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Underdog label just how Bills like it

Posted Oct 13, 2011

They’ve used the term ‘misfits’ more than once in describing themselves. When you weren’t drafted, or you’ve bounced around the league a bit you tend to feel a bit unwanted. But the men in Buffalo’s locker room have used their collective history of being cast offs as fuel every Sunday. The will to prove the doubters wrong along with a healthy amount of what is still largely unrecognized talent is what has the Bills sitting atop the AFC East at 4-1.

Head coach Chan Gailey was asked how he feels his team responds when being cast as the underdog.

“We’re used to it,” Gailey deadpanned.

Truth be told, the Bills relish it.

“For us we’re the underdog every week in our minds because nobody wanted us or thought we could do anything this year,” said Ryan Fitzpatrick.

“That’s pretty much what we expect,” said Fred Jackson, who currently ranks third in the league in total yards from scrimmage. “Our opponents are usually the big name teams. They have a bunch of big names guys and that’s what the national media is focused on. We’ll continue to fly under the radar. As long as we get the opportunity to go out and stack wins we’ll get that (recognition) eventually. But right now we don’t have any problems flying under the radar.”

For the Bills flying under the radar has been easy because the degree of star power on the roster to those outside of Buffalo is limited. Eight starters on their offense are either a former seventh-round pick or undrafted free agent. As many as seven players that contribute each week on defense are small school products.

Though the Bills might still be seen by the national prognosticators as a lesser side against some of their big name opponents the view in Buffalo’s locker room is the polar opposite.

“We’ve got talent too,” said George Wilson. “We don’t back down from any challenge. We know we’ve played some talented teams, but we get turnovers and our guys stay poised and composed. We fight continuously.”

And the Bills have statistics besides victories to back that up. Their defense leads the league in takeaways. Their offense leads the league in red zone touchdown percentage and is the third-highest scoring team in football.

The local media has labeled the Bills the ‘no names.’ The players aren’t exactly thrilled with the moniker, but they aim to change it.

“I wouldn’t say we’re no names,” said Stevie Johnson, a former seventh-round pick. “We’re going to play our ball. We’re just guys that nobody really wanted.”

“That’s what we’re trying to do,” said Fitzpatrick, finally a starter with his third NFL club in his seventh season. “We’re trying to make a name for ourselves. We’re trying to make a name for our offense. We’re trying to make a name for our team. The only way you get respect in this league is to go out there and play. We’re trying to earn everybody’s respect by our play on the field.”

The team’s 4-1 start may have Buffalo’s loyal fans excited, but for the players their 0-8 start of a season ago is still burning inside them, driving them to do more with each passing week.

“That thought is still in the back of our minds and we had to sit with that 4-12 record for almost eight months,” said Wilson. “We couldn’t come back to work early to start working on the 2011 Buffalo Bills. We had to take that all through the spring and all through the summer. When we came back to training camp the first thing coach said to us was expect more of yourself, demand more of yourself and let’s be accountable. And that’s what you see in that locker room.”

Last season the Bills played the big name teams close, like Baltimore and Pittsburgh, two teams that ultimately beat them in overtime. This season they’re beating those kinds of teams with New England and Philadelphia the two latest examples.

“It’s alright to make mistakes as long as you learn from them,” said Wilson. “We learned from those mistakes a year ago.”

More importantly Buffalo’s collection of unrecognized or, as many of them see it, unwanted talent has melded together. The lack of recognition has only made them a tighter unit and the results on the field are obvious.

“I think we play well as a team,” said Fitzpatrick. “We feed off of each other offensively and defensively.  That’s what we are. We’re a team. We don’t have a lot of big name guys, a lot of national stars or anything like that but we play well together. I think that it says something about us.”

And if the wins keep piling up there will be a lot more to say about the 2011 Bills.

“It’s time for those past Buffalo Bill memories to fade away,” said Drayton Florence. “This is a new day and we’re out here playing good fundamental football. We’ve got the systems in place that work. Everybody outside of the locker room is calling us a surprise, but in this locker room this is what we expected.”