AFC East: J.P. Losman

E.J. Manuel Al Bello/Getty ImagesBuffalo's selection of quarterback EJ Manuel could be as defining as it was surprising.

Rookie head coach Doug Marrone has yet to coach in his first game with the Buffalo Bills. But just a few months into his regime, it’s easy to pinpoint how to gauge his overall success or failure in the NFL.

The Marrone era in Buffalo will be defined by Thursday's shocking selection of former Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel -- no more, no less.

The Bills, led by general manager Buddy Nix, jumped out on a limb Thursday by making Manuel the first quarterback taken in the NFL draft with the No. 16 overall pick. It was perhaps the most surprising move of the first round, even after the Bills traded down eight picks with the St. Louis Rams to get the player they believe is the long-term solution at the position. Buffalo also gained a second- and a seventh-round pick and swapped third-rounders with St. Louis.

It is no secret that the job security of head coaches is closely tied to their quarterbacks. Look no further than the AFC East.

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick struck gold by drafting Tom Brady 13 years ago in the sixth round. As a result, Belichick and the Patriots have dominated the AFC East ever since and have been to five Super Bowls, winning three. Belichick and Brady also are the all-time winningest coach and quarterback combination in NFL history.

On the other end of the AFC East spectrum, New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan is on the hot seat after 2009 first-round pick Mark Sanchez flamed out. Sanchez was the first pick of the Ryan regime, and both are on the hot seat in New York. Former Bills head coach Chan Gailey was fired after last season, in part, because veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was a bust after signing a $59 million contract.

The Marrone-Manuel tandem could turn out either way for Buffalo. But if I had to take an educated guess before Manuel throws his first pass and Marrone coaches his first game, this decision has the potential to blow up in Buffalo’s face in three or four years.

The Bills have the NFL’s longest playoff drought at 14 years and counting. They have a history of drafting the wrong quarterbacks (J.P. Losman, Trent Edwards) and signing the wrong veterans (Fitzpatrick). That makes it extremely hard to trust that the Bills went against conventional wisdom and got this one correct.

Manuel comes with good physical tools. He's athletic, mobile and has solid accuracy. But there is tons of pressure facing Manuel as the first quarterback taken for various reasons.

By association, it's expected that Manuel will be the best quarterback from this 2013 NFL draft. Adding to the pressure is Buffalo passed over Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib, who played for Marrone in college. It could only add salt to the wound for Buffalo if Manuel struggles and Nassib turns out to be a good quarterback when the Bills had the most intel with Nassib’s former head coach in the building.

West Virginia’s Geno Smith and USC’s Matt Barkley also were rated higher than Manuel by most experts. Manuel will be compared to those quarterbacks at the next level, too.

But the controversial decision has been made by the Bills and the time for second-guessing is over. It’s time for Manuel to get to work and live up to his billing as the top quarterback taken in this draft. Manuel will compete in training camp with veteran quarterbacks Kevin Kolb and Tarvaris Jackson. Maybe the Bills will get a one-year stopgap from Kolb or Jackson -- at best -- but Manuel will have to be ready to play sooner than later. The Bills say they are not rebuilding and are strong in several areas. One of the biggest things holding Buffalo back is its quarterback situation.

The Patriots, with Brady, remain the gold standard at quarterback in the AFC East. The Miami Dolphins appear to be heading in the right direction with second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill. But New York and Buffalo have a lot of quarterback questions that were not answered in the first round.

The Bills have been looking for a franchise quarterback since the retirement of Hall of Famer Jim Kelly. Manuel must develop into a franchise starter or it will set the Bills back for another three or four years.

J.P. Losman ready for return to Buffalo

December, 15, 2011
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DAVIE, Fla. -- Miami Dolphins quarterback J.P. Losman has a chance to come full circle this week.

Losman was the first-round pick of the Buffalo Bills in 2004. He was a bust and was eventually benched and let go by the team.

[+] EnlargeJ.P. Losman
AP Photo/David DupreJ.P. Losman will return on Sunday to face the Bills, the team he played for from 2004-08.
After bouncing back-and-forth from the UFL and three NFL teams, Losman could get his first NFL start in three years with the Miami Dolphins. Losman’s opponent? Buffalo.

Not only that, Losman could play the Bills Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium, where he often drove Buffalo fans crazy with interceptions and poor decisions. Now, Losman has a chance to drive Bills fans crazy again by beating the home team.

"Here is the opportunity where it might be the case, who knows, and it would be great to," Losman said. "It’s my first start since I left there in the NFL. To be against them is pretty ironic but that just seems like what it might be."

Things were disastrous in Buffalo. But Losman had a great sense of humor about it this week. He said he hopes Bills fans bring out their old Losman jerseys in support on Sunday. That's probably not going to happen.

Losman spent the early part of the season in school and throwing the football four times a week in his free time with his uncle at Santa Monica (Ca.) Community College. The Dolphins finally called after various quarterback injuries.

No one was willing to give Losman a starting job once he left Buffalo -- until now. Losman said the past three years have been "odd." But the former first-round pick is not going to put too much pressure on himself if he starts against his former team.

"[I have] nothing to prove," Losman said. "I'm old enough now not to get caught up into that. I think younger in my career I tried to prove too much, and that's just like any quarterback. I never left in the offseason. They said take time off, but I never took time off. I wanted to be there and I wanted to work, and that was probably too much."

