Terrell Owens was signed by the Buffalo Bills on March 7, 2009. His tenure as a Bill didn't quite last a full calendar year, as Owens was informed by the team on February 27, 2010 that they would not be extending him a contract offer as an unrestricted free agent.
Upon Owens' signing, Buffalo's on-field expectations jumped to "playoffs or bust," and T.O. was given a key to the city of Buffalo. At that time, Owens promised he'd return the key if the team didn't make the post-season. Excitement levels reached a fever pitch (though a healthy dash of skepticism remained), and Owens hit the field for training camp at St. John Fisher College in front of some of the biggest and rowdiest pre-season crowds the team has seen in that setting.
You don't need me to tell you that excitement waned for everyone involved with this organization as the season unfolded. A rocky pre-season led to a coaching staff shake-up, Owens was injured during the pre-season, and Buffalo's offense was again mediocre en route to a quarterback change, another coaching staff shake-up and a 6-10 record. Owens' one season in Buffalo was unspectacular: 55 catches, 829 yards and six total touchdowns. Those were Owens' lowest personal numbers since his suspension-laden seven-game season with Philadelphia in 2005.
Owens appeared in just one of the Bills' five pre-season games as he dealt with a bothersome toe injury. In his absence, Buffalo's offense struggled mightily under the command of Trent Edwards, and the struggles led to a desperate firing of Turk Schonert. Alex Van Pelt became Buffalo's new offensive coordinator while Owens expressed ambivalence towards the team's newly-implemented no-huddle offense.
Buffalo's offense didn't start the season particularly well, and Owens was along for the ride. He caught just five passes in the team's first two games, and in a Week 3 loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints, Owens was held without a catch for the first time in his last 186 games. Peppered with questions by the media post-game, Owens expressed frustration as calmly as he could, repeating that he was "just going with the plays that are called."
Owens continued to be a non-factor over the team's next six games, a stretch in which he caught just 21 more passes and scored only one touchdown, on a reverse against Houston. With Buffalo standing at 3-6, head coach Dick Jauron was fired, Perry Fewell was promoted to interim head coach, and Edwards was permanently benched in favor of veteran understudy Ryan Fitzpatrick.
The man's still got skills
Fitzpatrick's insertion into the lineup provided new life for Owens, if only on a temporary basis. In his first two games with Fitzpatrick as the full-time starter, Owens hauled in 14 passes for 293 yards with two scores, including a fabulous 98-yard touchdown grab in Jacksonville that became the longest scoring play in franchise history. That two-game stretch was by leaps and bounds the most productive stretch of Owens' brief Bills career.
Owens' production slipped from that point; in the team's final five games of the season, Owens put up 15 catches and two more touchdowns. In a Week 16 loss to Atlanta, with Brian Brohm making his first career start at quarterback, Owens hauled in the 1,000th reception of his career - a feat that many expected him to accomplish much sooner in the 2009 season.
Bills quarterbacks threw for 15 touchdowns and 19 interceptions in 2009. They were sacked 45 times as the team was forced to start eight different combinations of players along their offensive line due to injury. Buffalo's offense was once again putrid, but Owens' presence - while not enough to bring the Bills out of the basement offensively - was enough to allow Lee Evans to post his highest touchdown total since 2006 (7). The last time Buffalo's top two receivers combined for 12 touchdown receptions was 2004, when Evans (then a rookie) and Eric Moulds combined for 14.
Owens isn't done in this league
I'll be honest - Owens has always been one of my favorite NFL players. He was before he got to Buffalo, and he'll continue to be now that he's leaving Buffalo behind. Yes, there have been moments where his actions have been, shall we say, less than acceptable. He had his rough moments in Buffalo, too - I'll have trouble forgetting that post-game press conference after the loss to New Orleans, and it always seemed strange to me that he stood behind his teammates during home national anthems. But that's T.O. - it's his way or the highway. I have rarely had big problems with that.
I've heard a few too many times over the year that Owens has lost a step. That may be true - Owens isn't the indomitable force he once was. But it's absurd to take the "lost a step" argument beyond that; T.O. is still a freakish physical specimen capable of putting up huge numbers on a week-to-week basis. He just can't be the centerpiece of an offense anymore; these days, Owens just needs a little help, particularly from his quarterback.
Covering this team on a daily basis for a little over three years now, I'll say this: I was impressed by Owens the Buffalo Bill, even during an incredibly disappointing '09 season. Through all of the frustration, his interaction with Bills fans was nothing less than perfect; he worked hard on game days to keep fans entertained, and when you're not winning as a team, that's about as much as you can ask from a player. He handled the waves of adversity that swept through the team with aplomb and grace, and while his skeptics will say that that behavior can be chalked up to his "explode-every-other-year tendency," I think T.O. will be just fine wherever he lands in 2010. Particularly if that team is ready to make a push for a championship.
Bon voyage, Mr. Owens. It wasn't a perfect one-year arranged marriage by any stretch of the imagination. At least to this Bills fan, however, it was fun while it lasted.