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By David Staba

What does Drew Bledsoe do for an encore?

Acquired for the Buffalo Bills' first-round draft choice in the 2003 National Football League draft, which suddenly figures to come later, rather than sooner, Bledsoe threw for a Buffalo-record 463 yards, as well as three touchdowns, in the Bills 45-39 win over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.

The crowd at T.J. Wheatfield's didn't really get into the action until late in the second quarter, when Bledsoe's 9-yard toss to rookie Josh Reed tied it at 13. That's when the elongated "Drew" calls started, rarely abating when Buffalo had the ball until Peerless Price knifed through the Minnesota secondary for the decisive 48-yard touchdown.

But stats, and scores, and chants tell only a fraction of the Bledsoe story. After only two games, Bledsoe has created more of a sensation than any Bills quarterback since the United States Football League liberated Jim Kelly in 1986.

And yes, that includes Doug Flutie. Anyone still pining for the l'il guy should buy National Football League's Sunday ticket package, which will allow for at least occasional glances of No. 7 pouting along the sideline.

Bledsoe's performance on the field Sunday was infinitely more entertaining. He not only strafed the Vikings' secondary, he withstood a series of vicious hits, including one that required stapling his neck. And his fourth-quarter fumble recovery was exactly the type of play that landed Kelly on the Wall of Fame at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

If there were any Bills fans still teetering on the fence about Bledsoe's acquisition (and only some sort of Alex Van Pelt fetish could explain such an emotion), they were converted Sunday.

And if anyone thought last week's "close, but ... " overtime loss to the New York Jets was a fluke (and the Jets themselves lent credibility to that theory by getting blown out 44-7 at home by New England earlier Sunday afternoon), Bledsoe's aerial show proved them wrong.

Bledsoe's duel with Minnesota's Daunte Culpepper recalled a couple of vintage performances by Bills quarterbacks -- Joe Ferguson's last taste of glory in 1983, when he outgunned Dan Marino (then a Miami rookie making his first start), and Kelly's spectacular exchange with Steve Young in San Francisco in 1992.

Appropriately enough, Bledsoe broke the team passing yardage record set by Ferguson that day in Miami on the game's final play. By that time, just about everyone within sight of a television at the Niagara Falls Boulevard establishment lacked a voice, but had gained a sore palm from high-fiving, as well as an enormous grin.

After a 2001 season during which the Bills rarely even gave those who watched the games on the tube their money's worth, Buffalo confirmed that this year will, at the very least, be extremely entertaining.

At times, Sunday's epic win resembled a video game between two very skilled players. During the second half and overtime, seemingly every pass Bledsoe threw zipped straight to his receiver's hands as if programmed by a computer nerd.

Granted, Minnesota is one flawed team, lacking a consistent running game or much of a defense, two elements the Bills also sorely lacked for most of the afternoon.

But, thanks to Bledsoe's amazing day, not a soul was heard complaining.


THE OTHER GUYS' MVP: Randy Moss affirmed that, even if he jogs through the occasional play, he remains the most dangerous individual in the NFL. Eleven catches for 111 yards, including one on which he made Buffalo cornerback Nate Clements look positively diminutive.

STAT OF THE DAY: After running for 149 yards and three touchdowns last week, Travis Henry managed just 30 yards on 12 carries. Who needs balance, anyway?

EVIDENCE THAT PEERLESS PRICE'S MAMA MAY HAVE PICKED THE RIGHT NAME, AFTER ALL: The 1999 second-round draft pick finally delivered the performance that Bills coaches and fans have been patiently awaiting. He nearly lost a fatal fumble, but spent most of the afternoon running wild in the Minnesota secondary. With Reed and Eric Moulds each snagging eight of Bledsoe's throws, Buffalo demonstrated that it may have the most dangerous receiving corps in the league.

MOST TROUBLING TREND: The kick coverage teams didn't give up a score, but DeWayne Bates' 61-yard punt return early in the second quarter couldn't have been much closer. And Mike Hollis' erratic accuracy nearly cost the Bills another loss.

MOST ENCOURAGING TREND: Charlie Rogers gives the Bills their most dangerous kick returner since Keith Moody a quarter-century ago, as demonstrated by his 90-yard touchdown jaunt moments after Bates' runback.

WING REPORT: BillStuff got so caught up in the game that an order was never placed. But they certainly looked good. Grade: Incomplete.

BS FAN OF THE DAY: Ace Niagara Falls Reporter photographer Dick Longwood stopped hitting on the ultra-feisty barmaid long enough to shout himself hoarse. A master of his craft, he did leave a healthy tip and his business card, however.

David Staba is the sports editor of the Niagara Falls Reporter and the editor of the BuffaloPOST. He welcomes email at editor@buffalopost.com.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com September 17 2002