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CLEVELAND - No one has a plausible explanation for it. Most of them would rather not discuss it. Some of them weren't even aware of the sheer, staggering extent of it.



"You know, I didn't realize that until you brought it up," Ryan Fitzpatrick said Wednesday. "But that's not a good stat."

Not a good stat? Sure, and the federal debt is not a good stat, either. Not a good stat? For Bills fans, you can't get any worse than a statistic that dusts off the archives from the consecutive 2-14 seasons, a statistic that summons the grim, bumbling specters of both Kay Stephenson and Hank Bullough.

The Bills have not won a road game since last year's opener, which occurred on Sept. 11, 2011, in Kansas City. That's eight road defeats in a row. It's also the first time they've gone more than a full calendar year without a road win since the dark days of the mid-1980s.

Flip to a different channel if the memory is too much for you. I'll understand. The Bills won at Kansas City on Dec. 4, 1983. They didn't win another road game until Nov. 30, 1986, at K.C., in Marv Levy's fourth game as Bills coach (thank heavens for Kansas City, eh?). That 22-game road drought, a team record, began under Stephenson and encompassed the entire, regrettable Bullough era.

But that's all in the past, right?. Linebacker Nick Barnett, leader of the bandwagon, figures the only year that matters is this one.

"We've only played one road game this year," he said. "I don't know what eight games you're talking about. It's a new year."

Barnett laughed. Maybe that's the best way to deal with the road streak. Laugh it off, folks, because if you look too closely at those eight away games - and obviously, it doesn't include the happy events in Toronto - you might break down crying.

The Bills have been outscored in their last eight road games, 291-142. That's an average score of roughly 36-18. They've given up 40.2 points a game in their last six. In their last two road games - the 2011 finale in New England and this year's opener at the Jets - they've given up 49 and 48.

During those eight losses, opposing quarterbacks have completed 68.2 percent of their passes for 2,044 yards, with 20 TDs and five interceptions. They've been carved up by rookies (Andy Dalton), journeymen (Matt Moore) and stars (Tom Brady, Tony Romo, Philip Rivers). Here's a bad stat: Mark Sanchez has thrown seven TD passes in his last two home games against the Bills.

Fitzpatrick hasn't been quite so efficient. During the road losing streak, Fitz has completed 58.6 percent of his passes for 1,730 yards - a measly 6.1 yards per attempt. He has tossed 11 touchdown passes and 17 interceptions. Most QBs don't throw 17 picks in a season.

The Bills have averaged 112 yards rushing and 5.1 yards a carry in the streak. So why not emphasize the run today against the Browns? C.J. Spiller is the NFL's leading rusher, their most dangerous weapon. Treat him that way. Sustain the physical identity you displayed last week against the Chiefs.

"If you had your way, you'd run the ball every snap," coach Chan Gailey said. "I mean, that's just the way I've thought about the game through the years. It's a tough, hard-nosed game. It's a tough game for tough people, and I think that if you run the football you can impose your will on other teams."

Somehow, the Bills need to assert themselves today against a young Cleveland team. If they want to be taken seriously as a contender, they have to win on the road. They need to do it on a regular basis. If they can't beat a team with a rookie quarterback, it will be a very bad sign.

"Whatever it is we need to turn it around, this is the week to do it," Barnett said. "We need to be focused. I like road games, personally. It's a great opportunty to be in an uncomfortable atmosphere and fight with your guys in someone else's home. We've got to have that mentality of going to someone's home and going in the refrigerator and drinking all the milk."

Gailey has no idea why his team can't raid the fridge on the road. Stevie Johnson said they don't always come out with the emotional fire they do at home. Sometimes, it's more an issue of what happens within games. Last year, the Dolphins' Yeremiah Bell accused them of quitting in a blowout loss in Miami. That's a strong accusation, but they do seem to get discouraged when things turn against them. It is remarkable how quickly games have gotten out of hand at times during the losing streak.

Any criticism is fair when you've gone a year without a road win. Good teams rise above difficult circumstances. They don't lose their identity away from home, they reveal it. They demonstrate the will and character needed to rally in games when weaker teams fold. As Barnett said, they need to thrive on the challenge of responding in a hostile environment.

Talent matters, too. Injuries and an inferior roster caught up to the Bills last year. But if they're really a different team, they have to prove it on the road. Today should be the end of the streak, a game that puts old memories to rest. They're better than the Browns.

The front four should cause fits for Brandon Weeden and his fellow rookie, tailback Trent Richardson. Fitz has to win the quarterback battle. Stevie Johnson is being paid like an elite wide receiver. He has to be the best wideout on the field today. Gailey needs to be better than Dick Jauron, who runs the Browns defense and will no doubt dare the Bills to throw against his soft coverages.

"If you want to get where we want to get - the playoffs - you've go to be able to win on the road," said defensive end Chris Kelsay.

A win won't necessarily validate them as a playoff contender. But it would propel them into next week's home game against the Pats with a 2-1 record. It would put some distance between them and last year's road patsies. If they lose, well, you'll have to start wondering when they'll ever win again on the road.

Two weeks from now, they begin a stretch of four out of five games on the road - at San Francisco, Arizona, Houston and New England. Did someone say this schedule was easy??



email: jsullivan@buffnews.com