As homecomings go, Paul Posluszny is afraid he’s been here, and said this all before.
“When you have a losing record consistently, it’s tough. It wears on you,” Posluszny said. “Obviously, everybody wants to win. You want to go to the playoffs.”
Whether it’s playing in upstate New York or upstate Florida, the Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker is finding the results to be unremarkably familiar in preparing to travel to Buffalo to face his former team on Sunday.
“I can’t complain, no, other than the fact that we’re 2-9,” Posluszny said, when asked how he’s doing. “You know how life is when you’re on a losing team.”
It’s something the second-round draft pick out of Penn State learned about all too well during his first four NFL seasons in Buffalo. That’s where he played under three coaches (including interim coach Perry Fewell) and went a combined 24-40.
It has been no different since the summer of 2011, when he left Buffalo to sign a six-year, $45-million contract with Jacksonville. With Mike Mularkey, the Bills former coach, in his first year at the helm, Posluszny is now under his third coach (including interim Mel Tucker), and gone a combined 7-20.
“The main thing is when you go somewhere else, you want to win,” he said. “I didn’t want to leave Buffalo, but the situation called for it. So it’s tough. I haven’t had success here.”
The Jaguars, who haven’t been to the playoffs since 2007, are limping toward what could well be the worst finish in their 18-year franchise history.
The Bills (4-7) are customarily bringing up the rear, and in jeopardy of extending the NFL’s longest active playoff drought to an unlucky 13 seasons.
“I don’t know, I don’t know,” veteran safety George Wilson said, shaking his head when asked why the Bills seem incapable of producing a winner. “I don’t think you could just point your finger at one thing and say, ‘This held us from ending the streak.’ I think it’s been a culmination of things. But I just play the game.”
This season was supposed to be different, given the high expectations that came with Buffalo signing defensive end Mario Williams to a six-year, $100-million contract in March. It’s instead proved to be eerily familiar in its meltdown.
Despite earning a recent vote of confidence from general manager Buddy Nix, third-year coach Chan Gailey finds himself on the hot seat. He’s being blamed for a sputtering Ryan Fitzpatrick-led popgun offence, and also being second-guessed by his players.
Following a 20-13 loss at Indianapolis on Sunday, receiver Stevie Johnson questioned whether Fitzpatrick should take over the play-calling duties from Gailey. Johnson has since backpedaled, saying he misspoke, and meant to suggest whether the quarterback should have more freedom to change plays at the line of scrimmage.
Either way, the growing frustrations have exposed cracks on a team that’s lost six of eight and 15 of 20 since getting off to a surprising 5-2 start last season.
“I’m not going to say I don’t care about it. That would be a lie,” Gailey said, referring to questions about his job security. “I’m working as hard as I can work to try to get this thing where it needs to be.”
Gailey need look no further than the opposite sideline to find a sympathetic figure in Mularkey, who can appreciate how difficult it is to turn around what’s been a dysfunctional franchise.
Mularkey came the closest to ending the Bills’ playoff drought in leading the team to a 9-7 finish in his first season in 2004. He then resigned in January 2006, during a tumultuous off-season, during which team president Tom Donahoe was fired.
“Don’t try to make anything out of that. I have very good memories from there,” Mularkey said, still declining to divulge the reasons why he changed his mind and quit a few days after being retained by owner Ralph Wilson. The move took Wilson by such surprise that the Hall of Fame owner went to Mularkey’s home in a bid to coax him into reconsidering.
Mularkey will only say there was a family issue behind his decision.
“Look, it was a tough decision that I made back then,” he said. “I’ve never gone and said that I regret it.”
What’s also true is that Mularkey was under pressure to make changes to his coaching staff. And it didn’t help that he was preparing to work under incoming general manager Marv Levy, who had openly expressed an interest to once again coach the Bills.
“I know it’s news because I’m coming back. But I think that’s old news,” Mularkey said. “I’d rather talk about where we’re at now.”
There’s at least a sense of hope emerging in Jacksonville, where the Jaguars have an energetic new owner in Shad Khan.
“Just the presence he brings as an individual,” Posluszny said. “When he speaks to you, you’re completely confident in everything that he says and everything that he does.”