Prophecies have told human civilization many things throughout the years. They have predicted global wars, the fall of ancient empires, natural disasters, the birth of Jesus Christ, and even perhaps the end of the world in the not so distant future. But has there ever been a prophecy that has predicted the outcome of a professional sports team?
The key to all prophecies is understanding the passage of time. Seven years is a long time, especially in football years. But unfortunately that is the last time the Bills have fielded an offense that was capable of scoring in bunches, striking quickly, confusing opposing defenses, and most importantly making it bearable to watch. 2002 was certainly a season for the ages as a motivated Drew Bledsoe was traded to Buffalo from division rival New England and proceeded to shatter several single season franchise records despite failing to take this team back to the postseason.
So, perhaps a preview of what lies ahead in 2009 can very well be found by decoding the past. By studying the rise of the Bills' 2002 offense, we can unlock a prophetic code that just may foreshadow the fate of this franchise in a make-or-break year.
Let’s start with the overall offensive rankings in terms of yards gained and points scored.
In 2001 the Bills posted a dreadful 3-13 record, and even though they were the 13th ranked offense in terms of total yards, they were 27th in points scored. However, the former category is very misleading considering that squad racked up a lot of yards in garbage time because they were dominated early and often and typically trailing a lot in the second half of games, which is an inherent trait of most three-win teams.
In 2002 the Bills offense improved to No. 11 overall in both yards gained and points scored, but it’s the points scored that was key as they improved by 16 spots, which led to five more wins.
The 2008 Bills were 25th in yards gained and 23rd in points scored. If we could match the turnaround from 2001 to 2002, than means in 2009 we would have the seventh ranked offense in terms of scoring which would likely mean that we would also be a top 10 offense in terms of yards gained.
It might be wishful thinking, but next let’s look at the QB play.
In 2001, three different starting QB’s (Rob Johnson, Alex Van Pelt, and Travis Brown) combined to post these numbers:
- Yards: 3722
- TD passes: 18
- INT: 20
- Completion percentage: 58.7
- Yard Per Attempt: 6.7
- QB Rating: 74.7
In 2002, Bledsoe posted these numbers:
- Yards: 4359
- TD Passes: 24
- INT: 15
- Completion percentage: 61.5
- Yard Per Attempt: 7.1
- QB Rating: 86.0
Here are the combined numbers that Edwards (12-and-a-half games) and Losman (three-and-a-half games) posted in 2008. Next to the combined numbers, I’m including Edwards' numbers in parenthesis since he started a majority of the season and it’s more relevant to my breakdown:
- Yards: 3302 (2699)
- TD Passes: 14 (11)
- INT: 15 (10)
- Completion percentage: 64.5 (65.5)
- Yard Per Attempt: 6.9 (7.2)
- QB Rating: 81.3 (85.4)
So what does this mean? Well, for starters, if you look at Edwards' 2008 numbers vs Bledsoe's 2002 numbers, they are better in just about every category except passing yards and TD passes. Edwards is also on par with Bledsoe’s QB rating, as well. Most would view this as pretty impressive considering Edwards was in his second NFL season last year and Bledsoe (who is a borderline HOF caliber QB) was in his 10th NFL season in 2002.
Here is the key to my comparison, and if there truly is a prophecy to be found, it lies deep within the trenches. In 2002 the Bills' starting offensive line returned only one starter at the same position from 2001 (Ruben Brown, LG) and they also moved another starter from 2001 to another position (Jonas Jennings, RT to LT). The three new starters that year were Trey Teague (Center), Marques Sullivan (RG), and Mike Williams (RT).
What is the significance of this, you ask?
For starters, we essentially started two rookies on the right side considering Sullivan (fifth round pick) was a second year player that started two games as a rookie in 2001, and we all know Mike William's story as a highly touted first rounder. Sound familiar? This year we are likely going to be starting a first round pick at RG and a second round pick at LG on opening day, and both will be changing positions in the NFL, which adds even more intrigue (and plenty of worries) to the situation.
Trey "Turnstile” Teague (seventh round pick) was a three-year veteran whom we signed from Denverand, converting him from tackle to center. Again, sound familiar? In 2009 we will be starting Jeff Hangartner (fifth round pick) who comes to Buffalo with proven versatility and more starting experience than Teague had when we signed him.
Jonas Jennings was a promising rookie RT than we moved to LT. In 2009 a seven-year veteran is making that same switch but at least has experience at that position starting three games there last year in Peter's absence. But, could Demetrius Bell be our next Jonas Jennings and take over at some point in 2009? Only time will tell.
What I’m getting at here is that we may actually be in better shape heading into 2009 than we were heading into 2002 in terms of our starting oline. If numbers truly matter, it looks like Edwards is poised to post Bledsoe-esque numbers. But one thing Edwards has going for him that Bledsoe didn't is a lighting quick release and mobility; even if the retooled 2009 offensive line struggles like the 2002 version did, I don't foresee 54 sacks given up.
Here’s one more nugget to consider: in 2002 our biggest offensive addition came in the form of second round draft pick Josh Reed, who had a very successful rookie campaign as the No. 3 WR. But, if you look at the 2002 offensive roster, it was basically the same cast of characters from 2001 (Moulds, Price, Henry, Riermersma, Centers).
In 2009, we landed a first ballot HOF WR but the rest of the offensive skill players are essentially the same, but we also added depth at TE and RB, which expands and diversifies our offensive arsenal.
If this prophesy does manifest, there is one dubious distinction the 2009 Bills will be looking to avoid. Despite Bledsoe’s record setting year, the 2002 Bills still finished last in the division just like they did a year earlier. The statuesque Bledsoe was also sacked 54 times in 2002, but despite the below average offensive line play, he proved it was possible to field a high scoring offense. So if the 2009 Bills make the same quantum leap that the 2002 Bills with their offense, it’s not unreasonable to believe they can’t finish at least second place, which might be good enough for this franchise to return to the postseason and end a decade of decadence.R