T.O. leaves ranks of automatic fantasy starts

This is surprising. Normally it takes Terrell Owens more than a full season in a new NFL home to become disenchanted with his situation. In Buffalo, it seems it has already happened. After Sunday's first catchless game since 1996, he didn't bust out and rip everyone, but it's coming. You know it's coming.

If you could re-draft wide receivers today, would T.O. even be among your top 20? Perhaps, but not definitely. After Sunday's goose egg -- keeping his season total at a sad five receptions for 98 yards through three games, with none of those matchups looking terribly difficult -- I am definitely viewing him differently. I'm not ready to stick a fork in the guy, but let's face this realization: Owens isn't an automatic fantasy start anymore.

Some weeks I'll view him as a top-20 wide receiver, some I won't. Isn't that major fantasy news in itself? Will he reach 1,000 receiving yards? Six touchdowns? This guy got a monumental pass for this season when it came to how he was viewed. I'm guilty, too. Heading into Week 3, the consensus rankers placed him at No. 12 among wide receivers. Ugh. Deon Butler, Mohamed Massaquoi and LaRod Stephens-Howling caught passes Sunday. Owens caught as many as you and I did.

What has me worried that this situation could turn combustible is Owens clearly wasn't pleased after the game, and we know he's not the most stable of persons. He didn't say anything he can't take back, only a simple comment that he's "just going with the plays that are called," but it won't take long before a smart member of the media pushes his buttons to get more from him. The nasty quotes are coming any day now, and this time they might get Owens, now looking like he's every bit a high-mileage veteran who turns 36 in December, more alienated from the offense. I watched some of the Bills' 27-7 loss to the Saints, and it's not only the plays being called and the fact that Owens has lost a step. It's the quarterback.

When we called Owens a near-top-10 wide receiver for draft day -- he was No. 11 in our staff rankings -- we did it with the premise that he still has the ability to be very good, he's always motivated in his first season with a new franchise and his new quarterback wouldn't be a problem. The stats back up the first two theories. Owens shined in Year 1 with the Eagles and Cowboys, and he shined when thrust into a key role with the 49ers, too. I have no reason to believe motivation is an issue now.

What I didn't count on, I suppose, was the stark difference between Donovan McNabb, Tony Romo, Jeff Garcia and ... Trent Edwards. The first three of those guys are mobile, and while they have differing degrees of effectiveness on the deep pass, at least those three can get the ball there. Edwards hasn't shown much in those areas. On Sunday an average Saints pass rush seemed to befuddle him. He missed targets all day, especially downfield, and couldn't move the Bills at all. Owens was targeted five times Sunday; on one play he clearly beat his defender deep and Edwards simply overthrew him. On another play Owens bobbled a pass near the sideline and it fell to the ground. Yes, this guy always has had a major case of the dropsies ... but he normally combines that negative with many big, positive plays. He's not making big plays anymore.

Owens had a streak of catching a pass in 185 consecutive games snapped Sunday. There's plenty of fault to go around here -- Owens, Edwards, the play calling -- but the bottom line is this is not the Owens whom fantasy owners are used to, the one they thought they'd get. I haven't done my Week 4 rankings yet, but I can't say whether Owens will or will not be in my top 20 at wide receiver, meaning he might not be an automatic start in 10-team, two-starting-receiver leagues. Has that ever happened before?

It's a shame, but I now have to view Owens the way I do other WR3 types such as Donald Driver, Santonio Holmes, Santana Moss and Jerricho Cotchery. Hey, there are times these guys will have 100-yard games, just like Owens. But they are generally reserved for WR3 range because they aren't consistent. What choice do we have? I don't want my fantasy season slipping away because I keep plugging this certain Hall of Famer into my lineups based on reputation, and sitting those with better numbers and superior matchups. Maybe Kevin Walter or that "other" Steve Smith moves ahead of Owens this week. Maybe it's Derrick Mason or Chad Ochocinco. Those guys have quarterbacks who find them.

On the schedule, the Bills still have to face the Jets twice. Owens caught only two passes against the Patriots, whom he and the Bills will face again. I don't like Edwards' chances for success down in Miami this week, or in Week 10 at Tennessee. Owens produced 69 receptions for 1,052 yards and 10 touchdowns with the Cowboys last season, numbers many realized were down from previous Owens levels, but again the guy got a pass. In fact, Romo seemed to get blamed! At this point, don't we have to take the under on all three of those statistics? Talk about disenchanting. Owens doesn't get a pass anymore, in part because he doesn't "get enough passes," so to speak.