Progress. The 2007 Bills - whether anyone thought they were a potential playoff team or not - were supposed to make significant progress, positioning themselves for a possible 2008 playoff run. We were supposed to see an explosive offense develop this season. We were supposed to see young, talented defenders grow into young veteran playmakers. We were supposed to see the most talented Bills team in nearly a decade scare any and all opponents that crossed their path.
So much promise. In just three weeks, an incredible bout of injuries has derailed it all.
Key Players Going Down Like Flies
Since the final week of the pre-season, the Bills have lost games played from eleven players. Eleven players who had very distinct, prominent roles in the schemata of the three phases of Buffalo's game. LB Keith Ellison and DE Ryan Denney have missed all three games. The team tragically lost TE Kevin Everett in Week One, and S Ko Simpson, CB Jason Webster and LB Coy Wire joined them that week. WR Josh Reed missed last week's loss at Pittsburgh, hampering an already defunct passing attack. Arguably the toughest injuries to take yet - from the perspective of the on-field product, that is - occurred earlier this afternoon.
Promising rookie LB Paul Posluszny broke his left forearm, and while nothing is being reported officially yet, there is a high chance that he'll miss the rest of the season. OG Jason Whittle, the team's top reserve lineman, has a hamstring injury that will hamper the run game (Whittle has often been seen lining up at H-Back so far this season). And now it's being reported that QB J.P. Losman's knee sprain will keep him out until the bye week. On a young football team, losing veterans and young talents like the Bills have has left the team fielding what is, in reality, a pre-season lineup. Throw in opponents that, as of this posting, remain undefeated (8-0), and you get blowout losses.
Injuries Compromising Growth
The Ellison, Simpson, Posluszny and Losman injuries cut deepest. These four players are key young cogs for this team and are still, as of this moment, supposed to be the young guys leading this team into a brighter future. Instead, Simpson and Posluszny - the heart of the defense as the two "quarterbacks" in the back seven - will sit and watch the next 13 games (again, that's still speculation on Poz). Ellison's missed time hurts his chances at retaining a starting job and removes an element of smarts from the Bills defense. And Losman will likely have to endure three weeks of hearing QB controversy talk while dealing with the frustration of missing opportunities to break out of his early-season funk. His hindered progress hurts this ball club more than any other injury thus far.
Very Faint Silver Lining
Where, oh where, do we go from here? The only progress that's being made thus far this season is finding out which of our many reserves playing right now are worth keeping around next season. Very few, by the way, are passing the test. Take away the season-ending injuries and it could very well be mid-season by the time the Bills return to as close to full-strength as possible. That's half a season wasted; that's half a season where the coaching staff, fielding a second-rate NFL team, has discovered nothing about the team they intended to field.
There was once blame to pass out for this team's poor play. Now it's difficult to do that - the coaching staff has very little to work with. They can hardly be blamed for fielding a losing team at this point - to put things into perspective, the Bills started three former undrafted free agents defensively today (J. DiGiorgio, J. Greer, J. Leonhard). You can't blame the players, either - they're playing their hearts out; they've just been overwhelmed by three of the NFL's best teams. You have to blame the injuries - they're the culprit for everything negative that has transpired this season. They've stunted this team and, when all is said and done, may have rendered the 2007 season a useless one for the franchise.
Prepare yourselves, Bills fans. We're going to learn a lot over the next 14 weeks, but it's surely going to be a painful experience.