ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Now that Michael Vick has suggested the “Dream Team” tag no longer applies for the underachieving Eagles, Bills receiver Stevie Johnson believes a change in perception might also be in order in Buffalo.
“I can’t say we’re no-names,” Johnson said, preferring instead the curiously coined moniker of “Goon Squad,” which Bills receivers have adopted. “We’re just guys that nobody really wanted.”
Until now, of course.
This Buffalo team of “Mis-Fitz” — as some also have begun to call them in tribute to quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick — is off to a surprising 3-1 start and will host the Eagles (1-3) on Sunday. And the Bills are in no mood to rest on their accomplishments one month into the season, particularly after a discouraging 23-20 loss at Cincinnati.
“We took a step back,” receiver David Nelson said. “This is an opportunity for us to prove who we say we are.”
Who, then, might these Eagles be?
All the high-priced, headline-grabbing splashes Philadelphia made this offseason in adding cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, defensive end Jason Babin and backup quarterback Vince Young have translated into a heap of disappointment. Having blown three consecutive second-half leads, Philadelphia’s off to its worst start and enduring its longest losing streak since 2007.
So Vick asked this week to put an end to “Dream Team” references.
“That term doesn’t ring true any more,” the quarterback said. “We’re just like any other football team now.”
The Eagles haven’t come close to matching their high expectations, while the Bills have so far defied their perennially low ones. This meeting has the potential to start separating the contenders from pretenders.
“It’s one of those games where a lot of questions will be answered,” Bills running back Fred Jackson said. “We know what we’re capable of, but we know we’ve got a tough team coming in here.”
Troubled as the Eagles might be, they still have the makings of a dangerous opponent.
Vick, when healthy and even sometimes when not, has led an offense averaging nearly 435 yards and 25 points a game. Despite a bruised right hand, he’s coming off a career day with 416 yards passing in a 24-23 loss to San Francisco. And the Eagles have a one-two offensive punch with LeSean McCoy ranking fifth in the NFL with 363 yards rushing.
The offense has still endured its sputters. Vick has failed to finish two games due to injuries. And the Eagles’ production in the red zone has been sloppy to the point of comical.
Philadelphia leads the league with 21 possessions inside an opponent’s 20, and yet has scored a mere eight touchdowns. That includes Ronnie Brown losing a fumble at the 49ers 4-yard-line last weekend.
Receiver Jason Avant said it’s a matter of the Eagles not carrying over what they do in practice into games.
“It can be interpreted as mental,” Avant said. “I just think that we have to learn how to execute our game plan under strenuous and live conditions.”
Those troubles are nothing compared to a porous defense that can’t stop the run and is getting burned by allowing 10 touchdowns passing.
Coach Andy Reid has no trouble detailing the Eagles’ list of problems. The difficulty is getting them fixed.
“We’re all in this together, so it’s not one person,” Reid said. “We all have to pull together and get better.”
At first glance, the game has the potential of becoming a track meet between two offenses with an ability to pile up yards in a hurry, and defenses that have difficulty getting off the field.
The Bills’ revamped defense is experiencing some familiar problems. Though second in the league with 11 takeaways, Buffalo’s allowed 450 yards offense in each of its last three games. That finally caught up with the Bills against the Bengals, who scored 20 points on four of their final five possessions.
The loss still stings and has led to questions whether it was a mere misstep or a sign of impending doom for a team that’s not made the playoffs in 11 seasons and proven fragile in the past. The last time Buffalo had at least three wins through Week 4 was 2008, when the Bills turned an eventual 5-1 start into a 7-9 finish.
Linebacker Shawne Merriman insists these aren’t the same old Bills.
“I wouldn’t say this is the first test of adversity. We’ve been facing adversity since the season started,” Merriman said. “We’ve come into the season as underdogs. People really didn’t expect much from us. We expect a lot out of ourselves.”
The Eagles expect more out of themselves.
“Nobody has to remind me of the record that we have,” Vick said. “We’re staying enthused and we have the confidence that we can get back in a good position. And that’s what we’re going to fight for.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)