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Bills' young bloods get their act together

All right, so it wasn't exactly the '72 Dolphins who lined up across the field on Sunday. It was the '09 Buccaneers, a wretched, rebuilding team, and quite likely the worst opponent on the Bills' rugged schedule this season.

But it was a victory, a flicker of promise, a keepsake for beleaguered Bills fans to clutch on to as they contemplate where their team is going and how long it might take to get there. When you haven't tasted a home victory in 11 months, any win is precious.

Six days after the meltdown in Foxborough, the Bills overcame their own demons and beat Tampa Bay, 33-20. They're 1-1, and so close to being 2-0 and the early talk of the NFL for the second year in a row.

Trent Edwards rediscovered the deep ball, heaving long touchdown passes to his elite wideouts, Lee Evans and Terrell Owens (remember him?).

Donte Whitner finally made a big play, returning an interception 76 yards for a score. Fred Jackson ran for a career-high 163 yards. Marshawn who?

After five straight home losses -- four of them at The Ralph -- the Bills gave an aroused opening day crowd lots to cheer about. And the Bucs played the way so many inferior visitors have over the years. They committed 13 penalties. They false started. They grabbed face masks. They played dumb and dumber.

Rack your brains and give Dick Jauron credit for one thing: His teams have a way of rebounding from horrid circumstances. This makes three years in a row the Bills have embarrassed themselves before the nation on Monday Night Football, then came back to win the next game.

No one was crying after this one. Luckily, Owens actually caught a TD pass after seven uneventful quarters of football. Owens was looking forlorn and lackadaisical before the big catch, and there's no telling what would have happened if he'd finished another game as an irrelevant bystander.

The big story, though, was the play of Jackson and the young offensive line. Jackson had the game of his life, slashing for tough yardage inside and beating the Bucs defenders around the edges. The guy never seems to be running that fast, or that powerfully. All he does is find holes and make yards.

Late in the first half, with the Bills leading, 20-7, Jackson fumbled the ball into the arms of Tampa safety Sabby Piscitelli, who ran it back 72 yards to the Buffalo 8. Byron Leftwich hit Cadillac Williams with a TD pass on the next play and, suddenly, it was 20-14.

It doesn't take a lot of imagination to figure what Bills fans were thinking at that point. "God, not again!" comes to mind. Jackson wasn't too thrilled about it, either.

Jackson went into the locker room and apologized to the Buffalo defense. Then he told them he would do something to make amends for them in the second half.

"Plays like that are going to happen," Jackson said. "You have to have a short memory in this game."

For seasoned Bills fans, amnesia is more like it. But you know what? The guys doing the blocking for this team have the shortest memories of all. This offensive line is so young, they barely remember the Bush presidency.

The rookie guards, Eric Wood and Andy Levitre, didn't get torn up about the fumble. "That's the NFL," said Wood, who has played two NFL games.

"I was just trying to chase [Piscitelli] down," said Levitre, his fellow rookie. "It was unfortunate. I thought Fred did a great job of recovering from that and getting back in the game."

Jackson recovered, all right. In his last three starts, going back to last year's finale against the Pats, he has 356 yards rushing and a 5.1 average. He has 464 combined yards in those games. That translates to nearly 2,500 over a full season.

There should be no controversy when Marshawn Lynch returns from his suspension in Week Four, unless Lynch is foolish enough to expect the work load of a featured back. It will be a co-feature, at the very least. No way we see the word "backup" in front of Jackson's name again.

"Oh, no, I don't think so," said Alex Van Pelt, who did another good job in his second game as an NFL offensive coordinator.

Van Pelt said Jackson and Lynch will both see a lot of work when Lynch comes back. It seems implausible for Jackson to return to a secondary role. Van Pelt mentioned playing them together with Jackson shifted out.

Sure, we need to see how they do against a real pass rush. Owens hasn't been getting open. The young O line will take its lumps. But Jackson and the O line have given fans a fresh reason for optimism. Levitre said it's not about age, but execution. Wood hasn't stopped smiling since he got here.

The coaches have faith in them.

"Why not?" Van Pelt said. "Those guys are players. They belong in this league and they've proved it the last two weeks."

There's a refreshing naivete about these guys. They haven't been in Buffalo long enough to see calamity around every bend. Hey, the offense has scored 57 points in two games. It's a far cry from the preseason.

Of course, they might need 57 to beat the Saints here next week. Enjoy this one while you can.

e-mail: jsullivan@buffnews.com

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