Inside Bills Report: Bills-Giants Preview

With nine losses in their last seven games, the Bills' prospects of making the NFL playoffs have been reduced to unlikely mathematical equations. <P><P> At 4-7, the Bills trail in the race for a wild-card berth by two games with five to play. Not exactly the kind of season many people inside and outside the team envisioned for a club in Year Three of a massive rebuilding job under GM Tom Donahoe and coach Gregg Williams.

With nine losses in their last seven games, the Bills' prospects of making the NFL playoffs have been reduced to unlikely mathematical equations.

At 4-7, the Bills trail in the race for a wild-card berth by two games with five to play. Not exactly the kind of season many people inside and outside the team envisioned for a club in Year Three of a massive rebuilding job under GM Tom Donahoe and coach Gregg Williams.

"That's why you play 'em," said Donahoe, who said he's more frustrated than disappointed over the way things have gone. "That's what we are. We've got to deal with it and find a way to get better and that's on all of us."

Sunday's game at the equally frustrated New York Giants has been dubbed "The Lame Duck Bowl" by media cynics. Williams and his Giants counterpart, Jim Fassel, are on the hot seat.

At least Fassel can fall back on a distinguished resume, taking the Giants to the playoffs in three of his seven seasons, including a trip to Super Bowl XXXV where the Giants lost to Baltimore.

Williams is 15-28 with Buffalo and, with three of the Bills' final five games on the road, including trips to Tennessee (9-2) and New England (9-2) after the Meadowlands, will be hard pressed to come close to matching last season's 8-8 finish.

"Nothing is left," said veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield, who has always been a realist when it comes to playoffs scenarios.

"We have five games left. We'll just go out there, do what we do and go home at the end of the season. Right now we're 4-7. It's tough. Bringing in the players we brought in, I thought for sure we'd make the playoffs. It didn't work out that way. We just have to move on."

Donahoe doesn't want to turn this final stretch into a glorified tryout process for 2004 but would like to see the Bills iron out some of their problems so there's a positive feeling going into the off-season.

"We'll evaluate everything when the season is over," he said. "We still have five games to play and this team has shown it has a lot of fight. There's no reason to think that's going to change."

But aren't players playing for their jobs?

"Players do that all the time," Donahoe said. "Again, we don't evaluate week by week like the media does. We've got to play the season out and give everybody a chance to get through 16 games and then we'll sit down and look at it A to Z and whatever we have to do, we'll do."

Each of the past three off-seasons has seen extensive changes to the roster and coaching staff. Many have worked out, many have not.

This season, the inability to adequately replace speed wide receiver Peerless Price (traded to Atlanta) is one reason Buffalo's offense has struggled. Josh Reed and Bobby Shaw haven't gotten the job done and things were made worse when Eric Moulds tore a groin muscle against Cincinnati in Week 5, costing him three games and slowing him in three others.

Buffalo's offense has dropped in every statistical category kept by the league, including points scored. The Bills, who have averaged a mere 7.25 points during their current four-game losing streak, who ended a streak of 13 quarters without a touchdown in last Sunday's loss to Indianapolis. The Bills rank 31st with 173 points. Only Arizona has scored fewer with 163.

"Last year it seemed that when we came up with the big play, that would get us down into scoring territory. This year, we haven't made enough of those big plays, so we can't overcome the little mistakes," said quarterback Drew Bledsoe, who has struggled with nine interceptions and eight lost fumbles.

"We have to march the ball down field in smaller chunks than we did last year and it requires discipline and a precision that we haven't shown quite enough of this year."

Defensively, the Bills have improved across the board, particularly against the run, and only five teams have allowed fewer points than their 187. The addition of free agent stars like Sam Adams, Takeo Spikes and Lawyer Milloy have paid dividends. Lack of takeaways and sacks remains a concern, however.

"You can't fault their effort, we just can't find a way to win," Donahoe said of his players and coaches. "We're close enough to win but whatever the missing ingredient is, we have to find it so we can win some games."

Buffalo's last three losses are by margins of 4, 2 and 3 points. That stretch was the Bills' season in a nutshell. Good teams find ways to win, and bad teams find ways to lose.

"This is a league where parity makes everyone equal," said Milloy, whose old team, the New England Patriots, are 9-2, shaking off a 31-0 loss to the Bills in the season opener. "The good teams that have winning records haven't been blowing everybody out, they've been winning the ugly games. We haven't won any ugly games. We don't know how to win those grimy games."

Not every player is like Winfield, willing to admit all is lost. Win out and finish 9-7 and the Bills can make the playoff picture interesting. With games against the Titans, Dolphins and Patriots in December, they can at least enjoy the role of spoiler.

"We have to have the mindset that we're going to end the season 9-7," running back Sammy Morris said. "Obviously, we're going to need a little help to make the playoffs, but that's the situation we put ourselves in."

SERIES HISTORY: 10th meeting, Bills lead 5-4. While the teams haven't faced often, they have played in two of the most historic games in history.

