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Injuries, an unsettled quarterback situation and a slow start appeared to make this a lost season for the Bills. Although some of those problems remain, Buffalo has played itself back into contention.
Losman opened this season as Buffalo’s starter, hoping to build on a strong finish in 2006 when he helped the team win five of its final nine games and became the first Bills quarterback to pass for 3,000 yards since Drew Bledsoe in 2002.
Buffalo, though, scored 17 combined points in its first two games - both losses - and Losman passed for only 251 yards with no touchdowns. Losman’s ineffectiveness became a non-issue when he sprained his left knee during the first series of a 38-7 loss to New England in Week 3.
Trent Edwards, a third-round draft pick last April, took over and helped the Bills (3-4) win two of their next three games. Edwards was handed the No. 1 job heading into last Sunday’s game against the New York Jets, but injured his throwing hand in the third quarter of Buffalo’s 13-3 victory.
With Edwards’ injury slow to heal, coach Dick Jauron announced Tuesday that Losman would start against Cincinnati (2-5).
“J.P. Losman will start Sunday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals,” he said. “Trent Edwards’ wrist will prevent him from participating until late in the week, if at all.”
Losman proved last Sunday that he is still capable of leading the Bills to a win. He entered the game and produced two scoring drives in his first three possessions, sealing the victory with an 85-yard touchdown pass - the fifth-longest in team history - to Lee Evans with 3:38 left.
“He came in and led us through the fire like he always does,” Evans said. “When it came down to it, he made a big play at the end of the game to help us win it.”
Losman should benefit from the Bills’ less conservative approach, a system they used early in the season to compensate for an injury-depleted defense.
Since giving up 38 points to New England, Buffalo’s defense has allowed an average of 14.0 points over the past four games. The three points the Jets scored were the fewest the Bills have surrendered on the road since a 42-0 win over Cleveland on Nov. 4, 1990.
If not for a wild 25-24 last-second loss to Dallas on Oct. 8, the Bills would be riding a four-game win streak.
While the Bills can reach the halfway point of the season at .500 with a win Sunday, there is still plenty of room left for improvement. The offense has an NFL-low six touchdowns, and is yet to produce more than 17 points in any game.
If Edwards is healthy, he could be starting Buffalo’s next game at Miami on Nov. 11, leaving Losman on the bench again.
“We don’t even know who’s making the decisions up there,” Losman said. “As a player, you’ve got to play and whatever fastball or curveball gets thrown at you, you’ve got to be able to swing away.”
Evans has 10 receptions for 236 yards in his last two games and his only touchdown of the season came last week. He could be poised for a big day Sunday against the Bengals’ 28th-ranked pass defense.
Also probably happy to see the Bengals is rookie Marshawn Lynch, who has rushed for 164 yards in his last two games but is still seeking his first 100-yard performance. The Bengals have allowed a 100-yard rusher in four of the last five contests.
The Bills have won eight straight against the Bengals since a 35-21 loss on Nov. 27, 1988. Cincinnati has dropped five in a row at Buffalo, last winning there on Nov. 3, 1985.
While the Bills seem to be headed in the right direction, the Bengals appear likely to find themselves out of the playoffs for the 16th time in 17 seasons.
Cincinnati hopes to become only the fourth 2-5 team to make the playoffs since the expanded format of 1990, but a porous defense may prevent that from happening.
The Bengals are 31st in the NFL in scoring defense, allowing 30.1 points per game, better than only winless Miami (30.5). Cincinnati has allowed opponents to score at least 20 points in 10 consecutive games dating to last season.
One week after rallying for a 38-31 win over the Jets, the Bengals were unable to pull within one game of .500, losing 24-13 at home last Sunday to rival Pittsburgh.
Coach Marvin Lewis was criticized by fans and second-guessed by players for choosing to kick a short field goal a couple of feet shy of a first down late in the first half. Instead of heading into halftime possibly down four points, the Bengals allowed the Steelers to drive for a touchdown with four seconds left in the half and instead faced a 21-6 deficit.
“That’s why they’re 5-2 and we’re 2-5,” Bengals receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh said. “Good teams put it in the end zone. Teams like us kick field goals.”
Cincinnati could have top running back Rudi Johnson available Sunday. Johnson, who has missed three of the past four games with a hamstring injury, participated in practice Wednesday.