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Blacked out: A hard sell could get even harder for Buffalo Bills

By Tim Graham

The Buffalo Bills' game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Ralph Wilson Stadium officially has been blacked out.

The club announced today more than 15,000 tickets remain for Sunday's game, 10,000 are available for the Dec. 9 game against the St. Louis Rams and another 15,000 are available for the Dec. 30 regular-season finale against the New York Jets.

We've known these numbers for a while, but that doesn't make them any less troubling.

The Bills had one of their most incredible offseasons by signing defensive ends Mario Williams and Mark Anderson and drafting starters (cornerback Stephon Gilmore and left tackle Cordy Glenn) at two important positions. Even the Vince Young signing created some buzz.

The Bills became a chic pick to make the playoffs and break the NFL's longest active drought.

Yet they still have had trouble selling tickets. As CEO Russ Brandon has said, the Bills are a volume-based business. Business is bad.

Some will blame the weather, but I'm not convinced. A beaten down fan base is a likelier reason. Zealous fans have grown cynical, and rightfully so. This turned out to be the perfect year to maintain an I'll-believe-it-when-I-see-it mentality.

Bills fans won't purchase tickets based on hope anymore. When the season began, the Bills had sold 43,267 season tickets -- up 16 percent from a year earlier at the same time. But they were below their 2010 total of 44,084 and even farther away from their recent peak of 56,011 four years ago.

In today's paper, Buffalo News columnist Jerry Sullivan wondered how the Bills could market a team with Chan Gailey as coach and Ryan Fitzpatrick as quarterback.

The Bills barely sold out their Nov. 15 game against the Miami Dolphins, with the announcement coming down to the wire. The Bills almost certainly won't sell out their last three home dates.

The Dec. 16 game in Toronto doesn't count. The Bills' payout is the same whether they fill the Rogers Centre or don't sell a ticket. But had the Bills played the Seattle Seahawks in Ralph Wilson Stadium, you could bet that game would have rows of empty seats, too.

So the Bills comfortably sold out just three of their home games, less than half.

How many fans will return next year?

Jaguars WRs pose challenge

By Mark Gaughan

Despite having the lowest-ranked offense in the NFL, the Jacksonville Jaguars pose a threat to the Buffalo Bills' secondary on Sunday.

The Jaguars' passing game has been revived the past two weeks since veteran Chad Henne took over for second-year man Blaine Gabbert. Henne has 615 passing yards in two games.

Jacksonville's starting receivers are Justin Blackmon, the fifth overall pick in the 2012 draft, and second-year man Cecil Shorts III, a fourth-round pick out of Division III Mount Union last year.

Shorts leads the NFL with a 20.8 yards-per-catch average. Fourteen of his 36 catches have gone for 20 or more yards. He has a TD catch of 50 or more yards in three straight games and four catches of 50-plus yards overall. (Those went for 80, 52, 67 and 59 yards).

"He’s a good yards-after-the-catch guy," said Bills safety Jairus Byrd. "A lot of their big plays have been runs after the catch."

"He does a good job of getting open and getting separation from corners," said cornerback Leodis McKelvin. "They get the ball in his hands nad he makes guys miss. It’s the YAC that really been making him successful."

Blackmon, the former Oklahoma State star, has more than half of his receiving yards the past two weeks. He had seven catches for 236 yards against Houston two weeks ago and five for 62 last week vs. Tennessee.

"In college he was the offense," said cornerback Aaron Williams, who faced Blackmon in college. "For every rookie, it’s a slow transition from college to the NFL. I went through it. He’s gone through it. But now you see him catching more balls and making more plays. He’s always been a playmaker."

Poll: What Bills from the 2000s deserve to go on Wall of Fame?

By Tim Graham

A couple of times over the past couple weeks, I've thrown this question out to some reporter friends of mine:

Of the 2000-10 Buffalo Bills, who deserves to go onto the Wall of Fame?

At least one player will make it. The Bills can't ignore an entire decade, even though they failed to reach the playoffs.

So now I toss the question to you. From this list of the most accomplished Bills (minimum three seasons) during the 20-aughts, who most deserves to be added to the wall?

Chat replay: Bills & NFL with Tim Graham

Bills wanted Jason Babin, but Jaguars got him first

By Tim Graham

The Jacksonville Jaguars already have beaten the Buffalo Bills once this week.

Four days before they play in Ralph Wilson Stadium, the Jaguars were awarded defensive end Jason Babin on waivers from the Philadelphia Eagles.

The Bills and Washington Redskins also put in claims for Babin, but the 2-9 Jaguars had priority, which is based on a team's record.

The 4-7 Bills would have gotten Babin ahead of the 5-6 Redskins.

Some might be surprised the Bills would be interested in adding another defensive end after spending so much money on free agents Mario Williams and Mark Anderson in the offseason and with the development of backup pass-rusher Kyle Moore.

But the Bills need to collect talent any way they can, and plucking Babin off waivers would have been a low-risk venture. Anderson has been sidelined by knee surgeries, and veteran defensive end Chris Kelsay is struggling with a neck injury.

Babin has been a Pro Bowler each of the past two seasons. He had 12.5 sacks in 2010, 18 sacks last year and 5.5 so far this year. Comments from his former Eagles teammates suggest he stopped giving an honest effort for the downward-spiraling team.

