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Bills rewind / The season in review The Buffalo Bills got out of the NFL's basement and regained some respectability in 2006. Mark Gaughan takes a capsule look at their 7-9 season.

>Top three developments of '06

1. J.P. Losman improved. Losman's dramatic progress gives the team hope that it may have the solution to the franchise's biggest problem. The Bills have a promising young quarterback. He still has a long way to go. The Bills ranked only 28th in passing. But there is reason to believe he can take the team to the playoffs.

2. Jason Peters turned into a franchise left tackle. Peters' development is remarkable, considering just a little over two years ago he had zero offensive line experience. He was shifted from right to left tackle on the bye week and was outstanding protecting Losman's blind side the last nine games. He allowed only one sack at left tackle, and looked good blocking Shawne Merriman and Jason Taylor. Plus, the Bills ran to the left a good 60 percent of the time. Peters is a star.

3. The coaching was good. Dick Jauron looks like much more of a complete package as a head coach than Mike Mularkey, Gregg Williams or Wade Phillips. Steve Fairchild and Turk Schonert did a good job with Losman. Perry Fewell milked production out of the defense. The defensive ends improved under Bill Kollar. Now Jauron & Co. must take the next step and find a way to beat Bill Belichick.


>Top three problems of '06

1. Run defense. The Bills ranked 28th. In every one of the key losses -- at New England, Detroit and Indy, and at home versus the Jets, Chargers and Titans -- the Bills' defense could not stop the opponent from shoving the ball down its throat at the end of the game to clinch the victory. The Bills will try to add one impact defensive tackle -- at either the nose tackle or the "three-technique spot" -- to solve the problem.
2. Offensive line. The Bills' offensive line played much better after the bye-week reshuffling. It still needs to add another star-caliber player, either at right tackle or at guard. The Bills need to impose their will on opponents on the ground more often. They were 27th in rushing yards and 28th in yards per carry.
3. Lack of experience. Lack of continuity has killed the Bills' franchise this decade. It's hard to compete when you change coaching staffs every two or three years. The offense and defense were learning entirely new systems. The inexperience of Losman kept the offensive scheme in remedial mode at times, and the defense had five rookies on the field at times.


>Team MVP

Lee Evans. He not only stepped into Eric Moulds' large No. 1 receiver shoes, he produced 1,292 yards, tied for the fifth best yardage season in team history. Even though defenses knew he was the No. 1 target of Losman, he kept getting open and making plays. Six of his eight TD catches were of 37 yards or longer.
The runner-up choice is defensive end Aaron Schobel, who finished third in the NFL in sacks with 14. This was by far Schobel's most consistent year. He had sacks in 11 different games and in six straight games at one point. He has 54 sacks in the past five years.


>Top three plays of year

1. Peerless Price, 15-yard TD pass versus Houston. It was a perfect throw from Losman, and Price did a great job keeping his feet in bounds in the back of the end zone. Losman's first fourth-quarter comeback.
2. Roscoe Parrish, 82-yard punt return TD versus Jacksonville. The field-it-on-the-hop, reverse-direction, rumblin', stumblin' -- whoop! -- punt return of the decade for the Bills.
3. Willis McGahee's 57-yard TD run versus Jets. McGahee's best run of the year started the Bills on a rout at New York. It was a power run off left tackle.


>Top three negative plays of the year

1. Vince Young's 36-yard TD scramble. Fourth and 2? Fourteen seconds left in the half? Are you kidding? Tennessee's rookie QB was sensational in beating the Bills.
2. Fourth-and-1 failure at Foxborough. The Bills had a 17-7 lead and drove 67 yards to start the second half. But McGahee was stuffed on fourth-and-1 from the Pats' 7, and the Pats rallied to win, 19-17.
3. Kerry Rhodes' sack-fumble-touchdown for the Jets. New York's budding star safety came on a seven-man rush, McGahee missed the blitz pickup, and Victor Hobson ran 32 yards with the recovery, the key play in the Jets' crucial win at Buffalo.


>Most surprising player

Keith Ellison proved to be a diamond in the rough at linebacker. A sixth-round pick who looked too small in training camp to excel, he wound up starting seven games and played better than anyone expected. A perfect example of the emphasis on speed and athleticism over size in the Cover 2 defense.


>Third down and out

The Bills ranked 31st in the NFL on third downs, converting just 31.7 percent. They did get better. The first eight games they converted 27 percent, the last eight they converted 35.6 percent. That's still not good enough. To get into the top 12 in the league they needed to be at 39 percent.

The big problem was passing on third and short. Losman was 1 of 8 passing on third-and-1 situations. The Bills converted just 3 of 11 pass plays on third and 2. They converted 1 of 5 when they tried to pass on third and 3. So that's 5 of 24 conversions with pass plays on third and 3 or shorter.

The running in short-yardage wasn't bad. The Bills converted 15 of 22 runs on third and 1 or 2 into first downs. That was 12th best. Overall, the Bills were fifth worst in the league at converting third and 5 or fewer.


>Not dumb, not dirty

The Bills set a team record for the fewest penalties committed in a 16-game season -- 88 for 629 yards. That was tied for ninth fewest penalties in the league. The offensive line was called for only four holding or illegal-use-of-hands fouls. Last year it was flagged for 12. Last year there were 12 unnecessary roughness/roughing the passer/unsportsmanlike conduct fouls. This year there were three.


>Say what?

"People in Buffalo should enjoy this team because they're pushing us out." -- Owner Ralph C. Wilson Jr. on the NFL's big-market owners.
"I thought it was third down." -- McGahee after the fourth-and-1 failure in New England. A day later he said he was joking.


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