It's show time

ROB LONGLEY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:39 AM ET

J.P. Losman is as anxious as the Buffalo faithful who will cram into Ralph Wilson Stadium this afternoon.

Anxious to get his career as an NFL starter off on the right foot.

Anxious to prove he was worthy of a first-round pick in the 2004 draft.

And most of all, anxious to get the Bills season off to a good start.

"We have to get our minds set that we're not a team that's going to over time progressively get better," said Losman, a second-year. "We need to get better fast and stay better fast."

He was Drew Bledsoe's back-up a year ago, but Losman suffered along with his teammates as a late-season rally came up a nose short of making the playoffs.

The opportunity lost is staring the Bills squarely in the face today as they open a season filled with typical Western New York optimism against the Houston Texans.

A year ago at the Ralph, the Bills frittered away a winnable game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Three more losses and an 0-4 start meant that a 9-3 finish wasn't quite enough, even though the Bills were fourth best in the league over the final 12 weeks.

"Point blank, we've got to get out to a good start," Bills linebacker Takeo Spikes said. "None of us want to go through what we did last year. It was painful."

Though nothing is guaranteed in the NFL, there are some soft spots in the early weeks of the season for Buffalo. Three of their first five opponents had losing records in '04, starting with today's foe, an improving team but one which still gets a tick as a winnable game on the Bills schedule.

Popular opinion No. 1 is that Losman merely has to be light on mistakes for the Bills to succeed. With the league's No. 2 defence returning essentially intact and an offence loaded with the star power of running back Willis McGahee and receivers Eric Moulds and Lee Evans, there are enough supporting tools.

Popular opinion No. 2 is that opponents will bring the blitz early on to put the onus on Losman to make or break it.

"There's no doubt about it, if I was Houston, that's what I would do," Bills tight end Mark Campbell told the Buffalo News. "I would blitz and blitz and blitz. I expect everything but the kitchen sink being thrown at us."

To which Losman, whose style is more riverboat gambler than play not to lose, says: Bring it on.

"I'm expecting a lot," Losman said. "Any time you have a young quarterback, they're going to want to blitz to see if you can handle it.

"I'm hoping for a lot because it gives us some chances for some big plays."

There has been a growing unease around Losman during the pre-season as the offence struggled and he has shown some growing pains. But Bills coach Mike Mularkey has hinted that the vanilla play-calling in those meaningless games aren't the best hint at what awaits beginning today.

Losman's lot is one Texans David Carr, who is beginning his fourth season, can relate to. A first-round pick by the Texans (first overall) in 2002, Carr spent most of his rookie season on his back getting sacked an NFL record 76 times.

"That's the hardest thing I had to learn," said Carr, whose Texans have improved every season. "Coming out of college, you try to make a lot of plays and do everything yourself.

"(Losman's) got some good players around him. If he just lets them do their job, he'll be fine. He's a good player."

Just how good likely lies somewhere between what the former Tulane star showed in the past month versus what he will show between now and Christmas.

Bills fans, like their quarterback, are anxious to find out.


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