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Mark, I'm not shouting by using caps but I did want to emphasize the point. I think you are suffering from a serious case of this. The bottom line is wins v. losses. We are getting a lot more w's these days than we have in any stretch since the beginning of the 2002 season. If you pick apart every detail of every game, you will find things to complain and/or worry about. In pro sports, the only thing that really matters is the final score. We Bills fans are still suffering with that reality since Super Bowl 25 when the Bills had the most dominant team in football, by a long shot, but still lost the big one. Also as fans we have to ride the highs because the lows hurt so much. I still try to read your columns (cause i'm a junkie for the bills and you are very knowledgeable) but I still find myself tuning out cause they tend to be so doom and gloom.

Now, before you start shaking your head and saying that here's another rose-colored glasses, believe all the media hype, Bledsoe-Donohoe loving fool, realize that I am not any of those things. I don't think this is a great team. I am well prepared for a collapse on Sunday cause I've seen it from the Bills (no matter who's coaching or playing) so many times over the past 30+ years - I was at 2 of the SB's and the Nashville debacle (there was nothing miraculous about that in my opinion!). So just when I'm ready to get really excited, I'm ready for Drew to have a real stinker on Sunday and for the Bills to find some way to lose. Hope not though! :-) I don't believe that Willis is the savior or done anything that proves he is much better (or even better) than Travis. I love Travis. I really like Willis a lot too. I agree that he is way over-hyped right now. But it's a great story. He is gaining 100 yards and they have been winning - I know, I know, lots of carries for negative yards, etc, etc. Travis had the same thing in the games he played this year, too. We'll see. Shaud looked like a pretty good back up last week too. Depth is good. The O line is also not great but they've been playing a lot better and it shows in the wins. Sorry, they do have something to do with it. It's not all because of special teams and take-aways. The only game I've been able watch this year (cause I live in London) was the Patriots Sunday night game (ouch!). They had that pocket clock going the whole game and Brady consistently had 1 second longer (at least) than Drew to get rid of the ball. 25% more time. Like it or not, that makes a big difference. Do I think Drew is anywhere close to Brady as QB, NO! But he is not always completely to blame. Anyway this was going to be short and wasn't meant to be defending Drew. I'm also not sold on Donahoe. But some of his moves are looking better lately. I'd like to see him pay more attention to the lines, too. I guess how JP goes will put the final seal on Tom's legacy with the Bills. There's a lot more to it, I know but I think that will be big.

I am sold on Mularkey. I wasn't thrilled when he was hired but I really like him. This team is SO much better than last year. I know that you pick apart the details and don't agree with that (or don't want to admit it). I also know that the schedule has been very soft on this recent stretch. I'm well aware of that. However, I also listened to every game last year on RealPlayer as I'm doing this year. Every game I was amazed at the stupid decisions that the coaching staff made. They abandoned the run so predictably it still makes my blood pressure rise, thinking about it. You keep asking why teams aren't blitzing this year. One main reason is cause these coaches actually have brains and they're not putting Drew on a platter like the last (Donahoe hired) regime.

Finally, this team has a dominating special teams unit. Special special-teams often make special teams. They are the MVP's of this team. Troy Vincent at FS could also be just what the defense needed to make it a truly special unit. They still haven't proven that they can dominate a good offense on the road. They have to do that before I consider them elite. But they're getting there.

I agree with you. This week will tell us a lot. I'm optimistic and hopeful but also prepared for disappointment. Unless they completely tank the rest of the season, I feel very comfortable saying that this season has been much better and more fun than last. They still aren't close to the elite teams but there's reason to be hopeful.

Finally, I fly back to the states for the holidays on Tuesday. If they do win this week, then I'll be able to go to a sports bar in Atlanta for two truly exciting games on TV (real treat for me!).

Go Bills!!!


Response :

Hey Jim,

Absolutely phenominal e-mail!!! Thanks!!!

