Saturday, November 21, 2009

Buffalo Bills... Your Decade is Over

This season, whenever I believe a team is eliminated from the playoffs, thus making their season (and decade) over, I will write their obituary.

Today I present to you the Buffalo Bills of the 00's:

The Buffalo Bills ended the 1990's the same way the began the decade; with heartache. The team that went to more Super Bowls than any other team in the decade, but won zero, ended the decade in heartbreaking loss to the Tennessee Titans, a game that would later be known as "The Music City Miracle."

To adjust for 2000, the Bills and Wade Phillips listened to owner Ralph Wilson and named fragile, expensive, quarterback Rob Johnson the teams starter; over the undersized, but proven winner, Doug Flutie.

Despite Johnson's poor play, the Bills kicked 2000 off with a grudge win over Tennessee. The team would manage a 2-0 record, before a three game skid. During a week 7 contest with the San Diego Chargers, Rob Johnson yet again got hurt, and Flutie was able to lead the Bills to victory. Under Flutie, the Bills would manage to piece together a three game winning streak before Johnson would regain the starting job thanks to a minor injury to Flutie.

Entering week 13, the Bils were 7-4, and looked like an easy pick to make the playoffs. With a somewhat difficult schedule though, the Bills would lose four of their last five to finish 2000 with an 8-8 record. At the end of the season it was announced that 2001 would begin without Phillips or Flutie.

The 2001 Bills would hit the ground and immediately collapse. The team would start 1-10 before finishing 3-13. The team ranked #29 in turnover differential, #27 in offense, #29 in defense, and were beaten by a combined differential of 155 points, 30th of 31 teams in the league.

Because of his atrocious play in the 2001 season, leading to a 1-7 record as a starter, the Bills finally gave up on Rob Johnson, who they brought in from Jacksonville in 1998 with hopes of replacing Jim Kelly as the new face of the Bills. Johnson was never able to pan out as a solid professional QB with the Bills, and because they chose him over Doug Flutie, the Bills would enter 2002 looking for a new Quarterback.

The Bills and head coach Gregg Williams found their new quarterback right in their own division when the New England Patriots decided to let veteran QB Drew Bledsoe go (in favor of Tom Brady). Bledsoe's impact on the team would be immediate, as the Bills would transform from a 3-13 team to an 8-8 .500 team. Bledose, Eric Moulds, and second year running back Travis Henry would each make the Pro Bowl, and with a relatively young roster, the Bills saw a bright 2003 ahead.

Revenge came for the Buffalo Bills and their Quarterback Drew Bledsoe in week 1 of the 2003 season when the Bills dominated the New England Patriots 31-0. In that game Tom Brady would throw for only a 50% completion percentage, zero touchdowns, and four interceptions. For the day at least, Bledsoe had finally gain retribution.

The rest of the Buffalo Bills 2003 season was more of a downward slope. Despite a developing defense, the teams offense would fail to produce the results necessary to catapult the Bills to the playoffs. A week 17 rematch between the Bills and the Patriots saw two teams going in different directions. That day, the Patriots dominated the Bills 31-0, as Brady through for 4 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions. The Patriots and Brady would also go on to win their second Super Bowl that season.

The loss to the Patriots in the final game of the 2003 regular season demanded changes be made in the Bills organization. The Patritos had now developed into a legitimate powerhouse team, and Ralph Wilson saw it necessary to fire Gregg Williams and start looking towards the future. Mike Mularkey was hired to replace Williams, and in the first round of the 2004 NFL draft, the team drafted WR Lee Evans, and QB J.P. Losman, a combo the team hoped would develop into Culpepper to Moss or Manning to Harrison status,

The Bills would enter 2004 with Bledsoe, Evans, veteran wide receiver Eric Moulds, and the running back duo of Willis McGahee and Travis Henry poised to transition the Bills offense into elite status. Unfortunately for the Bills, the blowout to New England at the end of 2003 still hung like a dark cloud over the franchise, and the team would stumble into 2004 with an 0-4 record. A 9-3 record from there on out, along with a 7th ranked offense, 8th ranked defense, and +10 turnover differential, wouldn't be enough to get the Bills back into the playoffs in 2004, and with a week 17 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers (ending a 6-0 for the team), the Bledsoe era ended in 2004.

The Bills had every reason to enter 2005 optimistically. Although their divisional opponent New England Patriots had won the past two Super Bowls, the tide in the division seemed to be turning as a slew of coaching departures, as well as an aging defense made the Patriots seem vulnerable entering 2005. The team also loved their second year quarterback, J.P Losman and projected him to be the starter for the next ten to fifteen years.

