Bills showing promise

ROB LONGLEY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:03 AM ET

After two weeks of the NFL season, there is a tendency to over-react with analysis on the limited, teasing body of evidence.

Are the Carolina Panthers that bad? Are the Jacksvonville Jaguars that good? And what about the struggling Pittsburgh Steelers?

In Buffalo, where 75,000 or so fans will cram into Ralph Wilson Stadium this afternoon, a pleasant surprise awaits for the Bills faithful on the occasion of the team's home opener.

A long season remains before it can be determined whether those fans have once again been sucked in to believing they are backing at least a fringe contender.

But a win over the New York Jets (1-1) today would more than just move the Bills to 2-1 and a temporary tie for the AFC East lead with the New England Patriots (2-0).

Suddenly (and especially in the hearts of their supporters) the Bills would upgrade their expectations from rebuilding to opportunity.

"Pretty much nobody expected anything from us," Bills guard Chris Villarrial told the Associated Press this week. "We have something to prove, that we can play. We want to be a contender. It's anyone's division right now."

The Patriots ultimately may have something to say about that last assertion but when the season began, the Bills weren't even pretenders.

In some Las Vegas casinos, their over-under win total was 5 1/2 after last season's miserable 5-12 campaign followed by an off-season of upheaval.

Starting on the road against two highly touted AFC East rivals, many would have expected an 0-2 team to return home today.

But that was an accepted fate among the more reasonable Bills fans as long as the young team would continue to learn under their new head coach. Dick Jauron's mandate was to bring some stability to the job and by most accounts he is a significant upgrade over then rookie head coaches Mike Mularkey and Gregg Williams.

A respected teacher, who did a smart job as head man with the surprising 2001 Chicago Bears, Jauron's lessons already are taking hold.

These Bills have been doing it with a fired-up defence, exceptional special teams and an efficient, if conservative offence.

To that end, there has been the careful play of quarterback J.P. Losman who is being set up to have a chance to win unlike being doomed to failure as he was a year ago.

Losman threw for a misleadingly light 83 yards in the win against Miami, but has yet to throw an interception or lose a fumble against the tough defences of the Dolphins and Patriots.

Before they get too puffed up, the Bills must realize that today's opponent finds itself in a similar state of muted optimism. An easy win over the Titans was followed by a comeback against New England that fell just short.

But if Jauron can continue that maturation process with the support of what is sure to be a boisterous crowd at the Ralph, the Bills will have a 2-1 foundation to a season of promise.

Besides return matches against each of the AFC East foes, there also are dates against the Lions, Packers, Texans and Titans, a generous four-pack of opportunity.

"We're only an eighth of the way through the season," Jauron said. "We're still learning. Our goal is to just keep getting better in practice and to play better on Sunday."

Jauron clearly has things in perspective. If his team wins today though, he might have trouble convincing the crazies that make up Bills Nation to do the same.

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