Inside Bills Report

Mike Mularkey's first year as an NFL head coach has been eventful, to say the least, and it's still far from over.<BR> Let's see...<BR> Training camp opened with his star right tackle, Mike Williams, out of shape and AWOL, sending the line into a tizzy.<BR> Rookie quarterback J.P. Losman, one of the first-round picks, broke his leg. Starting Pro Bowl strong safety Lawyer Milloy shattered his right forearm. Travis Henry and Willis McGahee fanned the flames of a running back controversy.

Mularkey's coaching debut was marred by 13-10 loss to Jacksonville at home with no time on the clock. Close losses filled with penalties and mistakes followed against Oakland, New England and the New York Jets.

His owner, Ralph Wilson, called his team boring. Mularkey cut veteran wide receiver Bobby Shaw to send a message.

Phew! After all of that, the Bills finally got into the win column and Mularkey could exhale after a 20-13 win over the still winless Miami Dolphins last week. They play at Baltimore (3-2) on Sunday trying to build some real momentum.

One thing about being tested by adversity is that people can see your true colors, and the Bills like what they see in Mularkey. Even Ralph Wilson does.

"It's his first year, he's a rookie coach, like a rookie player, but he's a class guy and in life, I think, you win with class," Wilson said. "I think Mike's going to be a top coach."

Mularkey is receiving a lot of kudos for not deviating from the plan he concocted for the Bills and the personnel he inherited from Gregg Williams last off-season. Even when Wilson said he was tired of "smash-mouth" football, Mularkey stuck to the run against Miami, and wore the Dolphins down by controlling the ball a whopping 13:22 of the fourth quarter.

Struggling quarterback Drew Bledsoe had his best game thanks to an effective play-action attack and he was sacked just once after being sacked 18 times the previous three games.

"Mike has been a great head coach through this stretch," Bledsoe said. "I don't think any of us envisioned this scenario, where we would be 0-4...but Mike (was) tremendous staying on message with the team. When he's in front of the team he's very matter-of-fact. He just points out this and this and says, 'This is what we have to do and this is how we have to play.' He has stayed strong in his convictions of how we're going to play. We're going to be a good running team first, we're going to use some play-action and quick passing, and we're going to play good defense and special teams. He has stayed with that message."

Mularkey doesn't find being true to his convictions as a unique leadership trait.

"I can't say I can remember being 0-4 but I have been in (difficult) situations as a position coach, as a coordinator, as a player and been around head coaches and saw how they handled the situations and how it made a difference in the outcome of the season," he said. "That's the only way I know about going about things. I told the players, 'You're stuck with me. This is the way we believe we're going to do it.' I think they're seeing that happen."

Earning a win was critical for Mularkey to justify the means to the end.

Said wide receiver Eric Moulds, who is working on his fourth head coach in Buffalo: "It's excitement right now, because you never know what that first win can do for you. It can turn your season around."

Helping Mularkey has been the veteran coaches he has surrounded himself with in Buffalo, topped by quarterback coach Sam Wyche.

In 1984, Wyche's rookie head coaching season with the Cincinnati Bengals, he started 0-5. The Bengals then won eight of their final 11 games to finish 8-8. A Super Bowl trip was in the team's future.

"I've leaned on Sam a number of times," said Mularkey, who began his NFL coaching career 10 years ago on Wyche's Tampa Bay staff. "He's been a good shoulder to lean on for most cases."

SERIES HISTORY - 2nd meeting, Bills lead 1-0, winning 13-10 on Halloween Day, 1999. After a 16-year hiatus, the Bills played a regular-season game in Baltimore, former home of the Colts, and defeated the Ravens at then PSINet Stadium. Buffalo rallied from a 10-0 hole on two Steven Christie field goals and a five-yard touchdown pass from Doug Flutie to Jonathan Linton with 1:35 left. Flutie, who had a horrible day with three interceptions and a 32.8 rating, saved the day with a 17-yard scramble on fourth-and-15 to keep the winning drive alive. Buffalo's own defense came up with a key turnover when Gabe Northern slammed into quarterback Tony Banks to force an errant pass that Kurt Schulz intercepted to set up Christie's second field goal.

