drew-bledsoe

#22: What if the Bills didn’t cut Drew Bledsoe?

Hasn’t it gotten kind of predictable by now?

The Bills are in the running for Mario Williams. The town goes bonkers at the notion of him riding into town on a white horse wearing shiny armour. Paul Peck and the courtroom reporters are covering the airport like Bill Clinton was coming to town. Pretty much the same thing went down when T.O. came to Buffalo.

Can you imagine if the Sabres had actually signed Brad Richards last season? Do you remember how the town was in a standstill waiting/hoping for Robyn Regehr to wave his no-trade clause? Every time a new player comes to town, especially someone with the star magnitude of a T.O. or Williams, everyone goes nuts.

I was too young to remember when Jim Kelly first came to town. I’ve read the press clippings about that day. I know he took a limo from the airport and there were people hanging from the bridges with bedsheets saying “Kelly is God.” This was the first time we saw the hoopla for an athlete coming to town.  For me, Drew Bledsoe getting traded in 2002 was my Jim Kelly coming to town moment. It set the stage for pep rallies and keys to the city being given out.

I remember I was working on the day the Bills traded for Drew and all of the employees were giving each other high-fives. The fans were excited! I remember when Bledsoe walked onto the stage in a gray suit and delivered a stirring speech about the Bills tradition and how great the fans were. This wasn’t at some sort of press conference, the kind you see every time a player signs on the dotted line now. This happened at a pep rally outside of Ralph Wilson Stadium. Yes, 1000 of fans greeted a guy who lost his job a year early.

Finally, we had our next Jim Kelly. A guy with a rocket arm and some credentials: 3 Pro Bowls, 2 All-Pros, 1 AFC Title, and 4 seasons of 20 touchdowns or more. Sure, you will get a few talk show hosts and fans saying that they weren’t on the bandwagon when Bledsoe came to town, but that is a load of crap. Hindsight is great in talking sports with complete strangers. In reality, everyone was thrilled.

For the next three years, Bledsoe had a tenure that was about as up and down as you can get. He was really good for most of 2002, setting passing records and throwing for over 4,000 yards and 24 touchdowns. Unfortunately, the defense couldn’t stop a nosebleed and the team finished 8-8. Then 2003 hit and it was a complete reversal of fortune. The defense played well while Bledsoe and the offense regressed big time. Bledsoe and the offense set records in offensive futility. Mr. Bounty (Gregg Williams) was gone after a 6-10 season. In 2004, the Bills finished with a 9-7 record, with Bledsoe having a modest season. Some good, some bad (20 touchdowns, 16 INTs). His season finale performance against the Steelers, the playoffs on the line, didn’t exactly remind anyone of Jim Kelly’s clutch performances.

Even still, the Bills were just one game – maybe even one quarter – away from making the playoffs.

To this day, I think the Bills should have kept Bledsoe another year. Yes, teams had caught up to him during his last two seasons, but the Bills didn’t do him any favors in getting rid of Peerless Price, Jay Riemersma, and Larry Centers and replacing them with Bobby Shaw, Sam Gash, and Mark Campbell. I always felt that Bledsoe was the type who needed good players around him. He’s not Peyton Manning, who is going to make Pierre Garcon into a 70-catch WR.

I just think that if you are one win away from making the playoffs – and it’s going on six years since you made the playoffs – you don’t cut your starting QB. You definitely don’t cut him to play JP Losman. I think Bledsoe got too much of the blame for the loss against the Steelers’ B-team. The defense played like crap against Tommy Maddox and Brian St. Pierre. Rian Lindell didn’t help matters when he missed a chip shot field goal. The coaching stunk. However, Bledsoe was the fall guy for the media and the fans. A month later, Bledsoe was gone and JP was in.

What if the Bills hadn’t cut Bledsoe?

The 2005 Bills season was a putrid display of football, especially on the offensive side of the ball. The Bills went from 7th in scoring under Bledsoe to 24th under Losman/Holcomb. The Bills were ranked 29th in passing and Losman was benched twice in favor of Holcomb. Yes, the Bills defense didn’t help matters that season. The loss of Pat Williams to free agency and the Takeo Spikes injury caused the unit to plummet to 19th. However, the season was lost due to the offense being terrible.

As for Bledsoe in Dallas, he wasn’t bad in 2005.

Bledsoe finished with 23 touchdowns and 17 picks and their offense was ranked 13th. Dallas finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs, but you can’t argue that the two-headed QB monster in Buffalo was better than Bledsoe. It is not like Bledsoe was surrounded by awesome offensive talent in Dallas. (Over-the-hill Keyshawn Johnson, Terry Glenn, and Julius Jones.) Sorry, but I’m taking Moulds, Evans, and McGahee over that trio.

Now, I’m in no way, shape, or form saying the Bills would have finished 11-5 and won the division. However, they would have been much better than 5-11. What fans don’t remember is that a number of Bledsoe’s old teammates still liked him. The fact that most of his former teammates went to bat for Kelly Holcomb over Losman should tell you all you need to know about the locker room that year. Realistically, I think the Bills could have finished 8-8 or 7-9.

Here’s where the “What if?” comes into play.

Do you think Donahoe and Mularkey would have departed after the season? Maybe with an 8-8 record and the injury to Spikes, 2005 would have been a mulligan type of year for Donahoe/Mularkey. I mean, we are talking about Ralph Wilson here. Mediocrity goes hand-in-hand with Buffalo sports teams. Do we get another year of the duo? I say at 8-8, they are back. Which would mean no Dick Jauron or Marv Levy. 

I guess what I’m saying is that Bledsoe shouldn’t have been cut. Sure, if JP Losman was Aaron Rodgers, it would be a different story, but even with Losman being a unknown at that time, I thought Bledsoe got the raw deal.

Missed a “What if?” Moment? Be sure to check out the archives.

Joe

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The Lord of Buffalo Wins

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