T.O. fulfills vow by showing he's still got it

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Terrell Owens has been called "a clown" on national television and rendered nearly irrelevant as part of an anemic offense. So when the Bills receiver stopped after making a catch in practice last month and spoke, it seemed like more of a joke than a vow.

"I'm bound to have a breakout game one of these days," Owens said, with a wink to a group of reporters standing within earshot along the sideline.

Turns out, he was serious. And correct.

All that was missing was an "I told you so," as Owens stepped to the microphone Wednesday to conduct his weekly post-practice news conference on the heels of a nine-catch, 197-yard outing in an 18-15 loss to Jacksonville.

"I knew if I just kept plugging away, remaining positive and keeping my faith and believing in my abilities, yeah, I knew the opportunities would eventually come," Owens said, referring to the third-most prolific performance of his 14-year career.

And he made sure to give his critics something else to chew on.

"Yeah, everybody wants to jump on the bandwagon and say, `I've hit a wall, I can't play, I can't run, I've lost a step," Owens said. "I beg to differ."

Whether it was pride or ego, a coaching change after the Bills fired Dick Jauron last week, or merely because someone in charge finally realized No. 81 is on the field, Owens shed a season-long slump to show his many detractors that, yes, he's still got it.

The 197 yards receiving were more than half of the 366 Owens had in his first nine games of the season, a stretch which included failing to make a catch in a Week 3 loss to New Orleans to end a 185-game streak. Owens also made a mark in the Bills' record book with a 98-yard touchdown, which became the longest reception in the team's 50-year history.

Owens would've preferred a victory to go along with it for a Bills team that, at 3-7, has all but been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. What encouraged him, though, was how the outing was a sign the offense was finally gaining a semblance of an identity after what's been a tumultuous year.

"We showed what we could have been doing all year long," Owens said. "But you can't move backward. You have to move forward."

The credit for the offense's resurgence goes to quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, the former backup who claimed the starting job after interim head coach Perry Fewell benched starter Trent Edwards last week.

Fitzpatrick made a point to get Owens involved early. Of his 19 attempts in the first half, eight went to T.O., who had six catches for 76 yards. That continued on the Bills' first offensive play of the second half when Fitzpatrick, backed up on Buffalo's 2, noticed Owens in single coverage on the right side and elected to go deep.

Owens blew past cornerback Tyron Brackenridge to catch the pass and then skipped his way to the end zone.

"I just put a lot of air on it, and let him run under it," Fitzpatrick said. "What he's shown not only throughout the season but even in the offseason is he's going to run by people. He's shown that his whole career."

Fitzpatrick's only lament was why it took so long for the Bills to take advantage of Owens' abilities.

"It's been a long and frustrating season, and it hasn't gone the way we want offensively," he said. "But we've got six games now to kind of turn that around and make a positive out of it."

The offense was supposed to be among the team's positives after the Bills signed Owens to a one-year, $6.5 million contract in March, shortly after he was released by Dallas. The belief was that T.O.'s presence would provide Buffalo's perennial popgun passing attack an extra dimension by providing a complement to fellow deep threat Lee Evans.

Those plans unraveled shortly before the season began when Jauron fired coordinator Turk Schonert. Then came the decision to cut left tackle Langston Walker to go with an offensive line that featured three first-time starters.

Add in a rash of injuries, a revolving door at quarterback, an ill-fated decision to go with a no-huddle attack that was scuttled by Week 6, and it became evident the Bills' problems were bigger than Owens could solve.

It hasn't been easy on Owens. He feuded with reporters by refusing to answer questions after the first two games of the season. Then came his no-catch outing against New Orleans, after which Owens provided short answers and, on four occasions, said, "Just going with the plays called."

That prompted former safety turned-football-analyst Rodney Harrison to call Owens "a clown" on an NBC broadcast.

Owens reached a low point a day after Jauron was fired, when the receiver acknowledged how difficult this year has been and how unaccustomed he is to losing.

"It's been a humbling experience," Owens said. "I'm learning how to, in a sense, accept losing. And that's not really what I'm accustomed to."

He reflected on those comments this week to clarify what he meant.

"I'm not saying that I'm trying to adopt the ways of losing," Owens said. "I still come out here and practice hard, still try to remain positive about going into every game. When the opportunities come my way, I try to make the best of them."

Owens was noncommittal about re-signing with the Bills after this season, noting the uncertainty over who'll be the new coach.

"That's up to management," Owens said as the Bills prepared to host Miami this weekend. "Right now, I just have to worry about Miami and finishing the season strong, and see where I land after that."