NFL Preview - Buffalo (3-6) at Jacksonville (5-4)
By Tony Moss, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The Buffalo Bills were hoping to make some history in the state of Florida this season. They just weren't hoping that the site would be Jacksonville, or that the date would be November 22nd.
At 3-6, the notion of the Bills reaching Super Bowl XLIV in Miami is pretty much gone, but a long-awaited new coaching era will arrive for the organization in North Florida, when Perry Fewell leads Buffalo into action against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday.
Fewell, the team's defensive coordinator since 2006, was named interim head coach on Tuesday, the same day team owner Ralph Wilson fired Dick Jauron after three years and a disappointing 24-33 record.
The last straw for Jauron was a 41-17 loss at the Tennessee Titans last week, a game that was tied 17-17 heading into the fourth quarter but was rendered a blowout by two late pick-six interceptions.
The first of those interceptions was thrown by quarterback Trent Edwards, who was benched soon after in favor of Ryan Fitzpatrick, who had opened the team's two previous games.
Fitzpatrick was little better upon entering, completing just 2-of-7 passes for six yards and throwing his own pick-six touchdown into the arms of cornerback Rod Hood.
Despite that performance, Fitzpatrick - who was 1-1 in a pair of starts while Edwards was nursing a concussion - will be back behind center against the Jags.
On the other side of the ball, Fewell's directive will be to breathe life into some defense - his own defense - which ranks last in NFL rushing defense (173 yards per game), yards allowed per carry (5.1), rushes allowed of 20 yards or longer (14), and is tied for last in rushing touchdowns allowed (14).
Fewell will open his head coaching career against a Jacksonville Jaguars team that comes into Week 11 in a much better place following a thrilling 24-22 win at the New York Jets.
The most notable storyline coming from that game was a controversial decision by head coach Jack Del Rio to ask running back Maurice Jones-Drew to fall down on the 1-yard line rather than score a touchdown with a little over a minute-and-a-half to play and the Jaguars still trailing, 22-21.
Del Rio's rationale was that he didn't want to give the ball back to the Jets with time remaining and afford them a chance to drive for the game-winning or game-tying score, though the choice to effectively "take points off the board" flies in the face of conventional football wisdom.
Del Rio was immediately vindicated, however, when kicker Josh Scobee calmly kicked a 21-yard field goal at the final gun to lift the Jags to a victory that lifted them to 5-4 and kept the young team in the midst of the wild card race.
Though he didn't score the late TD, Jones-Drew continued his Pro Bowl caliber- season with 24 carries for 123 yards and a touchdown.
Also serving as a credit to the cause was quarterback David Garrard, who had struggled on the road during the season's first half but finished 16-of-26 for 221 yards and just one turnover against the Jets. Garrard was in on a pair of Jacksonville touchdowns, capping off an 11-play, 70-yard drive with an 11-yard TD dash in the second quarter, and later in the frame hitting Mike Sims-Walker with a 26-yard strike to stake the Jags to a 21-10 lead.
The Bills lead the all-time regular season series with the Jaguars, 5-3, including a 20-16 victory when they visited Jacksonville in Week 2 of last season. The Jaguars won the previous meeting, a 36-14 home win in 2007. The Bills are 3-1 in Jacksonville all-time, also winning there in 2001 and 2003.
The Jaguars were 30-27 road victors in the only postseason tilt between the teams, which came in a 1996 AFC First-Round Playoff.
Including playoffs, the road team has won six of nine tilts in the series.
Del Rio is 2-3 against Buffalo in his head coaching career. The Bills' Fewell will be meeting both Del Rio and the Jaguars for the first time as a head coach.
WHEN THE BILLS HAVE THE BALL
Buffalo has struggled offensively all season, something that is unlikely to change despite the firing of Jauron or benching of Edwards. Buffalo is 29th in NFL total offense (268.2 yards per game) as Week 11 begins, and Fitzpatrick (362 passing yards, 2 TD, 4 INT), who has a miserable 49.8 passer rating in four appearances this season, has done his part to contribute to that total. The Harvard product will look to get the ball outside to Lee Evans (27 receptions, 5 TD), who had his first two-touchdown game of the year last Sunday, and Terrell Owens (26 receptions, 2 TD), who made a rare contribution with three catches for a season-high 85 yards, but made more headlines with his negative body language late in the game than with that output. The Buffalo running game has struggled to gain traction behind a young and battered offensive line this season, though Marshawn Lynch (254 rushing yards, 1 TD, 21 receptions) and Fred Jackson (493 rushing yards, 23 receptions, 1 TD) combined for a credible 85 yards on 17 combined carries against the Titans. Jackson also completed a 27-yard touchdown pass to Evans on a trick play in the first quarter. The aforementioned Bills line has some typical problems heading into Jacksonville, as left tackle Demetrius Bell (knee) will miss at least two games and tight end Derek Fine (knee) was placed on season-ending injured reserve Wednesday. Jonathan Scott will take Bell's place on the left side, and the team signed ex-Rams tight end Joe Klopfenstein to help make up for the Fine absence. The Bills have allowed 25 sacks on the year, including two last week.
