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Owens-Bills Divorce both Mutual and Best for both Parties

I can still vividly remember that evening on March 7, 2009.  I was out to dinner with my family and I had been out of the house and away from computer access all day.  But as I returned home, I jumped on the computer and began my usual web surfing routines.  And there it was, smack-dab in the center of ESPN.com’s homepage; the news broke that the Bills struck a deal with Terrell Owens.

Shocked would be putting it mildly.  I never imagined that his small market, no-nonsense organization that mirrors its surrounding communities would go out and make such a bold move to bring in a lightning rod, a high profile name, a diva if you will.  At that moment, I was geared up and ready for football to get going again.  I felt like I could put on the shoulder pads, strap on a helmet and go out and pummel the first thing that moved.

The excitement reached levels not seen since the Bills acquired rival New England quarterback Drew Bledsoe.  Immediately, the expectations went sky high.  Owens would form one of the league’s best wide out duos with Lee Evans.  He would make this stick-in-mud, sorry offense a threat.  He would make Trent Edwards better.  He would make the sun shine brighter, the grass greener and the sky bluer.

Those were the perceived optomistic perceptions.  Realty proved to be a cold mother something.  Now it seems like the preseason served as a gigantic warning sign of things to come.  For those of you who are into the Harry Potter phenomenon, think of Alvis Dumbledore telling Harry that “dark and difficult times lie ahead” at the conclusion of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.  Owens battled a nagging toe injury for most of the preseason.  The Bills jettisoned offensive coordinator Turk Schonert and starting tackle Langston Walker.

You don’t need me to remind you that the T.O-Buffalo marriage didn’t work out on the field.  The offense was miserable again.  To nobody’s surprise, the Bills endured a quarterback change and in fact used three different quarterbacks in 2009.  Dick Jauron didn’t make it to Thanksgiving as head coach.  It all added up to a mediocre year in Buffalo for Owens:  55 catches, 829 receiving yards and six touchdowns.  They were the lowest numbers of his career since 2005 when he was suspended by Philadelphia and only played in seven games.  If you want to take it a bit further, it was Owens’ worst full season since 1999 when he was with San Francisco.

Take this to the bank, and I’m willing to bet dollars to donuts this won’t argued: the quarterback makes the receiver, not the other way around.  That was none more evident than in Orchard Park this season.  The struggles began early for the Bills offense and Owens had a front row seat to endure it. In the Bills first three games of the season, with Edwards under center, Owens had only five catches to go with one touchdown.  In Week 3 against New Orleans, Owens failed to register at least one catch for the first time in 186 games.  It didn’t get any better.  Over the next six games, Owens had a total of 21 catches and only one touchdown, a reverse against Houston.

It wasn’t the Bills’ season was effectively over that Owens was brought back to life, albeit just temporarily.  Buffalo was 3-6.  Jauron was given his walking papers and interim coach Perry Fewell took over and pronounced Ryan Fitzpatrick the full time starter for the remainder of the Bills’ seven games.  Fitpatrick guided the Bills to wins over the New York Jets (in relief of the injured Edwards) and Carolina, but once healthy Edwards went back to being the starter.  Against Jacksonville and Miami, with Fitzpatrick starting and Edwards planted on the bench, Owens piled up 14 catches for 293 yards and two scores, highlighted by a 98-yard touchdown reception in Jacksonville that became the longest scoring play in Buffalo Bills history.

Over the final five games, however, Owens’ final games as a Bill largely mirrored how his season began.  Owens caught just 15 passes in the last five games along with two touchdowns.  In a Week 16 loss at Atlanta, with Brian Brohm making his first career NFL start, Owens recorded his 1,000th catch of his career.

There was no fairy tale ending for Owens and the Bills.  Buffalo finished 6-10 and missed the playoffs for the 10th consecutive year.  Despite his down year, Lee Evans reaped the rewards of playing with Owens.  Evans’ seven touchdowns was the highest number of touchdowns he’s had since 2006.  Dating back to 2004 when Evans and Moulds combined for 14 touchdowns, this is first time since then that the Bills’ top two wide receivers combined for more than 12 touchdowns.

Through all the controversy, the popcorn, the sharpie and the lifting weights on his front lawn, Owens was a model citizen in Buffalo.  Both his embrace and interactions with the fans was spectacular.  I’d like to think that leaving Buffalo, Owens probably feels a new found appreciation for playing with the likes of Steve Young, Donovan McNabb, Tony Romo and even Jeff Garcia.  He’s always marched to the beat of his own orchestra and this wasn’t an easy season to swallow for T.O.  But he did what a few of his former employers wished he would’ve been able to do more:  work hard, show up on gamedays and keep your mouth shut.  In Buffalo, Owens gets gold stars in all three categories. 

It wasn’t a perfect marriage and both parties knew going in this was probably a one-and-done scenario for Owens.  Sure he’s not the same receiver he was six years ago, but I don’t know if I completely agree with the whole  “he’s lost a step” concept.  He’s still capable of being a dominant guy and he’s definitely still got game.  However, he’s probably not the centerpiece or main focal point of an offense anymore.  Where he needs the most help is at quarterback.  The Bills didn’t and don’t have a McNabb or Romo-type quarterback.  You can probably make the case they don’t have a Jeff Garcia-type signal caller either. 

It’s best for both parties.  The Bills are under a new regime moving in a new direction and could very well come back with the same trio of quarterbacks in 2010.  Owens is still chasing that elusive championship and it’s likely his next landing spot will have a much more stable and better quarterback situation. 

Thanks for the memories, T.O.!


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