The Buffalo Bills took a major risk after last season when they decided to promote youngster J.P. Losman ahead of veteran Drew Bledsoe as their starting quarterback, then released Bledsoe after he declined to agree to a revised contract to stay around as Losman's backup and mentor.
One game into the season, the decision is looking pretty good, even with Bledsoe having played well last weekend while leading the Dallas Cowboys to a victory at San Diego.
With Losman in charge Sunday, the Bills picked up right where they left off in the latter stages of last season, when they were one of the league's most improved teams. In his first NFL start, Losman led the Bills to points on each of their first five drives, and they built a 19-7 halftime lead en route to a 22-7 home triumph over the Houston Texans. Losman ended up completing 17 of 28 passes for 170 yards and a touchdown, without throwing an interception.
"I thought he did a nice job for his first game," Texans Coach Dom Capers said during a news conference this week. "I think the number one thing he did was a job of protecting the ball. . . . His mobility helps him."
It's too early to make any judgments, of course, but Losman figures to improve as the season progresses, and his performance last weekend provided some early validation for the decision by Tom Donahoe, the Bills' president and general manager, and Coach Mike Mularkey. They could have stuck with Bledsoe and tried to build on the success they had last season, when the Bills won nine of their final 12 games after an 0-4 beginning and barely missed the playoffs in the rugged AFC.
But Donahoe and Mularkey saw young tailback Willis McGahee developing into a star, and they wanted to give Losman -- whom they'd selected in the first round of last year's draft out of Tulane -- a chance to do the same at quarterback. They'd liked what they'd seen from Losman after he returned from the broken leg in training camp that sidelined him for much of his rookie season, and they wanted him to provide the sort of athleticism at quarterback that the immobile Bledsoe couldn't.
Many people around the league think the Bills might take a step backward this season while enduring Losman's growing pains. But that isn't the Bills' plan. And Tampa Bay Buccaneers Coach Jon Gruden, whose team hosts the Bills this weekend, said he's impressed by Losman and the players complementing him on the Buffalo offense.
"He's surrounded by great skill," Gruden said during his news briefing Wednesday. "Between Eric Moulds and Lee Evans, they have two outstanding receivers, and [third wideout] Josh Reed is a fine player in his own right. They have a balanced attack. McGahee's one of the hotter rushers in football. . . . [Losman is] a very athletic guy. He's a number one draft pick. He's in his second year in the system and clearly he's a very good prospect."
San Antonio Tickets Selling Well
The New Orleans Saints announced that they'd sold more than 50,000 tickets to their three home games at the Alamodome in San Antonio this season during an eight-hour period Wednesday. Tickets were to remain on sale for four more hours after that announcement was made. An estimated 500 people were lined up outside the Alamodome at one point during the day, waiting to purchase tickets. . . .
As of Wednesday, 25,000 tickets remained unsold for Monday night's Saints-New York Giants game at Giants Stadium, which originally was scheduled to be played Sunday at the Superdome. . . .
Willie Parker is scheduled to make his second straight start at tailback for Pittsburgh on Sunday at Houston, with the Steelers' top two runners -- Jerome Bettis and Duce Staley -- still hurting. Staley is working his way back from preseason knee surgery. He practiced Wednesday and might be active for the game, but Bettis probably will be sidelined another week by a calf injury. There's no need to rush them back In his first NFL start last weekend, the speedy Parker rushed for 161 yards in a triumph over the Tennessee Titans and went 48 yards with a screen pass.
"All you have to do is look at that one tape and say, 'Where in the heck did this guy come from?' " Capers said. " . . . No, I did not know much about him. I found out in a hurry when I watched the game on Sunday. You can see his speed and his game-breaking ability. He just jumped out at you and ran like he was trying to prove something."
Parker made the Steelers' roster last season as an undrafted rookie out of North Carolina, where he was a backup even as a senior. He played little last season as a rookie until running for 102 yards in the regular-season finale at Buffalo, when the Steelers already had clinched home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs and rested many of their front-line players but nevertheless beat the Bills to knock them out of the postseason.
"I think every time he's had an opportunity to play," Steelers Coach Bill Cowher said during a conference call Wednesday, "you see him being a very productive player." . . .
Bledsoe leads the NFL with a 143.4 passer rating after the first weekend of games. Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger had a perfect 158.3 passer rating against the Titans but, even though he played the entire game, he didn't have enough attempts to qualify for the rankings. With Parker running wild, Roethlisberger threw only 11 passes.
Roethlisberger sat out Wednesday's practice because of a bruised left knee but is scheduled to practice today and play Sunday. . . .
Atlanta Falcons reserve cornerback Kevin Mathis suffered several torn knee ligaments during the club's practice Wednesday and will miss the remainder of the season. An MRI exam Wednesday night revealed the extent of the damage.
Mathis was ejected from the team's season-opening win over Philadelphia on Monday night because of a pregame scuffle with Eagles linebacker Jeremiah Trotter. The league likely will fine Mathis and Trotter $10,000 apiece for the incident, and Falcons cornerback DeAngelo Hall is facing a fine for taking the helmet of an Eagles player that had become dislodged during the fracas and slamming it to the turf. Atlanta defensive tackle Chad Lavalais could be fined for the hit that gave Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb a bruised chest. The league is reviewing the play. . . .
Seahawks defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes is scheduled to attend Sunday's game against the Falcons in Seattle but won't resume play-calling duties. He was hospitalized last week because of dizziness and didn't accompany the Seahawks on their trip to Jacksonville for their season-opening loss to the Jaguars last weekend. . . .
Cleveland cornerback Gary Baxter practiced Wednesday for the first time since sustaining a concussion in an Aug. 20 preseason game and could play Sunday at Green Bay. Tailback Lee Suggs, working his way back from a high ankle sprain, also participated in the practice. But Browns linebacker Matt Stewart and kick returner Joshua Cribbs will be sidelined this weekend by knee injuries. . . .
Indianapolis cornerback Donald Strickland was placed on the injured reserve list because of a hamstring injury, ending his season. . . .
The Detroit Lions worked out two more kickers, Todd France and Tyler Jones, Wednesday. The Lions might need a fill-in kicker this week because of Jason Hanson's strained hamstring muscle. They worked out Wade Richey and Remy Hamilton on Tuesday. . . .
A European network announced Wednesday that it had acquired the rights to televise NFL games in 17 European countries, with shared rights in four others, through the 2008 season, according to Reuters. The North American Sports Network has the rights to show at least six games per week, four of them live, plus playoff games, the Super Bowl, the Pro Bowl and the championship game of NFL Europe.