T.O. stars in Bills' soap opera

MIKE ZEISBERGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:44 AM ET

Question: What possibly could drive a grown man to dress himself as a box of popcorn, complete with hundreds of kernels glued to the outside of the carton?

Ask the overzealous football fan who did exactly that back in the spring, sporting that outrageous costume and waiting for the Buffalo Bills' newest saviour to arrive at the gate at the Buffalo-Niagara airport.

Indeed, Terrell Owens did not need to advise Buffalonians to "get your popcorn ready" when he shocked the football world by signing with the Bills during the off-season.

They already knew what to do, thanks.

In an attempt to become more than a blip on the NFL radar, the Bills inked T.O. to a one-year deal, instantly focusing the spotlight on a franchise and a city that had become practically irrelevant on the national sporting landscape in the past decade.

Given that most observers figured Owens was a ticking timebomb ready to explode, the Bills must be subscribing to the notion that any publicity is good publicity, right?

Yes, on paper, he gives the Bills one of the most talented receiving corps in the league, complemented by the likes of Lee Evans and Josh Reed.

But history shows the combustible Owens eats up quarterbacks, turning on them at some point. He did it to Jeff Garcia in San Francisco, Donovan McNabb in Philly and Tony Romo in Dallas.

Yet, to date, Owens has been a model citizen. Other than the toe injury that allowed him to play just one series during the pre-season, he has been pretty low key.

But how long can that last, especially with the on-and off-field problems experienced by the Bills heading into their 2009 regular-season opener against the New England Patriots in prime time on Monday?

A film crew from VH-1 often follows Owens around, collecting footage for his reality TV show. Maybe they should spend more time monitoring the rest of the team, given the soap opera the Bills franchise has become.

Among the storylines featured in this mini-series we are calling As The Bills Turn:

* Contentious contract talks with left-tackle Jason Peters ended with the all-pro being traded to Philadelphia, leaving the Bills with two raw rookies -- Eric Wood and Andy Levitre -- startings on an already suspect offensive line.

* Running back Marshawn Lynch was suspended for the first three games of the regular season by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell after being arrested on a concealed firearms charge.

* Safety Donte Whitner was arrested for aggravated disorderly conduct and resisting arrest in Cleveland in April.

* Trent Edwards continued to show a reluctance to throw the ball downfield during the pre-season, causing critics to wonder if the third-year quarterback is regressing, not progressing.

* And, in the most recent instalment of this juicy prime-time mini-series, the Bills Friday fired offensive co-ordinator Turk Schonert after the first-string offence scored just three points in five exhibition games. Quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt is now assigned the play-calling duties for the team's new no-huddle offence.

An inexperienced playcaller going up against Bill Belichick, the master of defensive gameplanning? The Patriots coach must be drooling at the prospect of facing Van Pelt's offence on national television Monday night.

Among all this gloom and doom, Owens was the one person who made light of the firing, joking with his followers on the Internet that the coaching change was his fault.

"I'm sure every one was aware of my little tweets," said Owens, who participated in only five plays in the pre-season. "I just tried to have fun with it ... Anything that has ever gone wrong with every team I've played for, I've been to blame, so I took it upon myself to take the blame."

The Bills success this season will not rest with Owens. No, it will be up to the young quarterback, an inexperienced offensive line and a questionable pass rush to answer the bell.

Should they fail on those fronts, then, maybe then, Mount St. Owens finally might blow his top.

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PAYING THE BILLS

Questions facing Buffalo

1. Can RB Fred Jackson carry the load during Marshawn Lynch's three-game suspension?

2. Will Trent Edwards finally throw the ball downfield with regularity?

3. Will Edwards survive with two rookies -- Eric Wood and Andy Levitre -- starting on the offensive line?

4. With two sacks in two pre-season games, can first-round pick DE Aaron Maybin buoy a questionable pass rush?

5. If and/or when will T.O. snap?

6. Can the Bills score more than a field goal during their Dec. 3 game against the Jets in Toronto? They only managed a field goal in their regular-season Toronto debut last season, a 16-3 loss to the Dolphins.

MIKE.ZEISBERGER@SUNMEDIA.CA


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