NFL: Bills overshadowing T.O. in disruption department
By JOHN WAWROW
AP Sports Writer
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — So much for everyone assuming Terrell Owens would be the one causing all the disruptions after the prolific and headline-grabbing receiver signed with the Buffalo Bills this offseason.
It turns out this once-proud franchise didn’t need any help. In the week leading up to their season-opener at New England on Monday, the Bills have proven capable of creating distractions all on their own.
The turbulent stretch came this past week when the Bills fired offensive coordinator Turk Schonert and released starting left tackle, Langston Walker: two stunning moves that — as unfathomable as it sounds — managed to push T.O. out of the spotlight.
“It’s crazy,” receiver Lee Evans said.
Happy 50th anniversary, Bills. So much for the plaudits Buffalo earned a mere month ago when Bruce Smith and team owner Ralph Wilson were inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And long forgotten is the buzz Owens generated among a hopeful fan-base at the start of training camp in late July.
“You can say the T.O. buzz has worn off,” Evans said, noting that Owens did miss the final four weeks of the preseason nursing a sprained toe that’s now healed. “It has overshadowed him. But it’s bigger than 81. He’ll certainly do some things throughout the season to get it back. And hopefully it ends with a `W,’ because that’s all that really matters.”
That’s all that’s ever mattered in Buffalo, the AFC’s winningest team in the 1990s that is on the verge of going 0-for-the-’00s in making the playoffs. The nine-year postseason drought is the longest in team history, and tied with Detroit as the worst current stretch among NFL teams.
Buffalo had a shot of breaking that string after getting off to a 5-1 start last year but unraveled by losing eight of its final 10 games, including all six against AFC East rivals.
When the Bills, at the prompting of Wilson, signed Owens to a one-year $6.5 million deal days after he was released by Dallas, there was a belief the receiver could spark an anemic offense and provide the team the star presence it’s lacked since the Jim Kelly era.
Owens has done his part so far, by playing the role of model teammate and bringing the Bills national attention. Yet the team that’s coming off three consecutive 7-9 seasons has yet to prove it’s ready to be a Prime Time player.
Buffalo will open the season with a rookie offensive coordinator in Alex Van Pelt, and three offensive linemen — rookie guards Eric Wood and Andy Levitre, and second-year tackle Demetrius Bell — who have never appeared in an NFL regular-season game.
And this is an offense with a popgun reputation under quarterback Trent Edwards, entering his second full season as starter and responsible for running a no-huddle attack that sputtered through most of the preseason.
The Bills offense, which has been among the NFL’s worst over the past six seasons, regressed during the preseason. The starters managed 3 points in 15 series while the unit as a whole didn’t score a touchdown in its final eight quarters.
It doesn’t help that starting running back Marshawn Lynch will miss the first three games while serving an NFL suspension.
Oh, and don’t forget Dick Jauron’s job is on the line after Wilson waited until a day after the end of last season to decide on keeping the head coach for a fourth year.
“Every year is do-or-die,” said Jauron, who has noticeably taken a more proactive approach this season. That’s evident based on his decision to go with an aggressive offensive attack and how he showed little fear in firing Schonert so late into the preseason.
“I’ve always looked at every year the same way: Prepare to win,” Jauron said. “That’s what we prepare to do, not anything else, and this is no different.”
Bills players are aware of what’s on the line and support the recent changes, believing it’s a reflection of Jauron’s desire to win.
“It’s surprising to some people that it happened when it did, but at the same time, we can’t wait around because we might not have the time,” defensive end Chris Kelsay said. “It that means people’s jobs are on the line, which obviously they are by the actions that have been taken thus far, so be it.”
Owens fits into the need-to-win now equation.
At 35 and entering his 14th NFL season, Owens hasn’t shown any indication he’s lost a step. He’s combined to score 38 touchdowns receiving in his past three seasons — seven fewer than the Bills have combined over that span — and remains as confident as ever in his ability.
In early July, at the height of T.O. mania, Owens proclaimed that the Bills weren’t going to make it easy in the opener against New England, the AFC East rival Buffalo has lost 11 straight meetings against.
Owens wasn’t changing his opinion this week despite all the turmoil on offense.
“Yep, same assessment. I’m looking forward to it,” Owens said. “Number 1, I believe in myself and the confidence that I can help and what I can bring to this team. And also, I hope it’s contagious.”
Owens then shrugged off questions about the Bills’ lack of success against the Patriots.
“I live in the present,” he said.
With a one-year deal, Owens — and the Bills — don’t have time to waste.