Bills enjoy the viewBuffalo in unfamiliar territory
By ROB LONGLEY -- Sun Media
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The first time he said it out loud -- that he plays for a first-place team three weeks into an NFL season -- Bills defensive end Chris Kelsay had to catch himself.
This is Buffalo, after all, where the home team is supposed to lose by the last second-field goal or, if doing the kicking themselves, at least hoof it wide right.
These are the Bills, who haven't been to the playoffs since 1999, the longest run of such ineptitude in the AFC.
Not now, not yesterday anyway, after a dramatic 24-23 win over the Oakland Raiders in front of 71,297 lustily singing fans at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
When Rian Lindell's 38-yard field goal split the uprights as time expired, the Bills had overcome a nine-point fourth-quarter deficit for a win, which, when combined with New England's blowout loss to the Miami Dolphins put the Bills alone atop the AFC East.
Why does that sound so odd? The previous time anyone other than the Patriots had an outright lead in the division was back in Week 4 of the 2005 season.
"It's a little different," Kelsay said after the Bills went to 3-0 for the first time since 1992. "I've never been able to say that before. It feels real good."
It felt particularly good for a team that seems to routinely lose these types of games in all ways imaginable. Think of the Monday nighter against Dallas last season. Or the Music City Miracle. Or Super Bowl wide right.
"This team and the guys on this team have gone through a lot," fifth-year receiver Lee Evans said. "You could pick out a couple of examples from every season where we lose games this way. It's good to come out on top and see what it feels like on the other side for a change."
By style and statistics, yesterday's was a contest you could make a case that the Bills had no business winning. They turned over the ball three times and repeatedly gave the Raiders good field position. They had big plays called back by penalties and never seemed to sustain momentum until the fourth quarter.
And as what could have been the final gutting, after Buffalo pulled to within two points with 7:59 remaining, Oakland quarterback JaMarcus Russell dropped back on third and 10 and hit Johnnie Lee Higgins up the middle for an 84-yard TD.
Trailing 23-14, that would have been game over for most Bills teams of recent vintage.
"That would have stopped us," safety Donte Whitner said. "In past years, we probably would have folded. That just means we're growing up."
So, with 6:23 left, second-year quarterback Trent Edwards methodically worked the ball downfield on a seven-play drive capped by a 14-yard TD pass to Roscoe Parrish.
The defence then did its job and, when the Bills got the ball again with 2:29 left, Edwards managed the clock like a seasoned veteran. A couple of quick passes up the middle drove the ball into Oakland territory at the two-minute warning. Three Marshawn Lynch rushes took it to the Raiders 19 to set up Lindell's game winner, booted while his teammates joined hands on the sideline.
The Bills have a road date next Sunday with arguably the worst team in the league, the St. Louis Rams, so there's no reason this top-of-the-world feeling can't last for a while longer.
"A couple of (fans) started chanting 'Miami's winning' and every once in a while you glance up at the scoreboard so we knew what was going on," Kelsay said. "But it means right now we are at the top of the AFC East so it's kind of ours to lose."