Williams has Donahoe's confidence - for now

Tired of Gregg Williams? Think two humiliating blowout losses in three weeks should be enough to get him fired? Well, you'd better get used to him. Until January, at least.

By allowing Williams to take the practice field with the Buffalo Bills on Tuesday, President/General Manager Tom Donahoe answered the question of whether he'll fire the head coach in the negative, and rendered moot the issue of whether he should drop the axe.

If Donahoe were going to dump Williams before the end of their third season together, he would have done it Monday, with the images of Sunday night's surrender in Kansas City fresh in his mind.

And if there's a good time for such a drastic change, it would be heading into a bye week conveniently placed at the season's exact midway point.

Donahoe supported Williams publicly after Wednesday's practice, saying the Bills win and lose as a team and that the team's only concern is getting better.

The players have been saying all the right things about their coach, too, pointing out that they're the ones blowing assignments, missing tackles, whiffing on blocks and throwing interceptions.

That's what passes for good news halfway through a season overloaded with expectations - the Bills haven't turned on each other yet.

It's going to take a lot more than happy talk to salvage anything from all those high hopes of early September, or to keep Williams employed into the New Year.

Most of the defenses offered by Donahoe and the players have a common theme - hey, we're 4-4.

Yes, the Raiders were 4-4 last year, and Oakland wound up in the Super Bowl. Yes, the Jets were 2-5 and wound up winning the AFC East. But there are good 4-4 records, and bad 4-4 records.

The Bills' 4-4 is putrid. The two September wins that had the faithful, and even the national media, talking Super Bowl have lost much of their luster.

New England was clearly a team in disarray after the Lawyer Milloy fiasco, but has subsequently turned it around to go win six of seven since to take the lead in the AFC East.

The blowout in Jacksonville came against what has proven to be the weakest Jaguars team in franchise history.

Buffalo's two wins in the subsequent six weeks are hardly awe-inspiring. Cincinnati has steadily improved under one of the guys Donahoe didn't hire in the winter of 2001, Marvin Lewis, but the Bengals are still the sort of team a contender should beat at home. The same goes for Washington, particularly considering that the Redskins visited Ralph Wilson Stadium missing the middle of their defensive line and spent most of the afternoon without their top two running backs.

Those two victories don't come close to evening out the four losses, either numerically or aesthetically.

The three road losses have been particularly ugly, with Buffalo getting pasted by a combined 85-15 score, without managing to score a single offensive touchdown in Miami, New Jersey or Kansas City.

To have a realistic shot at the playoffs, Buffalo needs to go at least 6-2 the rest of the way. That means, even if the Bills sweep at home, winning a minimum of two road games.

Say what you want about the defense, which has fallen well short of the dominance expected of it after Donahoe's offseason maneuvering. Buffalo's downward spiral points directly to the offense, and the men who direct it on and off the field.

Offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride became so infatuated with the pyrotechnics orchestrated by Drew Bledsoe during the first half of 2002 that he refuses to alter his strategic approach, even though defenses adjusted accordingly long ago. Airing it out stopped working roughly one year ago, well before Peerless Price and Larry Centers left town.

Yet in just about every crucial situation, no matter how little real estate needs to be covered, Gilbride calls for a pass. Ordering two straight throws with Buffalo 2 yards from getting back into the game in Kansas City was an obvious case of a coach more concerned with proving his critics wrong than putting points on the board for his team.

Of course, Gilbride would have looked a little smarter if Bledsoe hadn't overthrown tight end Dave Moore so hideously on second down.

It's easy to blame Bledsoe's struggles over the last six weeks on Gilbride's surreal play-calling, the injuries to his two main weapons - Travis Henry and Eric Moulds - and a less-than-overwhelming performance by the offensive line.

But the Bills gave up a No. 1 draft pick for Bledsoe and gave him the most lucrative contract in team history because he's supposed to lift his teammates to his level, not sink to theirs.

Despite all the lip service paid to the running game's importance, Bledsoe has shown himself to be at least as trigger-happy as Gilbride, checking out of a run call on at least one crucial third-and-1 situation and into a low-percentage throw to noted deep threat Mark Campbell.

The Bills don't throw well enough to be considered a passing team, or show enough commitment to a ground attack to call them a running team.

With no identity on offense, Buffalo's high-profile defenders are stuck with the impossible assignment of playing catch-up without the ball. Without defensive ends capable of mounting a consistent pass rush, thereby forcing turnovers, the defense simply isn't good enough to win games on its own.

Williams has nine weeks to show that he's more than a highly organized, well-coifed list-maker. It's going to take a head coach who deserves the title to get this team back into the sort of balance needed to get even close to where so many thought it could go back in September.

Maybe Williams will justify Donahoe's confidence and prove that he's up to it. Based on the last six, though, it's hard to believe that he will.

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