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Mularkey picking fight to gain control

Let me begin by saying I haven't a clue about what Eric Moulds said that infuriated Mike Mularkey to the point of no return Sunday. Still, it doesn't take a genius to figure out the wide receiver offered more than his respectful opinion about improving the Buffalo Bills' offense while they had a 21-0 lead.

By now, you know Moulds was suspended for one game after putting his tongue where it didn't belong against Miami. Ralph Wilson handed down the sentencing, as if the 87-year-old owner didn't have better things to do Thursday afternoon than to preside over a sandbox dispute between his head coach and soon-to-be-departing star receiver.

Obviously, the Bills' problems this season run deeper. Much deeper.

This classic power struggle isn't just about Mularkey and Moulds but the institution and the inmates. Mularkey has more authority, which he's brandishing to send a message for the future. What's the old schoolyard rule when a man is outnumbered? Punch the guy who looks the toughest. In this case, it's Moulds.

Moulds was an immature, impatient man when he arrived in 1996, but he has evolved into a proud leader who was looking to make his mark on this team. As great as Andre Reed was during the glory days, I'd insert Moulds in his prime. He's been around 10 years, is widely respected in the locker room and unwavering in his beliefs. If he was being petty, stubborn and self-serving, give Mularkey credit for making a bold decision.

Naturally, Wilson publicly supported Mularkey. Any other reaction, and Mularkey and Tom Donahoe would be carpooling to the airport Thursday. Funny how Wilson called the suspension an "agreement." I'm not sure Moulds agreed that his two cents on the sidelines Sunday equates to $93,000 in lost wages.

I'm not picking sides, but I do know this: Mularkey had better be right because he's marching into some dangerous territory. He wants everything kept in-house, but the truth is his house along One Bills Drive is a mess. He could face a full-scale player revolt, if he hasn't already. And by the looks of things, he might not have Donahoe around to help clean up.

If you paid close enough attention, you could see player resentment brewing all season. Moulds was in a legion that wasn't entirely thrilled when Drew Bledsoe was sent packing. It was nothing against J.P. Losman. He was just the latest quarterback paraded into town while Moulds stood disillusioned on the flank, wondering if he would ever win a playoff game.

And it's not just Moulds, either.

Sam Adams' discontent has been obvious for weeks, when Mularkey alienated the Pro Bowl defensive tackle by planting him on the bench. Willis McGahee disagreed with Mularkey's assessment that he wasn't hitting holes early in the season, you know, back when he was productive. Losman vowed to come back and play the game his way. Remember "screw it"? It sure sounded like "screw them."

For the laid-back McGahee to use the word "chaos" to describe the situation signaled it was worse than outsiders imagined.

Mularkey wants to take on Moulds, Adams or anybody else? By all means, it's his team. But he'd better be darned sure he doesn't lose everybody else, including the fans filling the stadium every week. Let's face it, nobody is buying the message being handed down from a second-year coach with a 4-8 record, a mark that happens to be his finest work of deception.

Ironically, Mularkey's problem could well be his solution. He might have lost credibility this season, but he can gain it back with his players if they respect his decision and toughness. Will enough players rally around their coach or will too many see what happened with Moulds and turn their backs on Mularkey?

Frankly, I haven't a clue.


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