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Change of home venue presents no problem

In the end, it didn't matter where they played the game. They could have faced off on the Peace Bridge, with the U.S.-Canada border as the 50-yard line. They could have played it in Ryan Fitzpatrick's back yard, or the front lawn of the White House.

Home field was no issue Sunday at the Rogers Centre, for one simple reason: The Bills were by far the superior team. They didn't need the 12th Man. The 11 men on the field were sufficient advantage. They outplayed the Redskins in all three phases of a resounding, 23-0 victory that lifted them back into first place in the AFC East.

The Bills had the better quarterback, the better game plan, the better special teams. Most of all, they had a hobbled but hungry defense that shook off some key injuries and discovered a pass rush that had been missing in action all year.

Let's not go overboard. They beat a Washington team with John Beck at quarterback, a team that was missing its No. 1 running back, its top wide receiver and its starting offensive left tackle. That might well be the sorriest offensive unit they see all year. All right, there's Miami.

But the Bills had some key injuries, too. Coming off the bye week, they were eager to regain their momentum and reaffirm themselves as a contender in a crowded AFC playoff race. They had lost two of three heading into the bye, and they arrived here an angry and resolute team.

"We had a letdown against the Giants, to be honest," said linebacker Nick Barnett, who had an inspired game. "We felt like we should have won that game. We were itching to come back. It almost might have been a blessing going into the bye week with a loss. It kept guys hungry."

They played like a team that hadn't eaten in weeks. Gailey said he had been "scared to death" coming off the bye. Coaches don't like to lose control during the season. They feel the players' attention slipping when they're off for a chunk of time. Gailey knew the overall record of teams coming off byes had been poor so far, and he challenged his team to rise to the challenge.

"We did talk about that," said free safety Jairus Byrd. "Coach Gailey talked to us about getting off to a quick start, shaking the cobwebs off and getting out early, and we were able to do that."

The defense held the 'Skins to a couple of quick three-and-outs, and never let up. The Redskins gained fewer than 10 yards on seven of their first eight possessions. The defense had nine sacks. That's for real. My finger didn't slip to the left of the "0" key by mistake.

Yes, nine sacks. After getting four in the previous six games. Imagine what they might have done in front of a real home crowd. Maybe they got tired of hearing how they had one more than old Aaron Maybin.

You'd have thought losing Shawne Merriman for the season, and Kyle Williams for an indeterminate period, would deflate a defense. Instead, it inspired them. Adversity can do wonders for a team. They didn't see it as a crisis but an opportunity, and they were ready to take advantage.

"People outside the organization say, 'Their guys are down. They're hurting in the pass rush and this and that,' " Barnett said. "It's almost disrespectful to players who step up. Granted, Kyle and Shawne are great players. But the other guys took it upon their shoulders to step up."

Rookie Marcell Dareus had been OK through six games, but not what you'd expect from the third overall draft pick. Moving inside to nose tackle seemed to bring out the best in him. Dareus was sensational. He's a natural tackle, so maybe they should consider leaving him inside.

"You're not the No. 3 pick overall for no reason," Byrd said. "We knew [Dareus] could play. We look forward to getting Kyle [Williams] back. But this is a blessing in disguise, because they switched people around. So when he does hopefully come back, everyone will be that much better because we have more experience along the line."

All in all, it was a good team-building win. Five straight games had gone right to the wire. They were due for a game like the opener in Kansas City, a no-nonsense whipping, a Sunday without high drama, a day when they seized control early and everyone on the roster got into the act.

I must say, it was the best home crowd they've had in four games north of the border. The Rogers Centre was nearly full. The crowd did more cheering for the Bills -- though it didn't go over well when they did the wave when the Bills' offense had a third-and-1.

"It was a better turnout than we expected," said David Nelson. "It got loud and the guys had fun today."

Fitzpatrick had his share of fun. He had gotten his wish two days earlier, signing a contract extension that validated him as a franchise quarterback. He looked the part Sunday, throwing two TD passes. Fitz also stood in and took a huge blow while delivering a 46-yard pass to Fred Jackson late in the first half.

It was the sort of physical statement a franchise QB has to make, especially one who has just become the highest-paid player in Buffalo sports history. He appreciates the commitment. He's willing to make the sacrifices that show it's more about winning than the money.

"He's a fighter," Nelson said. "No matter how much money he's making, or what his statistics are, this guy's going to ride to the end. When he went down, there was serious concern on guys' faces, because he's our leader. He's our guy. We could tell he was hurting, but he stuck it out and this team rallies around him.

"The character of this team is night and day from last year. You see guys hurting after losses. You sensed it on the plane back from New York, knowing we had to sit on that for two weeks. The guys had a different attitude about 'em. We had our best week of practice this year, and you saw it today. We executed in all phases of the game."

email: jsullivan@buffnews.com