I want to address your points and in doing so will provide some background. I will attempt to isolate your points in one form or another so as to provide clarity as to exactly the points (or counterpoints) that I am attempting to make.

First of all, allow me to avidly state that no, simply because you disagree I do not consider you a "rose-colored glasses" fan that simply gobbles down the media hype, not at all in fact! I, as you, am also still reeling from those four seasons early in the '90s, and while I will not agree that we had the best team every season, as at least the Skins in '91 were clearly superior, I will agree that we should have at least beaten the Giants and Cowboys in the 2nd Cowboy game in '93/'94. While you read this I would like you to consider one thing relating to these points; what was it about those teams, the Giants, Redskins, Cowboys, and even us back then, that made those teams special? In other words, what aspects of those teams likely springs to the forefront of your mind as to the basis of the success of those teams during those years? We'll come back to that later. Just let it wander around your mind while reading further.

I as well am a junkie for the Bills. In fact it is the only major league sport that I pay any attention to and you could even say that as my interest in the others dropped off, the stock that I put into them was put into pro football, largely the Bills and AFCE, growing my interest there proportionally. I would love nothing better than for us to be so incredibly dominant that we just steamroll through the playoffs, win the AFCC, and then pound the NFC representative into oblivion. But something concerns me about our ability to create such a team under the current circumstances. More on exactly what that is following.

But to your points, I like to "ride the highs" too because the "lows hurt too much." But when I see "highs" only existing due to factors that make no sense and largely built on perceptions, then I also realize that at some point those perceptions will change themselves to realities and the lows that follow will "hurt" even more.

Moreover, when I see the reasons as to why those "lows" exist falsely being dismissed on misperceptions, speculations that have little or no basis, and intentionally hyped up nonsense, and in turn those "reasons" then being given credit for something that has only "appeared" to have happened due to incessant media coverage with no one looking at the details as you say I "overdo/overanalyze", then it concerns me going forward because I would rather not have to resign myself to the fact that we as fans have more of the same coming through the year 2010 or so. Yet, barring some sort of minor miracle, based on statements by Ralph Wilson, that now appears exactly where we are headed. As well, I want you to take a very close look at the Chicago Bears 2001 season closely. Look very, very closely. It would appear that in 2001 they were a very good team, no? Well, were they? I mean after all, 13-3 is a great record, no?

Now, take a very close look at their record in the three years prior and to date since. Then go look at the teams that they played. Break it down by record of opponent and take a close look at the 10-6 teams that they played that year. What was the Bears' record vs. them including the playoffs? Take note of how the two winning teams that they did beat fared in the playoffs that season as well. It all adds up. Am I drawing an exact correlation to the two teams? No, not at all. But it does make a significant point, or should.

I would also like to add that I can validate many of your points about the team. But we, as fans that care about actually making the playoffs much more being competitive in them, have to step back and look at the big picture. We read "positive" things in the national level media whose job it is to incite fans and do exactly that. My job is what I make it. I strive to provide accurate analysis and assessment of this team, our team, regardless of whether or not it's pleasing. Case in point, do you truly believe that I'm happy with the state of our team right now as I've laid it out? Obviously the answer is no, far from it. But good or bad, I attempt to not let my bias for my team impact my view of it and where it stands.

Having said that, what do we have with the Bills? Well, there are many things that I've barely touched upon in my pieces that are extremely relevant to the future success of this franchise going forward and to the big picture going forward that are critical and pivotal if this team wants to be successful over the next four or five seasons. But what do we have in Buffalo presently?

I asked you up above what the teams that beat us in the Super Bowls had as their strengths. The answer should easily have been lines. All three of those teams had dominant offensive and defensive lines. Not in every case, but their skill position players were somewhat lesser in terms of talent and as we all know, many of their skill position players were made to look great because of their lines. For instance, Mark Rypien was no great QB, Earnest Byner was no standout RB, and Art Monk at 34 was certainly nothing special any longer, yet they were all made to look super as a result of having a great line. Fans of football know full well that Emmitt Smith was hardly ever touched in his own backfield and often not until yards downfield. Why? Because of the lines. Same on D, same on all of those teams. In fact, it's an age-old piece of wisdom that in the NFL success starts with the lines.

