Share this article

print logo

Unbelievable feeling even reaches to Detroit

The only way it could have been better, I suppose, was if Ralph Wilson had been there. After wins like this one, the Bills' owner would typically stroll into the home locker room and make his way from player to player, stopping to shake hands and smiling like a proud father.

Wilson watched it at his home in Detroit, still too weak to make the trip. He would have loved to have seen the happy expression on the face of veteran Chris Kelsay, who had been here for all 15 straight losses to New England. Or Brian Moorman, who had beaten them just once in 10 years. Or George Wilson, who arrived in 2004 and had never experienced the feeling.

The owner could just imagine how it felt for the fans in the stadium that bears his name, who were on the verge of delirium Sunday after Rian Lindell made the last second field goal to lift the Bills to a thrilling, 34-31 comeback victory over the Patriots.

Excuse me, that's the unbeaten and utterly resilient, 3-0 Buffalo Bills. For the second week in a row, they staged an improbable comeback that had their fans streaming from the stadium in delight and the media again searching the record books for standards of comparison.

It was the first time the Patriots had ever lost a game after leading by 21 points in the Tom Brady era. It was the first time since 1950 -- which is as far back as the NFL's records go -- that any team came from at least 18 points behind to win in successive games.

Oh, and the New England streak finally ended. Wave goodbye. Say so long to the Losman safety, the Bledsoe bootleg, the McKelvin fumble, the Holcomb sack, the bookend 31-0 loss, Dick Jauron fumbling with the challenge flag. All of it. Gone. Say it loud: One-game winning streak against the Pats.

But you know what? The players insist it was just another game. Sure, they celebrated the win like a bunch of high school kids. But this bunch has larger objectives. At this point, who am I to doubt them? It's a tough time for skeptics. George Wilson told me a few days before the opener they weren't just looking to be respectable this year. He said the Super Bowl was the goal.

"I told you a long time ago," Wilson said, "nobody knows the heart of the men in this locker room but the guys in here. Nobody. We expected to win today, we really did. We didn't come in wishing and hoping to win. We've been in this situation before. We were in this situation a week ago. We've been here before. We know how to do it. We know how to dig ourselves out."

Moorman said it comes back to belief, a genuine faith that coach Chan Gailey instilled at the start of training camp and has been pounding home since.

"Coach Chan said this week, 'They have a chance to win this week,' " Moorman said. " 'Not us.' "

In other words, forget the critics and act as if you're the home team and the Pats are the ones wishing and hoping for a chance. But it didn't look so promising when the visitors rushed out to a 21-0 lead and had us thinking it would be yet another in the long chronicle of Patriot routs.

But a funny thing happened. The Bills wouldn't lie down this time. They kept plugging away. They got a big run from Fred Jackson again. They scored a TD to make it 21-7. They actually intercepted Brady. Then it just kept building from there.

By the fourth quarter, the Pats were playing the Bills' old role of fumbling underdogs, committing stupid penalties, losing their poise and letting a certain win get away. Not to be insensitive, but something tells me Bills fans got an extra jolt from seeing Belichick squirm and suffer during that interminable sequence before the final kick.

"The resolve of this team is unbelievable," Kelsay said. "You've got a lot of young guys on this team, but it was amazing the way they handled the situation. Chan addressed the team before we took the field in the second half and said, 'Hey, we've been in worse shape than this before.' And, we believed. Our fans stuck behind us."

Belief is a powerful force. But in pro sports, talent generally prevails. After three weeks, it's clear the Bills have more talent that people thought. One thing I learned in the Super Bowl era is that all teams have talent, but games can swing on big individual plays.

It's Marcell Dareus getting a hand up to deflect a pass; Stevie Johnson making a big catch in the corner of the end zone; Kyle Williams forcing a holding call; Jackson breaking another big run to spark a comeback; Leodis McKelvin (finally) picking off Brady and making a big tackle on third-and-4; Wilson and Bryan Scott making dazzling interceptions.

Then there was Ryan Fitzpatrick, who channeled Jim Kelly by shrugging off two early interceptions and throwing for 369 yards and two TDs. How much of this heart-stopping comeback stuff can a fan take? OK, it's better than when I used to ask how many more of those gut-wrenching losses you could absorb.

After the Oakland comeback, I said it felt different than some other fast starts, like '03 and '08. It really feels different now. These past two games brought back memories of the Denver and Oakland games in 1990. But it's only three games. I'll defer to George Wilson, who advised caution.

"It doesn't mean anything," Wilson said. "I mean, we've shown we can beat the Patriots now. It's the third game of the year. You don't win a championship by being 3-0. You don't earn the respect around the league by winning three games. We're just working to be 4-0. This doesn't mean we're in the playoffs right now. We haven't even gotten through the first quarter of the season. We've got more games to go."

All right, but try telling the fans it didn't mean a little extra. Or Jackson, who was the last player off the field. He walked toward the tunnel, holding his little boy in his arms, talking with the fans as they chanted "Freddie! Freddie! Freddie!"

Try telling Van Miller, who was in the press box and announced the winning kick in a loud, exuberant voice, just like old times. Then, when Lindell's kick went through, Miller blurted out, "How does it feel, New England?"

It sure must have felt good for the Bills fans, in the rocking stadium, around the world, and in an old man's heart over in Detroit.

email: jsullivan@buffnews.com