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Bills' better play is a bye product

Buffalo Bills coach Dick Jauron called his team together in the middle of the field after the last practice of the bye week Oct. 26 and offered some words of optimism.

"There are nine games to go, and there's nothing that says we can't win them all," Jauron told his club.

To an outsider, it sounded a little pie-eyed at the time. But Jauron's confidence was not misguided. In fact, it was grounded in some cold, hard analysis.

The Bills hit their scheduled week off at 2-5. They were averaging 14.2 points a game and allowing 21.8 points a game. That was the bad news.

The good news, as it turns out, was Jauron and his assistant coaches had seen enough of their new team to gain a firm grasp of its weaknesses. The coaching staff made a decision: Now we know what we can't do. Let's throw that stuff out and focus on what we can do.

"Our team from the bye week on is completely different from before that," said quarterbacks coach Turk Schonert.

"The bye came at a good time for us because we had a chance to assess our personnel," said defensive coordinator Perry Fewell. "We knew them a lot better. We knew what they could do well."

The turnaround has been dramatic.

In going 5-2 since the bye week, the Bills have averaged 23.4 points a game and allowed just 15.5 points a game. Their two losses have come by a point at Indianapolis and by three to San Diego.

The Bills have put themselves in an outside position for a playoff spot entering today's game against the Tennessee Titans at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

The biggest move of the bye week was the shake-up of the offensive line.

The coaches decided Mike Gandy was not effective enough at left tackle. They shifted Jason Peters -- their most talented lineman -- to left tackle, the most important spot on the line. Peters has excelled. He has not had a bad game yet. Gandy has given the team much better play at the left guard spot. Rookie Terrence Pennington has managed to hold his own at right tackle.

The coaches also have helped out the pass protectors by going to more quick passes. They still have quarterback J.P. Losman take some seven-step drops but not as many as the first seven games.

"We've gone short routes, quick routes," Schonert said. "Get the ball in the hands of the receivers. Three-step drops. Take the pressure off the line. J.P. loves throwing those because you get the ball out of your hands. We've got receivers who can make plays running after the catch."

"Nowadays, that's what the off week is about," said quarterback Kelly Holcomb. "Coaches break down film, see what your tendencies are and what you're doing good and not doing good. We made some adjustments. We were having some protection problems, and we've kind of shored that up.

"When you're struggling in pass protection you have to leave more guys in to block and you got to get rid of the ball. You've got to have more quick-game stuff, more timing stuff. Then running the ball helps. We've been doing a good job of running the ball the last few games."

Obviously, the Bills' resurgence isn't all due to X's and O's. The Bills' young players have continued to mature and have played better.

Losman has protected the ball better.

In the first seven games, the Bills committed 15 turnovers and gained seven takeaways.

The past seven games, the Bills have committed nine turnovers and gained 16 takeaways.

The Bills' young defense, which has played a lot of downs with four rookies on the field, has benefited from scaled-back game plans.

"We knew we had probably given them too much information," Fewell said. "Then we just narrowed it down and focused.

"You would like to have thought that we knew that after training camp," Fewell added, referring to knowing what the players could not do. "But there were a lot of pieces missing. [Donte] Whitner was late [reporting to camp]. We were trying to get [Takeo] Spikes back. We were never together as a group. Then Spikes got hurt the first ballgame. Then he came back. So it's always like starting over again."

Fewell also made a change in coverage. Since the bye, cornerback Nate Clements has been matched up more often on the opponent's top receiver. Clements has responded with standout play the past seven weeks.

"We said, 'We've got to take advantage of this guy,' " Fewell said. "At the time, Nate Clements said, 'Christmas has come early for me.' He took that challenge."

"It's a learning process on both sides," Schonert said. "We've got to learn the players, they've got to learn the system. We've adapted quite a bit since the beginning of the season."

"I think people are believing in the system, believing in their teammates," Holcomb said. "It's an attitude we have where we think, 'Who's going to win the game?' Instead of last year, 'How are we going to lose the game?' "

The Bills hope they can keep that attitude going for two more games.

e-mail: mgaughan@buffnews.com

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