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Bye-Bye Birdies

Was Sunday’s debacle a harbinger? Will the Council of Trent disband? Will Bills fans listen to the rest of the season on the radio? Stay tuned, dear listener, the bye week is upon us . . .

As anyone who has known me for any period of time could attest, the clock is not my friend. My knack for tardiness, or at least reputation for same, is such that there are those critics who have assigned me my own time zone, which usually lags about 15 to 30 minutes behind Eastern Standard or Daylight.

J.P. Losman

This was one of many reasons my then-betrothed and I decided to get married behind the house where I grew up, making my lateness nearly impossible. I say “nearly” because I still only just made it, but a win is a win.

An exception—maybe the only exception—is when trying to get to a football game. This stems not strictly from passion for the game, but from a much more pragmatic root.

As a younger reporter, I covered dozens of high-school football games and lived in weekly fear of missing the first play. With my luck, an unseen-by-me opening kickoff would be run back for a touchdown, a defensive struggle would ensue, and the contest would end with a score of 7-0.

Thanks to the shameful absence of replays and video scoreboards at local schools, this would leave me to write a few hundred words about a play I did not actually see. Journalistic ethics would dictate leading with something like, “Phelonius Majerski reportedly returned the opening kickoff 86 yards, witnesses said, as Joel Giambra High School defeated Truancy Tech 7-0 on Friday at Dan Manucci Stadium.”

This awkward spot never occurred, but I was thinking about it as I drove to my destination in the beautiful Town of Tonawanda, one of thousands of game-seekers forced to seek out a vantage point wired with a satellite or rabbit ears for Sunday’s game between Buffalo and Arizona, thanks to the absurd stalemate between the local cable television company and the owner of the local CBS affiliate.

I was running behind schedule, in part because I had been remiss in laundering the Council of Trent T-shirt produced by Season Ticket mainstay Mark. The slogan’s deft blend of 21st-century football and 16th-century theology honors Bills quarterback Trent Edwards, whose passing accuracy and late-game poise were the single biggest factor in his team’s 4-0 start to the 2008 season.

Other than the shirts themselves, of course.

So, clad in still slightly damp cotton on a chilly fall afternoon, I didn’t worry about the clock, even when Bills radio play-by-play man John Murphy described Arizona kicker Neil Rackers teeing the ball up and booting it into the climate-controlled air of University of Phoenix Stadium as I drove up Niagara Falls Boulevard, a good three minutes from my destination. Even a dull professional football game offers exponentially more crucial plays than the average high-school tilt, so the odds of not seeing a decisive moment live were miniscule.

Or so I thought.

Instead of fretting over the lack of visuals, I was enjoying the audio description of Bills quarterback Trent Edwards carving up the Cardinals defense, right up until the moment after his third straight completion.

“And Edwards is down,” Murphy said with emphatic concern, before describing the moment when the Buffalo quarterback’s head intersected with the stadium floor, a collision precipitated by a startlingly hostile 230-pound Cardinals safety named Adrian Wilson.

Upon arriving at Pommy’s picturesque home, I felt somewhat better.

“The game started?” he asked, having tranced out on post-blowout analysis of the Giants’ evisceration of Seattle.

He quickly flipped to the proper satellite feed, just in time to see Edwards leaving the playing area on a cart. Though we caught only a momentary glimpse of his vacant eyes before his face was blocked by a trainer’s shoulders, the diagnosis was swift and sure.

MOST VALUABLE BILL: After surrendering 41 points, no defender is eligible for this honor.

J.P. Losman made one spectacular throw, a few lesser ones, and turned a nifty run, but those three turnovers and that beard disqualify him, as well.

Given the irrelevance of the running game for most of the second half, that leaves us with Lee Evans, who runs under a very, very long throw as well as anyone in football, as evidenced by his six catches of 70 yards or more during four-plus seasons as a professional, the most in the National Football League since 2000 (thank you for that stat, CBS).

It was only one play, but on a day like this, it will have to suffice.

ANGRY BIRDS: Can anyone remember any Cardinals team, whether they played in St. Louis or Phoenix—or for those who watched football before I was born, Chicago—beating up another team the way they did the Bills?

It might be the too-red uniforms, or the bird on the helmet that looks more creepy than imposing, or the generally crummy players who have worn them over the decades, but there is not a less-intimidating franchise in sports.

That could be changing, though.

There was Adrian Wilson’s much-replayed brain bounce on Trent Edwards and the five sacks of Losman. Karlos Dansby didn’t just thwart Marshawn Lynch on a key third-down run while the outcome was still in doubt, he ripped the Buffalo runner’s helmet off for emphasis.

ON THE OTHER HAND… The item on the Time-Warner/LIN-TV standoff in Tuesday’s Season Ticket post on the Artvoice Daily blog elicited a thoughtful response from a friend with more direct ties to the television business.

He argued that deals like the one sought by the company that owns channels 4 and 23, which would require the cable giant to pay for what has always been a free signal, are a growing trend in the industry and said Comcast, the nation’s largest cable provider, is already doing just that.

He also predicted similar battles between Time-Warner and Buffalo’s other broadcast stations are soon to follow.

I still think it is bad business, even suicidal, to deny your customers your product, particularly when you rely almost entirely on advertising revenue.

