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Bills' poor showing hints change may be a good thing

They stood in defense of their head coach, first London Fletcher, then Troy Vincent, two veterans taking the political high road and assigning the blame to the players.

But you know what they say. Actions speak louder than words. And 35-7 Patriots is indicative of a Buffalo Bills team that's in turmoil and yearning for a change -- make that two -- at the top.

This was one of those statement games for the Bills, coach Mike Mularkey having made it so by suspending wide receiver Eric Moulds for objecting that he's underutilized, that their offensive game plans are primers, for demonstratively driving home what everyone knows to be the truth. Remember, this is the same Mularkey who earlier this season played hide-and-seek with his quarterbacks, refusing to divulge his starter because there might be a competitive edge to be gained.

Yet the coach banished Moulds, one of the elite receivers in franchise history, for a game against a divisional rival that's won three of the last four Super Bowls. That left his tenderfoot of a quarterback to operate with a substitute wideout as green as himself. Two percent gained here, 50 percent squandered there. Merry Christmas, Bill Belichick.

The Bills revealed their true feelings on the matter in being thoroughly outclassed by an injury-depleted Patriots team they had dead to rights in New England six weeks ago. Pats quarterback Tom Brady outrushed Willis McGahee and Co. on a mere four attempts. New England's 32 first downs ranked fourth all time for a Buffalo opponent. Mularkey was aghast, the Bills having practiced so well all week, as they do every week, the end result seldom changing.

If Mularkey wants to send his troops a meaningful message he could come up with an offensive game plan that works and a quarterback refined enough to execute it. J.P. Losman was awful in the first game he's ever played in the snow, his accuracy on short passes frighteningly erratic. Losman dismissed the conditions as a factor in his struggles, which isn't exactly encouraging.

But there's no sense heaping it on The Kid, who woke up one morning after his injury-abbreviated rookie season to learn Mularkey had named him the starting quarterback, competition be damned. Trouble began brewing right then, the many veterans in the room mindful it's a rare instance when a newbie quarterback leads a team into the playoffs.

Mularkey acknowledged the flippancy of the decision in switching to veteran Kelly Holcomb earlier this season before returning to The Kid. Losman's had some success throwing the long ball but remains lacking on his reads, much to the delight of standby Josh Reed, and on timing patterns, much to the dismay of everyone in the room. Then again, this is an offense easily defended, as repeated second-half slowdowns have proved.

Mularkey seems determined to stroke Losman's psyche, to mollify his failures, the special treatment never more apparent than at the end of Sunday's third quarter. Down, 21-0, and facing fourth-and-11 from the New England 14, the coach ran up the white flag by opting for a field-goal attempt that could do nothing more than give Losman a small sense of personal accomplishment. So much for playing to win. And the coach is accusing Moulds of quitting on the team?

President and General Manager Tom Donahoe admitted what Mularkey wouldn't, saying the Moulds situation may have been more of a distraction than anyone realized. Anyone in the front office, maybe, but what was to be expected when the player tops in seniority is given the week off by a coach who has yet to distinguish himself?

Could it all be any more of a mess? Donahoe sold owner Ralph Wilson on five years for Mularkey, perhaps on the premise no one could be so wrong twice. Granted, five years was the trend, but building a team from the lines out is another trend, and Donahoe never adhered to that one, did he?

Donahoe's had five years to get it right, to build a contender. He's had two shots at finding the right coach. Shockingly, the franchise was in better shape before he arrived. It's time for him to move on, and take his head coach with him.

e-mail: bdicesare@buffnews.com

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