The Jaguars will need to pay only the final five weeks of Babin's base salary (or about $1.7 million). They also take on the remainder of his contract, which runs through 2015 with base salaries of $4.225 million, $6 million and $6 million.

Paul Posluszny wishes he'd known Bills would switch back to 4-3

By Tim Graham

Paul Posluszny would like to have known the Buffalo Bills' interest in a 3-4 defense was a mere flirtation.

The main reason Posluszny departed in free agency was his desire to play in a 4-3 system again. He signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The Bills' 3-4 experiment lasted two seasons. They named Dave Wannstedt defensive coordinator and switched back to a 4-3 this year.

"If someone would've gave me the heads up," Posluszny said with a laugh.

Posluszny was on a conference call today to preview Sunday's game between the Jaguars and Bills in Ralph Wilson Stadium. It will be his first regular-season game in Orchard Park since he left.

"Obviously, you can't go back now," Posluszny continued. "But when that happened, I said, 'You've got to be kidding me.' Coach Wannstedt's there. They're going back to a 4-3. What are you going to do, though? The decision was made."

Posluszny said he has "all the respect in the world for Coach Wannstedt." They've known each other casually since Posluszny starred for Hopewell High in the Pittsburgh area. Wannstedt is one of the Steel City's more prominent football sons and became Pitt's head coach after Posluszny committed to Penn State.

"I haven't spent a whole lot of time with him," Posluszny said, "but I feel like I know him for some reason."

The Bills drafted Posluszny 34th overall in 2007 to be their top 4-3 linebacker.

The Bills switched to a 3-4 when Chan Gailey became head coach in 2010. Posluszny's impact declined significantly. He recorded 151 tackles with two sacks and no forced turnovers that season.

A year earlier, Posluszny had 111 tackles, one sack, three interceptions and three forced fumbles in just 12 games.

"My last year, going to that 3-4, I didn't feel like I played well," Posluszny said. "I didn't feel like I was a fit. I needed to get back to what I knew the best and what I felt I could play the best football at."

Posluszny hasn't missed a game since joining Jacksonville. He leads the Jaguars this year with 156 tackles (based on the team's coaching film review) and has recorded double-digit tackles in nine of their 11 games. He also has two interceptions and two forced fumbles.

"I think when it was time to make that decision with the information that I had and the surrounding circumstances, I think I made the right call," Posluszny said. "Obviously, when you play for anybody, you want to win, and we haven't had success in my two years here, which has been difficult.

"When you have a losing record consistently, it's tough. It wears on you. Obviously, everybody wants to win. You want to go to the playoffs. But that's something I've obviously not been able to experience. Hopefully, somewhere in my career I will."

Video: Must-win game for Chan?

Chan Gailey still likes idea of Ryan Fitzpatrick as Bills QB in 2013

By Tim Graham

Buffalo Bills General Manager Buddy Nix has stated the organization's intention to draft a franchise quarterback next spring.

Bills coach Chan Gailey, however, still is backing the idea of Ryan Fitzpatrick remaining the starter in 2013.

"We've always said we're looking to develop a quarterback for the future, but I don't think it's the near future," Gailey said today at One Bills Drive. "I think we're talking about Fitz being the guy for us, and [if] we continue to get better I think he's going to be the guy.

"I see us being able to be very productive as an offense with Fitz at quarterback. I've always said that, and I believe that."

Fitzpatrick is 18-30 as a starter for the Bills and never has won more than six games in a season.

This year, he has completed 61.5 percent of his throws for 2,359 yards and 18 touchdowns with 11 interceptions.

Gailey reiterated his faith Fitzpatrick can be successful.

"When you lose, nothing goes the way you want it to," Gailey said. "I just told him to keep working and keep doing the things that we have been successful at in times past and the last couple years.

"Just keep getting better. That's our only choice. That's what you're trying to do, go out there and find ways to get better. Hopefully I can help him be more productive as a quarterback."

Bills lose Delano Howell to Colts, sign Corbin Bryant to taxi squad

By Tim Graham

The Indianapolis Colts signed safety Delano Howell away from the Buffalo Bills practice squad.

Howell was the only undrafted rookie to make the Bills' active roster this year but got into only one game. He was released Oct. 13 and re-signed to the active roster Oct. 16. The Bills cut him again Nov. 9 to promote safety Mana Silva and re-signed Howell to the practice squad two days later.

To fill Howell's spot on the practice squad, the Bills signed defensive end Corbin Bryant. Undrafted out of Northwestern last year, Bryant bounced back and forth between the Pittsburgh Steelers' active roster and practice squad the past two seasons.

Chat replay: Bills & NFL with Jay Skurski

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About Press Coverage

Tim Graham

Tim Graham

Tim Graham returned to The Buffalo News in 2011 after covering the NFL for three years at ESPN and for one year at the Palm Beach Post. Before that, the Cleveland native spent seven seasons on the Buffalo Sabres beat for The News and was president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

@ByTimGraham | tgraham@buffnews.com


Mark Gaughan

Mark Gaughan

Buffalo native Mark Gaughan started working at The News in 1980 and has been covering the Bills exclusively since 1992. He is a former president of the Pro Football Writers of America, and he is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee.

@gggaughan | mgaughan@buffnews.com


Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski joined The News in January 2009. The Lewiston native attended St. Francis High School before graduating from the University of South Florida. He writes a weekly Fantasy column in addition to his beat writing duties.

@JaySkurski | jskurski@buffnews.com

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