Bills hit the road at Miami to open tough stretch
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Pushovers on the road. Patsies within the AFC East.
The Buffalo Bills are going to have to reverse those two longstanding trends if they intend to remain competitive this season.
“Yeah, I can’t lie to you and say, ‘No, I’m not worried about that,’” receiver Stevie Johnson said, Wednesday. “But there’s still more fight in this team. It’s a long season, 10 more games and we’ll see what happens.”
At 2-4, the Bills find themselves behind the 8-ball after having squandered an early season advantage by splitting their first four home games, following a 27-24 overtime loss to Cincinnati last weekend.
Buffalo opens a stretch of playing three of its next four on the road, starting at division rival Miami (3-2) on Sunday.
And it’s part of a schedule that has Buffalo closing the season playing seven of its final 10 away from Orchard Park.
That includes the Bills annual “home” game in Toronto, where they’ll get no edge from the wintery elements by playing Atlanta indoors on Dec. 1.
It’s a road-heavy stretch that poses a daunting test for a team has lost six straight and 15 of its past 17 road games.
The Bills haven’t enjoyed a winning road record since going 5-3 in 1999, which happens to be the last time they made the playoffs.
Running back Fred Jackson dismissed the team’s past.
“You can’t look at it like that. We just have 10 games we have to focus on,” Jackson said. “We’re not where we want to be by any means right now. But we can’t tank and start wondering, ‘What if?’ We get a good opportunity to get a division win down in Miami.”
The trouble is, the Bills have had just as much difficulty beating division rivals. They’re 6-26 against AFC East teams since 2008, including losses to New England and the Jets this season.
Questions about the Bills’ slow start have become a sore spot with coach Doug Marrone.
“Are you saying am I disappointed that we’re sitting here at 2-4? Really? Yeah, of course,” Marrone said. “You could always say, ‘Yes, it’s tougher to win on the road,’ there’s no doubt about that. But it’s tough to win in general. And we haven’t won here in a while and that’s what we’re trying to get over the top with.”
Marrone is keeping his message simple with his players. Rather than address the big picture, the first-year coach is taking a one-game-at-a-time approach to turn around a franchise that hasn’t enjoyed a winning season since a 9-7 finish in 2004, and owns the NFL’s longest active playoff drought.
“My role is to say, ‘Hey, listen, pick your darn heads up,’” Marrone said. “We’re going to get this thing right together.”
He pins the team’s problems on a lack of consistency in all three phases
“I want to see where this team is when we play in sync,” Marrone said. “But right now, we’re not doing that, and that’s what I have to get done.”
There have been several bright spots.
The Bills have been competitive despite fielding the NFL’s third-youngest roster that has also been beset by a series of injuries to key players. Buffalo’s four losses have been decided by a combined 25 points.
The Bills nearly beat Cincinnati with Thad Lewis at quarterback a week after being promoted off the practice squad in place of injured starter EJ Manuel.
And their defensive backfield is getting healthier after starting safety Jairus Byrd and cornerback Stephon Gilmore both made their season debuts last week.
“Starting 2-2 at home is obviously not what we wanted,” center Eric Wood said. “But I feel like we’re playing tougher football this year, football that will last, football that can win you games.”
The Bills also could benefit from facing a Dolphins team that has gone 21-29 at home since 2007, including a 1-1 record this season.
That’s an issue Dolphins coach Joe Philbin raised with his players.
“We talked about it today,” Philbin said. “If you want to be a great team, you’ve got to play extremely well at home.”
AP Sports Writer Steve Wine in Davie, Fla., contributed to this story.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org