The Dolphins, despite their 4-9 record, have been playing much better than Buffalo (5-8) in recent weeks. Miami is 4-2 in its last six games. The Bills have lost six straight and don’t appear to have much left in the tank.

The Miami-Buffalo game could determine which team finishes last in the AFC East this season. If the Bills lose to Losman Sunday, it would only add to Buffalo's embarrassing finish.

Notes from Dolphins practice

December, 14, 2011
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DAVIE, Fla. -- The Miami Dolphins (4-9) held their first day of practice in preparation for Sunday's game against the Buffalo Bills (5-8).

Here are several notes from practice:
  • The big injury news this week concerns starting quarterback Matt Moore, who suffered a head and neck injury against the Philadelphia Eagles. Moore did not practice or speak with the media Wednesday. His status won't be known until the end of the week. But if he's suffering from concussion-like symptoms, there's a strong chance he will not return for Sunday's game.
  • I thought it was interesting how interim head coach Todd Bowles handled his backups. Bowles split reps between No. 2 quarterback J.P. Losman and No. 3 quarterback Pat Devlin in practice. Those are the only two healthy quarterbacks on the roster. Losman is expected to start if Moore can't play. But splitting the reps is a curious decision, especially since Losman is new to the team and needs the work.
  • Miami left tackle Jake Long (back), linebacker Koa Misi (shoulder) and Moore were the three players who sat out of practice. Safety Yeremiah Bell (foot), guard Vernon Carey (ankle) and tight end Anthony Fasano (ribs) were limited. For the Bills, tight end Scott Chandler (ankle) and kicker Dave Rayner (groin) did not practice. Buffalo cornerback Aaron Williams (calf) was limited.

Sanchez-Fitz-Moore-Losman Watch

December, 13, 2011
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Now it's getting ridiculous.

The Miami Dolphins can't protect their quarterbacks. So, the race to determine the No. 2 quarterback in the AFC East continues to change names. First, it was the "Sanchez-Fitz-Henne Watch." That later changed to the "Sanchez-Fitz-Moore Watch."

Now, at least for this week, we debut the "Sanchez-Fitz-Moore-Losman Watch."

Moore suffered a blow to the head as the Dolphins gave up nine sacks in a loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. J.P. Losman replaced Moore and has a good chance to start Sunday against the Buffalo Bills, his former team.

Here is how we grade their Week 14 performances:

Mark Sanchez, New York Jets

Result: W, 37-10 against Kansas City

Stats: 13-of-21 for 181 yards, four total TDs

QBR: 80.8

Analysis: Sanchez did what was expected and then some in a blowout win over the Kansas City Chiefs. He made the right reads, didn't turn over the football and was great in the red zone. He threw for two touchdowns and ran for two more scores. This is the efficient Sanchez we saw in the playoffs last year. If he plays this well the rest of the year, the Jets have a chance to make the postseason and possibly do some damage after that.

Walker's grade: A-

Ryan Fitzpatrick, Buffalo Bills

Result: L, 37-10 against San Diego

Stats: 13-of-34 for 176 yards, two INTs

QBR: 11.9

Analysis: Here is one criticism I have for Fitzpatrick: He's failed to carry his team in the midst of its worst funk of the season. Buffalo needs someone -- anyone -- to step up and get momentum back for the Bills. Fitzpatrick is now the face of the franchise after signing a $59 million contract extension. But he hasn't played great since, including another dud Sunday against the San Diego Chargers. Fitzpatrick will set new career highs in a lot of categories this year. But after a fast start, his entire body of work isn’t turning out to be all that impressive.

Walker's grade: D-

Matt Moore/J.P. Losman

Result: L, 26-10 against Philadelphia

Stats: (combined) 17-of-29 for 95 yards, one TD, one INT

QBR: 3.4 and 2.9

Analysis: Moore and Losman couldn't do much with a turnstile offensive line. Both quarterbacks were eventually injured, although Losman's isn't expected to be serious. Moore and Losman combined for 95 yards. The good news is Buffalo's defense hasn't stopped anyone in a long time. Losman should be motivated if he plays against the Bills team that drafted him. But both quarterbacks were bad on Sunday.

Walker's grade: F

This week’s winner: Mark Sanchez (three points)

Second place: Fitzpatrick (two points)

Third place: Moore-Losman (one point)

Overall standings (fourth quarter)

First place: Sanchez (three points)

Second place: Fitzpatrick (two points)

Third place: Moore-Lowman (one point)

The winner of the fourth quarter will be the second-best quarterback in the division behind Tom Brady of the New England Patriots. The "Sanchez-Fitz-Moore-Losman Watch" will continue after Week 15.

QBR: Mark Sanchez over Tom Brady

December, 12, 2011
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The New York Jets are getting the best out of quarterback Mark Sanchez during their late playoff push. So much was the case that Sanchez had the best Total Quarterback Rating in the AFC East for Week 14.

Yes, Sanchez finally bested New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

Sanchez posted a season-high 80.8 QBR in New York's 37-10 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. He was 13-for-21 passing for 181 yards and four total touchdowns (two passing, two rushing).

Brady was second in the AFC East with a solid 77.2 QBR. He threw for 357 yards, three touchdowns and a late interception in the fourth quarter that drastically impacted his final rating. Still, New England won 34-27 over the Washington Redskins.

The rest of the division was pretty awful this week. Here are the latest QBR scores from this past Sunday in the AFC East:

Will the Bills face J.P. Losman?

