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Hard not to be (pessimistic) optimistic about Bills' chances

More than once in recent days, Bills fans have sent me sarcastic messages, thanking me for nudging them to the brink of despair on the eve of a new season.

Lighten up, Dr. Doom! They haven't even played a game yet. They're unbeaten and undaunted, at least for another few hours. Give intelligent, well-meaning fans the chance to entertain hope about their beloved team, no matter how illogical or ill-advised it might be.

Buffalo fans are realists. They've traveled this road before, and no matter how bleak the prospects, they always pack for a fun ride, just in case. They know what's been happening. They're aware the Bills fired their offensive coordinator and cut their starting left tackle in the last 10 days before the opener. They know Trent Edwards is suffering a crisis of confidence.

And yes, they're well aware that Ralph Wilson brought back Dick Jauron, a career mediocrity, as head coach because he wouldn't eat that ill-considered, three-year contract extension.

But they're also fans, eternal optimists who believe anything is possible, even in Wilson's world. They deserve more than a constant torrent of hard criticism. So back away from the bridge and listen up. There are some valid reasons to believe the Bills might shock the world tonight in New England and take a step toward their first playoff berth in 10 years.

Bill Belichick did everything but throw up the surrender flag last week while gushing about the Bills on the weekly conference call. So what if the first-team offense didn't score a TD in preseason? Belichick looks at the Buffalo offense and sees the second coming of the Bills' Super Bowl attack. Maybe he's right for once.

Who says Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady will return to his form of two years ago? The guy is coming off a serious knee injury. He hasn't thrown a pass in a real NFL game since getting hitched to Gisele Bundchen in February. Who knows how marriage and becoming a second-time father will affect Brady?

The last time Brady played in a game and finished, he lost to the Giants in the Super Bowl. He got sacked five times. Do you know who had one of those sacks? Kawika Mitchell, the Bills' veteran outside linebacker. Mitchell just got named a defensive captain. I sense more heroic things coming, don't you?

You want omens? It has been 20 years since the famous opener against Miami in 1989 when Jim Kelly led the Bills to two touchdowns in the last three minutes and dived into the end zone for the winning TD as time expired. That rally, out of the no-huddle, was a harbinger of big things to come.

Fred Jackson carried 27 times for a career-high 136 yards against the Patriots in last season's finale. Jackson did it in swirling winds of 35-50 mph, when the Pats knew the Bills had to run the ball. Just think what he might do in favorable conditions against a New England defense that is a unit in transition.

Tedy Bruschi and Rodney Harrison are retired. Mike Vrabel got traded to K.C. The Pats lost a lot of veteran experience on defense, wouldn't you say?

Brady, Randy Moss and Sammy Morris are all 32. Kevin Faulk and Fred Taylor are 33. Joey Galloway is 37. Hmmm. The Pats are getting old at the skill positions, don't you think?

The Bills were 7-1 last year in games when Edwards and Josh Reed started and finished. You cynics might want to remember that if Edwards hooks up with Reed for a bunch of crucial third downs in a fourth-quarter comeback.

The Bills' last win at Foxborough was Nov. 5, 2000. Alex Van Pelt was the third-string quarterback, as I recall, gaining valuable insight for his future job as an offensive coordinator. He knows how to win there.

Enough of omens. How about Owens? Remember Terrell in Canton? That's the only time T.O. got on the field in preseason. The offense actually looked competent until Edwards threw the ball to the Titans. Of course, the play came in late, so it must have been Turk Schonert's fault.

Last year in New England, Leodis McKelvin had an 85-yard kickoff return and James Hardy caught a touchdown pass (his last catch of the season, incidentally). So there's a track record for rookies in their first roadie against Belichick. That could augur well for rookie guards Andy Levitre and Eric Wood, not to mention Demetrius Bell, who will play his first snap in the NFL today.

Richard Seymour, the Pats' former Pro Bowl defensive end, was traded to Oakland last week. Aaron Schobel, the Bills' former Pro Bowl defensive end, returns to action today. I tell you, the gap between the teams is closing by the minute.

The Patriots had just 10 punt return yards in two games against the Bills last season. America, prepare for an evening with one of the truly unheralded punters, Brian Moorman.

Jauron attended Yale. Belichick went to Wesleyan. Two fine Connecticut schools, but Yale gets the edge. Maybe Jauron will be smart enough to actually get the challenge flag out of his pocket in the moment of truth tonight.

Owens had nine catches for 122 yards against the Pats in a Super Bowl, coming off a serious injury. Mitchell, Owens . . . do I detect a pattern here of Bills coming up large against New England in big games?

Dating to the start of the 2001 season, the Patriots have gone 44-20 in the first half of the season and 53-11 in second halves. They're tough, but it's better to get them early.

It's especially helpful to get a Belichick team in the opener, before he gets a lot of game tape on opponents. It seems ages ago, but the Bills beat the Pats, 31-0, in the opener in 2003. In '06, they blew a 10-point, second-half lead in Jauron's debut before losing, 19-17.

Back in 2005, on the night before Halloween, they were a huge underdog on Sunday night when Bruschi returned from a stroke on national TV. The Pats were favored by two TDs. The Bills outplayed the Pats, but blew a nine-point lead in the fourth quarter and lost, 21-16.

So you never know, especially when the season hasn't even begun yet. If I keep this up, I might even convince myself that they'll actually pull it off.


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