Roscoe Parrish – this year more than any – is the thumbnail of the Buffalo Bills. He's the direct blueprint for the Bills' resurgence this season. Returners are usually like finding a $5 bill in your pocket: an occasional surprise. But this year, Roscoe Parrish has made a difference in each game.
Each win was jumpstarted by a 5-foot-9, 170-pound pogo-stick in the open field.
Week One – Parrish slips through a myriad of tackles to take a punt 63 yards to the house and break the game open at 14-0.
Week Two – With four minutes left and the Bills leading Jacksonville, 17-16, Buffalo's defense forces a punt and the Jaguars punt. With a chance to ice the win, Parrish explodes upfield to the Jacksonville 32-yard line for a 27-yarder. Buffalo melts three minutes off the clock and kicks a field goal to virtually seal the win. (Parrish also had a 28-yard punt return in the first half negated by a penalty.)
Week Three – Capping a textbook ‘statement drive,' Parrish's 14-yard touchdown catch pulls Buffalo to within two points with four minutes left. You know the rest.
Only eternal optimists – Chris Berman and a handful of crazies in the Rockpile – expected the Bills to be 3-0 and the head-over-heels favorite of the AFC East at this point. But already their identity has crystallized: run the ball, limit mistakes and above all, dominate special teams. For the next 4-6 weeks, the core player of this formula will be sidelined with a thumb injury. Sure, Buffalo's special teams remain strong. Leodis McKelvin will assume punt return duties and if the preseason is any indication, the rookie could be dynamite. But that's a big ‘if.' Parrish has set a standard that will be difficult to match. The timing is numbing, too.
Beginning Sunday, the Bills enter a crucial stretch. Against teams they should knockout one-by-one, Buffalo could break through as a frontrunner in the conference and realistically sit at 7-1 by the time Parrish returns. With St. Louis, Arizona, Miami and the New York Jets on tap, the Bills have an opportunity to build momentum against subpar teams, continue to shock the skeptics and make that December game against the ‘Fins in Toronto even more bitter for local diehards (a rivalry game with playoff implications? Gulp. Take cover Ralph.).
It's a decisively down year for the AFC and the Bills are conveniently in position to run the table (lackluster division + NFC West opponents). But make no mistake. Now, this is not as easy of a stretch. Without Parrish, these gimmies are hardly such. Trent Edwards won't have the luxury of starting drives at his 40 with regularity. The backbreaking returns are in question. McKelvin's exhibition showcase could be nothing but an aberration. Dan Orlovsky, Michael Bennett and David Clowney – this August's preseason darlings – aren't exactly getting penciled in as fantasy football starters this weekend.
Is Leodis McKelvin ready to replace Roscoe Parrish?
Buy the McKelvin hype when you see it… in the regular season… against more complex punt coverages… and faster, talented special teams kamikazes. While he has impressed on seven kick returns through three games (25.7 avg,), punt returning is an entirely different animal. A different animal than what McKelvin faced at Troy, too. Less reaction time, and a greater emphasis on sudden, stop-and-start quickness. Maybe Buffalo's first round pick has some Hester in him. But hold judgment for now.
Parrish's absence will further leave a subtle void at wide receiver. Offensive coordinator Turk Schonert was just starting to have fun toying with Parrish in various formations. Rookie James Hardy will be thrust into an increased role, but outside of his touchdown at Jacksonville, Hardy hasn't shown he's ready for the workload.
Roscoe Parrish's right thumb injury seems to have blessing-in-disguise fluffiness written all over it. More time for McKelvin. More time for Hardy. Everybody gets a piece of candy. Happy Halloween.
But the Bills will suffer without Parrish. He was dominating on special teams and starting to scratch the surface in Schonert's diversified offense at wide receiver. The 4-6 Parrish Effect could minutely stunt the offense, infect a dominating special teams unit and force Buffalo to miss out on a golden opportunity of winnable games.
A trip to St. Louis couldn't come at a better time.