December, 12, 2011
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The Buffalo Bills (5-8) could see a familiar face next week when they host the AFC East rival Miami Dolphins (4-9). Due to injury, former Buffalo first-round pick J.P. Losman could be Miami's starting quarterback in Week 15.

Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore suffered a head injury in a 26-10 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. If Moore has a concussion or concussion-like symptoms, he probably will miss next week's game. Moore was replaced by Losman, who also was hurt late but is in better position to be the starter against Buffalo.

Losman was a major bust for the Bills. He was drafted in the first round in 2004 and went 10-23 as a starter. Buffalo finally gave up on Losman after the 2008 season. He bounced around with the Oakland Raiders, Seattle Seahawks, and most recently the Dolphins.

Now, Losman might get a chance to return to Buffalo to face his former team. The Bills have lost six in a row, and potentially losing to the Losman-led Dolphins would only add to the embarrassment.

Bills draft record not as bad as you think

April, 21, 2011
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Kyle Williams and Steve JohnsonUS PresswirePro Bowler Kyle Williams (left) and receiver Steve Johnson were both drafted in the later rounds.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills fans have pondered some persistent questions over the years.

How would life have changed if Scott Norwood made that kick?

What will happen to the team when Ralph Wilson passes away?

Was the Music City Miracle really a forward lateral?

How on earth does Tom Modrak still have a job?

Modrak is Buffalo's vice president of college scouting. Modrak, formerly a Pittsburgh Steelers scout during their Steel Curtain years and director of football operations with the Philadelphia Eagles, has held the Bills' top scouting job since May 2001 and worked his first draft for them in 2002.

In that time, the Bills' streak of seasons without a playoff appearance has extended to 11 and counting. Despite holding prime draft-order slots, they have repeatedly squandered them with maddening first-round decisions.

The list is enough to make the most optimistic Bills fan groan: pass-rusher Aaron Maybin (zero sacks) 11th overall instead of Brian Orakpo (19.5 sacks) two years ago; small-school cornerback Leodis McKelvin 11th overall instead of Pro Bowl left tackle Ryan Clady in 2008; safety Donte Whitner with the eighth pick in 2006 and then trading up for defensive tackle John McCargo; trading up for quarterback J.P. Losman in 2004; useless tackle Mike Williams fifth in 2002.

"Certainly we've had our misses up at the top," Modrak said Tuesday at a news conference to preview next week's draft. "We've done pretty well in the middle and at the end, the non-glamour kind of picks. But we've missed some. That is regrettable."

There are additional selections one can criticize: wide receiver James Hardy in the second round; running back C.J. Spiller ninth overall even though the Bills had a pair of 1,000-yard rushers already ...

[+] EnlargeTom Modrak
George Gojkovich/Getty ImagesDespite some high-profile misses, Tom Modrak's draftees have performed well on the whole.
OK. I'll stop now. That's enough to illustrate why there's frustration over Modrak and his scouting department's evaluation skills.

The fact Modrak joined the Bills to serve under former president Tom Donahoe -- an executive Wilson and Bills fans came to despise -- only adds to fascination of Modrak's continued employment.

Now that I've set the table, let's yank the tablecloth out from underneath the plasticware.

Data suggest the Bills haven't drafted much worse than the average NFL team since 2002.

ESPN researcher John Fisher -- he claims no relation to St. John Fisher, the namesake of the college where the Bills hold their training camp -- shuffled some spreadsheets and came up with some information that's not particularly damning when compared to the rest of the NFL.

  • The Bills have drafted five Pro Bowlers with Modrak in charge of scouting. That's tied for 14th in the league. One of those Pro Bowlers was Willis McGahee for the Baltimore Ravens, but Modrak was the chief scout who drafted him. What the Bills did with McGahee afterward that isn't his fault. Same goes for Marshawn Lynch.
  • Although a game started for the Bills isn't as impressive as a game started for the New England Patriots the past nine years, Bills draftees from the first through third rounds have started 804 games, 15th in the league.
  • Bills draftees from the fourth round or later have started 417 games, eighth in the league.
  • When it comes to individual statistics accumulated with the teams that drafted them, Bills taken from 2002 onward have ranked third in 1,000-yard rushing seasons, tied for seventh in 1,000-yard receiving seasons, 20th in total sacks and 19th in total interceptions.

While the Bills have missed badly on several of their prominent selections, they have done quite well in the latter part of the draft with gems such as cornerback and Pro Bowl kick returner Terrence McGee (fourth round in 2003), Pro Bowl defensive lineman Kyle Williams (fifth round in 2006), receiver Steve Johnson (seventh round in 2008) and left tackle Demetrius Bell (seventh round in 2008).

Top running back Fred Jackson and perennial Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters -- traded to Philly two years ago -- weren't drafted at all.

"If you look at other teams, they do it. They miss at the top," Modrak said. "When you don't win, it's magnified. It looks bad.

"But I think from a strictly homer point-of-view [late-round success] is the work and the labor that goes into it and the detail that's paid to those kinds of things. That does not say that other teams don't do the same thing, but we have a good group, and we fortunately have done that."

The Bills have had some obvious blind spots in the draft.

A refusal to pick a tackle earlier than the fifth round since 2002 has hurt them. Peters' success as a converted tight end is a factor in that trend, but the Bills were having contract problems with him while he still was on the roster. Foresight would've been helpful. But that's an organizational philosophy more than Modrak's domain.

