Bills continue downward spiral
October, 11, 2009
By Tim Graham | ESPN.com
|Rick Stewart/Getty Images|
|Terrell Owens has not delivered the stats, or the victories, Bills fans expected.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- This isn't a knock on the rest of the men in the Buffalo Bills' locker room, merely a fact.
Jon Corto hurts more than anybody else in there. He's a reserve linebacker, about as deep on the depth chart as a body can get at the end of training camp. He doesn't make game-changing plays or game-breaking errors. As a special-teamer, he usually doesn't have those responsibilities.
But he has invested more of his life in the Bills than any of his teammates. He's from Orchard Park, N.Y., the team's suburban home. He grew up a Bills fan, played for the Quakers of Orchard Park High. He remembers his little brother crying after their Super Bowl losses.
On Sunday afternoon, Corto appeared nearly as emotional as he stood in his locker stall and tried to come up with answers for how to explain what has gone wrong with his team. The winless Cleveland Browns bused along the shore of Lake Erie to beat the Bills 6-3 in Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Buffalo lost at home to a team that had dropped 10 straight games. Cleveland's previous victory occurred 11 months ago in Orchard Park.
Buffalo is 1-4, and times when fans have been more disgusted are tough to recall.
"I've been a Bills fan since I was born," said Corto, purple claw marks from the game still puffy on his left biceps. "We felt the pain when we didn't come away with those Super Bowls.
"Some people say 'I just want to see one Super Bowl title before I die.' I hear them. I feel what they're saying. It's tough. I do feel it."
Bills fans are angst-ridden by nature. They're terrified about losing their team to a bigger market some day and are on edge that home games are being exported to Toronto. Many believe there's a finite number of years left to cheer for their team in Orchard Park.
Another precious season is being wasted. This will be 10 straight years without a trip to the playoffs.
The Bills are doormat dreadful. Three straight 7-9 seasons under head coach Dick Jauron had loyalists inching toward revolt until the signing of celebrity receiver Terrell Owens, the Pro Football Hall of Fame inductions of owner Ralph Wilson and defensive end Bruce Smith and a return to the no-huddle offense distracted them.
Fans, high on hope, purchased season tickets on a level seen during the Super Bowl years. With memories of the glory days flooding back and T.O. on the field, anything seemed possible.
Now, a 7-9 finish would appear to be a miracle season.
The Bills seem to play worse by the week. They blasted the hapless Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 2, but the Bills' roster has crumbled since. They are playing less and less disciplined. They seem increasingly unprepared each Sunday.
Pro Football Hall of Fame president Steve Perry was supposed to present Wilson with his ring at halftime Sunday, but the ceremony didn't happen.
Hall of Fame vice president of communications Joe Horrigan said the Bills called on Friday to cancel. On Sunday night, the front page of the Hall of Fame's official Web site still trumpeted the scrubbed ceremony.
Wilson likely avoided a torrent of boos by not taking the field. Instead, nothing took place at halftime. No band. No Pop Warner football game. No acrobats or dogs catching Frisbees. Not even a tumbleweed. The field was just a green, 120-yard vacant lot, suggesting that something probably was planned and canceled to avoid any humiliation.
Wilson, who was in attendance, also chose not to appear before the game, when former Bills receiver Andre Reed received the Ralph C. Wilson Distinguished Service Award in a muted ceremony. Wilson didn't speak to reporters after the game.
At the very least, Bills fans want Jauron gone and fast. Like, yesterday. Jauron pulled down an unprecedented 3 percent in last week's edition of the SportsNation NFL head coach approval ratings.
Bills chief operating officer Russ Brandon was noncommittal when asked about Jauron's status after losing to the lowly Browns.
"I am not commenting on that," Brandon said. "Obviously, this is a low point for all of us. I feel for everyone in the organization and more importantly the fans. This is not where we expected to be right now."
What was left of the crowd at the end of the game booed as loudly as it could.
"They deserve more," Owens said. "Every week, when we practice, the guys are practicing hard. We come out and try to put forth a great effort and try to get a win."
Chances for success were minimal Sunday, even with the Browns on the other sideline.
The Bills were so inept. They lost even though Browns quarterback Derek Anderson completed only two of his 17 passes for 23 yards. Anderson had the second-worst completion percentage for a winning quarterback with at least 15 attempts since the NFL-AFL merger.
The Bills perpetrated 14 penalties, all but one of which was accepted. They committed an incredible nine false starts. Every member of the offensive line -- all five starters and replacement Kirk Chambers -- committed at least one penalty, most of them two.
"The penalties, you can't do that against anybody," Buffalo center Geoff Hangartner said. "We just killed ourselves today. ... We can't even talk about being good on offense if we have that many penalties. It's inexcusable."
Buffalo suffered two more injuries Sunday at thin positions. Middle linebackers Kawika Mitchell and Marcus Buggs were carted off the field with leg injuries that appeared serious. This after Paul Posluszny, the opening night starter at middle linebacker, didn't make it a half in Week 1 before he broke his forearm. Posluszny and Mitchell are the defensive captains.
Corto, undrafted out of Sacred Heart, might be in the starting lineup next week against the New York Jets.
Jonathan Scott, their second right tackle, limped off the field Sunday with an undisclosed injury. Scott replaced Brad Butler, who went on injured reserve after suffering a season-ending knee injury in Week 2. Chambers, who couldn't make the team out of training camp and was later re-signed for depth, went in for Scott.
Bills quarterback Trent Edwards had another rough outing. He was 16 of 31 for 152 yards and one interception. He had a 52.1 passer rating.
But the offense seemed to have a pulse in the first half. Edwards completed four passes to Owens for 44 yards before the intermission, but none after. Lee Evans had two catches for 11 yards.
The alleged 1-2 threat of Owens and Evans have combined for 24 receptions for 361 yards and two touchdowns.
"We're not performing at a high enough level to win, obviously," Jauron said. "We moved the ball some in the first half and got the ball to Terrell, did some things, ran the ball pretty well.
"It's just we're not finishing."
Jauron might not finish the season, and while that might appease the legions of Bills faithful who want him gone oh so very badly, another painful season seems more unavoidable than the noise that probably would have poured on Wilson at halftime.
"I know what it's like to feel frustrated," Corto said in the locker room. "I've been a Bills fan my whole life. I tell some of these guys, 'Man, I feel the pain of the fans' because I'm a fan, too."