Buffalo Bills Take Their Winless Show to Toronto

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. The Bills are playing eight games in Toronto over five seasons.

“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 last week. But they still have a chance to go “Lights Out” on their own, as a victory would certainly help liven up the Rogers Centre.

It’s a cavernous domed facility that lacks the raucous atmosphere and intimacy of Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y. 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 Toronto series opened in 2008.

Of course, the Bills (0-7) have proved 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. And 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 teams who are playing against each other in the regular season for only the 11th time, and have far different reasons to seek a midseason kick-start 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.

The Bears head to Toronto with a chance to climb back into the North Division race in which they sit a half game behind first-place (5-3).

“Mentally, we were exhausted a little bit,” Smith said 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 has proved one-dimensional under coordinator ’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 Giants on Oct. 3, and missed the next 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 4 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.”

Martz described Cutler’s struggles as “a phase” every quarterback goes through.

“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 is allowing a league-worst 188.7 yards rushing a game, 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 last year. And then there was their 16-3 loss to Miami in 2008, a game in which the got nearly as many cheers as the Bills did.

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Bills Lose WR Parrish, LB Davis to Injuries

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. Not only have the been losing games, they just lost two significant players to injuries.

Starting receiver Roscoe Parrish won’t play again this season after sustaining a right wrist injury in Buffalo’s 22-19 loss to the Chicago Bears in Toronto on Sunday, and starting inside linebacker Andra Davis is done for the year because of a nagging shoulder injury that he originally sustained in the season-opening loss to Miami.

Parrish, who finished with 33 catches and a career-high 400 receiving yards, will need surgery to repair the damage.

“You don’t just replace guys that have been that productive,” coach Chan Gailey said Monday. “It’s an opportunity for somebody else to step up.”

Parrish was hurt on Buffalo’s next to last drive. On third-and-10 from the Chicago 44 with 2:31 left in regulation, he dove along the right sidelines to try and haul in Ryan Fitzpatrick’s pass, and wound up falling awkwardly on the wrist.

It’s the same wrist that forced Parrish to miss the first six games of his rookie season in 2005 when he broke it during training camp.

Parrish’s injury is a blow to an offense that has been improving. The diminutive receiver had emerged as a solid option for Fitzpatrick after a forgettable 2009 in which he had only three receptions. Parrish was also Buffalo’s best punt returner, averaging just under 11 yards on 12 returns this year. He came into the season with the fourth-highest punt return average (12.2 yards) in NFL history.

Gailey said the team will consider all of its options before either promoting Naaman Roosevelt, a Buffalo native, or Paul Hubbard from the practice squad, or simply signing a free agent to replace Parrish.

“We’ll see what the best fit might be for us at this point,” Gailey said.

Davis missed two games because of his shoulder injury, including Sunday’s loss to Chicago. The nine-year NFL veteran signed with the Bills this offseason to serve as the defensive play-caller as the team made the switch to a 3-4 defense.

The damaging news comes a day after Buffalo dropped to 0-8, the worst start since losing 11 straight to open the 1984 campaign. Fitzpatrick, though, has been part of a second-half turnaround, and thinks history can repeat itself.

In 2008, he played on a team that lost its first eight games, but the Bengals were able to salvage some respectability by going 4-3-1 over their final eight. That recovery helped set the tone for a 2009 campaign in which they won the AFC North at 10-6.

“This team, at least from an offensive standpoint, is probably more talented,” Fitzpatrick said when asked of the similarities between the two winless clubs. “That’s something that I look as a positive. We haven’t given up on the season.”

To the Bills credit, they haven’t rolled over in their last three gut-wrenching losses that included two straight overtime defeats. But one can’t take away the “bumbling” description when talking about the Bills quite yet, as big turnovers at inopportune times have kept victory No. 1 from their grasp.

“It’s the first time I’ve ever been through something like this in my career,” receiver Lee Evans said. “It’s trying on you mentally and physically.”

Notes: The Bills also signed RB Quinton Ganther and released RB Andre Anderson and practice squad RB Rodney Ferguson Monday. Ganther has 262 yards rushing on 71 carries in 28 career NFL games. He was released by Seattle last Tuesday. … Sunday’s game against the will be the first played in Buffalo since the Bills lost 36-26 to the on Oct. 10. … Newly acquired LB Shawne Merriman said on Monday that he expects to practice Wednesday. The team didn’t practice on Monday. … Receiver Steve Johnson had his franchise-tying five-game touchdown reception streak snapped. … Fitzpatrick has thrown a touchdown strike in nine straight games dating back to last season, the longest franchise TD stretch since threw at least one pass for a score in 10 consecutive games in 2002.

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Rogers Communications wants Buffalo Bills to extend series in Toronto

Rogers responded by making more than 14,000 – up from about 4,700 in the first year – available at under $100 at the 54,000-seat stadium this year.

That still didn’t make Sunday’s game a sellout.

Bills players have noted that playing games in Toronto doesn’t match the raucous atmosphere at Ralph Wilson Stadium. It doesn’t help that the Rogers Center is a cavernous, domed facility where fans are far more removed from the field than at Orchard Park, N.Y.

Lind acknowledged the troubles in noting the series hasn’t lived up to the high expectations company founder, the late Ted Rogers, expressed in announcing the deal in February 2008. That’s when Rogers, who died the following December, envisioned full houses and fans lining up for blocks to buy tickets.

“I think that, when we first announced it, Mr. Rogers was perhaps a bit over-enthusiastic,” Lind said. “That’s the way he was in everything.”

Overall, Lind said, “we’re very happy with the series,” and noted it has met the objective of establishing Toronto as a potential NFL market.

Attending NFL meetings, Lind said owners are interested in the Toronto market as a potential host for a permanent franchise.

“If you polled the owners of the teams, you would find increasingly, a realization that Toronto is one of the next moves,” Lind said. “Increasing, they’re all saying, ‘Why not?'”

Lind said Rogers would be committed to playing a key role in luring a franchise, while understanding that NFL rules don’t allow corporations to own franchises.

“Rogers would certainly play a role, whether that’s putting the pieces together or actually doing it itself with the Rogers family,” Lind said. “I’m uncertain at this moment, but there’s no question that the people in the Rogers organization would be intimately involved in assembling a package.”

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