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Making Mom proud, seeing the positives

Make Mom Proud? Count me in. I'm always willing to do my part for decency and civil behavior at Buffalo Bills home games.

Mom lives in New England, where competent football is an expectation, not a dream. She doesn't know what it's like to sit through a bad game, or decade, at the Ralph. But she always told me that if I had nothing good to say, then don't say anything at all.

OK, so I've ignored her once or twice over the years. But on Saturday night, as a nod to the Bills' new game-day theme, I decided to heed Mom's advice and see only the positive side of this beleaguered Bills team. It was only a preseason game, after all. We're two weeks away from the games that matter. Why write them off early, just because ownership seems more interested in saving money than bringing in players who can actually help win games?

They made it easy for me. In the third preseason game, which is traditionally seen as the most meaningful dress rehearsal for the regular season, the Bills played like a legitimate NFL team, getting a dominant performance from their starters in the early portion of their game with the Jacksonville Jaguars during a 35-32 overtime win.

In all fairness, you can't crush them for the Denver game and not be encouraged by what took place in the first half, when the Bills were close to perfect in rushing out to a 17-0 lead with their starters. If they were demoralized by the Lee Evans departure and the public flap over Fred Jackson's role, you wouldn't have known it.

The defense, despite the absence of Shawne Merriman and Chris Kelsay, got good pressure on David Garrard and stifled the Jaguars' running game early. Jacksonville didn't have a single play of more than 18 yards in the first half as the Buffalo secondary did a much better job in coverage than it had in Denver. Second-year man Alex Carrington played outside linebacker in Merriman's absence and was actually a factor.

Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who had looked very shaky in the last couple of weeks, had a near-perfect performance that was reminiscent of his finer efforts in last year's breakthrough season. Fitzpatrick completed his first 11 passes and finished 11 for 12 for 165 and two TDs, including a gorgeous 52-yard bomb to Stevie Johnson.

That's the kind of show that can draw back dubious fans. In the first home game of the year, Fitz continued to make a case that, while he has his limitations, he is a big part of what the Bills are selling right now. He does not deserve to be paid like a backup (the same, of course, goes for Johnson).

Fitzpatrick rarely looks great in practice. Remember, he didn't exactly tear it up a year ago when he failed to beat out Trent Edwards. Fitz has a way of saving his best for the games. This was only an exhibition, but it was a meaningful game for the offense, a chance to remind people that they had made progress last season.

It was a big night for Jackson, too. After publicly defending his status as a featured back, Jackson played like one. He made several of his signature cutbacks at the line of scrimmage and ran for 33 yards on seven carries. He also caught a 30-yard strike from Fitzpatrick -- badly beating old friend Paul Posluszny on the play.

Perhaps the most significant development of the evening was the emergence of Marcus Easley, the second-year receiver who missed all of his rookie season with a knee injury. Easley caught four passes for 42 yards in the first half, including an 11-yard touchdown from Fitzpatrick.

Easley was a late bloomer at UConn, an elite athlete who learned the nuances of his craft late in his college career. At 6-2, 225 pounds, Easley has the size and speed of a legitimate No. 2 NFL wideout. In the aftermath of the Evans trade, his continued development would be indeed timely for the franchise.

"He just showed that he can play in this league," Johnson said. "Even though it's preseason, he's showing the team that we can depend on him if he has to step up as a No. 2 receiver."

The Bills' reserves didn't fare nearly as well. If I weren't in such an optimistic frame of mind, I might advocate the removal of certain backups from the roster. But again, this was a night for positives, a time to see the bright side of things, an evening to make Moms proud. And the subs did rally to send the game to overtime.

For awhile there, in fact, it felt like the old days under Marv Levy, when the Jim Kelly teams would take care of business early, sharpen their superior football skills, then sit down for the night while the reserves let the lead get away and no one cared.

Boy, they'd better get the regular season started soon, or I might turn into a cheerleader. Making Mom proud is one thing, but I can't wait to get back to being the Bills' chief critic.

e-mail: jsullivan@buffnews.com