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Halloween in Buffalo
Quarterback controversy won't go away
by Tony Bogyo
October 30, 2007

Late October. The temperatures turn colder and the leaves explode in an array of colors (unless you’re in Southern California – then the temperatures go up and the leaves explode into flames). Days grow shorter, baseball comes to an end, and the bye weeks are nearly over. Things start to get spooky – very spooky.

As the witches of Macbeth predicted, fair is foul and foul is fair (yes – bonus points for a Macbeth reference in a football article!). I’ve seen some scary and ugly things recently – things that should normally turn anyone’s stomach yet are welcomed as pleasant. The Patriots going 8-0 and not showing any signs of weakness. Pats fans talking about New England going undefeated. Bills fans talking about New England going undefeated. Bill Belichick going for it on 4th and 1 up 38-0 in the fourth quarter. Monday Night Football announcers displaying so much love for Brett Favre that Republican presidential candidates are attacking the broadcast as part of “the gay agenda”. Horrible, horrible things.

But scariest of all is what’s happening in Buffalo. A controversy that won’t go away – a quarterback controversy.

Just when you thought the Johnson vs. Flutie days and the Bledsoe era were behind us, uncertainty abounds at the quarterback position. Fans are divided again. Not only do we not know who the quarterback of the future is, we don’t know when the future is – this season, next season, 3 years from now? Does the offensive system match up with the signal caller, or will the Bills once again be forced to make wholesale changes to their game philosophy?

On the one hand you have J.P. Losman, the fourth year pro from Tulane who finally emerged from shadow of the legendary Kelly Holcomb last year to show some good development as a young quarterback. On the other hand you have Trent Edwards, the rookie from Stanford who has shown poise in the pocket after being forced into a starting role due to injury.

Some accuse me of being a pessimist, eternally seeing the half empty glass, but I don’t think the situation is good for Buffalo. Instead of an organization and fan base uniting behind a quarterback as he comes into his own, the team seems set to head in yet another new direction as it asks everyone to be patient through the growing pains.

They say that you don’t lose your starting job in the NFL due to injury. Many Losman supporters claim that’s exactly what happened after their man went down with a knee injury in week 3 and never regained his starting position. While I agree that Losman looks like he got a raw deal, it doesn’t appear to be because of injury. Losman lost his job because the Bills wanted to go in a new direction and injury gave them a way to shift gears. They saw that the grass was seemingly greener with the new kid and made the switch.

It’s obvious the Bills organization prefers Edwards as their quarterback, no matter how they’ve spun the current situation. Losman is a Donahoe pick – he’s not the product of the current management. Losman’s a cowboy who’s playing for a couple of conservative Ivy Leaguers. He questioned his coaches for conservative game plans in the first two games, something that surely rubbed the organization the wrong way. Losman is also a guy who is going to cost the Bills some decent money in the near future with his contract and performance incentives. Add it all up and it becomes pretty unlikely that Losman will be awarded the starting job in the same manner in which he lost his – Edwards will take the helm again when he recovers from his wrist injury.

Edwards may ultimately be a good quarterback and may eventually become the ever-elusive “quarterback of the future”. He’s smart – you don’t go to Stanford if you’re not pretty intelligent no matter how good you are on the field. Edwards has some good skills – it has been reported that his ex coach and NFL coaching legend Bill Walsh called Buffalo to tell them they had drafted a gem in Edwards. Edwards is an Ivy League guy like Marv Levy and Dick Jauron. He’s willing to play conservative, ball control offense as he learns the ropes. He’s not making big money yet. Most of all he provides a convenient way to explain why the Bills can’t seem to put it into gear and march to the playoffs – who expects a rookie pressed into service to lead a team to greatness?

I am not personally decided on who would make the better quarterback for the Bills right now. I think Losman had his opportunities cut short by injury after facing two very tough defenses and having to work with extremely conservative offensive game plans. Edwards has shown some good stuff on the field, but he has only thrown 1 touchdown pass vs. 5 interceptions since taking the helm.

Edwards likely improve, but the questions are how much time will it take and how much collateral damage will be done to the team. Simply put, the Bills can ill afford to nurture a quarterback for a couple of season as he develops – they’ve been doing that for a few years already and need results now. They can also ill afford to scrap an offensive system after a year and start over with a new system – they seem to do that every year and it hasn’t worked out well. It’s also obvious with a conservative game plan designed for a rookie some tremendous talent in Lee Evans is going to waste – Evans is at his best when going deep and that’s simply not in the game plan when Edwards is at the helm. Do the Bills honestly think they can keep Evans happy when he catches 3 balls or less per game? Do they think they’ll win many games when the longest pass play they call goes for 12 yards?

So here we sit in quarterback purgatory, a fittingly spooky place given the Halloween season. Staying the original course with Losman seems to be out of the question and it means that his journey towards “quarterback of the future” is over. Going forward with a new guy is going to set the organizational plan back a few years and there’s no guarantee Edwards’ journey to a successful career in Buffalo will be any more successful than Losman’s. For fans, it’s nothing but pain as the organization remains in neutral and perhaps takes a step back. Are you scared yet?

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