Bills must embrace beauty of 4-8

Four weeks remain in another playoff-less season for Buffalo. But don't touch that dial. For several players, these final four weeks are critical. The Bills must start injecting youth, like Steve Johnson (left), onto the field. Buffalo needs to stop fighting the youth movement, says BFR's Tyler Dunne...

He is a repulsive creature that reappears every December. His team is struggling. His patience, fading. So instinctively, he repeats "I want to lose to get a higher draft pick." Please. No. Stop. Hurts. Ears.

If you ever encounter such a person, please blindfold this man, take him into a dark alley and leave him there for the wolves. You play to win the game. Period. The slightest late-season push routinely propels teams into the following season.

It sets a tone, harvests an attitude and renews optimism.

But there's a fine line between conceding defeat and thinking ahead. Buffalo must embrace the beauty of being 4-8, the beauty of being out of the playoff picture. Don't root for defeat. Root for the Bills to audition younger players.

All season, a green cluster of players has been deprived snaps. Starting this Sunday, the likes of James Hardy, Steve Johnson and Aaron Maybin must play more. This isn't loosening the reins. It's smart, long-term investing with no short-term consequences.

Time for the Bills to admit they've hit rock bottom. Head coach Perry Fewell needs to take a spatula to the starters and look underneath for any talent he can find. If Fewell wants to make an everlasting impression on Ralph Wilson, this is it. Express an unabashed care for the future.

Out wide, Hardy and Johnson must see extensive playing time. On the edge, Maybin must play more than his average of 14 snaps per game. And sprinkled in everywhere else should be new packages for new players. Let's see what is camouflaged within this roster. The Bills can afford to operate on a trial-by-error basis. Such is the luxury of being a cellar-dweller.

Look at Kansas City. Last offseason the Chiefs did exactly what the Bills should have done a year ago.

Rather than kid itself into being a contender — not we're-one-T.O.-signing-away bliss — the Chiefs cleaned house. Bad eggs (Larry Johnson), see ya. Salary-cap killers (Tony Gonzalez), sayonara. Dead-weight veterans, peace out. Kansas City may be stumbling through another season to forget but at least a future plan is in place. At least there is direction. The Chiefs have one of the brightest football minds pushing the buttons in Scott Pioli.

Kansas City dumped Larry Johnson and is relying on little-known Jamaal Charles.
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Unlike Buffalo, the Chiefs aren't fighting the young movement. They're feeding Jamaal Charles carries, letting Matt Cassel endure hell on earth and fielding a "Who Dat?" defense. In Kansas City, youth is swine-flu contagious. The lumps were half-expected. This is a bad, bad team — far from the glory days of Steve Bono. But Pioli, using his Patriots blueprint, is seeing how young players perform outside of the controlled, scripted confines of minicamp. Too often, duds masquerade as studs in camp. Three years ago, J.P. Losman and Steve Fairchild were compared to Kurt Warner and Mike Martz by ESPN's John Clayton. Stop the madness. Everyone looks sharp in practice. Rosie O'Donnell would transform into Taylor Swift inside the Ralph Wilson Fieldhouse.

So don't write off Hardy or Johnson. It's impossible to know if either is not NFL-caliber. The sample space is too small. At first, Johnson's absence was plausible. With Terrell Owens knighted as the franchise savior and Roscoe Parrish fresh off leading the NFL in punt return average, Johnson drew the short straw.


Every game, every possession without Johnson is an opportunity lost. Last year, he flashed the rare willingness to venture into the Bermuda Triangle i.e. between the hash marks. This year, he's been mostly been a healthy scratch — two catches for 10 yards.

Same story for Hardy. After missing half of this season with a knee injury, Hardy was activated Nov. 12. And he hasn't been used yet. You'd think the Bills would play him out of ignorance alone. He was the anointed possession receiver before Owens (guilty as charged). You'd think Buffalo would be loyal to a fault. Instead, Hardy is still waiting to be called up.

Buffalo must find out if James Hardy has a future here.
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Nobody expects Johnson and Hardy to tag-team the offense out of its season-long funk. Nor should anyone expect Maybin to be Bruce Smith. But all could be core players for the future. You can't tell either way if they're not even playing. The Bills must abandon the pipe dream that Terrell Owens may actually play for the them next season. He's good as gone. Game over. Time for T.O. to give the key to the city back to Byron Brown and the No. 81 back to Hardy.

Buffalo must plant seeds of confidence in its youth and see if anything grows. Not playing younger players would be a regretful, self-afflicted wound. Or in Bills-terms, normal. It's reasons like this that Buffalo hasn't been in the playoffs since 1999.




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