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Tuesday, November 4, 2008
Edwards facing major test as Bills' leader


 
 Rick Stewart/Getty Images
 After a hot start, Trent Edwards and the Buffalo Bills have dropped three of their past four games.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Trent Edwards had to be smart just to get into Stanford.

Edwards studied political science there. He's adept at deciphering any question before the words tumble out of his mouth, acutely aware of how others will receive his answer before he's finished giving it.

Some might even wonder if the Buffalo Bills' quarterback has been programmed to deliver pat responses on tough topics, which he has been addressing lately.

Maybe in that regard he's more robot than politician.

Like a CD sliding into a computer, he smoothly accepts a question, quickly processes it and then talks unemotionally about executing the system.

"We just need to go out and execute, honestly," Edwards said Monday, a day after stumbling at home to the New York Jets, giving the Bills three losses in their past four games. "We can't lose confidence in ourselves, our coaches and our system."

Edwards' past two games have been filled with pop-up warnings of unexecutable code. Or, for you old-school Mac users, a bomb with the fuse lit.

Confidence has been corrupted.

Fans on message boards and radio call-in shows are wondering if the Bills are frauds -- Edwards included.

They're praying that cool, methodical quarterback they've heartily embraced as the real deal truly is as reliable as they thought he was. After all, this is only his second NFL season. He has started all of 17 games.

"This is football," Edwards said moments after the Jets loss, which created a three-way tie for first place in the AFC East. "That's the quarterback position in this league. You're going to have your highs and have your lows.

"I realize that people need to make a big deal when we're doing well and when we're not doing well. You're going to find individuals on those teams when you're doing well and call them out and give them publicity and you're going to do the same thing when things aren't going great. That's the nature of the territory. I wouldn't say it's humbling by any means."

Edwards was automatic through the first seven weeks. He was the main reason Bills fans were thinking Super Bowl after their team dashed to a 4-0 start and then pushed to 5-1, the lone loss occurring when Edwards suffered a concussion on the third snap.

The Bills have dropped their last two games -- against AFC East opponents -- and Edwards contributed mightily in both nine-point losses to the Miami Dolphins and Jets.

Over Edwards' five most recent quarters he has thrown three interceptions, lost two fumbles and coughed up another fumble that caused a safety. The Jets on Sunday returned his first interception 92 yards for a touchdown.

Trent Edwards In the Fourth Quarter
 CompAttPctYdsTDINTSacksRating
First 5 29 38 76.3 375 3 0 1 133.1
Last 2 11 21 52.4 157 0 2 3 37.3
Total 40 59 67.8 532 3 2 4 99.0

Edwards was a fashionable guest on national talk shows mainly because he had a flashy 133.0 fourth-quarter passer rating, and the Bills were 5-0 in games he finished. He completed 76.3 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and zero interceptions. He was sacked once.

In his past two fourth quarters, his passer rating is a deplorable 37.3. He has no touchdowns and two interceptions. He has been sacked three times.

The fact the Jets and Dolphins both play a 3-4 defense better be coincidental for Edwards. Next up are the New England Patriots in Gillette Stadium. The Patriots deploy a 3-4, too. And the Bills have to play all three teams once more in December.

A lack of a running game hasn't helped, but watching opponents force Edwards into so many mistakes is alarming.

"I think we're still a pretty confident team because we are in these football games," Edwards said. "We're not getting blown out.

"For the most part we're kind of beating ourselves, I feel like, for most of the game. Offensively, that starts with me. There could be a lot of fingers pointed after these past two games, and the only finger I'm pointing right now is at myself."

It was hard to gauge the rest of the team's confidence level Monday. Players unsurprisingly were scarce at the Bills' facility.

But third-string quarterback Gibran Hamdan, a close friend of Edwards who went to dinner with him after Sunday's loss to the Jets, is getting even more impressed.

"As somebody who is a teammate of Trent's, I'm more confident now in his ability to be an NFL quarterback and his ability to lead an NFL team than I was two weeks ago," Hamdan said. "Perseverance and how you handle adversity when you or your team is not at its best is when the true measure of a quarterback comes out."

I asked Hamdan how that could be.

"Nothing's changed," Hamdan replied, an astonished smile underscoring his message. "Nothing's changed.

"He's here on Monday. He's the same today that he was after we won a couple games. We're going to come in and watch the film the same way. We're going to work out the same way."

Perhaps Edwards is a well-polished automaton after all.

But probably not.

I asked Bills coach Dick Jauron how much of his job now becomes psychologist not only for Edwards but also the rest of the roster when a team crowned as favorites to win the division falls back among the common pack.

Professional athletes or not, they are human beings with fears and doubts like anyone else. Jauron spoke of addressing "attitude and approach to the game and confidence. Those are critically important to anybody, but certainly in sport. Critically important.

"They are normal people. When you have a couple games in a row where it doesn't go your way, if you didn't question yourself -- I'm talking about all of us -- I'm not certain that would be normal."

The best athletes, though, figure out how to overcome their doubts and fears.

We'll soon find out whether Edwards is hardwired for that.