Niagara Gazette


December 11, 2011

Bills, Chargers can share their misery today

SAN DIEGO — Back on Oct. 9, things couldn't have been much better for the Buffalo Bills and San Diego Chargers.

The Bills beat the Philadelphia Eagles and the Chargers held off a late charge by Tim Tebow to win at Denver. Both teams were 4-1 and seemingly going somewhere.

Then it all went wrong for the two original AFL teams. The Chargers went from their best start in five seasons under coach Norv Turner to losing six straight games, their worst skid in 10 years. Now it will take a miracle for the Bolts

to avoid missing the playoffs for the second straight season, and maybe to save the jobs of Turner and general manager A.J. Smith.

The Bills at least extended their surprising start to 5-2 before losing five straight. Now they're headed for their seventh straight losing season and 12th straight season out of the playoffs. While the Chargers trail Denver and Oakland by two games in the AFC West, the Bills are buried four games behind the New England Patriots and two behind the New York Jets.

Now 5-7, the Bills and Chargers can share their misery when they face off Sunday, although the loser will be one step closer to oblivion.

They'll be playing for pride and staving off their mathematical ouster.

"As a competitor that's what you want to do. You want to go out there and beat the team you're playing against," said Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, whose production has taken a hit during the losing streak. "That doesn't change whether you're in Pop Warner, playing pickup basketball or whether you're in the NFL. As a competitor you want to win.

"I think we have to take pride in what we're doing. We're all professionals and we do this for a living and you want to be good at what you do," he added. "So the second you become complacent, the second you start feeling sorry for yourself, you're no longer going to be able to go out there and perform at a high level. How you finish the season can help carry over and lead you into a good offseason and next season. All of that stuff is factored in."

The Chargers will be trying for their first home win since Oct. 2 against Miami. They snapped their losing streak on Monday night with a 38-14 victory at Jacksonville. The Chargers looked like the team most people expected they'd be this season, with Philip Rivers throwing three touchdown passes to three difference receivers. Additionally, Ryan Mathews ran for 100 yards in consecutive games for the first time in his two-year career.

While the team was reinvigorated by the win, it was likely too late. The Chargers need to win out and have Denver and Oakland hit the wall in order to have a shot at the playoffs. The Chargers were 4-8 in 2008 and reached the playoffs by winning out and benefiting from Denver's collapse. But Tebow has the Broncos rolling, the Chargers have some tough games left and the Raiders are in their way, too.

Rivers, who has finally slowed his flood of interceptions, said it doesn't make any sense to try to figure out what the Chargers have to do to make the postseason.

"We've just got to win a game. If we were mathematically eliminated right now, I'd tell you the same thing. We still have four games that we're guaranteed to play. We're going to play them all, give them our all, then look up after Jan. 1 and see where we stand."

The teams have had similar struggles.

Rivers has gone two games without committing a turnover, although he still leads the NFL in interceptions (17) and turnovers (21).

The Bills averaged 30.1 points through their first seven games, but have averaged only 13.4 the last five. Fitzpatrick's efficiency has taken a hit. In the first seven games, he threw 14 TD passes, had seven interceptions and lost a fumble. In the last five, he's thrown for six scores while being intercepted seven times and losing a fumble.

This is the eighth time in 12 seasons they've had losing streaks of four or more games, including last year when they opened 0-8.

After getting blown out at Dallas and at Miami, the Bills at least were close in losses at the New York Jets and to Tennessee.

At the very least, Buffalo would love to get its swagger back.

"We're working on it," Fitzpatrick said. "I think we've at least played better the last few weeks. Don't take much out of that though because we still lost. You just continue to work in practice. It's kind of starting to sound like a broken record just because we're on this skid and trying to find a way to get out of it. That's the only way I know how, is to get it done on the practice field and have it translate it to the field. We're having different guys coming in and we need to have guys step up and make plays."

The Chargers are in the same predicament. Injuries to both teams have exposed lack of depth. San Diego got wide receiver Malcom Floyd and right guard Louis Vasquez back from injuries on Monday night, and left tackle Jared Gaither played well just days after being signed off waivers.

Of the Chargers' five wins, one has been against a team with a winning record, Denver.

"We've struggled at home and away this year," Rivers said. "When you lose six in a row, you've obviously struggled. Coming home, wanting to get a win a home, certainly to get two in a row, it would be big."

This will also be a showdown between GMs Smith and Buddy Nix of Buffalo.

Nix was promoted from national scout to the Bills' GM late in the 2009 season, 1 ? years after his sudden departure from the Chargers' front office.

In 2001, Nix followed John Butler and Smith from Buffalo to San Diego to rebuild the sad-sack Chargers. After Butler died in 2003, Smith was promoted to GM and Nix, well-respected as a talent evaluator, was made assistant general manager. Two days after the 2008 draft, the Chargers announced that Nix retired.

Nix declined an interview request this week and Smith didn't return a call seeking comment.

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