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Stevie Drowning in Self-Pity

It was pretty clear when it happened that Stevie Johnson was having trouble with his dropped TD pass against the Steelers today. Johnson sat at the far end of the bench, staring at the video board, unwilling to watch the game unfolding. Afterwards, he said he would never get over the drop. That's not what you want to hear from a professional athlete who has just recently become a star.

The worst of it was Johnson's post on his Twitter account after the game:

"I praise you 24/7!!!! And this is how you  do me!!!! You expect me to learn from this??? How???!!! I'll never forget this!! Ever!!! Thx tho ... "

Wow. It seems Johnson is asking God why he allowed him to suffer such a distressing moment in a football game. It's sad to see a pro athlete wallow in self-pity this way,  and yet another reason for me to detest the whole tweeting culture, which demands an instant response to every human happening.

Johnson has to forget it. It's a game. Even the greats drop passes, as Andre Reed told me after the game in the locker room.  It must be tough for him. He went from a nobody to a national star in the space of a couple of weeks. Now he's a goat. But part of being a successful athlete is rebounding from adversity. This Bills team has done it all year. They don't need their new star receiver feeling sorry for himself and telling the world that God "did him" in some way.

I'm guessing the Creator has bigger concerns than a star athlete dropping a pass.



Strength of Schedule

I checked the NFL standings today and was a little stunned to find that eight of the Bills' first 11 opponents are currently leading or tied for the division lead. The Patriots and Jets are tied at 9-2 atop the AFC East; the Bears and  Packers share the NFC North lead at 7-3; the Ravens and Steelers are deadlocked at 7-3 atop the AFC North; the Jaguars' 6-4 mark is good for a tie with the Colts in the AFC South; and the surprising Chiefs are leading the AFC West with a 6-4 record.

So looking ahead to possible ties and draft implications, you might assume the Bills' schedule was far tougher than the Panthers, who are 1-9 and currently positioned to get the top pick in the draft. The tiebreaker at draft time is strength of schedule. The team that played the weaker schedule gets the higher pick, since that suggest the team had the lesser talent.

Well, think again. Carolina's strength of schedule is almost identical to the Bills. Entering Sunday's games, the Bills' 10 opponents have an overall record of 60-44. The Panthers' opponents have an aggregate record of 59-44. The difference in games reflects the fact that games were played on Thanksgiving. Carolina has played two games against Tampa Bay, which is 7-3 and two against the Saints, who are 8-3. They've played two other 7-3 teams: Chicago and Baltimore.

The remaining schedules are also close. The Bills' last six opponents have a record of 36-26. The Panthers' final six are against teams with a 34-26 mark. Both teams play Pittsburgh and Cleveland. The Bills play the Jets and Pats again. But the Panthers play two against Atlanta, now 8-2.

As of this moment, the opponents on the Bills' and Panthers' schedule have the same numer of losses: 70.  So it could go down to the wire to determine which team plays the easiest schedule -- and who drafts first in the event of a tie. The Bills seem good enough right now to win a couple more games and make the issue moot. But if you were thinking the Panthers were losing to much weaker opposition, the records say you're wrong.





Fitz Out Of The Running

On my WGR radio show a few weeks back, I promised to run down the street in my underwear if Ryan Fitzpatrick finished the season with 30 touchdowns. Fitzpatrick  has 18 touchdown passes. He is on pace to throw 32. I still think it's a long shot. But I'm worried. So on Wednesday, I asked Fitz if he would consider running with me if he gets to 30 TDs.

"Absolutely not," he said without hesitation. "But I'll probably be there watching."

Not even with all your clothes on, I asked him?

"No," he said. "I'll be cheering you on."

So I'm taking it as a promise that Fitz will at least be standing alongside the road if I'm forced to hobble on my bad hip down Hertel Avenue in early January. He said he heard about my wager with Jeremy White from a friend the other day and was amused by it.

"Yeah, I think it's funny," he said. "The first thing I got was the mental image, which wasn't pretty. I hope you're not rooting against me."

