Final 2 games crucial for Edwards, Lynch

OK, so the Bills are staying home in January yet again. That doesn't mean that these last 2 games are meaningless. For Trent Edwards and Marshawn Lynch, today's contest in Denver and next week's finale against the Patriots are crucial. Edwards still needs to prove he's the franchise QB, while Lynch continues his ascension among the league's best backs.


No, Trent Edwards hasn't taken the step Buffalo envisioned this season. After suffering a concussion at Arizona, his play disintegrated. More startling, Edwards' once-invincible confidence was shaken. After three first-quarter picks against Cleveland, Edwards was visibly afraid to push the ball downfield the rest of the game. Considering the Bills opted for Edwards over Losman based on poise, this tentativeness is certainly a red flag.

There's still time to rectify his season, though.

After overcoming his most recent hurdle --- a groin injury --- Edwards will give the team one more look before a crucial off-season. If a rich crop of underclassmen declare for the draft, Buffalo could be baited into starting over at quarterback --- especially if a new head coach is ushered in. But in all likelihood, Edwards will be granted a mulligan for his midseason plunge. The Bills have many, many deeper problems. Look at these last two games as Edwards' sophomore final exam. It's an opportunity to storm into the weight room with newfound fervor and hope.

Sure, Edwards currently ranks 2nd all-time in Bills history with a 66 percent completion percentage. But it's not like the first-place holder Kelly Holcomb is getting his name entrenched on The Wall any time soon. In short, Trent Edwards still has some proving to do.

Today's game against a subpar Denver pass defense will be a key test.

At Kansas City --- Edwards' most recent full game --- Edwards appeared to recapture his swagger. He lunged his body into traffic for two touchdowns and passed for two more. The moxie. The confidence. It was at full force against the inferior Chiefs. The Bills brass is in limbo. Is Edwards a playmaker away from busting out like his counterpart today, Jay Cutler? Or is he another lemming to toss into the bin next to names like Collins, Hobert, Johnson, Bledsoe, Holcomb and Losman?

Playoff hopes poofed away awhile ago. Now, it's about next season. These next two cold December games against postseason-caliber teams are invaluable for Buffalo's starting quarterback. He is still the chosen savior for a franchise in flux --- a franchise whose future in WNY is murky at best.

Edwards can still be that shining light that better days are ahead.

Two knockout games at Denver and against New England sure would help Russ Brandon sleep better at night this off-season. And they'd set the tone for all personnel moves from February on.



When Marshawn Lynch took the duct tape off his mouth and finally decided to speak to the media two weeks ago, he was essentially assuming a role that everyone else on the team has shunned: The Leader.

Through the Bills' season-killing skid, nobody seemed to step up, shoulder some blame and vow to turn the ship around. The team has sorely lacked leadership. But after Buffalo's humiliating 16-3 loss in Toronto to Miami, Lynch went on a verbal tyrant. He said he wanted all fingers of blame pointed squarely at him.

And in the ensuing game, Lynch responded against the same team that stifled him to 16 yards earlier in the season. Lynch erupted for 127 yards on 21 carries, exposing Kris Jenkins in a way no other running back has this season.

Finally, the Buffalo Bills have drafted a star. Lynch has weathered slapdash play from his offensive line and a bad complementary passing game to surpass 1,000 yards for the 2nd straight season. Whoever is coach next season will surely build the team around his skills.

Today's game against Denver is another step toward his ascension to the top-tier of backs. Denver's 27th ranked rush defense has been carved up by third-tier backs all season. Justin Fargas (24 carries, 107 yards), Sammy Morris (16 carries, 138 yards, 1 TD) and Maurice Jones-Drew (22 carries, 125 yards, 2 TD) to name a few.

Lynch must have been salivating at the lip for the Broncos all season. Unfortunately, he may not get that chance. A shoulder injury has Lynch listed as questionable for today's contest. He was able to do more in practice on Friday, but his status remains a game-time decision.

While Buffalo's season is lost, these last two games are crucial to Lynch gaining trust with the line. It took 10 games for Lynch to reach the 100-yard plateau. But since then, the Bills rushing game has been in a groove. The running back from California has racked up 490 yards in his last five games. The Bills' big-money line is finally carving out some holes and Lynch is slamming into them. Two more banner performances sure would give the rushing game a new sense of life heading into 2009.

The team desperately needs a cornerstone. "Beast Mode" is it.

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