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Resilience, running game required

The word for which they'll be groping at The Ralph today is "resilience."

You remember resilience don't you? It's an old Bills tradition. Back when they were in the formative stages of building an AFL championship team in the mid-1960s, they always seemed to begin with a yearly stumble that would border upon implosion, but about five games into each season they would locate their inner strength and rediscover victory.

Resilience was the middle name of Marv Levy's four-time Super Bowl team. It was an essential commodity in order to overcome the heartbreak of defeat in each Super Bowl, then to rise from the canvas and win the next AFC championship. As Don Shula, the coach of Buffalo's most bitter rival, put it, "I doubt if we'll ever see that sort of accomplishment again."

And don't forget that during that four-year run came "the greatest comeback of all time," the 32-point deficit to the Houston Oilers in the third quarter of a playoff game that required the summoning of a tidal wave of resilience under the command of quarterback Frank Reich. The most recent example of resilience was Mike Mularkey's coaching debut last year when his team opened 0-4 and barely missed the playoffs.

So what's the big deal about repairing that flat tire the Bills suffered in Tampa last week?

J.P. Losman will be under the business end of a microscope for the next five games since he experienced a Billy Joe Hobert-Todd Collins-Joe Dufek afternoon against the Bucs' gilt-edged defense. Losman has more talent than that trio, so the optimistic view from this vantage point is that he needs to take a series of deep breaths so that he'll be able to recognize his own end zone from the twilight zone from now on.

The biggest question for the Bills today isn't whether Michael Vick will line up for Atlanta but whether the Buffalo running game can do its part to keep J.P. from being dismembered by the Falcons' defense, which features stars such as linebacker Keith Brooking, cornerback DeAngelo Hall, end Patrick Kerney and tackle Rod Coleman.

Atlanta frequently gives up a lot of points when it must fly over the Colorado River on its way to a road game. There is no such hex involved with the Niagara River. The Falcons have played here only three times and not since 1995, when Jeff George was their quarterback and Jim Kelly quarterbacked Buffalo. The Bills won, 23-17.

The Bills don't need a friendly hex today, they need a big game and a faster start from running back Willis McGahee, who took the day off in Tampa. He might also lose the "life goes on" attitude he displayed in the wake of the loss to the Bucs.

There are some other valid reasons Losman is struggling -- the absence of slot receiver Roscoe Parrish and tight ends Kevin Everett and Tim Euhus. The Bills made Parrish and Everett their first two draft choices this year in order to give Losman more targets, receivers who can get open quickly to rescue him from headhunters. But Everett was hurt on his first day in minicamp and Parrish, who had bonded with Losman, suffered a broken wrist in training camp and still hasn't played. Euhus is a tight end who can get open 15 or 20 yards downfield.

Josh Reed caught a bunch of balls in the first two games, but the average gain was 11 yards. Most defensive coordinators will concede those by the dozen so long as their guys don't give up long plays. Parrish is a big-play guy who could scare off the double coverage on Eric Moulds or Lee Evans. It might change the Bills' whole air attack.

But as Dwight D. Eisenhower used to say, "excuses are unnecessary because none will be accepted." Injuries happen in football. The Bills will have to play the hand they were dealt.

Larry Felser, former News columnist, appears in Sunday's editions.

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