The Bills' track record at tight end is miserable, too. They've drafted five: Tim Euhus, Kevin Everett, Derek Schouman, Derek Fine and Shawn Nelson. Everett was the lone selection sooner than the fourth round. A broken neck while covering a kickoff on opening day in 2007 ended his career.

That tight end quintet has combined to score five NFL touchdowns. Of the 143 tight ends drafted since Modrak joined the Bills, 43 of them have scored more than five touchdowns individually.

Some might also say finding a quarterback has been a failure. Starting quarterbacks, however, aren't easy for any team to locate.

Forty-seven quarterbacks have been drafted within the first three rounds since 2002. The only three teams not included in this pursuit have been the Indianapolis Colts, New Orleans Saints and Dallas Cowboys. The Bills took two within the first three rounds, Losman 22nd overall in 2004 and Trent Edwards 92nd in 2007.

That league-wide group yielded nine Pro Bowlers, but just two of them -- 24th overall pick Aaron Rodgers and third-rounder Matt Schaub -- weren't selected in the top 11. Rodgers and Schaub served as backups for three seasons before they became starters.

Bills general manager Buddy Nix explained that scouting is only one of three critical phases that determine whether a draft pick explodes or fizzles.

"You've got to pick the right guy," Nix said Tuesday. "He's got to have enough athletic ability and enough intelligence, production to do the job, which is what you spend the year doing. We're scouts and personnel guys.

"The second phase, now -- and don't make light of it because it's just as important -- is coaching, strength coaches, trainers. That's the second phase, and both of those things have to be in place. If not, the development of the guy is retarded.

"I'm not going to name teams, but you can name teams every year that get top guys and they don't get any better. They actually may go the other way, and it's the developmental part."

Chan Gailey is Buffalo's fourth head coach -- fifth if you count interim coach Perry Fewell -- since Modrak came aboard. Coordinators have passed through a revolving door. The Bills also have overhauled their strength and conditioning program a couple times.

Nix then stressed that even if the precisely correct draft choice is made and the proper infrastructure is in place, a third phase still can torpedo development. The player can ruin his future if he's "not willing to be a professional and do everything it takes."

"You can go back and look at the so-called busts, and it's one of these three phases," Nix said. "You've got to have it all for them to be really good.

"So even though we put it all on one thing -- 'That was a terrible draft. That was a bust. Those idiots don't know.' -- that's just about a third of it."

Another element that must be considered when discussing Buffalo drafts is the question of who makes the final pick.

Nix and Gailey have been clear Nix makes the final call, although Wilson still can exercise his ownership privilege.

Before Nix became GM last year, trying to decipher who was to credit or blame for a Bills draft choice was like a "Three Stooges" scene. The irate boss hears a commotion, storms into the room and asks "Say! What's the wise idea? Who did this?" Moe pointed at Larry. Curly pointed at Moe. Larry pointed at Curly.

Modrak has been a constant since 2002, but there have been many voices in the Bills' draft room in that period, from Donahoe to GM Marv Levy to chief operating officer Russ Brandon to the various opinionated head coaches who lobbied for prospects they hotly desired.

The Bills' scouting department clearly needs to step its game up to help turn around the franchise. They'll never be the kind of team that lures top free agents because of their market conditions. Buffalo simply isn't as sexy as Miami or San Diego or New York and doesn't offer a perennial chance to win like New England or Pittsburgh does.

But, believe it or not, the Bills' drafts could have been substantially worse since Modrak arrived.

Top draft busts in AFC East history tallied

March, 4, 2011
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When word got out the New York Jets would release defensive end Vernon Gholston, I solicited your nominees for the AFC East's biggest draft busts.

These disappointments received the most votes for each club:

Buffalo Bills
  1. Defensive end Aaron Maybin (11th in 2009)
  2. Tackle Mike Williams (fourth in 2002)
  3. Quarterback J.P. Losman (22nd in 2004)
  4. Defensive tackle John McCargo (26th in 2006)
  5. Defensive end Erik Flowers (26th in 2000)
Comment: Sadly, Buffalo's list suggests readers don't remember the team before the Music City Miracle. Last year's strong safety, Donte Whitner, finished sixth. Epic busts Walt Patulski (first in 1972), Tony Hunter (12th in 1983) and Perry Tuttle (19th in 1982) received only one vote each. Nobody mentioned running back Terry Miller (fifth in 1978).

Miami Dolphins
  1. Receiver Yatil Green (15th in 1997)
  2. Receiver Ted Ginn (ninth in 2007)
  3. Running back John Avery (29th in 1998)
  4. Cornerback Jamar Fletcher (26th in 2001)
  5. Receiver Randal Hill (23rd in 1991), Eric Kumerow (16th in 1988), running back Sammie Smith (ninth in 1989)
Comment: The Dolphins were the most nominated team in this exercise. They led with 16 nominees and the number of votes cast. Green didn't play in his rookie or sophomore seasons because of injuries and lasted eight games his third year. My pick would have been Kumerow, whose career consisted of three seasons, zero starts and five sacks.

New England Patriots
  • Running back Laurence Maroney (21st in 2006)
  • Receiver Chad Jackson (36th in 2006)
  • Receiver Hart Lee Dykes (16th in 1989)
  • Cornerback Chris Canty (29th in 1997)
  • Offensive lineman Eugene Chung (13th in 1992), defensive end Kenneth Sims (first in 1982), linebacker Chris Singleton (eighth in 1990)
Comment: I was surprised Sims didn't receive more attention. He was the No. 1 choice ahead of Marcus Allen, Gerald Riggs, Mike Munchak, Jim McMahon and Chip Banks. Maroney received the most votes, but he also generated the most spirited debate because many readers disagreed he should be considered a bust. Jackson was a second-round pick, but the Patriots traded up 16 spots to get him.

