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By Jim Cwierley

John Lennon once sang that Instant Karma was going to get you. Did it ever come after the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.

After dropping two games this year on special teams fumbles, the Bills had one bounce their way against the Carolina Panthers.

Carolina's Kenny Moore fumbled a punt inside his 20-yard line, which Buffalo's Derek Fine pounced on. It allowed Buffalo to build a two-score lead with less than two minutes to go in the game. The Bills won ugly again, beating the Carolina Panthers 20-9.

Special teams have been a problem all season long for the Bills, putting opponents in great field position through a combination of sloppy tackling and penalties. On the flip side, Buffalo's offense has had poor field position due to bad decisions from punt returners. Penalties, a la holding and blocks in the back, have further backed up Bills drive starts.

Special teams coach Bobby April got that turned around this week. The gunners on punts were flying all over the field, nailing Panthers return men almost immediately upon catch. They surrendered an average of two yards per punt and pinned Carolina inside their 20-yard line five times. The Bills also went the entire game without a special teams penalty, something of a rarity in the season.

The special teams have been a real hindrance to the Bills this year, making miscues at the most critical times. In this game, we saw a return of the special teams we're used to seeing: great coverage units and game-changing performances. It was easily their best performance of the year.

Buffalo's defense has been a bit of an oddity the past few games. They've been getting gashed for huge chunks of yardage, particularly on the ground. The past three weeks, Buffalo surrendered more than 200 yards rushing, and they plunged to last in the league in that category.

Against Carolina, they looked horrible for most of the game. The Panthers running backs were having their way with Buffalo, averaging nearly five yards per carry. The attack was primarily coming to the outside, where the Bills have had a raft of injuries at linebacker position. The backups have gotten pushed around by opposing offenses, who blow through large holes and into the secondary.

The amazing part about their performance, though, has been the points the unit has surrendered: 6, 13, and now 7 points. Buffalo has been playing the ultimate bend-but-don't-break defense. They're giving up the yardage, but are making plays to stop drives at the right time.

With no one has that been more apparent than rookie safety Jairus Byrd. He's been soaring of late, with five interceptions in the past three games. That included two of the game-changing variety against Carolina.

Neither were spectacular grabs, as both came on Jake Delhomme overthrows. But Byrd did show a knack for being around the ball, making the picks as if the ball were thrown on a route for him. Both resulted in big returns, leading to Buffalo touchdowns.

Many are ready to anoint Byrd as the next great playmaker on the Bills defense. I think we need to hold up on that coronation.

He ranks among the league leaders in interceptions and passes defensed, right up there with the game's great defensive backs. Byrd is on a hot streak, that's undeniable. But those five interceptions came against three of the worst passing offenses in football. The one thing you can't deny, though, is that he's pretty fun to watch.

Let's see how he does when teams start looking for him for the rest of the season.

Bills fans looking for an upgrade at QB with Trent Edwards being out ... need to keep looking. Many, including myself, were calling for Ryan Fitzpatrick to come off the bench, if for no other reason than to relieve the drudgery of sacks and checkdowns Edwards was providing.

Fitzpatrick does provide some relief in that regard. He was finding open receivers, including playmakers Lee Evans and Terrell Owens. They were more than five yards from the line of scrimmage. Some of them were even deep pass plays. The problem was, a good majority weren't even in the right zip code.

Many times, receivers zagged when he zigged. It seems like he and the receivers are struggling to get on the same page. Is that a matter of communication, or just poor throws on his part? We'll see if another week of practice (or an Edwards return) can put throws closer to receivers.

It wasn't an all-around bad performance by Fitzpatrick, though. He did make some savvy and alert plays that helped Buffalo's anemic offense keep moving. He quick-snapped the ball to catch Carolina unprepared to convert a first down. When defensive backs dropped off in coverage, he threw to a receiver at the line to take advantage of that cushion.

Fitzpatrick has played ugly in the past two games, but one thing has been the same: Both were Buffalo wins. Winning ugly is always better than pretty stats and a loss. Just ask Delhomme, who had 325 yards passing, but three interceptions to go with it.

Going into the season, much was made of the Terrell Owens experiment. Would he be able to fit in? Could he keep his combustible personality in check while adding a threat to the Bills offense?

He's been able to do that, so far, but adding to the offense is an entirely different story. T.O. gets some balls thrown his way to keep him interested in the game, but the erstwhile receiver seems uninterested in competing for the ball. If the pass isn't right on the money, you won't see Owens going for a diving grab, or fending off a defensive back to go get the ball.

No, Owens just sort of gives up on the play and stands there while the DB makes an attempt on the interception. Even if a pass is within Owens' reach, however, he's not making plays on the ball. Against Carolina, T.O. had two dropped passes on balls that could have been hauled in. Both of those passes would have kept the chains moving.

It's not Owens' personality that is becoming a liability for this team, but rather his play. Why keep forcing a ball to a receiver who isn't getting the job done for you?

Buffalo's offense has enough problems; they don't need to create more by throwing to a non-playmaking playmaker.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com October 27 2009