Merriman, Bills at risk of losing low profile

Back in his former NFL life, when Shawne Merriman(notes) was on the fast track to superstardom, slow starts were the norm for the linebacker known as "Lights Out."

Those experiences with Norv Turner's Chargers, who made early missteps an annual habit, have impacted Merriman's mindset as he attempts to resurrect his career in a far less glitzy setting. Having shuffled off to Buffalo following his release last November, Lights Out has put a new spin on his nickname: He now seeks sanctuary in the shadows.

Given the way he and the lightly regarded Bills stormed through last Sunday's season opener in Kansas City, a 41-7 dismantling of the defending AFC West champion Chiefs, Merriman's low profile may soon be compromised.

"I'm trying to keep it like that for as long as possible," he said Tuesday. "I'm used to always being on the radar. In San Diego, I got a lot of attention, and for three or four years, we were considered a team that could win the Super Bowl. That's tough to go out and play with those expectations. Now we're under the radar, and I think it's going just fine. I like it."

What Merriman likes most is the opportunity to be underestimated by opponents, something that seldom happened on his former team.

"It's crazy – we always had a slow start," Merriman said of the Chargers. "I don't know if that was the preseason hype, and so other teams were just a little bit more ready when they played us right off the bat, but it wasn't good. It put us in a position where we had to win in November and December, and you'd rather not put yourself in those situations.

"Now, here, it's the total opposite. [Opponents are] probably looking at us like, 'They're 30th in the power rankings, how good could they be?' And we don't mind it at all."

While I would never go so far as to refer to the forthcoming list as power rankings – as faithful readers know, 32Q is the anti-rankings ranking, and the cool kids know the real answers won't be unveiled until several months from now – the Bills won't be anywhere near the bottom this week.

In the wake of Sunday's balanced, comprehensively potent performance at Arrowhead Stadium, the Bills, who haven't sniffed the postseason this century (their 11-season drought is tied with Detroit for the NFL's longest), certainly look capable of at least summoning a run. After all, the Chiefs made the playoffs last season, and the Bills just made them look like a leading contender for the Andrew Luck sweepstakes.

"I had the confidence we were going to win the game, but I definitely didn't think we'd blow 'em out like that," said Bills linebacker Nick Barnett(notes), who signed with Buffalo in late July, two days after being released by the Packers. "It didn't seem like [the Chiefs] came to play. I don't know what's going on in their locker room or anything like that, but they haven't hit their groove. I don't know if we caught them off guard, but if we did, I hope we keep catching teams off guard."

Barnett shares Merriman's opinion that low expectations can work to the Bills' advantage, if only because it minimizes the potential for a false sense of self-satisfaction.

"It's the NFL, so everyone comes to play," Barnett said. "But at the same time, being off the radar gives us a little advantage as far as having less distractions. In Green Bay, we were constantly talked about as being one of the best teams in the league, so you've got to deal with that and making sure you don't get overconfident. Here, that's not a problem. Here, it wouldn't matter if we won by 1,000, we'd still be ranked 27th."

Well, that's not entirely fair. If the Bills blow out their next opponent at Ralph Wilson Stadium this Sunday, given my inordinately high regard for the team in question, they're liable to sneak into the top five.

As Merriman, a former All-Pro who has been plagued by injuries and negative perceptions about his character in recent years, attempts to revive his career, he's gunning for a collective attention-grab of the most unlikely order.

Claimed off waivers by the Bills last November, Merriman aggravated a sore Achilles' tendon during his first practice with the team and never played a snap. He was believed to be a short-timer in Buffalo but signed a two-year deal with the team in January, attracted by what he viewed as a wealth of untapped talent in the locker room and unfulfilled enthusiasm among the fans.



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"They didn't come across as a 4-12 team," Merriman says of the Bills, who lost their first eight games in 2010. "When you don't see teams play a lot – and it's not like they were on national TV much – you don't think these guys are good. But they were; they were just missing a few pieces.

"Also, the fans out here were unbelievable. When I got here, I thought, 'Wow, this is a team that has no chance of going to the playoffs, and the stadium is just packed, and still rocking.' It was just too much to turn down."

In Kansas City, Merriman spoke to the team before the Bills broke their pregame huddle and addressed the lack of buzz surrounding their prospects.

"We've been overlooked for so long," Merriman told his teammates. "We've worked too hard to let that continue. The only way we're gonna go out and change people's opinions and get respect is to go out and take it. It's time to put our foot down."

Here at 32QHQ (that's 32 Questions Headquarters, for you newcomers), it's time to put it out there for all to berate, beginning with the defending champs and descending down the NFL food chain to a most unusual doormat:

1. Green Bay Packers: After hearing Randall Cobb's(notes) explanation that he heeded God's advice in deciding to run back that kickoff from eight yards deep in the end zone last Thursday night, did Brett Favre(notes) exclaim, "That's b.s – I was home in Hattiesburg!"?

2. Baltimore Ravens: If Chuck Pagano is The Joker, does that make Cam Cameron Poison Ivy?

3. Philadelphia Eagles: Would Michael Vick(notes) describe his postgame attire as "business on the top floor, party in the basement" – and, if so, would Joe Dirt sue?