New York Jets
  1. Running back Blair Thomas (second in 1990)
  2. Defensive end Vernon Gholston (sixth in 2008)
  3. Tight end Kyle Brady (ninth in 1995)
  4. Defensive tackle DeWayne Robertson (fourth in 2003)
  5. Receiver Johnny "Lam" Jones (second in 1980)
Comment: There was a lot of material to work with here. I was satisfied readers emphasized the magnitude of the bust over the freshness of Gholston's release by voting for Thomas. The next running back off the board in 1990 was Emmitt Smith.

Fitzpatrick's stature growing in Buffalo

October, 27, 2010
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was asked Wednesday if he's ever executed a performance as impressive as Sunday's.

"Back in Pop Warner I had a couple of pretty big days," Fitzpatrick deadpanned.

Fitzpatrick
Fitzpatrick, a career backup who has surfaced as a starter here or there in his six NFL seasons, posted a career afternoon in an overtime loss to the Baltimore Ravens. His numbers actually got a tad better Wednesday.

An NFL statistical correction gave Fitzpatrick 8 more passing yards, nudging him that much closer to Peyton Manning for the league's best passer rating.

The play in question originally had been ruled a 17-yard loss on a completion to Roscoe Parrish. It was changed to a 9-yard loss because a review showed the ball had been batted.

Fitzpatrick's official stats for Sunday are now 29 of 43 for 382 yards and four touchdowns with three interceptions.

The 8-yard adjustment raised Fitzpatrick's season passer rating two-tenths of a point to 102.2, putting him 1.2 points behind Manning.

Monday afternoon on Buffalo sports-radio station WGR, I actually heard giddy callers compare Fitzpatrick to Drew Brees and Brett Favre. Some fans no longer want the Bills to draft a quarterback in the first round next spring.

In response to the euphoria, WGR reporter Joe Buscaglia put together "Find the Fitz," an inspired feature to keep Fitzpatrick in perspective.

Buscaglia compared Fitzpatrick after 33 career games to Favre, John Elway, Steve Young, Trent Edwards and J.P. Losman after a similar number of games. With the names removed, you must guess which quarterback belongs to which stat line.

Fitzpatrick wasn't about to make any declarations the Bills should expect to be prolific from here on out.

"I think certainly after last week's performance, we have a little bit of momentum just in terms of the enthusiasm and the confidence that we have right now," Fitzpatrick said. "That being said, this is the NFL, and that could change in an instant, week-to-week, but we want to continue to get better every week.

"I think right now we've got a good opportunity to do that, feeling good with the guys that I'm playing with, and I think the chemistry will only get better and better."

A statistical look at Buffalo's big outburst

October, 24, 2010
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There will be no negativity in this post about the Buffalo Bills, not even a reference to Sunday's score or result against the Baltimore Ravens in M&T Bank Stadium.

A few notes on the Bills' surprising offensive eruption against one of the NFL's best defenses:
  • Ryan Fitzpatrick was 29-of-43 for 374 yards and four touchdowns for a 106.1 passer rating.
  • He became the first Buffalo quarterback with back-to-back games of at least three touchdowns since Jim Kelly in 1990.
  • Fitzpatrick has thrown a touchdown pass in seven straight games, longest streak of his career and longest for any Bills quarterback since Drew Bledsoe went 10 consecutive games in 2002.
  • The last Bills quarterback to throw for at least 300 yards was J.P. Losman in November 2006.
  • Lee Evans caught six passes for 105 yards and three touchdowns, becoming the first player in Bills' history with at least three receiving touchdowns in multiple games.
  • Evans topped 100 yards for the first time since November 2008.
  • Steve Johnson also had a career afternoon with eight receptions for 158 yards and a touchdown.
  • Johnson has a touchdown in four straight games, the longest streak since Evans in 2006. One more next week would tie Elbert Dubenion's club record set in 1964 and tied by Eric Moulds in 1999 and Evans in 2004.
  • The Bills had two 100-yard receivers for the first time since Evans and Roscoe Parrish in September 2006 and first time on the road since Peerless Price and Josh Reed in September 2002.
  • Rian Lindell kicked a 50-yard field goal with four seconds left in regulation, only the 14th time since 1983 a kick of at least 50 yards forced overtime.

Could a UFL team really beat the Bills?

October, 21, 2010
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Bill FansAP Photo/ David DupreyIt's been a tough season in Buffalo, where there are whispers of a possible 0-16 season by the Bills.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills linebacker Paul Posluszny laughed, but he wasn't happy to hear the question.

He kept chuckling throughout his response, although it was obvious by the tone in his voice and the look in his eyes that the topic agitated him.

How close would the game be if the Bills played the Las Vegas Locomotives of the United Football League?

"That's saying that we're minor-league, that a minor-league team could compete with us," said Posluszny, perched on a stool at his locker stall Thursday morning. "The thing that makes me mad is we put ourselves in this situation.

Duante Culpepper
AP Photo/Rich PedroncelliThe UFL has several former NFL players, like Sacramento Mountain Lions QB Daunte Culpepper.
"If we're winning games or competitive, then you're not talking to me about this. But it's our fault. It's my fault. I can't blame you or Las Vegas. We've got to fix it."