Buffalo's 6-3 victory in Buffalo in 1987 came during the player's strike and only 15,737 fans attended. Star Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor, who crossed the picket lines to work, was a man amongst scrubs making play after play. However, it was mostly a very forgettable day, dubbed the "worst" in the history of the NFL by Bills coach Marv Levy. "I'd have to agree," said then Giants coach Bill Parcells recently.

To make up for that, the Bills and Giants played one of the best Super Bowls ever, with New York winning Super Bowl XXV 20-19 in 1990 when Scott Norwood's field goal in the closing seconds sailed wide right.

Counting that game, seven of the nine meetings in the series have been decided by four points or less.


--Buffalo ended its streak of consecutive games without a TD at three by scoring two against the Colts last Sunday, but its streak of not scoring a TD in consecutive road games still stands at four. Since winning at Jacksonville 38-17 back on Sept. 14, the Bills have lost at Miami, the NY Jets, Kansas City, and Dallas by a combined 21-95. That's 12 points for the offense (four FGs) and nine for the defense (interception for a TD and one safety). The Bills have been overwhelmed in the key areas of sacks and turnovers, losing both battles 17-4 and 16-3.

--CB Antoine Winfield has become the first Bills' defensive player to publicly criticize the play of the offense, which ranks 29th overall and 31st in points. Writing in his player's diary in the team's official publication, Bills Digest, Winfield said offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride hasn't adjusted to the loss of Peerless Price and Jay Riemersma and wondered why the Bills just don't run the ball more with Travis Henry. "(He) was successful last year with throwing the ball down field. I think at times he's still trying to do that," Winfield said. "We just don't have the personnel to run that offense. That's what I think. We don't have Peerless to stretch the field. We don't have Jay Riemersma. Eric (Moulds) isn't healthy right now. Is the phrase, 'We need to execute' just another way of saying that people aren't that good? You might say that. It's been ugly out there at times. I got an interception against the Texans, we get the ball at the 20, and we don't score a touchdown. Against Dallas and Houston, if we had scored one touchdown, we would have won those games. It's frustrating."

--By next Nov. 1, the Bills must decide to pay QB Drew Bledsoe a $7 million bonus that would trigger the final six years of the quarterback's contract. The Bills inherited the deal in the trade with New England and likely would chose to renegotiate the terms to more cap-friendly numbers. The question is do the Bills want Bledsoe back? He has been sacked 32 times, he has thrown just six TD passes while accounting for 17 turnovers, and Buffalo's 35 total points over the past four games is the club's most feeble four-game stretch since scoring 34 in 1984, a 2-14 season. Owner Ralph Wilson and GM Tom Donahoe strongly back Bledsoe to this point. "It's a team thing," Donahoe said after Bledsoe's game-ending interception against Indianapolis, the second straight week the game ended with him turning the ball over under pressure. "Drew will get the blame, but it's not his fault. He still throws the ball as good as anybody in the league, but we have to do a better job with protection and giving him time."

--The Bills defense played a strong game against the Colts and their No. 2 offense under Peyton Manning but wore down in the fourth quarter. Colts RB Edgerrin James carried 13 times for 55 yards and two TDs in the final 15 minutes, scoring the winning TD on six consecutive runs from the 15 yard line, the last coming on fourth-and-goal at the 1-foot line. Said Bills DT Pat Williams: "I knew they were going to run him, I'm not surprised at all. We're just stuck on a hill right now, not getting over the top. Nothing's working. We've got to get it together. I don't think anybody's down, we're still up, but we've got to get there and get a win."

--RB Travis Henry on playing with a broken leg and not quitting on coach Gregg Williams: "That's the truth. That's what it is. We're still not giving up. We've got five games and we're going to play this until the end."

--Punter Brian Moorman's Pro Bowl season took a roller-coaster turn on Sunday. Moorman dropped four punts inside the Colts' 20-yard line, and three inside the 10. He also dropped a perfect punt snap by long-snapper Jon Dorenbos, but turned the mistake into a 21-yard run for a first down on fourth-and-15. That play kept alive Buffalo's first TD drive in 13 quarters. Moorman was an All-American hurdler in college and showed off his fast wheels. "We practice me dropping that all week, it was just a disguise," he deadpanned. "No, but I do love running fakes. It can give a team a spark when we get a first down. Hopefully in the future I'll do the same thing, but I don't want to be dropping any more snaps."

