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No-name no longer, Nelson gets caught up in moment

David Nelson's first move after the game was hugging his girlfriend and family, who had flown into Buffalo from Dallas for the weekend and watched him make the biggest catch of his life in the best game of his career. Tears streamed down his cheeks, and presumably the same was true for them.

Nelson made sure to acknowledge a group of lunatics who cheered for him all game, so he high-fived his way along the first row of seats and jumped into the stands in the corner to celebrate with them. Suddenly, with euphoric fans heading for the exits trying to comprehend what they had witnessed, he found himself where?

Why, in the end zone, by himself.

Nelson walking by himself on the "B" in B-I-L-L-S on the scoreboard side of Ralph Wilson Stadium after the game was quite fitting given what had transpired moments earlier. Ryan Fitzpatrick found him in precisely the same place under similar conditions for a 6-yard touchdown pass with 14 seconds remaining in a wild, 38-35 victory.

Man, what a game.

"It was a special game for us," Nelson said. "It was something you dream of as a little kid, to be able to catch the game-winning touchdown against the Oakland Raiders or a team with that prestige. I just can't put it into words how emotional that was to me. I got really emotional after the game."

The catch itself was nothing spectacular, although you can bet your paycheck it will be shown repeatedly today when the Raiders review game video and realize Nelson was lined up on the left side with nobody across from him. Fitz found him with a pass any kid on his street would have reeled in with his eyes closed.

Why the Raiders didn't have someone covering him was a mystery. Nelson should have had their attention at that point. He had made nine receptions for 77 yards, four on their final drive alone, before the Bills faced a fourth-and-1 situation from the 6-yard line with 18 seconds left. Oakland should have had two guys covering Nelson.

Instead, they had none.

"I think someone screwed up," Fitzpatrick said.

"Blown coverage," Raiders coach Hue Jackson said. "Plain and simple."

You think?

The Bills are off to a 2-0 start for many reasons, but the biggest could be the exceptional play they're getting from no-name players who largely have been ignored. Almost all of their offensive production is coming from an unheralded core that was either drafted late, not drafted at all, traded or forgotten.

Fitzpatrick, the former Harvard quarterback who signed as a free agent and is playing for his third NFL team, finished with 264 yards passing and three touchdowns. He led the Bills to five consecutive scoring drives in the second half as they stormed back from a 21-3 halftime deficit against the Raiders.

Fred Jackson, who climbed the ranks from tiny Coe College, had 117 yards rushing and two touchdowns and another 23 yards receiving. He soared into the end zone after a 43-yard run in the third quarter and plunged in from the 1 in the fourth. Former seventh-round pick Stevie Johnson, now known as the Bills' No. 1 receiver, had eight catches for 96 yards and a TD.

"It speaks a lot for our team," Jackson said. "That's why we're able to play games like this. It's all guys that have had to fight to get where they want to be in life. We're going to keep scratching and clawing out on the field."

And that includes Nelson, the Bills' fourth receiver who signed as an undrafted free agent last season. How many armchair quarterbacks had him starting in their fantasy leagues Sunday? He was forced into more playing time Sunday when Roscoe Parrish suffered an injury in the second quarter. He had only three starts and 31 catches last season. He warned anyone willing to listen a few weeks ago, with complete confidence and not an ounce of arrogance, that the Bills were better than advertised this season.

On Sunday, he delivered.

He deserved to get caught up in the moment afterward. His girlfriend is a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader named Kelsi Reich, whose surname befits a major comeback in Buffalo. She made the trip to Buffalo with her mother, Pam, along with Nelson's mother, Kathy Belcoff, and his kid brother, James. They knew how many sacrifices he made for the opportunity he had Sunday, and they never lost faith in him.

Of course, not even Nelson would have predicted what happened Sunday. He finished with 10 receptions for 83 yards and the TD, no catch bigger than the last one. It was a terrific performance, a great moment. No wonder his voice cracked with emotion as he stood at his locker stall, alone, and connected the dots.

"I came from nowhere and tried working my way up," he said. "I didn't play until my senior year at Florida. I was undrafted, started at the bottom again and worked my way up. Now, I'm in the National Football League, playing against the Oakland Raiders, catching however many catches and a touchdown. Unbelievable."

Unbelievable, indeed.

email: bgleason@buffnews.com