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Latest comeback stirs memories, provides hope

So I'm sitting here, three hours after Da'Norris Searcy snatched a last-second interception away from an equally obscure rookie named Denarius Moore, staring at an empty stadium and shaking my head in wonder at what took place here today.

Not to overreact, but tell me you weren't having flashbacks, too. The Bills had three points and were getting drilled at halftime. Fans were booing and considering an early departure. Then, somehow, they scored 35 points in the second half and pulled out a 38-35 victory over the Raiders.

Sound familiar? Well, it was the first time the Bills scored 35 points in the second half of a home game since a fairly memorable playoff win over Houston in January 1993. You remember, right? You were one of the 125,000 who showed up that day, and you never left the stadium early, either.

All right, I know it's Week Two. This isn't the Kelly era. But Sunday's was the most amazing football game I've witnessed in Buffalo since the Comeback, a home opener that will live on in the memories of Bills fans for years to come.

"I was young back then, but I do remember it [the comeback game]," running back Fred Jackson said. "It's what we needed to do. After putting ourselves in a deficit like that, we knew we had to come out and score points."

They scored points, all right. Jackson ran with anger and purpose again, gaining 117 yards on 15 carries and scoring two TDs in perhaps his finest game as a Bill. Ryan Fitzpatrick cut the Raiders' secondary to shreds, completing 28 of 46 passes for three TDs. Oakland blitzed, but didn't sack him once.

The Bills set a team record with 34 first downs. They had five possessions in the second half and scored five TDs. The NFL stat people determined that no team had played such a flawless second half in at least 18 years.

It's hard to process it all. They had scored 20 points just once in the last 10 games a year ago, raising suspicions that Fitz might be a backup after all. But he's flying high again, and it might be a good idea for management to get his signature on that contract extension, before the price goes even higher.

This doesn't make them a playoff team. I don't know how good they are. The Chiefs might be the worst team in the league. The Raiders scored 35 points with an average quarterback and a bunch of backup receivers. This was not an encouraging game for Shawne Merriman and the revamped defense, which generated little pass rush.

We'll find out more when Tom Brady and his merry men come to town next weekend.

But again, feel free to hoist yourselves onto Nick Barnett's happy train. It might be flawed, but this Bills team is sure fun to watch. They've put up 79 points in two weeks. They're the talk of the league, a team that matters.

More important, they're developing a competitive identity. They were awful for a half Sunday. In previous years, they might have packed it in. Last season, they would have rallied and lost in overtime. This time, they persevered. The offense bailed out the defense. It's the sort of win that draws a team closer.

"Oh, it's huge," said Chris Kelsay. "It's huge because it shows us we can rely on them, no matter how bad our backs are against the ropes. We came in at halftime and I never sensed a feeling that we used to have. You know -- get down by 10, 14 points, and guys cash it in and get ready for next week."

They were not a happy bunch at halftime. Fans weren't the only ones. They would have booed themselves, too. But cash it in? Not a chance.

"I understand where the crowd was at halftime," Barnett said. "We were definitely angry. But we came in here and saw the small mistakes we made, the little things, technique things, and we corrected them. We got them right back on our side when we made the plays and our offense drove."

Kelsay said he noticed that the crowd hung around, despite the 21-3 deficit. He said it helped to know the fans shared the players' belief that they could come back.

"It's funny," Kelsay said. "Before the game, Nick and I were harping on defensive communication, because it gets so loud out there. Nick asked me flat-out, 'Is it loud out there?' I said, 'If we allow it to be loud. Fans are fans.' "

Jackson's 43-yard TD run early in the third quarter made it clear the Bills weren't going away. Then, six minutes into a grueling Raiders drive, Barnett made the pivotal play of the day, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Danny Batten.

Then Chan Gailey and Fitz settled into a stunning, surgical offensive rhythm. In the last 18:46, the Bills scored four touchdowns. Oakland went ahead, 28-24, and the Bills drove 80 yards to regain the lead. The Raiders scored again, and again Fitz drove them 80 yards, finding David Nelson for the winner on fourth-and-1 from the 6.

The Raiders seemed hopeless by that point. They kept blitzing, but Fitz got rid of the ball and found receivers. When you're sending four and five men out in pass patterns and your quarterback has the smarts and skill to make those snap decisions under pressure, it's near impossible for a defense to cover everyone.

"As long as we get up to the line early, it gives Fitz a chance to see the mismatch," Jackson said. "That's what we have to continue to do. As long as we allow him to see what's going on, he's going to make plays for us. We have all the confidence in the world in him."

They're having a great time, too. After scoring one of his TDs, Jackson stood off to the side of the Bills' bench while the "Shout" song played in the stadium. He danced to the music, then cupped his right hand to his ear when it came time for the "Hey ay ay ay" refrain. I'd never seen Jackson, a normally stoic sort, react that way.

"This was a different feeling with the fans," Jackson said. "It's something we thrived off of. We fed off the way they reacted. We gave them something to cheer about, and as long as they were in the game, it helped us. We couldn't have won without them."

The 12th Man is up on the Wall for a reason. In the best of times, when the Bills gave them a reason, the crowd made a difference here. There's an almost delirious feeling when a football crowd senses it is affecting the game. It certainly felt that way 18 seasons ago, the last time the Bills put up 35 in a second half at home.

Fans here don't ask for a lot. Just give them a little hope, a real show, a team that matters, a reason to cheer for meaningful games in December. At 2-0, it looks like they might have a fighting chance.

email: jsullivan@buffnews.com