--The Bills, as always, are in the giving mood this Thanksgiving week. Players participated in several community events on their Tuesday day off for the less fortunate. Sammy Morris, Alex Van Pelt and Brian Moorman served meals at the Buffalo City Mission, continuing a long Bills' tradition. Drew Bledsoe and Mike Williams delivered food and personal items to needy children and their families as part of the national Feed the Children campaign run by Athletes First. Bledsoe was the local spokesperson. Ruben Brown appeared a local bank to help promote the Salvation Army's annual Gift of Warmth drive to collect hats, gloves and coats for the less fortunate. He recently donated $40,000 from the Ruben Brown Foundation to the Army's fund. Meanwhile, Pat Williams donated 300 turkeys to Tops Markets, which matched his generosity with 300 bags of potatoes, all to be given to a needy neighborhood section of downtown Buffalo. Finally a dozen Bills' rookies served a turkey dinner to kids at the Northwest Buffalo Community Center. Over 200 kids were served.

BY THE NUMBERS: 17 -- Number of runs of 10 yards or more than Travis Henry has had in his last five games.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It is very impressive with his whole attitude. He's a tough player and he came in here with the toughness and he shows us every single day what it is to be a battering ram and a running back in this league. It's a tough position to play in this league and I'm glad he's on our team. He's a leader by example in his toughness." -- Coach Gregg Williams on RB Travis Henry's inspirational performance against Indianapolis, accounting for 98 all-purpose yards while playing with a cracked right fibula against pleas from his family to sit out.


Injuries are mounting for the Bills and there will come a point this season, if it hasn't arrived already, when it would be prudent to sit out some injured stars rather than jeopardize their futures.

While it was admirable that RB Travis Henry (cracked fibula), WR Eric Moulds (groin tear) and LT Jonas Jennings (hip) pushed themselves to play in last Sunday's loss to the Colts, would it be wise to keep playing them once Buffalo is mathematically eliminated from the playoffs? Coach Gregg Williams said that's an easy question to answer: if any player gets medical clearance to play, he plays.

"Part of it is (trusting them) and we have a good medical and training staff, too, that I rely on," Williams said. "I have a good relationship with these guys and I will trust them when they come and talk to me about things. When they can't go, they can't go. We're going to (always) put the best guy out there that we can."


--QB Drew Bledsoe left practice on Wednesday and was sent home with flu-like symptoms. Coach Gregg Williams said he expected Bledsoe back on the field Thursday and thinks he'll be fine for the game.

--WR Sam Aiken was placed on injured reserve Wednesday after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his knee to repair a cartilage tear. He was injured in practice last week.

--LB Jeff Posey is questionable with a sprained knee. He did light jogging in practice on Wednesday.

--WR Eric Moulds, who tweaked a hamstring in the loss to the Colts, wasn't on the early injury report for the Giants but that doesn't mean he's not hurting. He also is still battling the groin tear that has slowed him down since Week 5.

--FB Sam Gash has a bad ankle but should be fine for the Giants.

--FS Izell Reese, who sat out the Colts loss with a concussion, has been upgraded to probable.

--RB Sammy Morris has a sore knee and is questionable. He did not practice on Wednesday.

--OG Mike Pucillo has a turf toe and will be limited all week. Ross Tucker would replace him against New York.

--RB Nick Maddox rejoined the practice squad.

GAME PLAN: The Giants were a playoff team a year ago but are reeling for a lot of reasons, No. 1 being a sudden inability to protect the football. In Jim Fassel's first six seasons, the Giants were a plus-23 in turnover differential, but this season they are a minus-8. Consider Buffalo's minus-11 and this game easily comes down to what team makes the fewest mistakes. The Bills and Giants have a combined 22 lost fumbles. The Bills have been horrendous on the road protecting the football, committing 31 turnovers against only five for their opponents during their 1-8 road record dating back to last season. The Giants are giving up 328 yards per game so Buffalo should be able to move the football, but it absolutely can't stop itself with mistakes and hope to win. Defensively, the Bills match their No. 4 pass defense against New York's No. 4 passing offense and can win this battle with pressure on the inconsistent Kerry Collins.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Bills RDE Aaron Schobel vs. Giants LT Luke Petitgout. Giants have allowed 22 sacks. Schobel, Buffalo's best pass rusher, has to win this battle. Petitgout has a bad back.

--Bills LB London Fletcher vs. Giants RB Tiki Barber. Barber is a fumble machine and Fletcher has been making a lot of plays lately.

--Bills RT Mike Williams vs. Giants LDE Michael Strahan. A big test for Bills second-year top draft against one of NFL's best. Strahan has 11 sacks, 10 in his last eight games.

--Bills QB Drew Bledsoe vs. Giants' secondary. New York has allowed 13 TD passes. Somebody tell Bledsoe it's OK to wake up at anytime.

--Bills RB Travis Henry vs. Giants MLB Mike Barrow. Henry is 143 yards from 1,000, an amazing feat given his rib injury, broken leg and Kevin Gilbride's pass-heavy play calling.

INJURY IMPACT: LB Jeff Posey's injury could give fourth-year pro DaShon Polk a rare start. Polk, one of a handful of Bills drafted by former GM John Butler who are still with the team, started a game in 2001 when the Bills opened against New England in a 3-4 alignment. Polk is one of Buffalo's top special teams tacklers so the Bills will be stretched thin if he has to play regular downs.

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