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Reed catches critics by surprise Much-maligned receiver off to a strong start

The Buffalo Bills' leading receiver is not Eric Moulds. It's not Lee Evans. It's not even tight end Mark Campbell or running back Willis McGahee.

That distinction belongs to the much-maligned Josh Reed. Yes, that Josh Reed. The guy who has been the whipping boy for fans and media. The guy a lot of people thought wouldn't -- or shouldn't -- make the roster at the end of training camp.

But two games into this season, Reed is the Bills' most productive receiver with seven catches for 77 yards. In Sunday's 19-3 loss at Tampa Bay, he was quarterback J.P. Losman's most reliable target.

While Moulds and Evans combined for just three catches for 20 yards, Reed finished with six catches totaling 71 yards. He hadn't caught that many passes or gained that many yards in a game since 2003.

"There weren't a lot of positives from this game, but he was one of them," Bills coach Mike Mularkey said. "He did some good things for us. He gave us a chance at the end of the game to have a chance to score (after a 30-yard catch and run) and possibly come back.

"Tampa Bay's (two-deep zone) coverage was trying to take away the deep threats, so you've got to have somebody inside that's got a good feel for finding soft spots underneath the coverage. Sometimes it's not a matter of how quick or how fast you are, but how elusive you can be and how well can you get open. Josh did a nice job of that (Sunday)."

Reed is the Bills' third receiver, but only until rookie Roscoe Parrish returns from a wrist injury.

There is no indication when Parrish will be able to play. This is the sixth week since his surgery. If his wrist was broken, which has been speculated, recovery usually takes six to eight weeks.

Parrish will be back soon, so this is Reed's time to show he can be a consistent part of the passing game.

"Eric and Lee are going to draw a lot of double teams, so we've got to be able to throw to somebody else," Reed said. "As a slot receiver, I've got to get open. But the biggest thing is I've got to catch the ball."

Catching the ball has been Reed's biggest problem since a promising rookie year in 2002. He struggled so badly with drops and shaken confidence the last two seasons that former quarterback Drew Bledsoe stopped looking for him.

Reed had some dropped balls in training camp, raising speculation that he might get cut. But he finished the preseason strong and continues to display excellent skills as a blocker.

Two weeks into the regular season, Reed looks like a player who has regained the confidence that had waned the last two seasons.

"I feel good about how I'm playing, but I've got to keep working hard and staying focused on my job," he said. "The guys are counting on me, and I've got to gain the confidence of the quarterback."

Losman said his confidence in Reed is growing.

"He's winning his one-on-one matchups, he wants the ball and he's getting productive yards after the catch," Losman said. "It just gives you more and more confidence the more catches he makes.

"I think the most impressive thing that Josh did (Sunday) was he was on cue with his alert (hot routes). He didn't mess up one time. There was one time in the end zone where he did break hot and I just missed it. But what gives me more confidence than anything is he's running the right routes, he's seeing his hot reads and he's scanning the defense."

Even when Parrish returns, Mularkey said Reed won't disappear from the offense. Because the Bills use a lot of formations with four wide receivers, Reed will continue to have a chance to make an impact.

"He's done a good job," Mularkey said. "I'm hoping he's going to keep building on that."

* * *

The Bills' inability to stop the run Sunday is reflected in the NFL rankings. They are 30th in rushing defense, allowing 143 yards per game. However, Buffalo has the top-ranked pass defense (76 yards per game). The Bills are No. 2 in total defense after ranking No. 1 after the first week. . . . Sunday's loss snapped a five-game winning streak against NFC opponents. They hadn't dropped an interconference game since losing at Dallas, 10-6, on Nov. 9, 2003. . . . Sunday's game was just the seventh in Bills history in which neither team committed a turnover. The Bills are 5-2 in nonturnover games.

e-mail: awilson@buffnews.com

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