STAT OF THE WEEK: It’s never a good sign when a defense’s two top tacklers are a cornerback (Jabari Greer was in on 12 stops) and a safety (Donte Whitner had nine).

SECONDARY STAT OF THE WEEK: Losman compiled a quarterback rating of 101.3, which compared favorably to Kurt Warner’s 107.3 and confirms just how meaningless that number can be.

THE GRUB: Denise put together a halftime meal that could have been served with Chablis to refined guests in a tastefully lit dining room, rather than with beer to Pommy, Jeff, and me in front of the television.

The pork tenderloin was superbly spiced and cooked and expertly complemented by an apple-onion chutney. Everything else was brilliant, as well. The required repeated trips to the kitchen for more also provided a welcome distraction from the carnage of the second half.

“He’s got a concussion—I can tell you that already,” Pommy said.

No second opinion would be necessary.

The good doctor’s nobly patient wife, Denise, emerged from the kitchen to learn of Edwards’ head trauma.

“So the Council of Trent thinks he’s Mary Queen of Scots?” she said.

Enter J.P. Losman, who quickly dispelled any notion that this appearance would be much different than the ones that caused him to relinquish the starting job four times in the three years he sporadically held it, collaborating with Marshawn Lynch on a fumble that gave Arizona easy access to the Buffalo end zone.

It’s easy to absolve Losman of any blame for what would follow, given the unnerving permissiveness of Buffalo’s defense, until you recall that the score was 0-0 when he entered, and 41-17 when the beating finally ceased.

Another failed Buffalo drive and successful foray by the Cardinals made it 14-0 early in the second quarter, right about the time Jeff arrived to inject some optimism into an increasingly gloomy room.

“I have faith in J.P.,” Jeff said, with the calm of a man who has seen what others have not.

Denise left the room and returned before Buffalo’s next drive, having changed from her Council of Trent shirt into Mark’s 2005 creation, emblazoned with the slogan “WIN WITH LOSMAN.”

Their admirable optimism seemed to pay off when Losman did the one thing he does really, really well. He threw the ball as far and high as he could to the left side of the field and wide receiver Lee Evans, perhaps inspired by the four-year, $37.2 million contract he had signed days earlier, ran under it.

Pommy, who had quickly predicted a blowout after the second Arizona touchdown (“It’s an old-fashioned butt-kicking,” were his exact words), reversed his field just as abruptly.

“They’re a second-half team! Write that down!” he said, looking at the notebook on the table in front of me.

Then the Cardinals staged another long, dispiriting drive that ended with a one-yard touchdown run by Edgerrin James.

“It’s over,” Pommy said.

“I have faith in J.P.,” Jeff responded.

Then, after Losman hit Josh Reed for 19 yards, Evans ran for 22 more on an end-around to put the ball at Arizona’s seven-yard line. Three plays later, Losman took it in himself to cut the deficit to three points with just 1:46 to go before halftime.

“I never gave up on them,” Pommy said.

The same could not be said for Buffalo’s defense, which kept its record of allowing the Cardinals to score every time they had the ball unblemished by watching as Kurt Warner maneuvered his team within range of a field goal as the second quarter expired, restoring the lead to 10 points.

Things briefly brightened after halftime. Buffalo’s first defensive stop of the day and another 22-yard run, this one by Lynch, produced a Rian Lindell field goal that briefly made it a one-touchdown game with more than nine minutes left in the third quarter.

The Bills’ aforementioned status as “a second-half team”—along with Arizona’s history of abject surrender under even the most favorable of circumstances—rendered a 5-0 mark entering the team’s annual week off a distinct possibility.

“I have faith in J.P.,” Jeff said for the fifth, and final, time.

Then the objects of such belief set about squandering it.

Buffalo’s defense reverted to form, failing to get within flailing distance of Warner or his receivers—or Arizona’s runners, for that matter—on any of the Cardinals’ next three drives.

“Now I’m getting worried,” Jeff said after another Arizona field goal made it 34-17 on the fourth quarter’s first play. “Now I’m not sure we’re going to win.”

It didn’t help that Robert Royal and Losman fumbled on successive Buffalo possessions to fuel the transition from deceptively close contest to full-scale blowout.

With the game’s final 10 minutes drained of any suspense, we were left to discuss the hypothetical (What would be required for a Bills comeback? Only three touchdowns, three two-point conversions, and two converted onside kicks) and the historical (Was the city of Rochester named after Jack Benny’s sidekick? Obviously).

Then there was the unanswerable, almost unspeakable question hanging over the living room, and the team. What happens if Edwards has not regained full equilibrium by the time the Bills return from their bye week.

Losman reaffirmed that he’s more than capable of producing a great play or two, then getting completely disoriented, even without absorbing a hellacious shot to the head.

In his brief stint as the starter, Edwards has displayed a propensity for improving as a game goes on, while Losman’s chart trends in the opposite direction.

Whether Edwards continues his climb or the Council disintegrates into chaos that renders its first month irrelevant won’t be certain for at least another month. Thanks to Buffalo’s scheduled week off, he and his team can’t start solving that dilemma until October 19, when San Diego visits Orchard Park for the Bills’ first home game in a month.

I’ll make sure to get there on time.

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