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McGahee's verbal dance is a bad move

We're not likely to see any of Willis McGahee's media appearances rebroadcast on The History Channel. On his best days, the Bills' running back is evasive and devoid of insight. He has mastered the art of opening his mouth and saying nothing.

But nothing would have been an improvement Wednesday. Twice in recent days, coach Mike Mularkey had spoken harshly about McGahee's tentative running style in the Tampa Bay loss. So what did his franchise back have to say for himself on media day? "It's a different story when you're out there on the field doing it yourself," McGahee said. "But everybody's got their own opinion."

Everyone's got their own opinion? What? You tell the guy at the gas station he's entitled to his opinion. You say it to the hecklers in the stands. You don't use it on your own coach, as if he were just another loudmouth at the bar.

Mularkey didn't care for McGahee's meandering sideways runs against the Bucs. He said it after the game and again Monday. It's rare for a coach to criticize an individual player. When it happens two days in a row, we're beyond the opinion phase. In Mularkey's mind, McGahee's dancing was a cold, soft football fact.

Maybe McGahee was too proud to concede his coach's point to the masses. Mularkey, in a more conciliatory mood Wednesday, said he felt his message had gotten through. He said McGahee ran with more purpose in practice, like a true power back.

Still, McGahee didn't seem that contrite. "Everybody's got their own opinion," he repeated. "I'm not going to worry about it. I'm not going to correct my running style or nothing like that. I'm going to continue what I'm doing."

McGahee also suggested he was being singled out for blame after the Tampa debacle. There might be some truth to that. Something tells me Mularkey wants to deflect criticism from J.P. Losman, his young quarterback. If so, McGahee should be a big boy about it. He's had a free ride from criticism since arriving in Buffalo.

It'll all blow over if the Bills beat Atlanta and McGahee has a big game. The NFL is a long season. But it can be a fragile proposition from week to week. When a team begins losing, things can come apart quickly. The internal chemistry can go awry.

Losman and Eric Moulds did a little finger-pointing after the Tampa loss. Losman talked about miscommunication and imprecise patterns. Moulds said Losman made some bad decisions. Wednesday, Moulds said Losman needed to "pay more attention to detail," talk more to the coaches and change some plays at the line.

Moulds is trying hard to help the kid. But he's touchy about the notion that he's in decline. He speaks longingly about receivers (Marvin Harrison, mainly) who have the good fortune to play with a single gifted quarterback for a long time. The situation could become explosive if Moulds continues to struggle.

Meanwhile, the defense is licking its wounds after its sorry performance in Tampa. There hasn't been any talk this week about its place in NFL history.
But things could get delicate there, too. In the Drew Bledsoe era, there was a tenuous peace. The defensive players wouldn't complain about the offense. But the coaches never pulled Bledsoe for a "spark," as they did Losman on Sunday in their little flirtation with Kelly Holcomb.

This is what Mularkey and Tom Donahoe bargained for when they handed the job to Losman. It's a fragile experiment, and everyone is affected. That could be why Mularkey decided to get tough with McGahee. Maybe he wanted to remind his running back that he's not a rookie anymore, that the team is relying on him, and it's time to cut the casual act.

No one is asking him to be an orator. He can speak softly or barely at all, but they need him to carry a big stick.

e-mail: jsullivan@buffnews.com

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