The Bills are winless through five games and have played so poorly they're already being talked about as a legitimate candidate to finish the season 0-16. They've surrendered at least 30 points in four straight games, something that never had been done in franchise history.

The trend will be difficult to alter Sunday. The Bills will visit the Baltimore Ravens in M&T Bank Stadium.

For much of the season, the Bills have been out of their league.

Some in the UFL, a five-team league comprised of many former NFL players hoping to extend their careers, believe they would have a shot to beat Buffalo.

"I don't think we could compete with the upper two-thirds of the NFL," Locomotives head coach Jim Fassel said. "The lower-echelon teams, I think it would be an excellent game."

Hartford Colonials quarterback Josh McCown, who spent eight years in the NFL, predicted: "It would be fun to watch. I know one thing: There'd be a lot more pressure on Buffalo than there would be on Las Vegas. There'd be some good give and take."

With that in mind, I asked Las Vegas Sports Consultants, the oddsmaking firm that supplies the numbers for about 75 percent of Nevada's legal sportsbooks, to provide a legitimate spread for the Bills and Locomotives.

The Bills would be favored by 10.5 points on a neutral field.

That's a comfortable margin and not necessarily a true reflection of the difference in class between teams from different leagues. Spreads factor all sorts of game situations, and this number was tempered to account for the likelihood the Bills would outclass the Locomotives early and manage the clock for much of the contest.

"If Buffalo needed to win by four touchdowns and their lives depended on it, they probably could do it," Las Vegas Sports Consultants senior oddsmaker Mike Seba said. "But that's not usually the way it goes down."

Most notable about the spread for this fictional game isn't that the Bills are favored, but the number itself.

Nine NFL games, three of them involving the Bills, have featured a spread larger than 10.5 points so far this season. The Bills are 13-point underdogs Sunday against the Ravens, were 14.5-point underdogs to the New England Patriots in Week 3 and 12.5-point underdogs to the Green Bay Packers in Week 2.

Those numbers indicate the Bills are closer to the UFL than they are to the best NFL teams.

"Even though the Bills might be having a tough time, they're still the NFL," said Daunte Culpepper, the former Pro Bowl quarterback now playing for the UFL's Sacramento Mountain Lions. "I don't think anybody should overlook that. Those players are in the NFL for a reason."

Culpepper has heard this kind of barroom and message-board banter before.

He started five games for the Detroit Lions in 2008. That team became the first in NFL history to go 0-16. People wondered if the USC team that featured Mark Sanchez would give the Lions trouble.

But Culpepper wasn't totally dismissive of the Locomotives' chances against the Bills.

"I've played in the NFL, and I've played in the UFL. The competition is there," Culpepper said. "The ability and the level of play is there. The NFL is the best of the best, but there's only about 1,500 jobs in the NFL. There's more than 1,500 guys that can play at the NFL level."

UFL investor Mark Cuban pointed out the NFL is comprised of younger talent, but because of salary-cap issues and veteran minimum salaries, teams rarely fill out their rosters with the best 53 players available to them. That leaves plenty of NFL-caliber veterans out of work.

Cuban knows a little about sports business. He owns the NBA's Dallas Mavericks and has tried to add Major League Baseball to his portfolio. He nearly purchased the Texas Rangers this year.

"You can argue skill positions may be better in the NFL, but you can't argue experience," Cuban said. "The UFL rosters from the bottom up are far more experienced than the Bills are."

NFL teams are reluctant to take chances on veterans as they accrue experience. A player with four to six seasons in the NFL makes a minimum salary of $630,000. Players with seven to nine seasons must be paid at least $755,000.

The average 53-man NFL active roster had 15.7 players who are 24 or younger as of Wednesday, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The winless Carolina Panthers had 27 players in that category. The Bills had 17.

Three of the UFL's five teams had nine or fewer players age 24 or under. The Locomotives had nine on their roster. The Florida Tuskers had two.

"People are afraid to take a five-year vested veteran and pay him the minimum and get the risk that he might get injured," Fassel said. "There's no question that adds up. All you need is five or six guys get hurt and that's $5 million in your cap."

Many NFL clubs don't spend anywhere near to the salary cap anyway. They commonly save money on their reserve players.

"It's not just Buffalo. It's every team," Cuban said. "The balance of talent versus cost versus winning is not an easy one to create. Sure, some teams may spend more than the Bills, but they all go through the same decision process."

As a result, the UFL can field bona-fide players at positions such as quarterback and running back and stock their coaching staffs with NFL-weathered coaches. Fassel, for instance, guided the New York Giants to a Super Bowl XXXV appearance 10 seasons ago.

Last year, Fassel won the UFL's inaugural championship game with former Bills quarterback J.P. Losman. At the time, I got a strong impression Bills fans gladly would've traded their coach-quarterback combo of Dick Jauron and Trent Edwards for Fassel and Losman.

Still, the consensus, even among the most ardent UFL supporters, is the Bills probably would beat the Locomotives handily.

"I have a lot of respect for those guys," Bills running back Fred Jackson said. He came up through the minors as a low-level arena player and then NFL Europa. "I know there's a lot of talent in those leagues. But this is the National Football League. This is the best of the best. I've got to believe with my whole heart it would be a one-sided affair."

There are no guarantees, though, and that's why this fictional game never would take place. It would be all risk, no reward for the NFL.

