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This horror show has many stars

Maybe we should have seen this one coming. Having watched J.P. Losman breeze through his debut as a starting NFL quarterback, we should have suspected that dire, dreadful things were waiting for him right around the corner.

Sure enough, the Tampa Bay defense was lying in wait for Losman in Week Two, like some ghoul in a slasher movie. This wasn't the soft Houston defense, in the cozy environs of Orchard Park. It was a voracious, veteran defense, in its home stadium, ready to give the kid his true initiation into the world of big-time quarterbacking.

It was an unqualified disaster from the outset, the direct inverse of what happened the week before. Losman played like a rookie -- a Pop Warner rookie. He threw high. He threw low. He threw balls that seemed intended for no particular player or team. He seemed utterly confounded by the Bucs' exotic defensive schemes.

Losman was 12 for 29 for 113 yards. Trust me, it was much worse than 19-3 would suggest. It could have been 40-3 if the Bucs defenders hadn't muffed three footballs that were thrown directly into their hands. Sorry, but when Josh Reed is your most effective offensive weapon, something is wrong.

But it wasn't only Losman who stunk out the place Sunday. Clad again in their throwback uniforms, the Bills played a road game reminiscent of the worst days of the Drew Bledsoe era. Mike Mularkey spared no one in his terse postgame remarks, declaring that his team had been physically outplayed in all three phases of the game.

"But I'm glad it happened early," Mularkey said. "Maybe it's a wake-up call. . . . We have to win, respond and be consistent with it, and understand that teams are going to be prepared when we step on the field."

Mularkey said his team hadn't prepared well enough for a road game. It's a harsh indictment, considering how his team came together on the road in the second half of last season, winning its final four games by an average of 22 points. It sounded as if he felt his team had taken its opponent for granted.

The coach ripped his star running back, Willis McGahee, who ran tentatively and gained only 34 yards. Mularkey said you can't beat a fast NFL defense by running sideways. You'd have expected McGahee to be fired up against Tampa Bay rookie Cadillac Williams. But Williams was the more polished and determined running back.

Again, you can't pin it all on Losman. We knew there would be games like this. Remember the rallying cry coming into the season? He didn't have to win games, just manage not to lose them. That's fine, but someone has to win the game. You know, like the vaunted Buffalo defense, the one that finished second in the NFL in yards allowed the last two seasons, the one that keeps talking about its place in history.

Well, the defensive players took a step back. They allowed a thoroughly average offense to push them all over the field. They allowed a rookie, Williams, to rush for 128 yards in his second NFL start. They allowed an offensive line with three first-time starters to control the line of scrimmage. They allowed Brian Griese, a quarterback famous for imploding in the clutch, to play an efficient, error-free game.

"The National Football League is a humbling league," said free safety Troy Vincent. "You can't rest on your merits from a week ago. We're not good enough to go out and play average football. We have to play extremely well in all three phases of the game. We're not good enough, defensively or offensively, to just show up."

There was a lot of talk about humility afterwards, from Mularkey on down. The defense gives lip service to staying humble. At the same time, they kept talking about their chance to be remembered as one of the best defenses in NFL history. Maybe they should concentrate on getting into the playoffs before worrying about their legacy.

Please, could we stop the comparisons to the 1985 Chicago Bears and 2000 Baltimore Ravens, at least for the time being? Those defenses led their teams into the playoffs and won the Super Bowl. They were not remembered for bullying bad offenses and coming up small whenever a team with a few legitimate weapons came along.

We expected a defensive struggle Sunday. But no one expected the Bills' defense to do the struggling. The run defense was brutal. Adams had one of his puzzling, ineffective days. He insisted the heat wasn't a problem. The other defensive tackles -- Ron Edwards, Tim Anderson and Justin Bannan -- were a rotating exercise in mediocrity.

OK, Cadillac Williams is a special talent. After two games, he's already tied for ninth on the Bucs' all-time list for 100-yard days. But a great defense doesn't make a rookie look like a composite of Walter Payton and Earl Campbell.

It's always convenient to blame the offense. And yes, its bumbling was one of the reasons the Bucs held the ball for nearly 39 minutes. But the defense allowed four drives of five minutes or more, so it had a little to do with the time of possession imbalance.

Everyone knew Losman would take his lumps. The misapprehension was that he was surrounded by a Super Bowl-caliber defense, and that he might be the only thing holding the Bills back from greatness. But you might as well be patient and let Losman learn on the job, because after this performance, the defense looks more like a myth.

After the game, as a jubilant Tampa Bay team made its way out the tunnel and into the locker room, one of the Bucs turned to the waiting media and shouted, "How about that Buffalo defense!"

How about it, indeed.

e-mail: jsullivan@buffnews.com

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