Electric Bills soaring

ROB LONGLEY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:54 AM ET

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Power failure be damned, the Buffalo Bills weren't about to let their big moment on the national stage go to waste.

On a perfect afternoon for football in Western New York, the Bills had a story to tell to a North American audience, even if the CBS broadcast tripped in and out because of an electrical blackout around Ralph Wilson Stadium.

By the time yesterday's 23-14 win over the San Diego Chargers was complete, no one was in the dark any more, save perhaps for those caught in the jungle of the Ralph's crowded washrooms.

Starting with the big picture, how about the fact the Bills are 5-1 for the first time since 1995?

If there were doubters after a 41-17 loss to Arizona two weeks ago, it will be difficult to deny they are playoff material now, territory the Bills haven't ventured to since 1999.

"One thing I said to the team before the game, if people don't respect us we'll still go out and win our games," said Bills safety Donte Whitner, who had heard enough blather on ESPN that the Bills had yet to beat anybody decent.

"Allow us to play the game before you make all those predictions. We're happy to be 5-1."

Happy and looking quite comfortable.

Led by second-year quarterback Trent Edwards, who was as efficient as a quarterback could be in completing 25 of 30 attempts for 261 yards, the Bills are settling into their role as contenders.

They beat a San Diego team which made it to the AFC Championship a year ago and seven days earlier had throttled the New England Patriots. So if a "quality" win was a void in their record, it is no longer.

Though many of Edwards' passes were short efforts into the flat, the long sustained drives they produced served a purpose. Coming into the game, the Chargers offence led the league with a 29.7 points per game average and quarterback Philip Rivers was the most efficient in the league.

By keeping Rivers and running back LaDainian Tomlinson off the field, the Chargers struggled to mount momentum on offence.

And for good measure, the Bills defence forced Rivers into a pair of fumbles and a crucial fourth-quarter interception in the end zone by linebacker Kawika Mitchell.

LT, meanwhile, was held to just 41 yards on 14 carries, a loud statement by any defence, even if the NFL's pre-eminent back has been bothered by a sore toe.

"The Bills are a legitimate 5-1," Tomlinson said. "They will be a team to be reckoned with late in the season."

On offence, Edwards' precision showed he had shaken off the cobwebs of a concussion in the Arizona game. And he made just enough big plays, highlighted by a two-yard touchdown pass to Lee Evans in the second quarter, to put points on the board.

By moving to 5-1, the Bills guaranteed they will stay at the top of the AFC East for at least another week as they head into an important three-week stretch against division opponents, starting with next week's date against the Dolphins in Miami.

Even the normally cautious Dick Jauron acknowledged the significance of the latest win.

"(The Chargers) are a team that, quite frankly, I think everybody thought was going to come in here and beat us pretty soundly," the Bills coach said. "So it was really important for us to play our best and see how we stack up."

The expectations will start going through the roof any day now from the good folks of Buffalo, who now have first-place hockey and football teams to celebrate. And while cautioning it is early yet in this crazy NFL season, one Bills player with a freshly minted Super Bowl ring likes what he sees.

"We're building, that's for sure," said Mitchell, who helped the Giants to the title last year. "We'll see where we end up, but it's definitely a big win to get against a team like that.

"I think we're moving in the right direction."


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