PITTSBURGH — Brian Moorman was absorbed in conversation with long snapper Garrison Sanborn when I broke in to ask the question on Wednesday afternoon.
“So, are you going to make the 2004 speech?” I asked.
“Am I going to … “ Moorman muttered, a quizzical look on his face.
“You know, a speech about what happened in ’04,” I said. “Remember, you were 3-6 that year, too.”
“Oh,” the veteran punter said, his features brightening. “Three and six to nine and seven, yeah. That’s when we played Pittsburgh, right?”
“We don’t want to go there,” I said. “But you’re the only one left from the team that won six in a row. You should tell these guys it can actually happen.”
“I’m not a big speech guy,” Moorman said, laughing. “But yeah, it’s been done here. It’s been done around the league. This team is close. We’ve probably got the best football team I’ve been on here overall, in all three phases.”
Moorman said the Bills don’t need any speeches. They’ve been in every game this season, despite being the underdog in every single one. They’re just young and naive enough to think they can win every week. So why wouldn’t they believe they could run off a long winning streak?
“I’m not afraid to say that I still think this team can make the playoffs, and I don’t think anybody in this locker room is,” Moorman said. “You don’t want to look too far ahead, but we’re not out of this thing. I feel there’s a lot of belief in this locker room.”
All right, so it’s a foolhardy notion. We all know that. The Bills’ playoff hopes probably went sailing out the window when they handed that game to the Chiefs last Sunday. People must be shaking their heads and wondering when they’re going to get the old Sully back.
But this team wasn’t expected to contend. Why not have some fun with it? I’m sure some fans would be content to lose out and get a high draft pick. But if this young team could make a run to .500, it would be something to build on, a sign that they really are headed to a brighter future.
These things can happen at the most unexpected times. Remember in ‘04? They got embarrassed on a Sunday night in New England to fall to 3-6. The more hysterical observers (OK, it was me) were crying for Mike Mularkey to bench Drew Bledsoe and begin the J.P. Losman era.
But Mularkey, a rookie head coach, told his guys they were still in it. The Bills went on a rousing six-game win streak, averaging 38 points a game. Bledsoe, as you might recall, was a secondary factor. They won with a strong running game, opportunistic special teams and a defense that forced 26 turnovers over those six games.
Is it likely to happen again? No. I resurrected the ‘04 scenario last year when the Bills hit 3-6 and it didn’t pan out. But it becomes a little more intriguing — and reminiscent of the ‘04 run — when you take into account the cushy schedule in front of them.
We’re not talking about a football Murderer’s Row here. The Bills’ next six opponents, starting with today’s 2-6 Steelers, have a combined record of 13-36. There are seven NFL teams with two or fewer wins right now. They play four of them during this upcoming six-game stretch.
Sure, the Bills can lose to anybody — and in new, unimaginable ways. Go ahead and order me the large strait jacket with a Bucky & Sully Show logo. But look at the next six games and tell me it’s impossible:
• At Pittsburgh today: Not your father’s Steelers. They’re 2-6 and reeling from a 55-31 loss to the Pats in which they gave up a franchise high in points and yards (610). They’re 31st against the run. Only Miami has given up more sacks. They’re living off their reputation.
• Home vs. the Jets: Picked for last, Rex Ryan’s guys have been a huge surprise. They’ll be coming off a bye, but they’re also coming off a win and they’ve alternated wins and losses all season. They’ve allowed the fourth most sacks and thrown the third most picks in the league. No way Geno Smith has a good day at the Ralph.
• At Toronto vs. Atlanta: The 2-6 Falcons are a mess. Their only win in the last six was against Tampa Bay. They’ve given up at least 23 points in every game. They’re last in the NFL in rushing. Julio Jones is out for the year and Matt Ryan has been horrible (and winless) on the road.
• At Tampa Bay: The Bucs are winless. They’re 31st in the NFL in total offense and passing. All right, so the Bills’ passing numbers aren’t much better. You’re telling me EJ Manuel can’t outplay Mike Glennon?
• At Jacksonville: Also winless, though something tells me one of the Florida dogs will steal a win soon. The Jags have lost eight games by an average of 22 points. The Bills might even be the favorite.
• Home vs. Miami: The Dolphins were the most-sacked team in the league before Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin went away. They’re in disarray and should fall out of contention. They imploded against Buffalo at home. They might not even show up here.
Look at each game as a separate entity and it begins to seem plausible. Even if they go 4-2 over the next six, which is realistic, they could be playing for their first 8-8 season in nine years when they travel to New England for the season finale.
It helps that Manuel returns today from his knee injury. It creates a sense of renewal, a line of separation from the first nine games. Manuel didn’t put up big passing numbers, but he didn’t turn the ball over much and he was 2-2 in the games he started and finished.
This season was going to be about Manuel, so there’s a lot to play for yet. If the Bills go 4-2 in the next six, Manuel will finish his rookie season with a winning record. We still won’t know if he’s a true franchise QB, the long-term answer, but it would be promising.
“We have an opportunity here to keep getting better each week,” Moorman said, “and this is the next game. It’s an important one, and you can’t look too far ahead. It’s an old cliche, but one week at a time.”
A winning streak begins with a single step, with one game. The Bills haven’t won a regular-season road game in Pittsburgh since 1975, so this would be a good way to start. Win one, and see where it leads.