Fitzpatrick may want to take some shots down the field against a Jacksonville defense that remains last in the league in sacks recorded (8) and will be without top cornerback Rashean Mathis (groin) on Sunday. With Mathis out, safety Reggie Nelson (44 tackles) will likely to move to corner for a defense that is just 26th in the league against the pass (238.9 yards per game). Rookie corner Derek Cox (44 tackles, 2 INT) and safety Sean Considine (20 tackles) will also play key roles against the Buffalo passing attack on Sunday. The Jaguars did not have a sack of Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez last week, though outside linebacker Quentin Groves (17 tackles, 1 INT) did add value with his first interception of the year. Lynch and Jackson will be working against a Jacksonville run defense that ranks just 22nd in the league (118.7 yards per game) but limited the Jets' Thomas Jones to 77 yards on 21 carries a week ago. Linebackers Daryl Smith (62 tackles, 1.5 sacks) and Justin Durant (61 tackles) are 1-2 on the Jags in tackles as Week 11 begins, and both had seven stops a week ago. Tackles John Henderson (21 tackles, 1 sack) and Terrence Knighton (25 tackles, 0.5 sacks) have done a decent job in the trenches this season. Henderson logged two tackles and a fumble recovery against the Jets.
WHEN THE JAGUARS HAVE THE BALL
Jacksonville won't make much of a secret about what it intends to do offensively, as Jones-Drew (860 rushing yards, 32 receptions) has put the team on his back more often than not this season. The diminutive rusher leads the league in touchdowns (12) and rushing touchdowns (12) as Week 11 begins, and needs just 140 yards to go over 1,000 for the first time in his career. Attempting to take the pressure off of Jones-Drew will be Garrard (2088 passing yards, 7 TD, 5 INT, 202 rushing yards, 2 TD), Sims-Walker (39 receptions, 5 TD), and the hit-or-miss Jacksonville passing game. Garrard has an 83.5 passer rating heading into the Buffalo game, but has just two touchdown passes versus four interceptions in his last five outings. Sims-Walker has emerged as the Jaguars' top downfield threat, catching both Garrard TD passes over the past two weeks, and wideouts Torry Holt (35 receptions), Mike Thomas (23 receptions) and tight end Marcedes Lewis (19 receptions, 2 TD) have been involved to a lesser extent. Thomas had a team-high four catches against the Jets, totaling 46 yards. The Jacksonville o-line has surrendered a middle-of-the-pack 22 sacks on the year, including two last week.
If the Bills are going to make the upset bid, they will have to figure out a way to tighten up the league's worst run defense and slow Jones-Drew. That effort will begin with tackle and ex-Jaguar Marcus Stroud (40 tackles, 2 sacks), who will be vying for a win in his former home stadium for the second straight year. Stroud had four tackles against the Titans last week, but was part of a group that allowed Chris Johnson to run wild for 132 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries. Linebackers Paul Posluzsny (47 tackles, 1 INT) and Chris Draft (18 tackles, 1 sack) will also have to be stout, a directive that will be made tougher in the likely absence of fellow LB Keith Ellison (68 tackles). Ellison, the team's leading tackler, is battling a thigh problem. The Bills' are not without their injury problems in the secondary either, as cornerback Terrence McGee (37 tackles) appears unlikely to suit up with a knee problem and fellow CB Ashton Youboty (6 tackles) is questionable with an ankle injury. That will place more pressure on a safety group led by rookie Jairus Byrd (34 tackles), who leads the NFL in interceptions (8) and has at least one INT in five straight games entering Sunday's contest. The Buffalo pass rush, led by end Aaron Schobel (33 tackles, 5 sacks, 1 INT), did not have a sack of the Titans' Vince Young last week and has generated just 17 sacks on the year.
The Bills are essentially dead from a fantasy perspective, with the possible exception of Evans, who made two of his four catches count for touchdowns against the Titans last week and showed some decent chemistry with Fitzpatrick earlier this season. Otherwise, stay well clear of the Bills.
On the Jacksonville side, both Jones-Drew and Sims-Walker have been fantasy studs this season, and there's little reason to think Buffalo will be able to stop either player consistently. Otherwise, not a lot of fantasy consistency on this team, even from a defense that struggled to stop the offenses of the Chiefs and Rams earlier this season.
In-season coaching changes generally get the attention of the players left to deal with them, and though interim coaches rarely have any kind of meaningful success, teams often seem to come out of the box playing hard for their new leaders. That should happen here, as Buffalo shows a renewed enthusiasm while being led by Fewell. Helping the Bills' prospects of gathering win number one of the Fewell era is the fact that the Jags have had trouble putting even their worst opponents to bed this season, needing some late focus to polish off the likes of Kansas City and St. Louis and also losing by double-digits to the then-winless Titans. So, there's little reason to expect the still-young Jaguars to run away and hide here, though Jacksonville has the talent to win another one late in the going.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Jaguars 22, Bills 19
11/19 12:14:08 ET