ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Stevie Johnson and the Buffalo Bills’ offense suddenly have one thing in common. Both are moving in reverse.
The Bills’ leading receiver found himself backpedaling Monday, a day after openly questioning coach Chan Gailey’s offensive play calling following a 20-13 loss at Indianapolis.
Johnson, a Rodriguez High graduate, said he misspoke when suggesting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick take over the play-calling duties from Gailey. What he meant to say is Fitzpatrick should have more opportunities to change plays at the line of scrimmage.
“I didn’t mean changing play-calling duties and all that,” Johnson said. “I may have said it, but what I meant to say was audible and giving Fitz the audible a little more.”
Johnson said he should have chosen his words more carefully, and can appreciate why his comments could be perceived as challenging Gailey. He blamed himself, saying he spoke the heat of the moment following a loss that all but mathematically ended the Bills’ chances of making the playoffs.
“It’s all frustration,” Johnson said. “I was just frustrated because I know what was at stake playing against Indianapolis, playing against an AFC opponent and feeling like we need to take their spot. And then they beat us.”
The Bills (4-7) have lost four of five and fallen to the fringes of the playoff race in preparing to host Jacksonville (2-9) on Sunday.
Gailey played down the stir the comments created, saying he understands Johnson’s intention.
“I know where he’s coming from. Stevie just wants to win,” he said. “If you know a guy, you know where his heart is. Even though he might not have said it exactly right, you know where his heart is. And I know Stevie.”
Whatever Johnson meant to say, he did get at least one thing right. Something’s got to change to a Gailey-designed, Fitzpatrick-run offense that’s been sputtering at best and has lacked finish for much of the past two months.
Buffalo has topped 310 yards on offense and scored more than 19 points just twice in its past seven games.
The offense has been particularly lethargic in the red zone over its past eight games. In their last 25 drives that entered an opponent’s 20, the Bills have scored nine touchdowns and settled for 12 field goals.
Against Indianapolis, Buffalo was limited to scoring a touchdown and two field goals on three red-zone opportunities.
The lack of production is what sparked Johnson’s outburst following the game, when he said: “I think we need to let our quarterback call these plays. He’s out there on the field. He sees the adjustments that need to be done.”
Johnson then added: “I think that (Fitzpatrick) has the ability to control the offense 100 percent. I think we should take advantage of that.”
This marked the second time in three weeks Johnson’s been perceived to question Gailey’s play-calling decisions.
Following a 37-31 loss at New England on Nov. 11, Johnson second-guessed why rookie T.J. Graham — and not a more established receiver — was the intended targeted when Fitzpatrick threw an interception in the end zone in the final seconds.
Johnson on Monday said he would never question Gailey because he owes his success to the coach. After riding the bench for much of his first two seasons in Buffalo, Johnson finally got his shot in 2010, Gailey’s first season.
Ever since, the former seventh-round draft pick blossomed into the team’s No. 1 receiver, which led to him signing a five-year, $36.25 million contract in March.
“I’m not questioning my coach,” Johnson said. “I’ve got too much respect for him to go about it the way it’s perceived to be. So everything’s good.”
Fitzpatrick was put into the position of having to defend both his coach and receiver. The quarterback said he’s comfortable with the freedom Gailey provides him to call plays when opportunities present themselves.
As for Johnson, Fitzpatrick accepted the receiver’s explanation.
“I know, this morning, he was a little distraught because he felt like what he was saying got misconstrued as he was questioning Chan,” Fitzpatrick said. “And that’s not the point that he was trying to get across. But you can ask him. He loves Chan.”
NOTES: DE Chris Kelsay’s status is uncertain after the 10-year veteran aggravated a neck injury against Indianapolis. … Gailey called it “touch and go” whether DE Mark Anderson (left knee) and cornerback Aaron Williams (right knee) will be ready this week. Anderson has missed six games and Williams three. … Buffalo has converted six of 25 third-down chances in its past two games.