NOTES, QUOTES

--P Brian Moorman was pleasantly shocked and surprised over being named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week. He had just three opportunities against the Dolphins, but did average 53 yards in difficult conditions -- the wind was gusting to 30 mph.

"It shocked me," Moorman said. "I know there is a lot of good special teams in this conference, so it's a great honor."

Kicking into the wind in the second quarter from his own end zone, Moorman blasted a ball 47 yards to buy his defense some breathing room. He also had a long punt of 59 yards, marking the 40th time in 53 career games that he recorded at least one punt of at least 50 yards.

Moorman has been a Pro Bowl alternate for two seasons but it seems he's gaining some recognition for working half the year in one of the NFL's most challenging venues for weather. His secret in windy weather? Don't kill the ball.

"One thing I learned when I was with Jeff Feagles when I was in camp with him at Seattle, he had a saying, 'Easy when it's breezy,' "

--The Bills' streak of 11 consecutive home sellouts is in danger of ending Oct. 31 against Arizona. Some 8,000 tickets remain unsold, the team reported. The club has issued a news release with GM Tom Donahoe imploring fans to buy tickets, but a win over Baltimore would be a better marketing tool.

--Backs and tight ends caught a total of just 12 passes through Buffalo's first three games but over the past two games have been on the end of 13 catches for 137 yards and two touchdowns. TE Mark Campbell has both scores.

--The Bills, who were averaging eight penalties per game, got it down to seven against Miami. The team began using two ex-Arena League referees at each of their practices last week. The refs toss flags at anything they see wrong. "We learned some things even in that game that happened with some of the calls (from practice). I see no negative about having these guys out there helping us out," coach Mike Mularkey said.

--Bills QB Drew Bledsoe on veteran Ravens CB Deion Sanders, who came out of retirement: "He's obviously lost a step but it was a step he could afford to lose because he was probably more talented than anybody I ever saw play the position."

BY THE NUMBERS: 28.6 - Percentage of time opponents score on Buffalo's defense in the red zone, second best in the AFC.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't think it's going to change the approach. He's obviously a big part of why they're where they're at in the run game. But their line is a big factor in that. They're a mauling type, a real physical line that helps that thing go. Our players know that No. 29 - (Chester) Taylor- when he's had his opportunities he's made big plays. Now he's not played a whole game. He has not carried the load. But we will not take him lightly at all." - Bills coach Mike Mularkey commenting on playing the Ravens missing suspended RB Jamal Lewis, who led the NFL with 2,066 yards rushing last year.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

Defensive coordinator Jerry Gray and Pro Bowl defensive tackle Sam Adams are moving on from the sideline confrontation they had during the second quarter last week against Miami.

Adams still isn't happy with his role in the defense - he's asked to occupy space, stop the run, and drop back into coverage sometimes. He also comes off the field on most passing downs and is replaced by young backup Ron Edwards.

But Adams, concerned about criticism he felt was unwarranted, said he's a team player and only lost his cool out of his passion to play.

"Things happened...but it's a passionate game and you don't take a player's passion away," he said. "This is a game about respecting the men who play it, period. You don't take those things away. Things that happen on the sideline during a game, it's a family affair. That's all I want to say about it."

Gray said he didn't sit Adams to punish him or because he was playing poorly, although Miami ran the ball well in the first half. He did it because Edwards (four tackles, two sacks) got hot and he wasn't tiring.

Gray said he wouldn't scrap his rotation system because he wants his defensive linemen to stay fresh and he also doesn't hold a grudge against Adams for confronting him. Adams, who was back with the first-unit defense on Wednesday, wasn't fined and there is a good dialogue going on.

"You're a football player and when you walk on that field and you tell a guy not to show his emotions, you're going to have a robot out there and nobody wants robots," he said. "We want you to be a good player, show emotion, go to the bench, grab an adjustment, and go back in. Sometimes those things happen but we're professionals. We handle them and we go on."

Adams, who is earning $2.25 million this year, is signed through 2005. He has 34 career sacks, including five last year when he was allowed to rush the passer more toward the end of the season, and simply feels he's not being used to his full potential. He wants to attack, but he'll do what he's told: tie up blockers so the linebackers and ends can clean up.

