Niagara Gazette

Sports

November 14, 2010

BRONSTEIN: Winning is no longer necessary

ORCHARD PARK — So sorry that most of you missed this one.

If you weren’t fortunate enough to to be trapped in a cold mist for three hours watching the NFL’s version of a Class D Consolation Bowl game, or savvy enough to circumvent the local blackout rules, you weren’t able to watch what might’ve been the Buffalo Bills lone win of 2010.

When Shaun Hill’s two-point pass attempt sailed out of the end zone in the waning seconds, there was a fleeting moment of Fandemonium at three-quarters-full Ralph Wilson Stadium. Hearing all the “Hey-ay-ay-ay” cheers on the walk down to what was a giddy locker room, it felt like the old days again, when you could count on the Bills to get a few of their seven wins at home.

This win was a month in the making. Starting with the bye week, when the coaching staff recommitted to Fred Jackson as the featured back, tweaked the defensive system to better suit the veteran holdovers, and effectively gave up on Aaron Maybin, the Bills turned in three solid performances that resulted in three-point losses. They were no more than three plays away from coming home with a three-game winning streak.

The players and coaches deserved to break free from what coach Chan Gailey called “the 800-pound monkey in the room.” Individuals born and bred to view victory as the only virtue of athletic competition were beyond frustrated with the sad state of the organization they work for. Gailey, especially, may not have been able to handle another close call.

So against a young team that was playing a banged-up backup at quarterback and hadn’t won a road game since J.P. Losman was considered a viable NFL player, Buffalo finally got over the hump and avoided the inevitability of emulating Detroit’s dubious 0-16 record.

The Bills and their fans should enjoy this for as long as possible. Forget the notion that you savor a win for just 24 hours before devoting all of your attention to the next game.

Buffalo needed this win. It doesn't need another one.

The priority now should be to get as many of their young players on the field as possible and let them develop. It’s easy to spot the glaring holes on the roster. It’s harder to figure out how many building blocks are in place. And if the team hopes to be more competitive next season, they don’t want their second- and-third year players learning on the job and making rookie mistakes.

Donte Whitner made a valid point that the Bills are figuring out what it takes to win right now, and that the lessons will carry over to future seasons. But that will only happen if the recent draft picks contribute to the wins.

C.J. Spiller, if his hamstring permits, needs a larger workload so he can find out what it takes to be an every-down back. Terrell Troup needs game reps to become the anchor of a stout run defense. Alex Carrington needs to be activated so that the we can see why the Bills passed on Colt McCoy in the third round of last year’s draft. Maybin needs to be given an honest opportunity to prove he’s not the worst player in the NFL.

Those lineup changes should go into effect right away. Guys like Fred Jackson, Kyle Williams, Marcus Stroud and Reggie Torbor don’t deserve to be benched, but unless you see them as the core of a contending team two years down the line, they don’t need to be playing every down from here on out.

In a month or so, the team would be wise its wise to consider benching Ryan Fitzpatrick, as counterintuitive as it sounds. Brian Brohm needs a quality audition to determine whether he can be a franchise quarterback. You don’t want to draft a new quarterback only to find out next training camp that Brohm (or Levi Brown) is a better prospect.

Fitzpatrick talks wistfully about his experience in Cincinnati a few years ago, when the Bengals started 0-8, then went 3-4-1 down the stretch. He thinks the Bills have what it takes to make a similar late season charge.

“We hope that this now turns into the momentum shifter we need to get back on the right track,” Fitzpatrick said.

That will only happen if the team continues to play rely on its veterans and disregards the benefits of securing a high draft position.

And that would be worse than going 0-16.

Contact reporter Jonah Bronstein at jonah.bronstein@niagara-gazette.com.

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