Bills To Meet Old Friend In Henry

With general manager Tom Donahoe and coach Mike Mularkey no longer running the show in Buffalo, running back Travis Henry no longer harbors ill will toward the franchise that gave up on him. In fact, he has nothing but love for his ex-teammates and the fans that cheered him on during his first four seasons in the NFL.

"There was (some bitterness) for a little bit but that's all behind me," said Henry, who returns to Ralph Wilson Stadium for the first time with the Tennessee Titans on Sunday. "I had great teammates there -- and some guys not there anymore. I don't have any bitterness toward anyone. I'm still cool with all of those guys and as far as the front-office people who made the changes, they're no longer there. I'm just happy to come back to Buffalo and face my old teammates. I think that's going to be lot of fun."

High stakes fun.

The Bills (7-7) and Titans (7-7) are two of the NFL's hottest teams, winning 12 of their last 16 games combined and nine of 10. After slow starts (2-5 for Buffalo and 0-5 for Tennessee), the teams have played themselves into the late-December playoff picture.

Each is staring up in a crowded wild-card picture and the loser of Sunday's game is out. Regardless of the outcome, each team is enjoying the ride in what amounts to classic rebuilding seasons, the Bills with a new general manager (Marv Levy) and coach (Dick Jauron) and the Titans with a new quarterback (Vince Young).

You can add a new running back, too.

Henry, who was traded to Tennessee in the summer of 2005 for a 2006 third-round draft pick (Ashton Youboty), replaced an injury prone Chris Brown as the Titans' permanent starting running back in Week 5.

With 974 yards rushing and seven touchdowns on 224 carries in 11 starts overall, Henry has resurrected a career that hit rock bottom last season thanks to leg injuries and a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.

His former Bills teammates aren't surprised by Henry's comeback. Tennessee ranks seventh in the NFL in rushing at 133.1 yards per game and will be a stiff challenge for a Buffalo defense giving up 137.7 yards (27th) on the ground.

"Travis is as hard-nosed and tough as they come," linebacker London Fletcher said. "I'm very happy to see him back to his form and close to 1,000 yards. I know how hard it was the last couple of years for him, with different injuries and things going on with him. But there is a lot of resilience in him and it just goes to show what type of player he is and the type of person he is to stay the course and not get down on himself."

Despite Henry rushing for 1,438 yards and 13 touchdowns and making the Pro Bowl in 2002, the Bills used their first pick in that next spring's draft to select Willis McGahee, instantly igniting a running back controversy.

Henry responded with 1,356 yards and 10 touchdowns that season as McGahee recovered from major knee surgery. But by 2004, McGahee began to gain favor and Henry, slowed by injuries, began to lose his standing on the team.

A trade was inevitable. Henry welcomed his new start and after last season's problems, is feeling reborn.

"I wanted to come in and make a big contribution and it didn't work out," Henry said. "But we've got a good team this year and I've been doing OK, so everything is working out great. It's been a process, coming from Buffalo, and getting this organization behind me and believing in me. For the most part, I've done a good job of that. My teammates like me and trust me and I'm just having fun trying to stay alive in this playoff hunt."

The last time Henry topped 1,000 yards was in Buffalo and he now has a chance to do it again in Buffalo.

"It would mean a lot because that's where I started my NFL career, they drafted me, and I have a lot of great memories in Buffalo," he said.

"I'll be emotional. I got drafted and was excited to be a Buffalo Bill. Unfortunately, I couldn't spend my whole career there. I'll be excited to come back and see the fans and taste the atmosphere again. I tell everybody I know, 'There's nothing like Buffalo Bills fans. They're unique and something special.' I'll be emotional about that, because that's where it all started for me."