On the contrary, I'm rooting like hell for Fitz to throw the second-most TD passes in a season in Bills' history: 29.


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No Joking Matter

Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick spent two seasons (2007-08) backing up Carson Palmer in Cincinnati. The two became fast friends. Fitz will start against Palmer for the first time on Sunday when the Bengals host the Bills. He said they communicate with one another on a regular basis.

"Yeah," Fitz said. "Just joking, texts back and forth and that kind of stuff. Yeah, we talk about the season and how it's been going, what we're going to go to eat."

Fitz was asked if he and Palmer joked about their passing statistics. "No," Fitzpatrick said. "Are they funny to you? Uh, I don't know. I don't know why I would joke about them."

Well, Fitz might want to needle his mentor about their respective spots in the NFL passing stats. Fitz has taken a tumble the last few weeks. He's dropped to 11th in the NFL in quarterback rating at 85.5. That's one spot in front of Palmer -- a former No. 1 overall draft pick -- in the ratings.

Oh, and Fitz is second in the NFL in third-down passer rating at 110.0, just behind Drew Brees of the Saints. Palmer is 26th at 59.8. He has completed just 50 percent of his third-down throws.

So it'll be a big game for both this Sunday. Fitz admitted it won't be just another game. Palmer, meanwhile, has been struggling for a team that has lost six straight games. If he loses to his former caddy at home, Bengals fans might begin to wonder if they should be the ones looking to take a quarterback high in the draft.

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Just a reminder that I'll be chatting at 1 p.m. today. I'm fully recovered from last week's mild illness and ready for a long, spirited session. Talk to you then. I'm even confident there will be no technical difficulties.

More Carries For C.J.?

I'm a big Fred Jackson fan. He's been one of the Bills' few feel-good stories in recent years. But I can't deny the facts. Jackson is struggling. He's in the worst slump of his career. Over the last three games, Jackson has rushed 51 times for 153 yards, a 3.0 average. That's pretty weak for a guy who entered the year with a 4.5-yard per carry average, and who was at 5.0 this season after five games.

Jackson isn't fast enough to turn the corner against most NFL defenses. Teams are crowding the run box and daring Ryan Fitzpatrick to beat them. It's working, and there's been too much of a burden on Fitz. Jackson has been even more disappointing in the passing game. He has 12 catches for a paltry 28 yards. This from a back who averaged 8.4 yards on 105 catches his first three seasons.

Jackson lost a key fumble in the third quarter Sunday. It might have been on his mind on the Bills' next possession, when he dropped a pass in the flat. He's better than this. Still, it might be time for Chan Gailey to increase the workload of his star rookie, C.J. Spiller. Spiller is struggling, too. He has a lot of plays for negative yardage and isn't running effectively between the tackles. But they invested the ninth overall pick in the guy and they need to justify the investment. If Spiller is going to be a legitimate NFL running back who operates between the tackles, he needs opportunities to figure it out.

So what do you think? Should Gailey increase Spiller's workload in the second half. Or should he affirm his confidence in Jackson in the featured back and keep feeding Fred, hoping that he breaks out of his slump and becomes the reliable two-way threat of a year ago?

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Bills coach Chan Gailey was asked his impressions of Shawne Merriman early Wednesday afternoon, before the news broke that the team had claimed Merriman on waivers. He said he hadn't seen Merriman in awhile. Gailey also said he had no recollection of coaching against the former Maryland star when he was coaching Georgia Tech, a rival in the ACC.

"I think he was gone by the time I got there," Gailey said.

Both claims seem a bit curious. For one thing, it's hard to imagine the Bills making a claim on Merriman without the head coach being involved in the process. It's well-established that Gailey and Buddy Nix are attached at the hip on all team matters.

As for the latter notion, Gailey was the head coach at Georgia Tech from 2002 through 2007. Merriman played at Maryland from 2002 through 2004. So their time in the ACC overlapped for three seasons.

Bills fans can only hope that Merriman makes a better impression on Gailey this time around.