I can’t say I was surprised. Given a day to think about it — and to be reminded that harsher truths are not to be uttered at One Bills Drive — Stevie Johnson called an audible and backed off his earlier comments.
Johnson had suggested in the immediate aftermath of Sunday’s 20-13 loss at Indianapolis that the Bills should take some of the play-calling away from Chan Gailey and give it to quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.
“How I see it, I think we need to let our quarterback call these plays,” Johnson said. “He’s out there on the field. He sees the adjustments that need to be done. I think we just need to let him make adjustments on the go. I think that’s the way we can move the ball better.”
By Monday afternoon in Buffalo, Johnson was modifying his comments. He said he had meant to say that Fitzpatrick should be given more freedom to change plays at the line of scrimmage.
“I didn’t mean changing play-calling duties and all that,” Johnson said to a pack of media at his locker. “I may have said it, but what I meant to say was ‘audible.’ Giving Fitz the ability to audible a little more.”
The explanation came off as a little too practiced. You got the impression that Johnson had been advised by others in the organization to soften the impression that he was calling out his head coach.
Johnson is a volatile sort, as we know. He admitted he was hot after a discouraging loss to the Colts. Still, it’s hard to believe he could do such a poor job of expressing his sentiments. How could he go into a rant about playcalling and never mention the word ‘audible’ if that was his intent?
“I thought a little bit,” he said. “But I was just frustrated, because I knew what was at stake, playing against Indianapolis, an AFC opponent. I felt we needed to take their spot. They beat us. It’s all frustration. We’re all competitive out there and I wanted that one bad.”
Stevie wanted the New England game, too. The Bills lost that one when Fitzpatrick threw a late interception in the end zone when rookie T.J. Graham ran the wrong pass route. A day later, Johnson said Graham had never run the play in pratice. He said the Bills “had people in positions where maybe you shouldn’t have been.”
That makes twice in three weeks that Johnson has questioned Gailey’s decision-making. Even if he’s merely lobbying for more audibles by Fitz, he’s questioning Gailey’s ability to call the right plays. And he was clearly calling Gailey out after the Patriots game.
“No, I don’t believe so,” Johnson said. “I don’t believe so. I’m not questioning my coach.”
But you can understand other people taking it that way, he was asked.
“Yeah,” he said. “I can understand that.”
Well, give him credit for trying. Johnson has tried to be more of a leader and spokesman this season after getting his contract extension. He often seems to be juggling the urge to speak the truth with the pro athlete’s imperative to never utter anything remotely controversial.
Maybe Johnson is guilty of speaking from the heart and walking it back later. That doesn’t mean he isn’t speaking for the team. Surely, he isn’t the only player rolling his eyes at Gailey’s decisions. A lot of fans are feeling the same way.
You don’t think Rian Lindell is upset about being marginalized by his own head coach? C.J. Spiller is one of the most soft-spoken, religious people in the game. But even he must wonder when Gailey will find a way to fully utilize his talents.
Gailey’s gaffes are piling up. It must be testing the faith of his players. Johnson said his desire for more audibles isn’t necessarily a call for more passing. On the contrary, he said it could be a way for Fitzpatrick to get into more timely running players for Spiller.
So the star wide receiver isn’t much difference from the average fan or media person. Evidently, Johnson sees Spiller’s staggering yards per carry — now up to 6.7 — and wonders how in the world Gailey can continue to keep the ball out of his hands for long stretches.
Gailey said it troubles him when players make provocative comments in public.
“It does,” Gailey said. “But you got to understand it’s the heat of the battle. If you don’t know a guy, you might tend to get really upset. But if you know a guy, you know where his heart is, even though he might not have said it exactly right. I know Stevie.”
Fitzpatrick knows him, too. He’s been like a big brother to Johnson. He defended him during his previous troubles, after the big drop against the Steelers and the excessive celebration penalties. He said Stevie is a loyal teammate and wants to shield his quarterback from criticism.
Still, Fitz is loyal to Gailey, who gave him his first starting job in the NFL. He said Gailey allows him a lot of freedom to change plays in the offense, and that there’s “a lot of trust there.”
Fitz said Johnson was “distraught” when they talked Monday. He said Johnson feels a deep loyalty for Gailey, too, and believes his comments were misconstrued.
“After last season, Chan had a decision to make,” Fitzpatrick said. “Did he want to bring Stevie back or not? He wanted him back and brought him back. So Stevie owes a lot to Chan, and I know he understands that.”
Yeah, but Johnson also understands what it means to be a good teammate. The play-calling isn’t good enough. It’s time someone said it.