The lights have been turned off on Buffalo Bills linebacker Shawne Merriman's season.
Merriman, who earned the nickname "Lights Out" when he was one of the NFL's most feared players, was placed on season-ending injured reserve on Tuesday because of a right Achilles' tendon injury. It's the same injury that forced the Bills to place him on IR last November after they signed him as a free agent following his release from the San Diego Chargers.
"Shawne has worked extremely hard, but unfortunately his Achilles flared back up and it doesn't appear that he will be able to return to the field anytime soon," Bills general manager Buddy Nix said in a statement released by the team Tuesday. "We felt it was in the best interest of our team and for Shawne to put him on IR."
After being bothered by a nagging shoulder injury for the past month, Merriman's Achilles suddenly became a problem on the Thursday before the Bills' 27-24 loss to the New York Giants. Merriman missed that game, but he expressed confidence that he'd be able to return and not miss any significant time when the Bills came back from the bye.
"I'm expecting it to hold up well and bounce back and do what I need to do," the 27-year-old told the Associated Press last week. "I'm feeling a lot better than I did a week ago as of right now. It's going to be a work in progress. Personally for me, it's about peaking at the right time, and this bye week has been perfect for me."
But the Achilles didn't make as much progress as the Bills had hoped, and it's left them with a severe dent in a pass rush that's generated only four sacks this season. Coach Chan Gailey and several players spoke last week about the need to pressure the quarterback to take the heat off Buffalo's defensive backfield, which has allowed 300-plus yards passing three times already this season.
Overall, Buffalo ranks 31st in total defence.
"I think we just need to keep finetuning the things that we're not doing well," Gailey said. "I think what we're doing is good, but I think we're not doing it very well. We're playing hard, we're not playing better."
Merriman's season was average at best, mostly due to his inability to stay healthy. After recording a pair of sacks in Buffalo's preseason opener against Chicago, he hurt his right knee in practice. That kept him out of two preseason games.
He then hurt his shoulder in Week 2 against Oakland, and the Bills began to monitor both his playing and practice time. That basically made him a part-time player.
Nix has always been a big believer in Merriman after previously working in the Chargers front office when they made Merriman their first pick (12th overall) in the 2005 draft. Hoping Merriman could rekindle some of his past glory with a Bills defence that was in desperate need of a pass-rushing specialist, Nix re-signed Merriman to a two-year deal just a day before Buffalo's 2010 season finale at the New York Jets.
A three-time Pro Bowl selection, Merriman finishes the season with nine tackles, one sack and five games. Coming into the season, he had 43 ½ sacks in 60 career games — but only four sacks from 2008-10 when his production was slowed by injuries.
He missed most of the 2008 season after undergoing reconstructive knee surgery, and after sitting out most of the 2010 off-season workouts and part of training camp to protest his contract status, he was slowed by an Achilles' tendon injury and then a calf injury before being released.