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Red zone play has Losman a little blue

Thoughts on the NFL opening week:

Assuming everyone has come back to Earth, perhaps we should put J.P. Losman's starting debut in more critical perspective. Yes, he played very well. But he'd be the first to tell you the offense has to be more opportunistic if the Bills plan to be a contender.

In fact, one of the first things out of Losman's mouth in an otherwise giddy postgame interview Sunday was his disappointment with the team's performance in the red zone. He's right. The Bills must do a better job of cashing in their chances inside the 20-yard line.

Against the Texans, they scored one touchdown in five red-zone trips. That's 20 percent, a dreadful percentage. A year ago, the Bills scored TDs on 45 percent of their red-zone opportunities (28 of 62), which was third from last in the NFL.

I liked the fact the Bills threw on first down on their first two series inside Houston's 20. But they committed penalties on four of their five red-zone trips, and it cost them dearly on three possessions.

They got away with the win. But failing to get TDs will hurt them against top teams, particularly on the road. They have to be more efficient. They need production from their playmakers -- especially Eric Moulds, who was among the worst red-zone receivers in the league a year ago.

We knew the NFC would be balanced, but it seems even more wide open after a wild opening week. Two chic Super Bowl picks, Carolina and Minnesota, lost at home. Two presumed contenders, Arizona and Green Bay, got blown out on the road. St. Louis lost at San Francisco.

The Panthers could be in trouble. Kris Jenkins, their star defensive tackle, is out for the season with a knee injury. That's bad news for their overrated defense, which didn't have a sack or interception against the Saints. It's good news for Buffalo, which hosts Carolina on Nov. 27.

The NFL is a league of playmakers, and Sunday reminded us that one playmaker can make all the difference. San Diego, the reigning AFC West champ, had a miserable passing day in its 28-24 loss to the Cowboys. The Chargers clearly missed Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates, who missed the opener because of complications from a contract holdout.

Michael Strahan, the Giants' star defensive end, had 1 1/2 sacks in a 42-19 win over Arizona. Strahan, the NFL's single-season sack leader, missed the last eight games with an injury last season and the Giants fell out of the playoff hunt.

Judging by the preseason predictions, you'd think Pittsburgh went 1-15 last year, not 15-1. But they got people's attention with their 34-7 win over the Titans. Willie Parker, the third-team running back, had 161 yards behind Pittsburgh's great offensive line. Last year's Bills finale doesn't seem quite as bad now, does it? The Steelers have won 15 straight in the regular season, four short of New England's record -- which Pittsburgh stopped last season.

Drew Bledsoe has been the winning quarterback in five straight road games, dating back to last season. Next Monday night, Dallas hosts Washington in a battle of unbeatens. Bledsoe goes up against his old coach, Gregg Williams, the Redskins' defensive coordinator. I'm setting the over/under at 2 1/2 interceptions.

Here's one downside for Bills fans: If Nate Clements keeps this up, someone is certain to toss him that $15 million signing bonus, and it's goodbye Buffalo.

That was an inspiring effort by the Saints in the opener, and a much-needed boost to the suffering people of New Orleans. But it shouldn't have been that great a surprise for the Saints to win on the road, despite the dire circumstances. They're now 25-16 away from home under Jim Haslett, second in the NFL to the Eagles' Andy Reid among current coaches.

For the record, I loved the Bills' throwback uniforms. I feel empty inside, not having lived here during the time of the white helmets with the red buffalo.

e-mail: jsullivan@buffnews.com

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