately familiar with this lousy brand of football – and have been for a decade.

This defeat – the 13th straight vs. the Patriots and 18th in 19 games in the series – dropped the Bills to 5-9 and officially eliminated them from playoff contention, meaning that for the first time in the franchise’s 50-year history Buffalo will have gone an entire decade without a playoff appearance. That’s right. They are zero-for-the-aughts – and the 21st century.

The Patriots team that took the field Sunday did not play like the jaugernaut Bills fans had grown accustomed to seeing for much of this decade. Riddled by injuries and lacking the swagger and experience they possessed while winning three Super Bowls, Tom Brady’s bunch looked vulnerable, ready to be had. But even during a transition year like this one, New England showed it’s good enough to continue beating Buffalo the way the Harlem Globetrotters used to beat the Washington Generals. Like a drum.

Brady didn’t play like the quarterback who has a bust awaiting him in Canton. He came to town with a 14-1 record, 32 touchdowns, just 11 interceptions and a 102.6 pass efficiency rating vs. Buffalo. He left the two-thirds-full Ralph with a 15-1 record against the Bills, but his numbers – 11-for-23, 115 yards, 1 TD, 1 pick, a 59.1 rating – were very Fitzpatrick-like. In fact, Ryan Fitzpatrick, who should be a permanent backup, tallied better numbers than Tom Terrific, completing 17-of-25 passes for 178 yards, a score, an interception and an 85.1 rating.

The Bills, obviously in a holiday mood, gave the Patriots two big gifts. Both of New England’s touchdowns were set up by pass interference penalties – a 43-yarder vs. safety Donte Whitner that led to Randy Moss’ 13-yard scoring reception with 2:22 left into the second quarter and a 21-yarder vs. Drayton Florence that paved the way for Laurence Maroney’s 1-yard scoring run with 24 seconds left in the half. Interestingly, on both interference calls, Brady, who’s been nursing sore ribs and a sore finger on his throwing hand, under threw his targets.

Buffalo kept the officials busy throughout the day, drawing 11 flags for 124 yards. The Bills started their eighth different offensive line combo of the season, and it showed as the Patriots – despite missing nose tackle Vince Wilfork and defensive end Ty Warren – sacked Bills quarterbacks six times. Rich Incognito, who practiced with the team for the first time Thursday was supposed to add some toughness to the O-line, was nabbed for two holding calls in his Bills debut.

Once again, Buffalo’s offense had difficulties sustaining drives. The Bills converted just 2-of-12 third downs. Both of those occurred on the Bills first drive, which was capped by Rian Lindell’s 25-yard field goal. They are now 6-for-35 on third-down conversions the past three games, solidifying their standing as worst in the league in that all-important category.

Owens’ grasp of the football wasn’t much better than his grasp of Bills history. He managed just two receptions for 20 yards, leaving him two shy of 1,000 receptions for his career. And he lost the duel of the diva receivers to Moss. A week after snatching just one pass and being accused by some Carolina Panther players of quitting during the game, Moss caught five passes for 70 yards and one score. It was hardly a Hall-of-Fame performance, but you would have thought so listening to Moss’ bluster at his post-game news conference. “These shoulders I have on my body, you could put the earth on it,’’ Moss said. “Just to let you know, I bounce back. I appreciate it.’’ And with that, he bolted out of the room without taking any questions.

Though he put up better numbers than he had the previous two weeks when he failed to pass for 100 yards in either game, Fitzpatrick showed once more that he isn’t the answer. The offense was so inept after the opening drive that interim coach Perry Fewell put deposed starter Trent Edwards into the game with 13:14 left in the fourth quarter. The results were disastrous. Edwards was sacked on his first play for a 10-yard loss. Fortunately, for him, the play was nullified by a facemask penalty. Edwards proceeded to throw a pass to Shawn Nelson for a loss of one. He then threw an incomplete pass and was sacked for a 9-yard loss, forcing the Bills to punt. Fitzpatrick was back in for the next series.

Which begs once again the question: Why isn’t Brian Brohm playing? Now that the Bills have officially been eliminated, it’s time to put the quarterback in there and see what he has. And it’s time to play receivers James Hardy and Steve Johnson. Evaluations for next season need to be made.

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