The last time a "minor league" was granted such an opportunity was in 1961, when the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the more established Canadian Football League beat the fledgling American Football League's Bills in a preseason game.

"As a player for an NFL team, obviously it bothers us that's even a conversation out there," Posluszny said, "that we're playing so bad right now that people think a UFL team can compete with us because they can't.

"Once again, we're 0-5. We haven't proved to anybody that we're a big-time team. It's troubling to us because we're an NFL football team and we should be able to act like it and play like it and win games."

Kawika Mitchell asks Bills to release him

October, 1, 2010
10/01/10
10:51
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Out of frustration with the Buffalo Bills' front office, linebacker Kawika Mitchell has asked for his release and could get his wish as soon as Friday.

The Bills placed Mitchell on injured reserve with a foot injury, but ESPN's Adam Schefter reports they are working out an injury settlement that would allow Mitchell to play for another team once healthy. Mitchell believes he can play this season.

Mitchell might get cut four days after openly questioning the Bills' decision to waive quarterback Trent Edwards a week after losing the job to Ryan Fitzpatrick. Mitchell fired off some tweets after news broke Monday.

  1. Kawika Mitchell
    KawikaMitchell Wow. Bills let Trent Edwards go today. I know he wasn't starting but...? Huh
  2. Kawika Mitchell
    KawikaMitchell Not sure why buffalobills.com titled their story on Trent "Trent's Record". JP's record was worse. And tension in the locker was a reason??
  3. Kawika Mitchell
    KawikaMitchell I definitely like Fitz at QB but it's key to have a backup with experience. Sure there's a plan behind this. What do u guys think?


That wasn't the first time Mitchell tweeted his displeasure with the Bills over a personnel move. He also blasted them for claiming guard Richie Incognito off waivers last year.

Lee Evans: Star cloaked in Buffalo's fog

June, 23, 2010
6/23/10
4:01
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Lee EvansLuc Leclerc/US PresswireBills wide receiver Lee Evans might be known as an elite target by now -- if he played for another team.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- When Lee Evans left the Wisconsin Badgers six years ago, he expected to be well on his way to establishing himself as one of the NFL's elite receivers by now.

He was supposed to have made a few Pro Bowls, earned a couple All-Pro selections, burned defenders so frequently the Buffalo Bills couldn't help but field a playoff-caliber offense.

The Bills obviously agreed with that projection when they drafted him 13th overall in 2004 and four years later, awarded him a contract extension that made Evans one of the league's richest receivers.

Little has come to fruition. Evans has zero Pro Bowls, two 1,000-yard seasons and one season with more than 63 catches.

Evans is entering his seventh season. While he's respected around the league for his speed, hands and character, he still hasn't emerged as a star.

"Absolutely, I have something to prove," Evans told me after Wednesday's early practice to open Buffalo's mandatory minicamp. "The reality of it is, I haven't done anything yet."

Neither have the Bills. That's the primary reason Evans hasn't broken out.

Since he joined the Bills, they've failed to reach the playoffs. They've had one winning season, when he was a rookie. Their cumulative record with Evans on the roster is 41-55. They're on their fourth head coach and umpteenth offensive coordinator.

In Evans' six seasons, Buffalo's offense has ranked 25th, 28th, 30th, 30th, 25th and 30th.

Evans has had four starting quarterbacks -- Trent Edwards, J.P. Losman, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brian Brohm -- over the past two seasons and doesn't know who'll be throwing to him in 2010.

"Like Steve Smith with the Carolina Panthers and St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson, Evans is right at the top of my list of guys who I would love to see on another team," Scouts Inc. analyst Matt Williamson said. "I think he could be a monster and perennial Pro Bowler in a much better situation."

Evans won't say it, but regardless of how you choose to measure success -- winning games or personal statistics -- he essentially has squandered the first six years of his career. He turned 29 in March.

"Not being able to win or make it to the playoffs, you don't really get the recognition a lot of players get and that they deserve," Evans said. "That's the goal here. If we can win and make it to the postseason, recognition will come."

Evans posted one stat line commensurate with his talents. In 2006, with Losman taking downfield chances, Evans caught 82 passes for 1,292 yards and eight touchdowns.

The past three seasons, however, Evans' numbers have been limited. It's not the best situation for a deep threat when his quarterback is known as Captain Checkdown, the nickname bestowed on Edwards last year.

"He has to rely on downfield plays to really make a huge impact," Williamson said. "Buffalo's opponents know they can't protect and that their signal caller was, well, bashful about letting it fly deep. That eliminates the most threatening aspect of Evans' game, which is criminal."

Evans is a respected player in the locker room and among Bills fans. But he's just sort of there -- a vague protagonist. On a team with so many problems, there's no reason to worry about Evans.

Since the Bills hired head coach Chan Gailey in January, he has been asked almost every imaginable question. Yet in a search of Gailey's many transcripts, Evans' name doesn't appear once, peculiar for a team's most talented offensive player.

Evans was supposed to have his breakout campaign last year, but is coming off what he called the most frustrating season of his life.

"How do you explain last year?" he chuckled, repeating the question asked. "I can probably write a book about last year."

The Bills brought in future Hall of Fame receiver Terrell Owens. Part of the reasoning was Owens' presence would stop defenses from doubling up on Evans for the first time since Eric Moulds left the Bills. That was Evans' sophomore season.

Evans and Owens each had one of their worst seasons. Evans caught a career-low 44 passes for a career-low 612 yards and seven touchdowns.

