AFC East Underachiever: Terrell Owens


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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

Like the silver balloon that floated over Colorado last week, everybody was distracted by the shiny object that carried a compelling storyline.

Buffalo Bills fans were furious when owner Ralph Wilson announced he was retaining Dick Jauron, the unlovable coach who oversaw last season's calamitous collapse. The Bills went from 5-1 and destined for the playoffs to 7-9 and out of the postseason a ninth straight year.

The faithful roiled. There was debate over whether Wilson would be booed when he took the stage in Canton for his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction that summer.

Then the club floated a dazzling superstar -- a borderline crossover celebrity -- to defuse the anger and recapture imaginations.

Terrell Owens is a Buffalo Bill?

The signing was sudden and unexpected. Never had the Bills signed such an established and luminous free agent.

Fans rejoiced, not caring it was a marriage of desperation. They abandoned their disdain, embraced the possibilities and sprinted to the box office so they could witness the show.

The Bills were going to run a no-huddle offense!

With T.O., opponents can't double-team Lee Evans anymore!

Trent Edwards will be throwing all over the field!

And, like we did with the Balloon Boy, we've since learned a hoax has been perpetrated.

Six games into the season, Owens might as well be hiding in an attic because he has been tough to find on the field.

With nothing to support the immense hype that surrounded Owens' landing in Buffalo, he has been the most disappointing player in the AFC East.

Owens, although not the lone culprit, is a symbol of Buffalo's malfunctioned offense.

He hadn't run a route in a Bills uniform when Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown presented him with a key to the city, an honor not even Wilson received after the team he founded went to four straight Super Bowls in the 1990s.

With 40 percent of the season gone, Owens has 15 catches for 215 yards and one touchdown. He's tied with a dozen other players for 92nd in receptions this year and tied for 66th in yards.

Rookie receiver Julian Edelman, a seventh-round draft choice the New England Patriots converted from quarterback, has six more catches than Owens in one fewer game.

Owens is on pace for his worst season -- by a mile -- since he was a part-time starter as a rookie, when he shared an offense with Jerry Rice. Owens' season numbers project to 40 receptions, 573 yards and not quite three touchdowns.

How substandard are those stats? He played in only seven games for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2005. He had 47 catches, 763 yards and six touchdowns.

Evans hasn't been helped either. He has 16 receptions for 227 yards and two touchdowns, putting him on pace for the worst season of his career in catches and yards.

Owens will turn 36 in December and was slowed by a toe injury in training camp, but he hasn't aged so much from the guy who gained 1,052 yards and scored 10 touchdowns last year for the Dallas Cowboys.

He's merely another failed part of a wayward offense.

Buffalo fired its offensive coordinator 10 days before the season opener, detonated its offensive line and last week scrapped the no-huddle. Edwards crumbled, and that was before he suffered a concussion in Sunday's improbable sudden-death victory over the New York Jets.

Backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who went 4-7-1 as a starter for the Cincinnati Bengals last year, might need to play for a while. And that could be good news for Owens.

Edwards struggled to connect with the future Hall of Famer, whose streak of 185 games with at least one reception was snapped in a Week 3 loss to the New Orleans Saints.

Owens, including a handful of throws from Fitzpatrick on Sunday, has been targeted by 35 passes. That means the Bills have connected with him 42.9 percent of the time they look his way. He has dropped some of those passes, the most glaring a would-be touchdown in Week 2 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Buffalo almost certainly has just 10 more games to establish some semblance of a connection with Owens beyond the hoopla, to somehow ensure it will be recalled as a meaningful stop during a remarkable career and not some oddity like Babe Ruth playing for the Boston Braves.

The Bills are 2-4 and would need to mount a miraculous charge to avoid making it a full decade without the playoffs. Owens is on a one-year contract, and few expect him to return next year.

The spectacle -- or lack thereof -- will have blown over before we know it.