A lot of people thought tight end Lonnie Johnson was ready to make a big impact on the Buffalo Bills offense this season. It hasn't happened yet.
Johnson has not been unproductive through the first six games. He's on pace to catch 50 passes. But he has had only one big play -- a 33-yard catch against Dallas. And like just about everybody on the Bills' offense, he has had a handful of nagging mistakes. In short, he has not looked like a big asset.
Sunday's game against Miami was an example.
Johnson had a holding penalty that wiped out a 19-yard gain by Thurman Thomas and allowed a sack that spoiled another drive. Conversely, he made a nice catch to start the Bills' touchdown drive and made a key block that sprang Thurman Thomas on his touchdown run. He also could not get open on the pivotal first-and-goal call at the end of the game. But that wasn't really his fault, because Miami called the perfect defense, in which a defensive end dropped to cover the tight end.
Prior to the Dolphins game, Johnson had one holding penalty, against the Steelers. He had one drop against the Colts and one against the Patriots. He missed a pass-route adjustment on a blitz against the Colts that caused an incomplete pass.
Every week the Bills say little mistakes that everyone takes turns making are killing their drives. While Johnson has not had an epidemic of drops or penalties, the ones he has had are the kinds of things that are keeping the Bills out of the end zone. The Bills rank 27th in the NFL in points per game.
The Bills' coaches say that while he has had some mistakes, they think he's playing consistently well.
"I think overall he's playing very well," said tight ends coach Don Lawrence. "I think the stats show that. He's been catching the ball well and he's been blocking good. For example, on the counter that Thurman scored on Sunday -- it was a great audible by Jim Kelly -- but Lonnie was the guy who blocked the linebacker and the safety. He picked off both of them to make the hole."
Johnson likewise said he thinks he's much more steady and effective than last season, when he caught 49 balls. He ranks third on the team in catches this year with 19 for an 8.2-yard average.
"I heard someone say the only thing consistent about Lonnie Johnson is his inconsistency," Johnson said. "But looking at film, I think I've been very consistent. I'm getting my job done, and everybody's happy with what I'm doing."
Johnson had trouble with assignment errors the first half of last season. He said the missed sight adjustment against the Colts was the only assignment error he has made since the season started.
Johnson has the size and speed to get downfield on pass routes and shows flashes of being a play-maker. Against the Cowboys he got deep down the middle of the field and made a pretty grab for the 33-yard gain. But the Bills' offense hasn't been making many big plays.
"What we're all waiting for and he's waiting for is to catch that one and go 70 yards," Lawrence said. "He's working at it. He had a heck of a catch in preseason against Carolina where he broke about three tackles and scored. He's working hard and doing a good job, and it's going to happen for him."