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Fitz on His Release

Ryan Fitzpatrick said Tuesday night that comments made in a conversation that had been illegally recorded between Buddy Nix and Tampa Bay GM Mark Dominik had no impact on his decision to reject an offer by the Bills to rework his contract.

Nix, in an interview posted today on the website, characterized Fitzpatrick as "a guy that's fighting for probably a backup job."

That comment made it pretty clear that the Bills didn't want Fitz to be their starting quarterback on opening day next season. The Nix comment suggests that the team's rookie quarterback will be the starter next season. While Fitzpatrick wouldn't say as much, he can't have been thrilled with the notion of competing to be backup to a rookie. 

"I'm a very competitive guy," Fitzpatrick said. "I want to be out there playing. I wanted to finish what I started there. "I had so many guys helped me in my career. I learned from some great ones. They weren't maybe Brady or Manning, but they helped me a tremendous amount.

"I see myself being a very valuable guy in that regard," he said. "For me, pride is never going to get in the way. But respect and pride can maybe go hand-in-hand. It's probably more respect than pride."

Fitzpatrick said he would miss Buffalo, which he called home for the last four years. It was here that he realized his dream of being an unquestioned NFL starting quarterback.

"It's a really hard day for me, as a husband and father," Fitzpatrick said Tuesday night from his home in Arizona. "because we loved Buffalo so much. We were very fond of the area and the people. It was a special place to me because of the fans and lifelong friends we made in four years there. That organization gave me my first shot. It's hard leaving the people in the locker room and in that building. They deserve a winner."

Audio: Players remember The Comeback

Here are some highlights from interviews with three former Bills about The Comeback:

Kenneth Davis remembers a coach's comment at halftime, fans' response and the role backups played.

(Download the mp3 of Davis)

Steve Tasker says the team was playing for pride, recalls the fans' encouragement and Frank Reich dropping an F-bomb.

(Download the mp3 of Tasker)

Mark Pike describes Darryl Talley in the locker room at halftime.

(Download the mp3 of Pike)


Just in case you missed it, here's some comments from former Bills star linebacker Darryl Talley on Mario Williams. Talley spoke to Tim Graham last week for a story on what NFL players say in the press. He ran some of the quotes on our Press Coverage blog. I assume you read that blog. They're doing a tremendous job on the Bills' beat this season. Here's Talley on Mario:

"I don't think he's lived up to the hype. Don't tell me about being hurt and playing. I hope his wrist doesn't hurt like mine when he's done. But I just don't get it, man. At the end of the day, you're graded on what you do. If you're good enough to put a uniform on and step on the field, then you're fit to play. So you need to play at your level, whatever that may be.

"I had three surgeries in one offseason and one six days before the season started and still made the Pro Bowl. I played every year through injuries and had surgeries after the offseason.

"There ain't no such thing as being injured. You can be hurt; we all hurt. But you're not injured. We all got to play through it, and your performance can't slack off. I really don't think they hold each other accountable because, at the end of the day, they all go home to their nice, cushy house. What about what you're supposed to be doing on Sunday and Thursday and Monday? What do you think about, and it is just a passing thought."

Deja Review

It's amazing how little things change with the Bills over the years. I was doing some research on Mike Mularkey and came across my column from locker cleanout day after the 2005 season -- Mularkey's last in Buffalo.

Here's a quote from London Fletcher, who advised against major changes and said the Bills' record (5-11) could easily have been 10-6 or 11-5 if a few plays had been different: "You don't blow up a team because of a couple of plays here or there," Fletcher said.

I'm sure we'll hear similarly lame rationalizations after this season. We're accustomed to hearing defensive players say that if you took away the two or three long runs, they actually had a pretty good day.

Here are some chilling stats from the '05 season: The Bills were last in the NFL in third-down defense and 31st against the run. Currently, they are (drum roll) last in third-down defense and 31st against the run.

They were 30th in red-zone offense that year. They've dropped to 25th this year, as Mark Gaughan chronicles in Friday's News. They were outscored by 96 points on the season -- 93 in second halves. They've been outscored by 76 points this season -- 72 in second halves and overtime.

Mularkey walked away from the third year of his contract when Ralph Wilson fired half his staff and hired Marv Levy to look over his shoulder. You have to wonder: Is Wilson lucid enough to make the sort of bold moves he did seven years after a season that was so strikingly similar to this one?

