The Buffalo Bills shocked the football world way back on March 7, 2009 when they made by far their highest-profile free agent signing in franchise history by inking WR Terrell Owens to a one-year, $6.5 million deal. The move was heralded as the Bills' boldest move towards fielding a winning team and an explosive offense, and with Owens lining up next to Lee Evans, visions of big plays danced in Bills fans' heads.
To this point, Owens has been a massive disappointment - statistically, anyways. Through his first seven games in a Bills uniform, Owens has caught just 18 passes for 242 yards, with one Week 2 touchdown his only score on the season. Even worse, he's dropped nearly as many passes as he's caught, and fans are beginning to notice a perceived lack of interest from the 35-year-old star receiver. The lack of production led a large contingent of Bills fans to call for an Owens trade last week - but as the NFL's trade deadline has now passed, Owens is stuck in Buffalo for at least the duration of his one-year deal. It's not that Owens hasn't been open or that he's lost any of his physical skills (besides, perhaps, his hands) - it's that the plays just aren't being made.
Yet in the Bills' past two games - both Bills victories - Owens has still proven to be a valuable commodity for Buffalo's struggling offense. In those two wins, Owens has caught only 6 passes for 40 yards. But his presence alone is helping the aforementioned Evans re-gain some of his old flair for the dramatic.
Evans had a big year statistically in 2006, when, catching passes from the venerable J.P. Losman, Evans hauled in 82 passes for 1,292 yards and 8 touchdowns - easily his most productive NFL season. Once opposing defenses began to pay more attention to him in the form of double- and sometimes triple-teams, Evans' production slipped. He caught as many touchdown passes combined in 2007 and 2008 (8) as he did in his career-best 2006 season. That's part of the reason Owens was brought in in the first place - to free up Evans.
Though it didn't work early on this season, Owens' presence has helped Evans re-assert himself into Buffalo's offense over the past two weeks. Facing frequent single coverage, Evans has had two productive weeks in a row, catching 9 passes for 143 yards and two touchdowns in Buffalo's last two games. His 37-yard catch-and-run on a slant from Ryan Fitzpatrick tied the Bills' eventual win in New York; he caught a two-yard slant for a score in Sunday's win over Carolina, then added a 50-yard reception to set up another field goal. Evans' three touchdowns this season is already as many as he caught in the entirety of the 2008 season. Historically, when Evans has made big plays in this offense, Buffalo has enjoyed success on the field in terms of points and wins.
Buffalo doesn't need both Owens and Evans to make big plays in a given game to perform well. That's the true beauty of having both players on the team - it's almost a given that, with smart play-calling and even average quarterback play, one or the other will make big plays in a game. If either is out of the lineup, the big plays become infinitely harder to achieve. That's why Owens still has tremendous value to Buffalo's offense - he's still a threat to make the big play, and he makes life much easier for Evans as well.
Of course, it would be much easier on Buffalo's quarterbacks if both were producing. Owens has suffered several let-downs this season, nearly all of them in the form of dropped passes. At 3-4, Buffalo is still very much alive in the playoff chase, but they won't win many more games if they continue to play as poorly offensively as they have been. One of the biggest issues has been Owens - he's had some chances to bail out some terrible quarterback and offensive line play this season, and he's failed to do so. His play right now is borderline unacceptable - and that needs to change ASAP. But let's not pretend that an ineffective Owens doesn't still have value to Buffalo's offense. He does. If he ever gets his act together, that value will multiply dramatically - and Buffalo might actually look like a competent NFL offense.