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Bills bury the past by getting out of big hole

Drayton Florence threw a shovel of dirt on the Buffalo Bills' losing streak to the New England Patriots early in the fourth quarter Sunday, then he read it its last rites after the game.

"It's time for those past Buffalo Bill memories to fade away," Florence said. "This is a new era, a new day. Everybody outside of this room is calling this an upset, but in this locker room, this is what we expected."

Believe it, Bills fans.

The 15-game skid that epitomized the futility of the franchise in the 2000s is dead, killed by the latest and greatest remarkable performance by the 2011 Bills. By beating the Patriots, 34-31, coach Chan Gailey's team gave further evidence it is a far different edition of the Bills than has represented the franchise the past decade.

The Bills came back from a 21-0 second-quarter deficit to win. Combined with last week's comeback against Oakland, the Bills became the first NFL team since at least 1950 to rally from 18 or more points down to win two straight weeks.

The Bills' defense keyed the victory with four interceptions against Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who threw just four picks all last season.

Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick passed for 369 yards, the most ever by a Bills quarterback against a Bill Belichick-coached defense.

The Bills now have scored 113 points, their most ever through three weeks of a season.

Oh yeah, they also stand alone, at 3-0, in first place in the AFC East.

"It was awesome to run up the tunnel, looking up at the fans," said defensive end Chris Kelsay. "Ruben Brown was in the tunnel. I played with Ruben the first time that we beat them my rookie year [in 2003] and the last time we beat them until today. I went up to Chan and Buddy [Nix] after the game and said, 'I'm not one to ask for much, but your 24-hour rule [on celebrating wins]? I might ask for a couple more hours to enjoy this one -- 26, 28 hours -- because it's been a long time.' "

A crowd of 68,174 at Ralph Wilson Stadium didn't want to leave after Rian Lindell kicked a 28-yard field goal on the final play to win the game. Fitzpatrick, Fred Jackson, George Wilson, David Nelson and others hung out to soak in the joy of what looked like -- today, anyway -- one of the biggest wins in team history.

"This city has been through a lot, and they finally have a team they can believe in," Nelson said. "I just wanted to be out there to experience it with them."

The Bills made a ton of big plays in the fourth quarter.

The first was by Wilson, with 11:38 left. New England was ahead, 24-17, and driving at the Buffalo 23. Brady passed down the middle of the field for tight end Rob Gronkowski, who already had caught two touchdown passes. Wilson, thinking about the 26-yard TD pass Gronkowski had caught in the second quarter, picked off the pass at the Buffalo 2.

"It was a seam route," Wilson said. "Tom loves to throw the ball to [Gronkowski] in the red zone because he's a big target and he makes great catches. Earlier in the game I was matched up on him, and he took an outside release on me. I had inside leverage playing coverage with no vision. Tom did a great job of giving him a ball that was high and behind me, where I couldn't see the ball coming.

"When we got back down in the red zone, I played it a little different. I played it with outside leverage, forced him to go inside so I could have vision on the ball. His eyes got big, so I knew the ball was coming, I turned around and was able to get my hands on the ball."

It was a smart play by one of the Bills' most cerebral players.

Two plays later, Fitzpatrick saw the Pats lining up to blitz him. He motioned Jackson to come back into the backfield to pass protect and threw deep down the left sideline for Donald Jones. He beat Leigh Bodden with a double move and caught a 48-yard pass to the Pats' 32.

"From film work, we saw that those guys like to jump a lot of routes, so if we got Cover Zero, man coverage, Fitz just gave me the signal [to go deep]," Jones said. "We worked on it in practice."

"We had been practicing that all week," Jackson said. "When we go empty, they did a certain blitz. Fitz recognized it, brought me back in and we were able to pick it up."

On the next play, Fitzpatrick was flushed out of the pocket, and his pass into the end zone for Nelson was intercepted. But Pats safety Josh Barrett kept Nelson from going to the ball and was called for a pass interference penalty. Jackson plunged into the end zone on the next play to tie the game, 24-24.

"Living good, living good on that one," Fitzpatrick said.

"It was a scramble," Nelson said. "I was running a flag route. Fitz gave me a signal to go to the middle of the field. He threw the ball up, but I don't think he got as much under it as he wanted to. I tried to come back to the ball to make it a jump ball. He was kind of screening me off."

The crowd went into a frenzy on the Pats' next play from scrimmage. A short pass by Brady was deflected by Bills defensive end Marcell Dareus. It caromed into the arms of Florence, who returned it 27 yards for a touchdown. The Bills were ahead, 31-24, with 10:22 left.

"Just playing the defense that was called, being at the right place at the right time," Florence said.

It took Brady 6:57 to march the Pats 71 yards and tie the game. He capped the march with a 6-yard TD pass to Wes Welker, which gave Welker a team-record 217 yards in catches.

There was 3:25 left. Fitzpatrick went back to Jones, who beat the Pats' best cornerback, Devin McCourty, for a 29-yard catch down the sideline. A 38-yard pass to Jackson put the ball down to the Pats' 1. The Bills were able to run the clock down to the last seconds before Lindell's kick.

Fitzpatrick completed 27 of 40 passes. He threw two first-half interceptions, but they were not bad mistakes. The first went through Jones' hands. The second came on a fourth-and-14 play that could have been a punt.

"That guy just continues to amaze you, doesn't he?" said Nelson. "He's a gamer. He's a football player. He's what we need. After two interceptions in the first half, he doesn't get rattled, comes back, slings it. The coaches have confidence in him to make plays."

The Bills had a lot of play-makers. Jackson had 74 yards rushing and 87 receiving. Jones had 101 receiving yards, Stevie Johnson 94 and Nelson 84.

Gailey gave the game ball to trainer Bud Carpenter, in his 27th year with the Bills.

"It's his birthday, he's been here longer than most of the guys around, and it's a huge win for the organization," safety Bryan Scott said.

"We know we just took a huge monkey off our backs," Jackson said. "But right now the most important thing coming out of that locker room is we're 1-0 in the division."

email: mgaughan@buffnews.com