But what do we have in Buffalo? We have a GM that has continually ignored that piece of wisdom and attempted to buck it in favor of stocking the skill position players first both defensively and offensively by-and-large. Very few top resources have been put into either of the lines during Commander Tom's tenure. Instead, Commander Tom thrives on big stories in the media about how things "should be" with a team that looks great on paper, and why should it not as the skill positions are stocked with former Pro Bowlers and top names! But the analysis breaks down when any meaningful and honest analysis and assessment of the lines occurs. This is the "dirty little secret" which frankly isn't so secret, but which hinders the ability of this team to move to the next level.

On top of that, this team has poured in tremendous resources including time, now this season as well, into a QB that has never, ever, proven any sort of ability to turn a single good game in the playoffs. Oh, fans and media will rave about how "Humpty" led the Patriots to the Super Bowl, but what is never mentioned is how little he did in getting them there. All it takes is a quick look at the box scores of those playoff games to realize, fully, why the Patriots succeeded in those games, and it's very clearly not because of Humpty. Very clearly for those that can view it objectively. In fact, if those stats would be shown to someone randomly with all the names of the players and teams blotted out, there would be no question that any reasoning person would say "who is this awful QB." Not one reasonable person would argue that!

Yet, what do we have in Buffalo? A team driven by past and now future (Humpty's "resurrected" play) media notions which are so incredibly shortsighted that it makes the village idiot look like a visionary. I may not be correct about everything, but if there is one thing that I will take to the bank it's that Humpty is only a liability in the playoffs that the team has to overcome and the only way that would be possible would be to be so incredibly superior in just about every other facet of the game that he couldn't possibly hurt the team in the playoffs and we both know that's never going to be the case. If it didn't happen in '96 on the Pats, it never would have or will!

Whether fans want to admit it or not, we are on the front end of yet a second rebuilding. Why should someone that has utterly botched a first five-year rebuilding be given free-reign at a second opportunity and what suggests that the "second time around" will be any different assuming that the philosophy does not alter itself, and frankly, why should it as a blank check indicating satisfaction with the first approach has now been issued?

If my calculations are correct, then these are the players which will either be free agents at the end of this season or at the end of next presently:

OL: Jennings, Price, Pucillo, Teague, Sobieski
O: Moulds (by refusing to restructure possibly, choice his)
DL: Williams, Edwards
D: Clements, McGee, Wire

That's six key starters and many core members of this team. There are also several others that will continue to degrade in performance and some rapidly because they are on the "wrong side of 30 and not gettin' any younger" and who will clearly not be improving. Those players include some of the above players as well as Adams, Milloy, Vincent, and Villarrial.

When you put this all together, and consider that either this team is going nowhere from the start with Humpty next season in ridiculous notions that "he's our best chance of winning" or that we're going to have to accept the fully realistic notions that J.P. Losman will have a hefty learning curve to work through and need a season of likely non-playoff caliber performance in order just to "get his feet wet", and given that we had that opportunity this season but opted not to do so, then 2005 is essentially written off as little more than a "growing pains" season. That's if Jonas Jennings does not leave the team and leave our line is such utter disarray that it will require a complete rebuild instead of merely the general rebuild that it will require even if Jennings stays on. Moulds as well.

What are the odds that a GM such as Commander Tom who seemingly has an alternate and less conventionally wise approach to rebuilding realizes that first of all, and second of all has the resources necessary to correct the line anyway while keeping the other components of the team competitive as well? We have no first round selection this season on top of it all. Meanwhile, toss in a coaching staff that has repeatedly insisted that the line is fine and that talent is really not an issue for the most part and I certainly have tremendous difficulty buying into all of this nonsense. Yes, I could, like many other fans, simply stick my head in the sand ala an ostrich and take an "ignorance is bliss" approach, but I cannot do that.

