Niagara Gazette

Sports

November 7, 2010

TIM'S TAKE: ‘Stevie’ gives Bills piece to grow on

TORONTO — Sorry to sound skeptical, but as I slink down into the mancave’s easy chair to take in the masochistic experience we call a Sunday Bills game, I’m looking for three things, some of which you’d rarely expect while rooting for the home team.

First, I’m hoping to be just a tiny bit entertained. For the past three weeks, the amusement level has been surprisingly high for a team that’s been so quick to let us down in the past. An occasional third-down conversion here. An unexpected big hit or burst to the outside there. Seeing the teeniest bit of fear in the opponents, as if they weren’t listening to the same frequency the Bills’ offensive coordinator and quarterback are tuned to, helps me justify the decision to choose the game over pulling leaves from the gutters.

Next, I’m looking for the Bills to lose. After what can conservatively be termed a putrid home loss to the Jets fourth week of the season, Buffalo was realistically eliminated from the postseason. In my eyes, that means every win the team registers simply puts a smiley face on a sad situation, a Band-Aid on a broken bone where a cast was necessary. A full reconstruction is necessary.

And finally, I’m scouring for a few pieces that might fit in with what I’m hoping will be overwhelming roster changes. Another writer who follows the Bills on a more regular basis than I said he and a co-worker used to play a fun game called, “would this guy be in the NFL if he wasn’t with the Bills?” More often than we’ve been willing to admit in the past — like with a former starting quarterback who still can’t find a roster spot since being cut for Trent Edwards — the answer has been no.

So while I’ll be quick to say I detest the signing of Shawne Merriman, a guy who’s clearly here on a T.O.-like basis and will stunt the team’s ability to evaluate the guys they’ve already got, I’m starting to see a few nuggets that could, eventually, be building blocks if the franchise turns back in the right direction.

One is a wonder named Stevie.

After a dozen catches through the first four games, many at garbage time, Johnson has evolved into a legitimate threat in the past few weeks, showing he has the skills to not just find openings, but create something when he can’t.

Johnson’s 45-yard rumble in Sunday’s loss was a big-time NFL football play.

A simple deep in, Johnson’s big enough to catch the ball in traffic, like he did between Brian Urlacher and Charles Tillman at the 30. From there, though, he showed he’s not bound by the athletic limits of most seventh-round draft choices. First, he slipped inside Tim Jennings, then spun out of the tackle of Danieal Manning, fighting down to the 5-yard line.

It’s been a long time since we’ve affixed the phrase “after the catch” to a certain receiver, but Johnson might break the skid, like another unheralded Bills draft choice who’s holding out hope he’ll be enshrined in Canton.

“I just tried to make a play for the team. That’s it. I found a hole,” Johnson told reporters after the game. “We were talking about it all day. They played a zone, a great zone. Just find a hole and do what you have to do after. (Ryan Fitzpatrick) knew that and I knew that also. So I just found a hole and ended up trying to get in that end zone and get some points for the guys.”

Johnson seems to have the frame to shield off defenders and can fight through tackles. He’s quick enough to make people miss. And he’s got a grit that many of his predecessors haven’t, as he showed when he seemed angry by not getting over the goal line on a hard-nosed slant.

Even though the Bills are oh-for-a-half-season, it sure likes they’ve uncovered a gem in Johnson.

Many of the others won’t be around next year, but he will be.

“It’s just not happening at the end,” he said, “but I’ll lose a million games with these guys because there is no quit in this team. No quit at all.

“We’re going to be something to work with in the future.”

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