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By David Staba

This is getting a bit ridiculous.

Three overtime games in four weeks? Can't happen. Or at least it never did until the Buffalo Bills put in all that extra work in September, 2002.

Winning two of those three elongated contests was impressive enough. But eschewing the play-for-a-field-goal mindset that controls the choices of most National Football League coaches and going for the quick kill, and getting away with it? That just doesn't happen.

Unless Drew Bledsoe throws your passes, apparently.

Two weeks after Bledsoe's strike to Peerless Price ended an epic struggle in Minnesota, he introduced a little swivel to his game, eluding a sack and finding Travis Henry in the flat all by his lonesome. Twenty-six yards later, Buffalo celebrated a 33-27 win over Chicago and Henry found himself getting fondled by adoring Bills fans. And he wasn't anywhere near a gas station.

After only a month, the superlative well already runs the danger of drying up when trying to describe Bledsoe's performance. If there's anything more impressive than his statistics (26-of-38 for 328 yards and four touchdowns on Sunday), it's the way he compiles them. He connected with eight different receivers against Chicago, hooking up with six of them at least three times. Jay Riemersma and Larry Centers were the new additions on Sunday, taking turns converting crucial third-down plays.

And Bledsoe spreads it around without ignoring his most dangerous target, Eric Moulds (eight grabs for 119 yards). The decisive flip to Henry not only won the game, it provided redemption for a guy who was benched for the middle portion of the day after his fourth fumble in his many weeks kept the Bears in it.

"Isn't it amazing how a bunch of millionaires with no connection to the area, other than the team they play for, can make everybody feel so much better?" asks Tom as he departs Judi's Lounge on Military Road after a raucous afternoon. "I can't understand it, but it does. You watch -- just about everyone is going to be in a little better mood this week."

Watching the resurgence of the Bills Nation, largely dormant since the shock of Home Run Throwback almost three years ago, has proven nearly as entertaining as the team itself. By late Sunday afternoon, the skepticism that slowly dwindled amongst the rooting populace for the season's first few weeks evaporated completely.

Early-game chatter turned into a steady hum by late in the first half, when Bledsoe's 4-yard scoring toss to Moulds gave Buffalo a 17-7 lead. A low roar mercifully overwhelmed the announcers throughout the second half, even after Chicago rallied to tie it twice in the fourth quarter.

After James "Big Cat" Williams got a hand on Mike Hollis' bid for a game-winning field goal at the end of regulation, Judi herself managed to quiet the crowd for a brief moment.

"I called the coach and told him to make sure it goes to overtime, because we don't want anyone leaving Judi's," she announced.

Of course, no one did. At least for the few moments it took Bledsoe to finish things off.

Business only figures to get better for any establishment with a television this week, with the unbeaten Oakland Raiders rolling into town, fresh off a 52-25 thumping of Tennessee. The last time the silver-and-black visited Orchard Park, the collection of felons and psychotics that slavishly identify with Al Davis' crew waged a game-long war with the home crowd.

Of course, that game wasn't much to watch, what with Tyrone Wheatley gutting Buffalo's run defense and Doug Flutie trying again and again, without success, to force passes through Oakland's secondary. The high point of that day came during the first half, when two members of the Raiders contingent showed their team spirit by stripping down to silver-and-black bikinis (until overzealous security guards drew the crowd's ire by forcing the young ladies to cover up).

If the first four weeks are any indication, the crowd wouldn't notice if two women stripped completely.

OK, maybe that's ridiculous.

BILLS MVP: BillStuff may have to retire this award if someone besides Bledsoe doesn't earn one soon. It's getting harder and harder each week to remember anyone else playing quarterback for Buffalo.

BILLS NON-BLEDSOE MVP: Aside from scoring the winning touchdown, Henry's running provided some balance in the late going, keeping Chicago from mounting a consistent rush on Bledsoe. And the leap into the stands was sort of cool, even if it's becoming a football cliche. Now if he can just work on that fumbling thing ...

THE OTHER GUYS' MVP: Chicago quarterback Jim Miller doesn't have the arm to properly utilize the Bears' brilliant corps of receivers, but he did direct two long scoring drives in the fourth quarter to force overtime (even one of the lousiest calls in recent memory set up the tying touchdown).

THAT WAS CATCHABLE? Miller's underthrown duck late in the fourth quarter should have negated any possibility of a pass interference penalty against Buffalo. Unfortunately for the Bills, the same incompetent official who initially blew a call that would have given the Bears a touchdown threw the flag anyway.

FASHION DESIGNERS OF THE WEEK: The Bills themselves, who lobbied to mix and match their home and road uniforms in going with the all-blue ensemble. Reviews from the critics at Judi's compared the get-ups to pajamas and the University of Illinois' uniforms. Since Buffalo won, though, you can expect to see the ensemble at every home game.

STAT OF THE DAY: Buffalo allowed just 51 rushing yards to a team that lives by the run. If Henry stops giving away touchdowns and the special teams can do their job on the same day, the Bills might just win a few before the final play.

WING REPORT: Wow. Meaty, perfectly cooked -- not too crisp, yet not remotely soggy -- and perfectly sauced. The milds provided some spice and a bit of sweetness, while the hots had kick without overwhelming the palate. And they were just 15 cents each (30 for $4.50? What is this, 1987?). BS hesitates to award an A+ this early in the season, but these represent the standard from here on out. Again, wow. Grade: A.

BS FAN OF THE WEEK: Tom, and not just because he's Judi's husband. Bet he's still smiling.

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 October 1 2002