"I've been put in the position that we feel is the best for us to win," Adams said. "It's plain and simple. If it has to do with me playing or us winning, I'd rather sit down because we're here to win a championship. If somebody is playing better than me then they should play, but that was not the case (on Sunday)."

As for facing Baltimore, the team he helped to the 2000 Super Bowl title, Adams has no love lost. After playing for Oakland in 2002, he tried to re-sign with the Ravens but was insulted by a low-ball offer.

"I don't like them, I've never liked them," said Adams, a two-time Pro Bowler. "They're my enemies right now. I won a championship with those guys but that doesn't mean a thing. When we put it on, on Sunday, I'm coming to prove something."

PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES

--WR Eric Moulds remains 4th on the Bills' all-time scrimmage yard list with 7,777 yards (145 rushing plus 7,632 receiving).

--RB Willis McGahee joined some exclusive company with his 26-carry, 111-yard performance against Miami in his fifth NFL game. Among Bills, only O.J. Simpson (third game in 1969), Antowain Smith (fourth game in 1997), and Greg Bell (fifth game in 1984) had a 100-yard game as quickly.

--QB Drew Bledsoe is fourth in the AFC in fourth-quarter passing (26 completions for 372 yards with three touchdowns and one interception for a rating of 99.8). Slow starts and poor fourth-quarter defense are why Buffalo is 1-4.

--TE Mark Campbell is the first Bills TE with touchdowns in back-to-back games since Dave Moore (games 4-5, 2002).

--LB Takeo Spikes' interception against Miami was the eighth of his career. The Bills like playing Miami. Three of their last four interception returns for TDs have come against the Dolphins.

GAME PLAN: The Ravens will be without suspended RB Jamal Lewis but they still have another Lewis named Ray to contend with on the other side of the ball. Paying extra attention to six-time Pro Bowl LB Ray Lewis is a given if the Bills are to control the ball, eliminate the hostile home crowd and reverse their road fortunes that have seen them drop 12 of their last 14 road contests. Defensively, the Bills can't take Jamal Lewis' replacement, Chester Taylor, for granted. Taylor has averaged nearly 6 yards a carry on his 28 attempts and Baltimore's offensive line, led by LT Jonathan Ogden, is dominant. The Bills allowed Miami's Sammy Morris to get on a roll in the first half before buckling down, but overcoming a halftime deficit on the road won't be as easy. Buffalo has been a slow starter and that's got to change if it is to get on any kind of roll before the year's midway point.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Bills DE Aaron Schobel vs. Ravens LT Jonathan Ogden - Baltimore's young QB Kyle Boller has been sacked 13 times and has thrown five interceptions but getting by Mt. Ogden is no easy task.

--Bills CB Thomas Smith vs. Ravens WR Randy Hymes - Backup Hymes leads the Ravens in catches with 16 for 226 yards and two TDs, including a 57-yard score, and Bills have to match up with him in nickel.

--Bills RBs vs. Ravens LB Terrell Suggs - Second-year pro Suggs has 17 sacks already, and Travis Henry and Willis McGahee need to be sharp in blitz pickup.

--Bills TE Mark Campbell vs. Ravens SS Ed Reed - Campbell is hot with two TDs in two games. Reed is a rising playmaker.

INJURY IMPACT: The Bills expect Pro Bowl veteran SS Lawyer Milloy to return to the lineup on Sunday; he's been out since late August after shattering his right forearm in a preseason game at Detroit. Milloy's return is a huge boost to a secondary that's given up 207.8 yards per outing. Milloy, who will play with a special brace, has a plate and eight screws in his right arm but he's been working at full tilt since last week.

"We'll keep it as a surprise whether I'll be out there or not. Nothing's holding me back," he said on Wednesday.

--C Trey Teague remains doubtful with a knee injury, meaning Ross Tucker will stay in the lineup. Tucker played well the second half against Miami and is getting more comfortable at the position.

--RB Travis Henry (foot) practiced on Wednesday and is likely to return to the starting lineup after sitting out the Dolphins' win. LT Jonas Jennings (ankle) also practiced and will play.


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