As has been the story of their decade, unfortunately that didn't work out for the Bills. After a week one win to the Houston Texans, Losman would struggle to even be "bad" the rest of the 2004 season. With a starting QB record of 1-7, and a completion percentage below 50%, it was without shock that the team went with veteran QB Kelly Holcomb for half of it's games that season. The bright spot of the Bills season was the development of Willis McGahee into a full time starter, but still the 2005 Buffalo Bills would limp to a 5-11 record. The Patriots would again win the AFC East.

The 2006 Buffalo Bills would transition their head coaching duties to Dick Jauron. Jauron's lone task; develop J.P. Losman into a starting QB in the NFL. The results? Pretty successful.

Losman to Evans may not have been Manning to Harrison, but Evans caught for close to 1,300 yards, while Losman raised his completion percentage to 62.5 and the Bills record to 7-9. 2006 wasn't a great year for the Buffalo Bills, but things certainly looked to be getting better.

In 2007, the Bills again got off to a brutal 0-3 start before falling to 1-4 at their bye week. The game before their bye week featured an unknown rookie out of Stanford named Trent Edwards making the start against a then undefeated Dallas Cowboys team. In the week before, filling in for an injured Losman, Edwards helped the Bills get their first win at the misery of the Jets. In the Monday night game with Dallas, the Bills and Edwards blew a 24-13 4th quarter lead, and it 1-4 the Bills 2009 looked hopless.

But in typical Bills fashion, with the help of Edwards 5-4 record as a starter, Buffalo was able to rise to mediocrity and a 7-9 record. Although a 1-4 to 7-9 seems respectable, it's worth noting that entering week 15, the Bills were 7-6. The teams inability to win down the final stretch prevented them from making their playoffs.

The 2008 season granted the Bills all the hype of bona-fide quarterback controversy, pitting Losman, the chosen one, with Edwards, the QB who won games for them in in 2007. The team also looked forward to Marshawn Lynch, their second year running back developing.

In the preseason, Edwards beat out Losman for the starting QB job, and the Bills got off to a 4-0 start, their best start of the decade. After a week 7 win against an above average San Diego Chargers team, the Bills raised their record to 5-1 and they looked like a shoe in for the playoffs. With a schedule that looked soft on paper at the team (Dolphins, Jets, Patriots, Browns), the Bills failed to win a game and at 5-5, stared mediocrity in the face yet again.

The 2008 Buffalo Bills would again finish 7-9. In a season where the Patriots were playing without Tom Brady and the Jets tried their hardest not to win the AFC East, it was the lowly Miami dolphins who went from 1-15 to 11-5 who capitalized on the opportunity to get the playoffs, not the Bills.

Still, somehow, Dick Jauron would keep his job entering 2009, and the Bills would do nothing to enhance their quarterback situation. J.P. Losman left in free agency, and unable to find a home, defected to the UFL where he tried to resurrect his career under Jim Fassel. The teams biggest offseason acquisition was bringing in veteran loudmouth, Terrell Owens, who amazingly did little to disrupt the locker room in the preseason.

Even with relative continuity, the Bills 2009 was hopeless from the get go. Without Marshawn Lynch, who was out serving suspension, the Bills blew a commanding opening day lead to New England Patriots, and the rest of the 2009 season has followed suit.

After a 3-6 start, the Bills fired Jauron and have yet to name a head coach. The team has also permanently benched Edwards in favor of veteran backup Ryan Fitzpatrick, and the team also picked QB prospect Brian Brohm up out of the Green Bay Packers trash can.

The 2000's of the Buffalo Bills will always be looked at as one of the most forgettable decades any franchise has ever had in NFL history. The team was never bad enough to be truly awful, yet were never good enough to make the playoffs. The team stood as far in the shadows of the New England Patriots as any franchise could, and were far more reactive to what the Patriots were doing, than proactive in swinging the tide of the AFC East.

But the 2010's do have a new positive outlook. All signs point the Bills bringing in a proven leader to take over football operations. Perhaps Brohm will develop into the QB that Losman, Johnson, and Edwards weren't.

One thing is for sure though, the Bills decade is over, and they'll be one of only two teams to participate in all ten seasons of the decade that didn't make it to the playoffs. That's bad.

MVP of the Decade:
Aaron Schobel (73 sacks and counting this decade)

Throwback Jersey That Will Be Cool in 15 Years:
2002 Eric Moulds

Notable Players: Eric Moulds, Marshawn Lynch, Aaron Schobel, London Fletcher, Takeo Spikes, Ruben Brown. Ted Washington, Sam Cowart, Peerless Price, Nate Clements, Drew Bledsoe, Larry Centers, Trent Edwards, Lee Evans, Willis McGahee, Travis Henry, Rian Lindell, Lawyer Malloy, Terrence McGee, Brian Moorman, Chris Kelsay, Jason Peters

Other Decade Recaps: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Kansas City Chiefs, Tennessee Titans, Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions, Washington Redskins, St. Louis Rams, Carolina Panthers

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