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Bills' Lewis had obstacles to overcome

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Posted: Tuesday, December 24, 2013 10:18 am

Some random observations on the Bills heading into their regular-season finale at New England after an impressive 19-0 victory over Miami Sunday at “The Ralph:”

— Clearly, the Bills beat the Dolphins because of great defense — seven sacks, two interceptions and a mere 103 yards surrendered — and a ground game that generated 203 yards.

And Buffalo prevailed despite a rather mediocre performance by backup quarterback Thad Lewis, who was a mere 15-of-25 passing for 193 yards with an interception, no touchdowns and a modest 67.6 passer rating.

But he also faced some obstacles.

Lewis didn’t find out he was starting until Tuesday and had to deal with the rainy, windy conditions at “The Ralph” five days later.

But the biggest issue was the losses Buffalo endured in its receiving corps. Nominal No. 1 Stevie Johnson was in California due to the death of his mother, deep threat Marquise Goodwin went out in the first quarter after aggravating a knee injury and No. 2 wideout Robert Woods was ejected in the third period for throwing a punch.

Thus, for a good part of the game, Lewis’ wide receiving corps was  T.J. Graham, Marcus Easley and Chris Hogan.

Hence, only seven of his 15 completions went to wide receivers, the others were snagged by running backs and tight ends.

SPEAKING of Johnson, it could be argued that the Bills’ most pressing draft need is a No. 1 wide receiver ... preferably one with size.

Johnson is an enigma.

He’s the only wideout in franchise history to have three consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons. From 2010-12, he averaged 79 catches, 1,041 yards and eight touchdowns.

Arguably, those are top wideout statistics but Johnson’s TD numbers went down each year in that span ... from 10 to 6.

This season, though inactive for three of 15 games, Johnson has only 52 catches with three touchdowns and, more concerning, seven drops.

His yards per catch has gone from 13.2 during that productive stretch, to 11.5 this year, though in fairness, the latter number is partially a product of working with two new QBs, Lewis and rookie EJ Manuel.

Johnson also gets a mulligan on his last game, Buffalo’s win at Jacksonville (one catch for four yards plus two drops), the day he found out about his mother’s passing.

But Stevie has been neither consistent, nor dependable over most of his career, and yet the Bills saw fit to sign him to a 5-year extension for over $7 million per, before last season.

Yet he hasn’t been clutch — certainly not a go-to receiver — and, though listed at 6-foot-2 and 207 pounds, Johnson doesn't play big.

On most teams, he’d be no more than a No. 2 or No. 3 wideout, which is why Buffalo so desperately needs a No. 1 not named Stevie Johnson.

AFTER SUNDAY’S game, Fred Jackson, who rushed for 111 yards on 19 carries and had Buffalo’s only TD, talked about his role as a team captain and its responsibilities.

“When you’ve got a young team like we do, and you’ve been around awhile, you want to let those guys know what to expect ...  get in their ear when they’re not doing something right or when things can be done better, or when they’re down on themselves,” he said. “That’s a role not only myself, but also Kyle (Williams, defensive tackle) and Eric (Wood, center) have had to do a lot this year ... one that we relish.

“Any time you get voted a captain, you want to live up to that. That’s one of the greatest honors playing this game, being voted by your peers. Every time I’m out on the field, I want to earn being voted a captain by those guys.” 

(Chuck Pollock, the Times Herald sports editor, can be reached at cpollock@oleantiesherald.com)

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