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Dealing with wind is a breeze for Losman

The best pregame omen for the Buffalo Bills on Sunday was sitting at the top of Ralph Wilson Stadium's upper deck.

The flags were whipping toward the tunnel end of the stadium.

It was not going to be a great day to throw the ball -- unless you've got a quarterback with a rocket arm.

The Bills had one, the Miami Dolphins did not, and that was a big reason the Bills whipped their archrival, 21-0.

"People kind of underappreciate the way he can throw the ball in the winds of this stadium," Bills quarterbacks coach Turk Schonert said of J.P. Losman. "We dominated the second quarter into the wind, and we threw the ball downfield. He's got that mentality that he can throw it through a hurricane."

Despite winds that gusted over 20 mph the first three quarters, Losman hit 13 of 19 passes for 200 yards and three touchdowns. He had a passer rating of 142.5.

Dolphins quarterback Joey Harrington? He looked like the man Detroit fans used to know and did not love. Harrington was 5 of 17 for 20 yards with two interceptions and a passer rating of 0.0.

"You could see Joey Harrington struggle throwing the ball into that wind," Schonert said. "You could see his body mannerisms when he dropped back. He was just looking short so he could get a completion. He didn't think [about] throwing it deep, whereas J.P. doesn't care how hard the wind's blowing. He wants to put it down the field."

A crowd of 71,011 could hardly have had more fun. It watched the Bills (7-7) win for the fifth time in seven games and keep their slim wild-card playoff hopes alive. It was the Bills' first shutout since the 2003 season opener, and it was the first time Miami (6-8) was shut out this season.

The Bills blanked the Dolphins by the same score Miami blanked mighty New England just a week ago. But where the Patriots' Tom Brady failed last week -- he did not complete one pass that traveled more than 12 yards downfield -- Losman succeeded.

On the Bills' first touchdown drive, into the wind, Losman hit Lee Evans on a 37-yard pass down the sideline. Then he threw a 33-yard touchdown strike to tight end Robert Royal.

The throw to Evans was dropped perfectly over the receiver's outside shoulder.

"That was a great throw," Schonert said. "They blitzed. We knew we were going into the wind, and they were going to sit on some routes. We said let's run a hitch and go, and get it up quick."

Two plays later, Losman stared left to hold safety Yeremiah Bell in the middle of the field, then threw right to a wide-open Royal.

"He was supposed to be one-on-one with the corner, so when I turned around, I expected it to be a tighter throw," Losman said. "It was definitely more open than I anticipated, but still it was a tough catch. The ball was spinning some weird ways."

"They just dropped Robert because J.P. did such a good job of looking the safety off," Schonert said. "He had to drill that ball, too. That's the toughest direction to throw the ball in this stadium. It's coming at you and it's crosswind, so if you float it, who knows what it's going to do."

That's exactly what happened to Harrington throwing in the same direction down the seam early in the third quarter. His pass for Chris Chambers was not zipped, and Bills cornerback Nate Clements made a good interception to give the Bills the ball on their 45.
Seven plays later, on a third-and-8 from the Miami 27, Losman hit Josh Reed on a catch-and-run for a touchdown. The Bills lined up in the four-receiver set, with Reed in the slot on the right. He ran across the field, beat cornerback Travis Daniels and made the catch at the 22, then bulled through three Dolphins at the 5 and into the end zone.

"We call him the human pinball machine because guys just bounce off him," Losman said.

The Bills sealed the win early in the fourth quarter with a 21-yard touchdown pass from Losman to Evans, who adjusted to the ball intentionally underthrown and easily made the catch in front of Andre Goodman.

"It was the exact same play as the first one Lee caught," Schonert said. "We talked about it. Their DBs had a tough time on deep throws locating the ball. So we said if we get that chance with no safety help, just put it up."

"It was just a cover zero blitz [everyone in man-to-man coverage], and usually what we do is lead Lee into the corner of the end zone," Losman said. "But the guy just bailed from the get-go, and his back was to us. So I knew he wasn't looking at me, and I threw it short."

The Bills' defenders made plenty of big plays, too.

Miami had 83 rushing yards through its first three possessions. But the Bills' defense adjusted to the different formations it was seeing from the Dolphins and forced three-and-out drives (or worse) on the next six Miami possessions.

Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey, making his first return to Ralph Wilson Stadium since his January resignation from the Bills, could not find a way to get the ball to his most talented receiver, Chambers. He was held without a catch, working mostly against Clements.

On the first play of the fourth quarter, Bills rookie linebacker Keith Ellison made a superb leaping interception 21 yards downfield on a Harrington throw intended for Chambers. That was it for Harrington, who went to the bench in favor of backup Cleo Lemon.

The Bills preserved the shutout on the final play of the game. Miami had driven to the Bills' 1, but defensive end Ryan Denney batted down Lemon's final pass for the end zone.

Bills linebacker London Fletcher had a team-high 10 tackles. Defensive end Aaron Schobel got a sack to push his season total to 13 1/2 . Third cornerback Kiwaukee Thomas did fine work covering quick Miami slot receiver Wes Welker.

"Those guys from the South, they don't get to practice in this every day," Thomas said of the Orchard Park wind. "They don't get to see that. It takes time to get used to it. You don't want to say it helped. But it helped."

Now the Bills can spend the week admiring the AFC East standings and thinking about playoff scenarios. They need plenty of help, including a loss by the New York Jets to Miami next week, one more loss by Jacksonville and a collapse by either Denver or Cincinnati, among other things.
"It's in the front of our minds," Takeo Spikes said of the playoff race.

e-mail: mgaughan@buffnews.com

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>THE WINNING EDGE

1. J.P. outclasses Harrington. It was no contest at quarterback. J.P. Losman completely outplayed Miami's Joey Harrington.

2. Jauron's defense on rise. It was the seventh straight solid game for a unit that was viewed as awful early in the year.

3. Big plays turn game. Big catches by Lee Evans and Robert Royal and an interception by Nate Clements put the Bills in firm control.

?Mark Gaughan

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