SERIES HISTORY: 41st meeting. Titans lead 24-16 including the years they played in Houston as the Oilers. The Bills and Oilers were original members of the old American Football League. The teams have played two of the most memorable playoff games in NFL history. In a 1992 wild-card game in Buffalo, the Bills trailed 35-3 only to win 41-38 in overtime in what is the greatest comeback in post-season history. In a 1999 wild-card game in Nashville, the Oilers/Titans earned dramatic revenge by beating the Bills 22-16 on Kevin Dyson's kickoff touchdown return in the final seconds. Frank Wycheck fielded the kickoff and lateraled the ball to Dyson in what came ever so close to an illegal forward pass. But the play stood and became known as the Music City Miracle.

--Bills owner Ralph Wilson, who has employed 14 head coaches, offered high praise for Dick Jauron after last week's 21-0 victory over rival Miami. "After Marv Levy, (Dick Jauron) is the best coach this team has ever had," Wilson said. Asked about his boss's remark, Jauron responded with typical self-deprecating humor. "How many coaches have we had?" he said. "You talk about numbers, there's probably not that many, right? Well, I'm glad he said it. There's a lot of things he could have said a lot worse than that. It's the time of year when charity is out there. I'm certainly not going to turn it down. I'm not in Marv (Levy's) class, that's for sure."
--Titans coach Jeff Fisher, who made it to a Super Bowl with Steve McNair and is developing another star QB in Vince Young, likes what he's seen on tape of J.P. Losman. "He's really, really improved," said Fisher of Losman, who has 11 TD passes and just four interceptions in his past seven games. "Just watching the games and the clutch throws -- the touchdown pass to Peerless Price in Houston, the throw on the boundary to beat the Jaguars, those kinds of throws are hard to make. What you're seeing happen is him making those throws now on a consistent basis. He's got a good cast around him. They're protecting. He's on his way. Believe me, he's definitely on his way."
--For a second consecutive year, the Bills placed two players in the Pro Bowl, P Brian Moorman for a second time and DE Aaron Schobel for the first time. Moorman is tied for the NFL lead with a 39.5 net average and is tied for second with 29 punts inside the 20. Schobel leads the NFL in sacks with a career-best 13.5. "You want everybody to respect what you've done and this is one of the ways they do it," said Schobel, whose 60 career sacks rank third in team history. "From this day on I guess I'll always be remembered as a Pro Bowler, and no one can take that away from me."
--Three Bills who were worthy of Pro Bowl consideration were not picked: WR Lee Evans, LB London Fletcher, and CB Nate Clements. Evans, who has three TD catches of 75 yards or longer, lost out to Cincinnati's Chad Johnson, Houston's Andre Johnson, and the Colts' duo of Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne. Clements was beaten out by Denver's Champ Bailey, Jacksonville's Rashean Mathis and Baltimore's Chris McAllister. Fletcher, who has eight consecutive 100-tackle seasons, was beaten out again by Miami's Zach Thomas and Denver's Al Wilson. "I'm disappointed a little but I still congratulate the guys who made it," Fletcher said. "I've had a lot of seasons where I felt like it merited a Pro Bowl berth, this season being no different. It wasn't in the cards for me but I'll just go out and continue to make plays and try and help this team win."
--If the Bills do beat the odds and make the playoffs, they would be very well prepared for the pressure of the post-season. Ever since starting off 2-5, they've been in a playoff mode and for the second consecutive week the Bills (7-7) are facing playoff elimination with a loss. "It shows the quality people we have on the team and it gives you something to practice and play for," WR Lee Evans said of the team's turnaround. "All you want is a chance and we have a chance. That's what it's coming down to. It's a playoff atmosphere right now."

BY THE NUMBERS: 11 -- Number of TD passes J.P. Losman has thrown to Lee Evans the past two seasons, seven that were 30 yards or longer.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We have to take care of our business first, Sunday at 1 o'clock. After that we can break out the Dolphins gear." -- LB Takeo Spikes commenting on if he'll be rooting for Miami to beat the New York Jets on Monday Night Football, an outcome that would help Buffalo's playoff chances providing it defeats Tennessee the day before.

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