What Terrell Owens should understand after all his years in the league is that there is no conspiracy at work, no attempt to exclude him from the offense, no matter what uniform he wears or what quarterback does the throwing.
Teams generally are disinclined to pay a wideout $6.5 million a season, or more, to play the role of implied threat. Coaches and teammates, like T.O. himself, have a keen interest in production, his and theirs, to everyone's mutual benefit.
The Buffalo Bills want to get T.O. the football. Offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt says so. Quarterback Trent Edwards throws his full support behind the idea.
Trouble is, the opposition works to devise schemes and strategies that prevent the Bills from utilizing a T.O., or a Lee Evans, with unmitigated frequency. They'd rather double them up and take their chances elsewhere, preferring death by long drive to that of the sudden strike.
There are ways to erode a defense's confidence in adhering to such a make-them-earn-it approach. There are ways to make opponents reconsider. And the most effective persuasion typically comes in the form of a robust running game, although an effective short passing game can prove equally effective.
"That's the chess match you have to play," Evans observed.
T.O., throughout his career, never has been a particularly big fan of pawn to queen 4, only checkmate. He wants balls thrown his way now with the same frequency they arrived as a rookie, never mind that pass coverages have grown more sophisticated and cloaked in an assortment of disguises.
Of course, Owens can easily catch more balls if he's agreeable to running crossing patterns that leave him exposed, but let's be serious. Receivers strive to become stars in part so they can avoid such hazardous duty. Those days are long gone.
It's not difficult to discern what T.O.'s feeling at any point in a football game. His body language is like a town crier, shouting out his level of interest, or disinterest, whatever it may be.
By late in the third quarter of Sunday's 33-20 victory over the Bucs at The Ralph it was clear, by his languid movement and perfunctory route running, that Owens was, at best, mildly engaged.
"He was still focused because we knew there would be opportunities out there," Evans insisted. "The way they were playing us it was just a matter of time really."
While Owens' focus was open to question, doubtless more opportunities were forthcoming given Fred Jackson's running behind a resolute offensive line. Necessity born of a pro-Buffalo scoreboard and a diminishing clock forced Tampa to fortify its commitment to slowing the run.
And when it did, well, there was T.O. alone on the right side, cornerback Aqib Talib left to fend for himself. And although the coverage was commendable, the throw from Edwards was better, and Owens' half-step advantage resulted in a 43-yard reception and his first TD as a Bill.
"I was excited, he was excited, I don't really recall what was said," Edwards said. "I'm really honestly hoping that that continues to happen. I think that's why we have him here obviously. And the more we can get the ball in the air and get him in the end zone, I think we're going to be winning a lot more football games with that."
"We took shots when we had the opportunity, and maybe even when it was a little ill-advised," said Evans, who opened the scoring with a 32-yard TD reception on a nearly identical play. "It's good though, just to show the defense that we're going to be taking shots. So if they want to line up and play us like that, it's going to come to us winning on the outside."
If the Bills are to succeed this season, offensive balance is the way they'll go about it. They can set up opportunities for Evans and Owens by establishing the run. Simultaneously, they can free up the running game by throwing the long ball, sometimes just for show.
Whatever the approach, Owens has to come to grips with the idea that occasionally -- heck, quite frequently -- he'll be reduced to the role of decoy.
"We don't use the 'D' word," Van Pelt said. "He's been around long enough to know the type of defenses we're going to get with these guys outside."
Doubtless Owens knows it, but acceptance is another matter. He left the locker room without comment Sunday, just as he did following Monday's excruciating defeat at New England, although this time presumably a wee bit happier. He caught three passes for 52 yards, made it to the end zone. His next step is to develop an elevated patience, a realization that Buffalo's diverse offense can work to everyone's advantage so long as he's agreeable.
"We try to get him the ball, and Lee," Van Pelt said. "We're trying to get it done if we can, obviously. We want to get the ball in those guys' hands as much as possible. Sometimes it's just two or three shots in a game that end up being big plays. Like tonight."