Someone asked Jim Kelly this week if he felt any sympathy toward Frank Reich.
After all, they had formed a close friendship during the nine seasons Reich was Kelly's understudy at quarterback on the Buffalo Bills. Now Reich was preparing to make his second start for the injury-ravaged, 0-7 New York Jets. And Bruce Smith and the rest of the Bills' punishing pass-rushers were preparing to get their hands on him.
Kelly shook his head from side to side.
"I've got enough to worry about right here," he said.
Indeed, as much as Kelly has struggled, Sunday's game against the Jets could go a long way toward determining his future in Buffalo, if not the NFL.
Reich isn't at such a crossroads. But he does find himself in an unenviable position nonetheless.
A week ago, he was shoved into the Jets' starting lineup after Neil O'Donnell, the quarterback in whom the Jets invested $25 million, suffered a separated throwing shoulder that could keep him out five more weeks.
In New York, there is considerable talk about the Jets not winning a game this year. And while that talk might still be taking place with O'Donnell at the controls, it has clearly intensified since Reich's first start against Jacksonville. After playing well enough at the outset to move the Jets into a 14-3 lead, Reich threw two horrible passes that were intercepted, triggering the Jaguars' rally for a 21-17 victory. Counting relief appearances, Reich has completed 42 of 86 passes this season for 536 yards and four touchdowns while throwing four interceptions.
O'Donnell clearly has the better arm and better command of the offense, having operated it in Pittsburgh before signing with the Jets in the offseason. Reich, in fact, came close to losing the No. 2 job to Glenn Foley during the preseason. Reich struggled badly through the first three exhibition games before finally saving himself with a decent showing in the fourth.
Now, he is being looked upon to help right the Jets' sinking ship, a chore made even more difficult by injuries that have taken away his two best receivers -- rookie Keyshawn Johnson and Jeff Graham -- and the team's two top defensive players -- end Hugh Douglas and middle linebacker Marvin Jones.
"It's a lot more fun to win," Reich said during a conference call this week with Western New York media. "When you're winning, everyone's attitude is better, it's a whole lot more fun to come into work.
"But just like when I look back to those years in Buffalo, we didn't develop into a Super Bowl team overnight. Those 2-14 and 4-12 years, those were all steps to building the team that we had. I have to believe, as difficult as things have been here, you have to keep that perspective that we're building toward something."
Sunday will mark Reich's second start against the Bills. His first came last season with the Carolina Panthers, whom he joined as a free agent after the 1994 season.
Reich would prefer to forget that nightmarish experience at Rich Stadium, when he completed only six of 21 passes for 44 yards, with one interception, and was sacked three times in a 31-9 loss.
"That was definitely one of the most humiliating experiences I've had on a football field," said Reich, who signed with the Jets in the offseason after the Panthers opted not to re-sign him. "Just to go back there, you want to play well and have a good performance, and I didn't.
"I want to put that one behind me, and I'm thankful for another opportunity."
Of course, that could all change once Smith, linebacker Bryce Paup and the rest of Buffalo's defensive front begins to give chase on the Giants Stadium field Sunday. The Bills have already piled up 19 sacks, and are expecting to increase the total.
"It's going to be a physical game, and I'm going to take some hits and I'm going to have to stand in there and take the hits," said Reich, who has been sacked three times this season. "Our offensive line is doing a good job, but nobody brings the heat the way the Bills bring the heat. I think they're the best defensive team in the league and they have the best pass rush in the league."
While participating in Kelly's annual offseason celebrity golf tournament, Reich kidded with Bills defensive end Phil Hansen about hitting Reich too hard in the Carolina game.
"I hope he understands he doesn't have the red vest (which protects quarterbacks in practice) on anymore," Hansen said. "And that this is my livelihood."
"Frank is a very smart quarterback," Smith said. "He's got great football knowledge, great football sense. He knows when it's time to get out of the pocket, and he knows when it's time to get rid of the football. He's not going to stand back there in that pocket and hold it for four or five or six seconds."
Reich appreciated the compliment.
But he has been imploring his offensive linemen not to give Smith any additional motivation for Sunday.
"At times, Bruce gets that look in his eyes," Reich said. "We used to love it when he did."
The Bills Friday added free-agent defensive tackle Jerold Jeffcoat to their five-man practice squad.
Jeffcoat, brother of Bills defensive lineman Jim Jeffcoat, fills the spot vacated when tight end Jay Riemersma was moved to the active roster last Tuesday. His only NFL experience has been in the training camps of the New York Giants in 1993, the New Orleans Saints in 1994, and the Jets in 1995.
Jeffcoat, 27, was a member of the Scottish Claymores in the '95 and '96 World League of American Football seasons, earning All-World honors both years. The 6-foot-2, 280-pound former Temple University standout also played for the '96 Arena League-champion Tampa Bay Storm.
Bills linebacker Sam Rogers (ankle) will miss his second consecutive game Sunday.
He joins receivers Steve Tasker and Justin Armour, and safety Mike Salmon on the inactive list.