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Home fans get a reason to be of good cheer

Before the Bills took the field against Denver on Saturday afternoon, George Wilson walked across the locker room and sidled up to his fellow veteran safety, Bryan Scott.

"I've got a feeling about today," Wilson said. "We're well overdue for a big game."

The Senator is an incurable optimist, of course, a guy who can see the bright side of the most dire calamity. Maybe Wilson wanted to instill some hope in his teammates, however unreasonable. Or maybe he'd seen enough film on Tim Tebow to suspect that the Denver quarterback's magical run had reached its natural end.

Well, Wilson was right. Just in time for Christmas, the overdue Bills finally gave their suffering fans a day to remember, a win that could help sustain them through a long offseason. They played their best game in two months, an entertaining and thoroughly dominant 40-14 victory over Tebow and the Broncos.

One game can't erase the sting of a seven-game losing streak, but it was a timely gift, an unexpected package hidden under the tree. During the fourth quarter, the feeling inside Ralph Wilson Stadium had to be reminiscent of the first three home games of the season, when the Bills thrilled the crowd with high-scoring victories over the Raiders, Pats and Eagles.

When a season unravels as this one has, you seize upon any shred of positive feeling to carry you into the long winter months. This was as good a script as you could have written for a meaningless -- at least for the Bills -- home finale on Christmas Eve.

Only 45,112 actually showed up to see it. The smallest home crowd in 10 years got to see the Bills score 40 points in a home game for the first since 1998. They saw the Bills score touchdowns in all three phases: offense, defense and special teams. They intercepted Tebow for touchdowns on consecutive plays. Divine intervention, indeed.

"I think it motivated us to walk out and see a lot of Broncos fans," said Ryan Fitzpatrick. "Our fans were awesome, but there were a lot of empty seats. A lot of that is because of our play, so that motivated us, too."

This game might be long forgotten by next summer. But if die-hard fans are searching for reasons to believe in a dysfunctional team that has missed the playoffs for 12 straight years, Saturday's game was a welcome bit of hope, like being handed an umbrella in a monsoon.

First of all, it was encouraging to see the Bills rise up against a hot opponent, in a national TV game. The Tebow story had captivated the nation. The Broncos were leading the AFC West and on the verge of making the playoffs after a 1-4 start. But it was as if the Bills stood firm and decided, "Not in our house."

Chris Kelsay, who has been around longer than any other position player, had been close to tears after the Miami loss a week earlier. The collapse has been especially tough on Kelsay, who hasn't been to the playoffs since coming here in '03. He urged his teammates to keep preparing and not lose faith during the week. Then he went out and played perhaps his finest game as a pro.

"It's frustrating when you lose," Kelsay said. "Regardless of when it happens, it wears on you. The coaching staff, the players, we all put in a lot of time. We sacrifice time away from our families. I can speak for everyone in that locker room when I say this game and this team mean a ton to us."

Kelsay tries to set the tone. It's the development of Buddy Nix's first two draft classes, however, that will ultimately determine whether the Bills become a playoff team in the near future. The prospects put on an encouraging show against the Broncos, who looked nothing like a playoff team.

C.J. Spiller had another terrific day, rushing for a career-high 111 yards on 16 carries. Over his last three home games, Spiller has carried 42 times for 285 yards, a 6.8 average. Given a chance, the kid has finally figured out how to run between the tackles. He has been dynamic, like he was at Clemson.

If Spiller keeps this up, he can be a featured back in the NFL, after all. Of course, when Fred Jackson comes back next season, they'll have to figure out how to give them both enough touches.

Rookie Marcell Dareus was strong against the run and put some pressure on Tebow. The Broncos, who were leading the NFL in rushing, had 80 yards on 26 carries after an opening TD drive. The Bills crowded the box, stopped the run and forced Tebow to beat them with his arm. His arm wasn't nearly up to it.

Another rookie, cornerback Aaron Williams, had an interception and knocked down a couple of Tebow passes. Justin Rogers, a rookie corner taken in the seventh round last spring, had an interception. Rogers has been a revelation on kickoff returns. He averaged 33.7 yards on three returns against Denver.

Rookie linebacker Kelvin Sheppard had seven tackles. Second-year linebacker Arthur Moats had a sack.

OK, it was one game against a quarterback who isn't ready to be a starting quarterback in the NFL. They're the same guys who got scalded for 32 points a game during the seven-game losing skid.

But when your season has come tumbling down, you find anything to build on. Fitzpatrick needed it, for sure. They all needed it. Get everyone healthy, hit some draft picks, make a few sound free-agent picks, and maybe they can be more consistently competitive next season.

"We can't do anything about the past," Wilson said. "We're not in position for a playoff spot. We wanted to end this season on a positive note, so we have something to build on."

That's right. They have one more game next week at New England. If they can steal that one, they'll really have something to build on.

So I'm being charitable here. What can I say except, Merry Christmas.

email: jsullivan@buffnews.com