To your last three paragraphs:

Special teams has been on fire this season to be sure. But when you break it down, they have also been the primary reason for whatever you and others, media included, have heaped upon the offense for their reasons for success. The average starting field position on TD drives this season is nearly 20 yards better than it was last season, yet, this season's first team's offense's ability to score a TD on any drive beginning within the Bills end of the field, the entire 50-yards worth, has less a chance of success than last season's. If there has been an improvement in the offense, then why is this? It makes absolutely no sense! The offense to date, regardless of the perceptions which do exist, is no better than last seasons, perhaps worse.

In fact, and I know you don't care for stats, but the Bills to date have only played four teams in six games that are among the top half in scoring defense. The average points scored in those games is 12.5 points-per-game or 75 total points in six games. Of those 75 points, the defense and special teams put up 15 of them, or 20%, and reducing the offense's average contribution to only 10 points-per-game. In four of those games the offense put up 10 or fewer points.

The defense is only marginally better if even at all and much of which has more to do with ease of opponent than anything else, and frankly, again, when broken down, their abilities to "defend" against better teams is no better than in past seasons throughout the Commander Tom-Humpty Dumpty era. So what you're looking at is the special teams, and again, the vast majority of special teams scoring and set ups have come largely vs. the schedule although they did directly contribute 13 of the 23 points scored vs. New England and not exactly a raging endorsement for any "improvement" by the offense on this season.

Let me ask you, suppose the special teams had been on fire last season vice this one; would last season's Bills have been able to score more points with nearly a 20-yard advantage in field position on many drives upon which this season's team has scored? How would this season's team have fared with starting field position on all of their touchdown scoring drives backed up by nearly 20-yards? Because this is what you are basing your assessments of "an improved offense" on largely. And remember, the odds of the Bills first team offense scoring on drives begun within their own half of the field this season is actually significantly lower than that of last season.

The Bills have scored a dozen TDs this season on drives originating at the opponents' 41-yard line or closer to their end zone. Add in five more which began within 10-yards of midfield on the Bills' side of the field. Factor in that of those 17 drives, 12 of them were in the four recent "winning streak" games as well as vs. the win over Arizona. That's an average starting field position of the opponents' 31-yard line in 17 TDs. It's an average SFP of closer than the 34-yard line of our opponents' for 10 TDs in this four game winning streak and that's in addition to another 21 points that the defense and special teams put up directly.

So let's give the credit where credit is due. The special teams has been 90+% of the improvement of this team from last season. The defense has played well for quarters at a time and usually in games vs. very poor opponents offensively and often not so good vs. them such as vs. Miami in allowing Miami to reach a season offensive high in production recently only two weeks ago. The defense has only had two games, two, where they have shown up for 4 full quarters of solid play. There is little difference in this season's defense over last seasons other than more offensively inept teams on the schedule featuring either totally one-dimensional offenses or no offenses at all with key players out for one reason or another. Until such a time as they can hold offenses such as New England's or Cincinnati's to 20 or fewer points on a regular or at least a semi-regular basis, it's safe to say that there is no pattern for improvement of the defense.

Just as a reference point, the Bills this season have played only four games vs. teams ranked in the top half in scoring. They played New England (4th) twice, Seattle (8th), and Baltimore (14th). They allowed 60 points to New England in two games both of which the Patriots could have scored even more. Dillon had an unforced fumble at the Bills' goal line in one of those games as well. Versus Baltimore, the Ravens were without Jamal Lewis serving a two-game suspension and Todd Heap, their only receiver worthy of any respect and last season's top receiver. Clearly that was not the same offense that has gotten them to a "lofty" 14th in scoring in the league and their Defense and special teams, much like ours, has contributed significantly to scoring.

