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RUNNING START <br> Bills loosen it up, leaving Texans in dust

It turns out the Buffalo Bills' blueprint for success does not include a straitjacket for quarterback J.P. Losman.

The Bills took the wraps off Losman's passing arm right from the start of Sunday's season opener, and the kid from Venice, Calif., responded by helping the team to a 22-7 victory over the Houston Texans.

"We weren't going to sit back (and wait) to try to get him more involved in the game," Bills coach Mike Mularkey said. "I think they were expecting us to run the ball, and we were not going to hold back. We were going to bring out the offense, try to keep them off balance. A lot of that was getting him out of the pocket. . . . A lot of that is trusting that he could do it, and he did it."

If the Texans were expecting a steady diet of vanilla offense from the Bills, they learned otherwise on the first play from scrimmage. The Bills emptied the backfield, spread five receivers out, and Losman threw a 6-yard strike to Josh Reed. He connected on his first five throws on the first drive for 72 yards to stake the Bills to a 3-0 lead.

The Bills' second drive went 63 yards, and Losman produced all of them -- either with his arm or his legs -- to drive the Bills to another field goal.

When it was all over, Losman had completed 17 of 28 passes for 170 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. He was sacked only once. He ran for 31 yards.

It wasn't exactly the K-Gun attack. But Losman's passer rating of 89.9 looked Kellyesque in comparison to Houston's David Carr, who managed a measly 12.1, the second-worst of his career.

Losman was beaming as he ran up the Ralph Wilson Stadium tunnel after the game to chants of "J.P., J.P."

"It's an awesome feeling," Losman said. "Right now I don't even know how to handle exactly how I'm feeling or what I actually saw."

A sellout crowd of 71,781 saw a game that hardly could not have followed Mularkey's script any better.

There was dominating defense that Houston quarterback David Carr called the best he has ever seen. There were takeaways and sacks -- five of each. There was workhorse running by Willis McGahee, who gained 100 yards for the eighth time in 12 career starts. There was ball control; the Bills held it for 38:15. There was production from special teams, which got a perfect 5-for-5 day from place-kicker Rian Lindell.

A lot of that is what Bills faithful expected. Such efficiency at quarterback however, was the pleasant surprise.

Losman looked poised in the pocket. His pass protection was good most of the game. Tackles Mike Gandy and Mike Williams held up well against Texans outside pass rushers Antwan Peek and Jason Babin.

"I've never had so much blocking in my life," Losman said. "There was nobody in my face the most part on the day."

"He did a good job of taking high percentage throws today," Bills quarterbacks coach Sam Wyche said. "And he did a really good job of just ballhandling. When they're coming at you and they're blitzing, there's an opportunity for a fumble, there's an opportunity for getting hit in the back and fumbling the ball loose. He had a couple of throws that I'd like for him to take back . . . so we'll work on those. But he had a very, very good day of making the right choice."

Losman's prettiest throw came on the sixth play from scrimmage. The Texans put eight men near the line of scrimmage. Losman faked a run to McGahee and threw a deep seam pattern to Lee Evans, who got a half step behind Texans corner Phillip Buchanon. It was a 42-yard gain to the Texans' 16.

"You can dink and dunk all you want but you hit a big pass to Lee and that opens up so much more," Losman said. "I was pumped up, man."

"For the first time, first home opener, first time as a starter, for a quarterback to make the minimum amount of mistakes . . . to me it was remarkable," Mularkey said.

"He played better in the pocket than I expected him to," Houston's Peek said. "I didn't think he would be as accurate as he was. He's better than I thought."

The Bills could have had a first-half blowout, but they had to settle for field goals on their first four drives. Three of the four were hindered by offensive penalties in the red zone.

Losman's early pass completions -- particularly the long one to Evans -- forced the Texans to change strategy. They opted to drop into more two-deep zone coverages. With only seven men "in the box" near the line of scrimmage, the Bills then let McGahee do the work.

McGahee produced 55 yards on a march late in the second quarter. On a second-and-goal play from the 1, the Bills inserted Jason Peters as a right tackle-eligible for a pass. The Texans blitzed two players off the Bills' right side, and Losman quickly lobbed the ball into the end zone. The 330-pound Peters made the grab and the Bills had a 19-7 lead at intermission.

"Jason Peters before the play said, 'Throw it to me no matter what -- I'm open,' " Losman said.

"It worked against our defense, and our defense is pretty good," Peters said. "Every time I was wide open and I caught 'em all in practice."

The second half was a nightmare for the Texans' offense. It produced four punts, two interceptions and one fumble in the final 30 minutes.

The Texans could not handle the well-timed zone blitzes of Bills defensive coordinator Jerry Gray. The best was by linebacker Takeo Spikes, who overwhelmed blocking fullback Jonathan Wells and knocked the ball out of Carr's hands. The third-quarter fumble recovery led to the Bills' last field goal.

The best interception was on a bomb intended for Andre Johnson. He had a step on Nate Clements and Lawyer Milloy, but free safety Troy Vincent came from the far side of the field to make a leaping interception in the end zone.

"He beat both his guys on the front side," Carr said. "It's just their back-side safety, Troy Vincent, who's played for 14 years, he studies game plans and he studies routes. And he must have known we were going there, because he's never been a factor before. Obviously with that guy back there, he's a factor."

The Bills held the Texans to 120 total yards, the 10th-lowest total in Buffalo history. Houston's 25 net passing yards were the sixth fewest ever by a Bills opponent.

"You can't script it any easier for us," Losman said. "We know it's going to be a lot harder than this."

e-mail: mgaughan@buffnews.com

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