Evans blames a series of problems outside the players' control. The organization mishandled two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters, trading him to the Philadelphia Eagles. Ten days before the season opener, the Bills fired offensive coordinator Turk Schonert and replaced him with novice Alex Van Pelt. Then they released their most experienced offensive lineman, Langston Walker, who had been moved from right tackle to left tackle.

Evans said it "started with the Peters thing," but called Walker's release the biggest stunner of them all. As Evans relived everything that went wrong even before the team was decimated by injuries and finally axed head coach Dick Jauron in November, an incredulous look came over his face.

"There was a lot of turmoil amongst coaches, amongst coaches and players, amongst scheme," Evans said. "We were fighting an uphill battle against ourselves, really. That's what really made it tough, especially early on.

"The bottom line is, I don't think everybody had bought in to what we were trying to do. That makes it tough. When you have that coupled with a ton of injuries, that's what you get."

Evans didn't elaborate, but he said Schonert's firing "wasn't as big of a shock" as Walker's release.

"But it still takes its toll," Evans said. "This is the guy who had been calling the plays here all last year, all through camp, all through the preseason. Now you've got another guy coming in who has coached a while but has never been a coordinator on this level. Now you have to figure out what he wants to accomplish.

"Now it's 'Who are we?' It was tough."

Nobody would blame Evans for running out of patience with the Bills. He has given some prime years to a dysfunctional organization. The Bills have paid him well, but so would another team that has a better chance of winning.

As the Bills are experiencing with two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Aaron Schobel, perpetual losing is tough to endure. Schobel is leaning toward retiring at 32 and with serious money on the table rather than return to the Bills.

Evans still has three years left on his contract, but another year without any signs of progress might cause him and the Bills to part ways.

"Chan has us excited," Evans said. "If you lose optimism and trust, you probably won't play well on Sundays. There's always a belief that we're going to win. That's what can carry you through tough times.

"This year, just looking at it on paper, I don't expect it to be anything like last year. It has to be better. It has to be."

Jim Kelly's California QB theory debunked

June, 8, 2010
6/08/10
7:34
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Football Outsiders managing editor Bill Barnwell isn't the type of guy to take a comment at face value.

A few months ago, when Buffalo Bills icon Jim Kelly lobbied hard for the Buffalo Bills to draft a quarterback -- preferably Tim Tebow -- he warned them to stay away from Californians.

While he was referring specifically to the Bills' failed attempts to replace him with Rob Johnson, J.P. Losman and Trent Edwards, Kelly was promulgating a common belief that warm-weather quarterbacks can't perform in the cold.

A couple weeks ago, Edwards called Kelly "a little bit na´ve."

Barnwell decided to find out whether that's true. His research shows Edwards was right.

In an educational column for ESPN Insider, Barnwell runs game data from games back to 1993 and finds QBs who grew up in warm-weather states fare better in the cold Insider than quarterbacks raised in chillier environs.

Barnwell defined the quarterbacks geographically by where they played in high school, but the home state had to be clear-cut one way or the other. Barnwell then sorted their stats in outdoor games where the kickoff temperature was no higher than 35 degrees.

The numbers then were broken out in three charts that pitted cold-weather QBs versus warm-weather QBs: in all cold games (cold-weather QBs had minor advantage), in cold road games (warm-weather QBs had noted advantage) and in road games that didn't qualify as cold (warm-weather QBs had an advantage, but not as much as they did in cold games).

The third chart, used for control, was the clincher for Barnwell.

"The warm-weather quarterbacks are better than the cold-weather quarterbacks specifically in cold-weather games," Barnwell writes. "Not only is Kelly's theory incorrect, the truth is the exact opposite of what Kelly suggested."

The Big Question: Evans wasted in Buffalo?

May, 18, 2010
5/18/10
1:00
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Have receiver Lee Evans' abilities been squandered in Buffalo?


AP Photo/Mike GrollBills receiver Lee Evans hasn't lived up to his huge contract in Buffalo.
Two summers ago, the Buffalo Bills gave Lee Evans the third-richest contract for any receiver. The four-year extension was worth $37.25 million, with $18.25 million in guarantees. The deal put Evans behind only Steve Smith and Larry Fitzgerald financially.

The gesture was impressive, a sign of commitment from the Bills to a player on the rise. But the money hasn't been well-spent.

On another team, Evans would be worthy of the handsome investment. He has game-breaking speed and fantastic hands. He should own some dazzling stats.

Yet he never has been to a Pro Bowl, never has put together consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, never has cracked double-digit touchdowns -- all the things you'd expect from an elite receiver making elite money.

Evans, the 13th overall pick in 2004, flickered greatness. He was an immediate deep threat, scoring nine touchdowns and averaging 17.6 yards a catch as a rookie with Drew Bledsoe. Evans hasn't matched those numbers since, enduring a long list of offensive coordinators and substandard quarterbacks -- from J.P. Losman to Trent Edwards to Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Evans has topped 63 receptions once, when he established career highs with 82 catches for 1,292 yards in 2006.

Pro-Football-Refernce.com has a feature that compares players whose careers were "of similar quality and shape."

Through three seasons, Evans was compared to the likes of Andre Rison, Ernest Givens, Andre Johnson and James Lofton.

Six seasons into Evans' career, he's grouped with Ron Shanklin, Santonio Holmes, Jerricho Cotchery, James Scott and Steve Watson.

Evans still has time to make something of his career, but his time in Buffalo has generally been a waste.

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