In the first few days after the Bills signed Terrell Owens last March, the team sold more than 5,000 season tickets. A lot of exuberant football fans were anticipating an autumn blockbuster, an offensive extravaganza. T.O. even reminded everyone to bring the popcorn.
I don't imagine Sunday's show was what the customers had in mind. Most people expected to see a shootout against the Saints. Win or lose, you figured it would be high entertainment. Instead, the Bills responded with an offensive dud that rivaled some of the worst games of the Drew Bledsoe era.
After the unbeaten Saints marched out of town with a 27-7 victory, some of the optimists who plunked down their credit cards after the Owens signing must have been tempted to call Russ Brandon and demand their money back.
This was bad, folks. Trent Edwards, confronted by a team with dynamic linemen and a genuine pass rush, turned back into Captain Checkdown.
Edwards completed 20 of 35 passes for a measly 156 yards. He didn't complete a pass of more than 18 yards. Lee Evans caught four for only 31 yards -- after going nearly 80 minutes between catches. Edwards took four sacks behind an offensive line that finally looked its age.
The longest pass play of the day was a 25-yarder -- by punter Brian Moorman to defensive end Ryan Denney on a fake field goal. So three games into the season, the Bills have two touchdowns from defensive ends (Aaron Schobel had one in the opener), the same number as their $15 million wide receiver tandem, Evans and Owens.
Yes, Owens went without a catch, breaking his streak of 185 consecutive games with a reception. That was the third-longest in NFL history. He bobbled one ball, was out of bounds on another. Edwards misfired on two long passes to Owens, one when Owens had a step on his defender.
Owens, clad in sunglasses and a fedora, was the first one in the interview room after the loss, perhaps because the NFL had complained to the Bills about T.O. not speaking after games. It was a rare event, a player going to the lectern for doing nothing on the field. And Owens said about as much afterward.
Five times, Owens responded to questions about his lack of production by saying, "I'm just going with the plays that are called." Asked why the Bills haven't been able to get the ball downfield, Owens said, "What do you think?"
A few useless answers later, T.O. was gone. He didn't have anything to say about Edwards, because he feels the media will twist what he says. He didn't come to Edwards' defense, of course, and I wouldn't have expected him to.
We don't need T.O. to tell us the obvious: Three games into the season, we're about where we expected to be. The Bills are 1-2. They beat one bad team. They played two contenders close, only to fall apart at the end.
Some of the names have changed, and T.O. is here for dramatic effect. The defense has had its moments, although it's hard to get overly giddy about a unit that allowed 222 rushing yards to a team that didn't even use its real running back until the second half.
But on Sunday, with a chance for a signature win against one of the NFL's rising teams, they turned into the same old Bills again. How many times in the last nine years have we seen them waste a strong defensive effort with a wretched offensive game? Johnson, Bledsoe, Losman, just plug in the latest QB's name.
And of course, there's old Dick Jauron, who won exactly two games against winning teams in his first three years in Buffalo and got an extension for it. There he was Sunday, punting on fourth and 1 from his own 29 with 7:30 to play and his team trailing, 17-7.
"Oh, absolutely," Jauron said. "It's a 10-point game. We're not going to give them the game. That's not to say we might not have made it. But it's not a good gamble, in my opinion, to give them a short field right there in a tight football game. We had fought the whole time to get it there, to keep it there."
It almost sounded as if Jauron's objective was to keep the score respectable. How he expected to score twice after punting the ball away with 7:30 left is beyond me, especially with the Saints pounding the ball down his defense's throat.
But I guess the conservative coaching manual says it's absolutely the right thing to do. Maybe it's the same manual that compels Jauron to defer the opening kickoff every time. So what if the Saints took that opening kickoff and marched down the field for a touchdown? He has his reasons.
In his first three years in Buffalo, Jauron was 2-21 against teams that finished with a winning record. Chances are, you can tack the New England and New Orleans games onto that. His teams keep falling apart in the crucial moments against the good teams. It's really an amazing coincidence, don't you think?
Edwards played well in the first two games. But on Sunday, with a chance to beat Brees on his worst day, Edwards wasn't up to the task. Yes, his line had a rough day. But once again, in the big moment, he looked very much like a reflection of his head coach.
Maybe Jauron's words -- "We're not going to give them the game" -- are ringing in Trent's head when he drops back to pass, considers Owens and Evans, then checks down to Josh Reed or a tight end.
"It's really hard to say why we didn't get more touches, why we weren't more involved," Evans said. "It was the type of game where we had opportunities to be involved. The philosophy of what we wanted to do was good. We just didn't execute very well."
Owens didn't have any answers. But like the rest of us, he must be wondering why the Bills brought him in here if they didn't intend to make him a bigger part of the offense. He's 35, and he drops a lot of passes, but there's no reason for Evans and T.O. being invisible in this offense.
He's had better days, that's for sure. As Owens walked down the tunnel to the Bills' dressing room, a fan tossed a half-empty box of popcorn over the railing and hit him on the head. It was a crude gesture, but almost understandable. Owens told fans to bring the popcorn. But who told the offense to bring the popgun?