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Bills, Bears seek much-needed win north of border
Question of the Day
If ever there was an opportunity for the Bills to start winning over their comparatively indifferent fans in Toronto, there’s no better opportunity than on Sunday, when they face the Chicago Bears in Buffalo’s new home away from home.
“We’re trying to make that another home situation and it doesn’t feel like that yet,” coach Chan Gailey said. “We’re not doing our part right now, but it can be a very exciting proposition.”
The Bills will be without their new acquisition, linebacker Shawne Merriman, who was claimed off waivers this week. But they still have a chance to go “Lights Out” on their own, as a win would certainly help liven up the downtown Rogers Centre.
It’s a cavernous domed facility that lacks the raucous atmosphere and intimacy of Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park. And it’s a place where fans haven’t been getting their money’s worth in paying an average $185 per ticket and watching the Bills lose their first two regular-season games since the five-year Toronto series opened in 2008.
“Those don’t count,” he said.
This one does, and it comes after the Bills (0-7) have proven incapable of winning at Orchard Park, on the road, in regulation or their past two in overtime in getting off to their worst start in 26 years.
It’s not lost on the suddenly slumping Bears (4-3) that a change of scenery could benefit them as well. After getting off to a 4-1 start, they return from their bye week still smarting after losing two straight at home.
“I was up in Canada this summer. Does it help me?” Bears coach Lovie Smith said, seeking an edge. “I think just getting away from it during the bye week, as much as anything else, should cure a lot of our ills.”
There’s plenty of pain to go around between two non-conference teams who meet for only the 11th time, and have far different reasons to seek a midseason kickstart on foreign soil.
The Bills‘ objective is a simple one. It starts with winning their first game in a season that, barring a miracle, will end with Buffalo missing the playoffs for an 11th straight year.
“Mentally, we were exhausted a little bit,” Smith said, assessing his team before the break. “Guys are recharged and ready to go. Football really starts in November.”
If the Bears are going to mount a turnaround, it begins with addressing an offense that’s proven one-dimensional under coordinator Mike Martz’s pass-happy style, and has made quarterback Jay Cutler an easy target for opposing defenses.
Cutler was knocked out with a concussion late in a 17-3 loss to the New York Giants on Oct. 3, and missed the following week’s game. It didn’t get much better upon his return.
In his past two games, Cutler has been sacked 10 times and thrown four interceptions _ all to Washington’s DeAngelo Hall in a 17-14 loss on Oct. 24.
“We’ve been kind of inconsistent offensively,” Cutler said. “We get some big chunks and then we’ll have a turnover or a sack and kind of throw ourselves back. That’s kind of what we’ve been fighting this year.”
“We’ll get him squared away,” he said.
As for his offensive approach, Martz added, “Absolutely, we need to run the ball more.”
A run-first approach has certainly worked against a porous Bills defense. Buffalo’s allowing a league-worst 188.7 yards rushing a game, and has already given up 200 more yards four time this season _ including a season-worst 274 against Kansas City.
Smith doesn’t consider the Bills the pushovers their record might reflect. What encourages him is having the game played at Toronto, where he expects to have a large contingent of Bears fans in the stands.
“We definitely like playing there instead of Buffalo,” Smith said. “Hopefully, it will be more of a neutral site.”
The Bills are well aware of their struggles in Toronto. A less than capacity crowd watched them lose 19-13 to the New York Jets last year. And then there was their 16-3 loss to Miami in 2008, a game in which the Dolphins got nearly as many cheers did the Bills.
With a winless record, there’s a concern about how they might be greeted on Sunday.
“Well, like an 0-7 team,” receiver Lee Evans said. “I mean, it’s been a tough start to the season to say the least. But I still think they’ll be excited for us to come up there and hopefully get a win.”
It would be a start.
By Matt Kibbe
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