Bunch of Mularkey

Mike Mularkey doesn't want to dwell on past resentments. On a conference call with Buffalo media on Wednesday, he said his departure from the Bills after two years as head coach was "old news". But Mularkey, who returns to town as the Jacksonville coach this Sunday, said the infamous 2004 finale -- and other parts of that season -- does stick in his craw.

"A lot," Mularkey said. "I've used it a number of times, because of where we were and what we had to do to get to that point, I just told (Jags PR man) Dan Edwards, 'If the Jacksonville game, if we stopped them any one of the three fourth downs they converted, we don't have to beat Pittsburgh to go to the playoffs.'"

Mularkey was referring, of course, to the opener of that '04 season, when the Bills allowed the Jags to drive to a winning TD at home. That led to an 0-4 start. The Bills later fell to 3-6 before winning six straight games and setting up a finale at home against the Steelers, who had clinched home-field advantage. Using mainly backups, Pittsburgh beat the Bills, 29-24, and knocked them out of the playoffs.

The Bills went 5-11 in 2005, Mularkey's second season as coach. Ralph Wilson fired Tom Donahoe as president and GM after the season. Mularkey resigned with one year left on his contract rather than accede to some organizational changes that were in the works. The 9-7 record in '04 is the last Bills' winning season.

"I've used the example of how one play can affect a season," Mularkey said. "There's a number of plays that changed the whole scenario in that Pittsburgh game. We would not have needed to win it. We would have been in the playoffs. I still talk about a lot of things in that season, how that team had to overcome the adversity of starting 0-4, sticking together. That was a very memorable season for me."

Given the way his time here ended, and seeing how Sunday will be his first time back in Buffalo since then, would winning this game be especially sweet, he was asked?

"Well, I'll be honest," Mularkey said. "I was very excited for our players this last game (a win over the Titans). They have done everything we asked. We haven't had a lot of good feeling here, and I wanted our players to feel good about what they did. We want to improve and see progress in all the players, all of our schemes and us as a team and coaches.

"We want to win all these games," he said. "We want to finish the season strong. Will it have extra feeling? I'll be happy for our players, because they have worked their tails off. I don't know if it'll be anything extra special for me."

Mularkey was asked if he has imagined how differently things might have gone for him, for the Bills, and for Buffalo if he had won that finale against Pittsburgh in 2004. He gave a long pause before answering.

"I can honestly say I have not thought that," he said. "I did not. Maybe I did back then. But I have not thought that for a long time. No."

The Bills, who appeared to be on the rise after '04, fell apart in 2005.

"I think there's a number of things ... that changed the, the makeup of the team, to start the offseason off," Mularkey said. "I'm not going to get into specifics. The guys were proud of what they did that year. I still think they felt very good about what they accomplished after the start that we had."

Presumably, he was speaking about changes that were made after the '04 season. Donahoe cut ties with Drew Bledsoe and handed the starting job to J.P. Losman, who proved unready. He also allowed Pat Williams and Jonas Jennings to leave in free agency. The run defense went from seventh in '04 to 31st in '05  and has never recovered. Ah, memories.

Shootout At The Ralph?

As of Tuesday, the Bills still had 15,000 unsold tickets for the Jacksonville game this Sunday. There's no way they're moving close to that many tickets. There's a greater likelihood that thousands of fans will be trying to move their own tickets so they can start their Christmas shopping.

But maybe the Bills should promote this game as a possible offensive shootout. The Jaguars are 29th in the NFL in points allowed. The Bills are 30th.  I know the Bills' defense has come on in recent weeks, but Jacksonville has been on a tear since Chad Henne replaced Blaine Gabbert as the starter. Over the last two games, the Jags have averaged 30.5 points and 389.5 yards a game. Remember what happened when Jake Locker went down and the Titans turned to a veteran QB, Matt Hasselbeck.

Which two teams have given up more points than the Jags and Bills, you ask? Oakland and Tennessee. Somehow, four AFC teams have managed to allow more points than New Orleans. The Saints are 28th. Kansas City is 27th and the Jets 26th. Six of the worst teams in the league in points allowed are in the sorry AFC.

