Coming into their own

ROB LONGLEY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:10 AM ET

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Nate Clements has seen the horrid highlights too many times in his six seasons as a Buffalo Bill.

From blowout to brain cramp, he has suffered them all. So at the game's critical moment yesterday, it was as if time was standing still for the veteran cornerback.

The Bills were leading the Minnesota Vikings 17-12 in a contest that should have been long home and cooled out.

Finally, the offence and defence were about to unite and end a four-game home losing streak, reminding the 71,972 at Ralph Wilson Stadium of the feeling.

And then, with just a minute remaining, Vikings quarterback Brad Johnson threw a bomb down the right sideline. Receiver Marcus Robinson easily shook clear of rookie Bills defensive back Donte Whitner and lunged for the ball.

"My heart was beating so fast, it looked like it was all happening in slow motion," Clements said. "I've seen it happen. I just wanted the play to end."

This time, the ball rolled -- barely -- out of Robinson's fingertips and bounded harmlessly away at the Bills 15-yard line. This time the Bills won a game that so many times over the past few seasons they might have found a way to lose.

It would be a stretch to say that coach Dick Jauron's re-energized crew suddenly is a contender, hanging on as the team did to beat a stubborn, sloppy opponent.

But if the Bills are to remain in contention in the AFC East -- and the way the division is looking it's not such a stretch -- this was an afternoon to grow up.

"It was one of those games where we felt like we had control and now it was about finishing," receiver Lee Evans said after the team improved its record to 2-2 and moved into second place in the AFC East. "As a team, we grew from this game."

Perhaps no Bill sprouted more than quarterback J.P. Losman, the sometimes temperamental and often ineffective leader of the Bills offence.

Through benchings and beatings, it was the third-year quarterback's first win in the town that has made him a multi-millionaire since September 2005.

It was especially gratifying for Losman, who had a career afternoon a week ago but coughed up the football three times in a loss to the New York Jets.

There were no turnovers to rile those at the Ralph this time and the only stat leaping off the page was a good one.

Losman distributed the ball with discipline and accuracy, getting it to a bountiful eight different receivers.

If Clements' heart was beating faster, Losman's was slowing down as he showed the patience to quickly eyeball his options and find an open man.

"He managed that game like he has been in the league for more than three years," said receiver Josh Reed, who had four catches. "It's just maturity. He's learning every day and he has trust in his teammates. The team builds off of that."

It wasn't always that way. When Losman was a rookie and handed the job by the old Bills management regime, it didn't play well in the locker room.

Winning may be the best way to adjust that attitude, of course and Losman's teammates appear to have bought in.

So when the defence forces turnovers as it did twice yesterday, a team needs a quarterback to help guide the offence and complete the package.

Losman and the young Bills will still have growing pains, but chalk up yesterday's effort as a big lesson learned.

"A new football team in terms of staff and players, you have to get used to winning," said linebacker London Fletcher. "It's definitely a step. We had to win a close game to know that we can be in these tough games.

"This is something we can build on."


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