4. New England Patriots: What's crazier – that Tom Brady(notes) is on pace to throw for 8,272 yards this season, or that Donovan McNabb(notes) is on pace to throw for 624?

5. Chicago Bears: How many fans who spent all offseason questioning Jay Cutler's(notes) manhood are calling him The Man now?

6. New York Jets: Will Jets fans adopt "Don't Tase Me, Bro" as their newest chant?

7. Oakland Raiders: If I told you that a team's reaction to a player tying an NFL record was to appeal the spot of the ball in an effort to give him sole ownership of the record, is there any doubt you'd guess which franchise on the first try?

8. Detroit Lions: How hot was that 36-yard touchdown catch by Calvin Johnson(notes) on fourth down – and how cool was it to see Jim Schwartz make such an aggressive call?

9. Houston Texans: After one game as defensive coordinator, is Wade Phillips as popular in Southeast Texas as he is unpopular in North Texas?

10. New Orleans Saints: If Gregg Williams was this fired up after the lockout, how combustible was his defensive film session after the season-opening Swiss cheese impersonation in Green Bay?

Matt Ryan's(notes) world was turned upside down by the Bears.
(AP Photo)

11. Atlanta Falcons: When Matty Ice takes on an NFC North opponent, does he have visions of Catherine Tramell upon breaking the huddle?

12. Pittsburgh Steelers: What has gotten old faster – the Steelers' defense, or that storyline?

13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Yo, Raheem Morris, is it really a good idea to get LeGarrette Blount(notes) mad at you?

14. Dallas Cowboys: Yo, Jerry Jones, what would Tony Romo(notes) have to do to play one of the worst games you've ever seen him play?

15. Buffalo Bills: Is it possible that anyone not named Chandler started the Bills' tight end on his/her fantasy team last week – and how many thousands of people rushed to claim the 6-foot-7 journeyman Sunday evening?

16. San Diego Chargers: When Percy Harvin(notes) returned the opening kickoff 103 yards for a touchdown at Qualcomm on Sunday, how hard was former special teams coach Steve Crosby laughing?

17. Washington Redskins: Are Mike Shanahan's players displaying a heightened work ethic this season or is the food at Redskins Park simply that delicious?

18. New York Giants: If Antrel Rolle(notes) is such an expert on his team's lack of motivation, has he considered doing something about it beyond publicly complaining?

19. Jacksonville Jaguars: Is there any doubt that Maurice Jones-Drew(notes) drafted Maurice Jones-Drew on Maurice Jones-Drew's fantasy team?

20. San Francisco 49ers: Did Jim Harbaugh unconsciously copy Bill Walsh when he complained about the 49ers' lack of exposure on highlights shows, or was this yet another case of him soaking up the late mentor's strategic blueprint "like a sponge"?

21. Arizona Cardinals: If rookie Patrick Peterson(notes) had been caught from behind and lost the football after slowing up to strut during his game-winning, 89-yard punt return for a touchdown against the Panthers, would Ken Whisenhunt have been penalized for a late hit?

22. Kansas City Chiefs: If the rest of their season plays out anything like Sunday's wretched opener, will injured safety Eric Berry(notes) consider himself fortunate?

Tim Tebow(notes) remained on the sideline Monday.
(Getty Images)

23. Denver Broncos: Do the fans chanting for Tim Tebow realize that if Kyle Orton(notes) gets pulled, Brady Quinn(notes) would likely replace him?

24. Seattle Seahawks: If Mike Holmgren were still coaching the Seahawks, would the NFL have had the guts to assign Bill Leavy to Sunday's Super Bowl XL rematch in Pittsburgh?

25. Cincinnati Bengals: When Marvin Lewis used the term "break one free" to describe Cedric Benson's(notes) game-clinching, 39-yard touchdown run against the Browns, did the halfback question his coach's word choice?

26. St. Louis Rams: When Chris Long(notes) described the Rams' Week 1 defensive effort as an "epic disappointment," was he auditioning for an eventual seat next to his father on the "Fox NFL Sunday" set?

27. Cleveland Browns: How good did Joe Haden(notes) look for most of Sunday's game, and how quickly did it all turn sour?

28. Minnesota Vikings: Now that he knows Jared Allen(notes) is a pretty good cornerback, has Leslie Frazier considered playing him at quarterback?

29. Miami Dolphins: If Ron Jaworski were forced to watch the Dolphins on a regular basis as a radio analyst, would the team have to broadcast its games exclusively on Sirius/XM?

30. Carolina Panthers: When Steve Smith declared after his big game Sunday that "haters need to get a new hobby," how many of them complied by choosing "complaining about my favorite team's '32 Questions' ranking"?

31. Tennessee Titans: Will owner Bud Adams be making obscene gestures to his own sideline by halftime of Sunday's home opener against the Ravens?

32. Indianapolis Colts: When Jim Caldwell rationalized Sunday's blowout in Houston by saying, "It's a marathon, not a sprint," why did I keep closing my eyes and see this guy?

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