Seattle we played with Matt Hasselbeck not being able to hit water if he had thrown from a boat on half the plays, unforced as he had plenty of time in the pocket, with Darrell Jackson and other receivers dropping balls making it appear as if the Bills receivers over the past season or so have had "stick-um" permanently stuck on their hands, and with Koren Robinson out and with no other receivers worthy of a sneeze otherwise. Now if the reason for this had been the Bills' D, then fine. But it clearly was not. So handing credit to the defense for that given the poor performances in the other two teams among the league's top half scoring teams is speculative at best.

Meanwhile, the Bills this season have played six games vs. the league's bottom 10 scoring teams and three more vs. two teams only four spots removed from that. Three of the four games in this "winning streak" have been against those teams. The fourth, Seattle. In other words they've had a very easy ride.

So we'll see what the Bills do with Cincy. By all rights, given what we've heard recently, they should have absolutely not problem scoring points against Cincy to the tune of the high 20s or better vs. a very sub-tier Bengal defense! The other part of the test will be whether or not the Bills can keep a lid on the Bengals offense, which is not stellar, simply above average and well balanced for a change.

You also say in your closing paragraphs that "[the Bills] still aren't close to the elite teams but there's reason to be hopeful."

To that I would simply say there's reason to be optimistic when the Bills do something that they haven't done last season or the season prior and throughout the Commander Tom-Humpty era. Other than the special teams, little has changed except for the schedule which has been much easier to the extents mentioned above and towards the goal of allowing the Bills to appear to have "improved" in the ways that the media has picked up the proverbial ball and run with it. But what they and fans are ignoring are all the favorable circumstances set up by the special teams and defense, largely against completely pathetic offenses coupled with teams with little or no defense, such as incredibly better field position, that have paved the road for easy attainment of some of the accolades that they indiscriminately heap upon the offense or even defense. The truth is that this year's Bills from an offensive and defensive standpoint only, are doing little differently than they have done throughout the Commander Tom-Humpty Dumpty era.

So again, I and many other fans will be impressed when we can start playing like the teams that will make the playoffs in the AFC this season! Not sooner.

But as to "not being elite", if the performance over the past four weeks is the rule rather than the exception, you are wrong. Then this team is elite. If they even maintained a fraction of that performance throughout the rest of this season and over 16 games next season, they'd be the top team in the league or very close to it. They've been on pace for 616 points scored which over 16 games would shatter the NFL record for points scored in a season. Other than in the Miami game, they've allowed only 11 points per game in the other three games, which also sustained over an entire season would approach an NFL 16-game record for points allowed.

That would make this Bills more than an "elite" team, it would make them an absolute powerhouse to be reckoned with! Ergo, it is left up to fans, and media, to properly and accurately assess whether this streak is more of an anomaly, or whether it has now set a new standard. Clearly the facts side with one of those. I'll leave it for you [and readers] to determine which one.

As to Mularkey, you say that this team is "SO much better than last year." Well, I believe I've laid out far more than enough evidence for anyone truly leaving their emotions on the doorstep and looking at this team holistically and objectively to draw an opposite conclusion. I am not sold on Mularkey. He uses far too many "trick" plays for my liking. The best teams should not have to resort to tricks or surprises simply to move the ball downfield and win games.

As well, few seem to have noticed the Bills utter inability to consume time on their drives this season. Well, I haven't. LOL Good teams can outexecute opponents at the point of attack, namely the lines, and beat them via consistent execution there. We are far from being able to do that. As well, while these "trick" plays seem to have worked against some of the worst teams in the league, the opposite is true in games vs. the few better teams that we have played. They have usually failed miserably in most of those games and have often cost us or nearly cost us huge negative big plays for the other team.

As I stated in my preseason pieces, if the Bills were truly desirous of winning this season, then they should have hired a coach with experience. They did not, so doing much this season was simply not in the cards. If you remember back to my preseason pieces, I warned the incoming young coaching staff to not build up expectations too much and take the first year "mulligan" afforded first time head coaches. They opted to take the opposite approach, for whatever reason, promising a winning season and a having a team fully playoff capable. It is dicey as to whether or not they meet their winning season goal and the Cincy game should determine that. If they cannot beat the Bengals, then they likely will not beat the Steelers either and should end up .500. Making the playoffs almost certainly will not happen either way and this, quite frankly, is simply not a playoff caliber team regardless. Thus the debate. We would likely find this out in spades in any unlikely wild card game.

