The Buffalo Bills lost a game in Toronto this past weekend, and as is usually the case when the Bills lose, a scapegoat was identified. This ancient practice of assigning blame to one instead of the many is rearing its ugly head this week, and receiver Stevie Johnson is squarely in the crosshairs.
Let's recap: Johnson catches a pass and manuvers to the 30-yard line with less than a minute on the clock before Atlanta Falcons cornerback Robert McClain punches the ball out. A fortuitous hop to another Falcons defender (instead of a few yards out of bounds) prevents Buffalo's potential game-winning field goal attempt before overtime.
Mike Schopp, the polarizing Buffalo radio fixture, said in a column on WGR 550's website this week it was time to move on from Stevie. Stevie simply is not "indispensable."
"The Bills are 3-7 in games Johnson has played in," wrote Schopp. "The two he sat out: a 37-14 rout of the Jets, the Bills' easiest win of the season by far; and an overtime loss to the 8-4 Bengals that EJ Manuel also missed. Against Baltimore, the Bills' most important win of the year, Johnson caught one pass for minus-1 yard. Then, with the Falcons game a must-win, Johnson coughed up a likely victory."
It's not the first time that rhetoric has held that Johnson has cost his team a victory. The most cut-and-dry example was against the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2010, when he dropped a game-winning touchdown in overtime. Sunday's fumble against the Falcons ranks a close second. He dropped a game-extending pass earlier this season against the New England Patriots, as well.
Schopp goes through a litany of NFL players who were replaced - some Hall of Famers - with capable players and it improved the team. The Miami Dolphins were better the season after Dan Marino retired. Randy Moss left the Patriots and their offensive production increased. It's probably a pretty sure bet we could come up with some opposite examples, though, when losing a good or great player actually hurt a team. I'm not impressed by the anecdotal.
"With Johnson you see a lot of 7-yard passes to a receiver often falling to the ground," continued Schopp, lamenting Stevie's return to the lineup from injury. "Johnson's presence makes it easier for Manuel to stay in his comfort zone, throwing short. But this does not necessarily make Manuel better, or more valuable."
If the Bills were going to release Johnson from his contract, this would be the offseason to do it. His cap hit would be identical whether he's on the team or not, and he'll make more than $6.5 million next season between his $3 million base salary and a hefty bonus.
After investing a second- and two third-round picks at the receiver position over the last two drafts, Schopp would be fine moving on from Johnson with another highly-drafted receiver. Would you be?