Further proof that the AFC was down this year and it was a great opportunity for the Bills to sneak into the playoffs. Sad.


Pats Scoring Machine

When the Bills lost, 37-31, in New England a couple of weeks ago, I came away thinking the defense had actually played OK. The performance seemed at least average, based on their horrid play early in the year and the stunning efficiency of the Patriot offense.

In fact, it was a perfectly average defensive effort against New England. After last night's 49-19 evisceration of the Jets, the Pats are averaging exactly 37.0 points a game. They've scored 108 points in their last two games, 190 in their last four. It's scary. They keep getting better. They're now on pace to break their own NFL record for points in a season. The Pats scored 589 points (36.8 a game) during their unbeaten 2007 regular season.

Is there anything more certain in today's NFL than the Patriots improving over the course of the regular season? They went 8-0 in the second half the last two regular seasons. They've won their first three games of the second half this year, and five in a row overall, opening up a big lead in division that had all four teams tied at 3-3 a month ago.

Tom Brady has 14 TD passes and zero interceptions during the five-game winning streak. Brady, who always talks about the Pats getting better later in the season, has been especially good from the ninth game onward. During the Pats' 19-game win streak in the second halves, Brady has 41 touchdown passes and 2 interception. And you wonder why I consider him the best of all time.

Small Consolation

I'm sure it's small consolation to suffering Bills fans. But while you're lamenting the team's wretched defensive numbers this season, you can take some comfort in the fact that there's actually someone worse.

The Bills are currently 31st in four major defensive categories in the latest NFL team statistics: Total defense (417.9 yards per game); yards per pass attempt (7.81); rushing yards allowed (169.5) and points allowed (30.13).

Thanks heavens for the Saints! New Orleans has given up a staggering 471.3 yards a game, well ahead of the standard for yardage allowed by the 1981 Colts (424.5 yards). The Saints are also last in yards per pass attempt against (8.24) and rushing yards allowed (176.5).

Somehow, the Saints have managed to allow only 229 points, tied for 28th. Tennessee has allowed the most points in the league with 308 in nine games. That's on pace to break the league record for points allowed. Those '81 Colts gave up 533 points.

The Bills, by the way, are on pace to break the team record for yards allowed (5,938), which they set a year ago. At their current rate, they would allow 6,686, shattering last year's mark. Good thing they paid all that money to Mario Williams.   


Flippin' Mario

After the first New England game, Mario Williams lamented the fact that most of the Patriots' running plays went away from him -- to their left. I asked afterwards why the coaches couldn't shift him to the right once in awhile. After all, he moved around a lot when he was in Houston. Well, don't be surprised if the Bills do some of that in the rematch this Sunday at New England.

During Wednesday's interview session at his locker, I asked Williams if he might move to the right side at all this weekend. He said he's definitely up for it after having his minor wrist surgery.

"After the procedure with my wrist, I feel more comfortable about not being single-handed," he said. "So definitely, I'm looking to move around and switch it up a little bit. I moved around my whole career. I had always flipped around until this year. That's what I'm used to."

I asked coach Chan Gailey if he might consider flipping Williams to the right side to deal with the Pats' tendency to run left. "Maybe," Gailey said. "We might see that. Yeah." 



Too Much Rest For the Weary?

Some Bills fans see a conspiracy around every corner. I generally dismiss them. But when you look at the Bills' recent schedule, it's enough to make you think someone in the NFL office doesn't like them.

Starting with the Arizona game, the Bills face four straight opponents coming off extra rest. The Cardinals played on a Thursday before hosting the Bills, which gave them 10 days between games. Tennessee also played the Bills after a Thursday game. Houston is coming off a bye, same as the Bills. That's a wash, but the Bills won't get the advantage that comes from playing a team that didn't also have a bye -- like New England, which will host the Bills the week after resting this week on a bye.

Ryan Fitzpatrick was asked about the schedule-makers and, naturally, avoided making any inflammatory comments. "I mean, I don't know," Fitz said. "It's something I was aware of, but I guess that's for you to write about, because we have no control over that."

The Bills do have one game with extra rest this season. They host Miami on Thursday night after the game in New England. So they'll have 10 days after that to get ready for a Week 11 game in Indianapolis against a Colts team that will have the usual seven days rest after playing the previous Sunday.

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