As to Mularkey, I refuse to make an assessment this early one way or another just as I've maintained all season long. Clearly there are things that make him look good now and things that make him look questionable. But it's his first season and he's allowed to learn and make mistakes. What kind of coach he ends up being will begin to take some shape next season and we should have a much clearer picture during the 2006 season. But to evaluate him prior to that is unfair one way or another. He's made mistakes. He's also had some well-coached games. But it will be towards the end of next season at the earliest before we begin to get a clear picture as to what kind of coach he is.

In 2006 fans could be saying he's the next hall-of-fame coach or they could be ready to send him packing. It's far too early to tell right now. I discount his first season, to his favor, for that very reason, it's his first season. During the offseason they'll sit down and take a look at everything and figure out the good, the bad, and the ugly, and where and how they are going from there. As fans and media, we owe him at least another season, and in my opinion well into a third before fully making an assessment or beginning to.

I will also add this blurb; I believe Coach Mularkey to have done himself an enormous disservice this season however. Here is where many fans and media miss the point entirely. What was in the Bills' best interests this season was/is not in the Bills' best interests moving forward beginning as early as next season. So there has been an opportunity cost associated with this season's approach. Although I disagree, and argument could be made that starting Humpty this season lended itself to us winning more games this season. As I see it, releasing him, signing a guy like Jeff Blake either to start or backup Losman would have been much better while dumping the remaining $7 million saved from releasing Humpty into a couple of solid offensive linemen that would have been with the team for several seasons to come, would have been the much wiser move for the future beginning next season to be sure if not even this season. That opportunity has now passed as the "freebie" for releasing Humpty has now passed permanently. It was a calculated cost however. There is no other way to slice that.

But this team is going nowhere with Humpty at QB, and if there is one single point that I will maintain to the end that I am accurate on, that's it. So what this team has essentially done is necessarily delayed it's next season's ability to compete for what, hanging onto Humpty while the original core of players in Commander Tom's first rebuilding now become to age out of solid play or begin to leave the team altogether. Next season can be written off if Losman starts and it can also be written off if Humpty starts. So either way, next season is a wash.

As the talent leaves, some or much of it, the defense will begin to degrade from what we see now, as will an already below average offensive line, thereby leaving this team in a full-fledged rebuild mode. While we may have added a game or two to this season's win total by retaining Humpty, and while I do not agree that we have, as I'll maintain the opposite in fact, we'll have set Mularkey up for struggling simply to get back to .500 (or so) next season without much of the talent in place. Right or wrong, this will generate more perceptions, and that's where I would likely side with the coach in terms of what is fair/unfair, yet, perceptions is what drives Commander Tom and many fans in Buffalo. Ergo, young Coach Mularkey and staff have inadvertently not done themselves a favor this season.

As to this season, I have come to the conclusion that Bills fans now have such low standards for what acceptable football now is, that any little blip in performance for whatever reason gets hailed as monumental. That's fine, but fans should be careful what they support. Thus far, and lest they forget, they are giving the team reason to hand a GM who has ignored conventional football wisdom in what has been an utterly failed four-year rebuilding, a blank check for the future. This as the team is on the cusp of yet a second rebuilding. I believe that when this charade ends, Bills fans will have the biggest hangover in recent history.

Do I hope I'm wrong? You bet I do! Do I think I am? Obviously not. But if we struggle to score against a below average Cincy D and allow them to put up well into the 20s or 30+ points, and if we get dusted by the Steelers, then certainly my analysis will take on a lot more meaning for good many more fans, or should at least.

We'll see however...

Again, excellent e-mail Jim!!! Thanks for sending it!


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