Only the best survive

ROB LONGLEY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:51 AM ET

It is difficult to extend too much sympathy for a team that loses a game on a safety, one that likely could have been avoided.

Still, it's hard not to feel for the Buffalo Bills in the aftermath of a near massive upset yesterday that fell just short.

In a 19-17 loss to the AFC East powerhouse New England Patriots, the Bills had a defence that attacked at times and a two-pronged running attack that was helping the offence get in rhythm.

And for a while, they had a quarterback, J.P. Losman, who looked like he might just be growing into the position.

But the downside of growing means, growing pains and they don't sting much more than this.

Just 20 seconds after the Patriots had tied the game on a field goal, Losman was snagged in the end zone -- an unforgivable fourth-quarter miscue in a tie game.

"I should have got rid of the ball but the game was on the line," said Losman, who took the snap at his own eight. "I dipped under one defender but there was another guy."

A game that started out so strong -- Takeo Spikes forcing a fumble that was taken to the end zone by London Fletcher on the opening play -- ended with an all too familiar feeling.

Some will question coach Dick Jauron's decision to gamble on fourth and one with 9:24 left in the third quarter and the Bills up by 10. Willis McGahee was stopped for no gain at the New England seven-yard line and that was all the window Patriots quarterback Tom Brady needed.

Hard to blame Jauron though. The call was gutsy enough, but settling for a field goal would have kept the Patriots within two scores. A touchdown was going for the jugular.

The Patriots were one of a number of teams thought to be big contenders which found themselves on the ropes yesterday. Some survived, others went down for the count:

- The Denver Broncos looked little like the team that played host to the AFC championship this past January, falling 18-10 to the Rams in St. Louis. That sound you hear echoing in the Rockies is calls for rookie quarterback Jay Cutler.

Beleaguered veteran Jake Plummer, who was picked off just seven times in the 2005 season, barfed up three yesterday plus a bonus fumble.

- Returning to the scene of their crushing Super Bowl loss against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Seattle Seahawks looked anything like NFC champions.

They needed field goals on the final plays of both halves to eke out a 9-6 win over the Detroit Lions. And you thought Saturday's touchdown-free Argos-Ticats tilt was gruesome.

- Who started those rumours about the death of Michael Vick anyway? The Carolina Panthers were a wildly popular wiseguy Super Bowl pick and started along that road with a 20-6 whipping at home by Vick, running back Warrick Dunn and the rest of the Falcons.

- Many felt that the Cincinnati Bengals were the best team in the AFC last year until quarterback Carson Palmer had his knee shredded on the opening series of their divisional playoff with the Steelers. Palmer sure looked healthy yesterday, leading his team to a 23-10 over the Kansas City Chiefs in one of the toughest stadiums to swipe a road win.

- So heavy was the bandwagon trailing the Cowboys that they went from three-point underdogs to 1 1/2-point favourites by kickoff. Once underway, the 'Boys were weighed down by sloppy quarterback Drew Bledsoe in a 24-17 loss to Jacksonville.

- Say good night, Brett Favre. The Packers quarterback was shut out for the first time in more than 200 starts in a horrid 26-0 home loss to the Chicago Bears.

- And finally, we know what they say about statistics, but these numbers might help talk some Bills fans off the ledge: Brady completed 11 of 23 passes for 163 yards while Losman connected on 15-for-23 attempts for 164 yards.


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