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Winning in one dimension


The Bills are 8-6 and might make the playoffs. That's incredible because after the Patriots crushed them 29-6 on November 14, they were 3-6 and alive like a cemetery.

Somehow they've won five straight. The secret, according to coach Mike Mularkey, was to play one game at a time. You see, earlier in the season, the Bills made the mistake of playing multiple games at once. It was obvious to me while watching defenses sack Drew Bledsoe nearly every pass play. He just looked exhausted, as if he were playing six games concurrently.

Well, that was precisely the problem. The last time against New England, they played about 10 games at the same time, while the Patriots played one. Buffalo amazingly found itself in multiple dimensions of the space-time continuum, and consequently, its players were one-tenth of the Patriots' players. So naturally, the Bills lost.

We do not know the identity of the coach who first told his team to take it "one game at a time." But there's little doubt this man was every bit the genius of Parcells, Belichick, and Stephen Hawking.

I suspect the "one game at a time" philosophy was actually concocted from a coach's pre-game speech: "Men, our schedule says we're playing one game today, and no more. A game lasts about three hours. We could theoretically play eight games in a day, but we'd have to start at midnight. Then with pre-game preparations, halftime shows, post-game interviews, and some Bon Jovi performances thrown in there, we just can't play more than one game in one day. Plus, it's physically impossible for the human body to withstand such punishment."

"You think we're pansies?" yelled one player who was good in the locker room. "We're football players. We can take it."

"Men," the coach responded, "then take it one game at a time."

So that's what the Bills have done. Meanwhile, owner Ralph Wilson does the opposite. He said recently that Tom Donahoe could be the Bills' president and general manager for as long as he wants. There's no "one game at a time" with Wilson. At first, I was going to criticize him, but upon deeper reflection, I have to respect his statement because it goes against the norm.

Perhaps, it's a sign.

Perhaps, the day is coming --- the day I've been waiting for --- when a player says, "We're taking it 18 games at a time and we're focused squarely on the Super Bowl," in which case I'd laugh until I had washboard abs.

But perhaps that means the Apocalypse is coming, too.

Buffalo's resurgence is mostly due to defense and special teams.

Under the former head coach-defensive coordinator team of Wade Phillips and Ted Cottrell, the defensive unit was usually stout, but the turnovers were rare. The defense relied on its ability to suffocate opponents and force punts. In 1999, for instance, the defense gave up the least yardage in the NFL, but recorded among the fewest turnovers.

The current defense is less stout. It gives up nearly 20 more yards per game, but it's tied for second in turnovers forced.

As for the special teams, I just can't believe those are the Bills. It's as good as I've ever seen special teams played in Buffalo, even when Bruce DeHaven coached under Marv Levy. Field-goal kicker Rian Lindell is a liability from more than 40 yards, but the kick returners and the kick coverage have been stellar.

The best thing about those developments is that Bledsoe isn't relied on too much. The defense and special teams keep the games close and can sometimes blow the game open. That keeps the running game alive. And that keeps Bledsoe effective.

But the day when the special teams and defense stumble and the Bills are playing a high-quality defense --- not the 24th-ranked Rams, the 26th-ranked Seahawks, the 19th-ranked Browns or the 19th-ranked Bengals --- is when we'll see whether Bledsoe is any good. On December 5, he threw for 277 yards and four touchdowns during a 42-32 win against the eighth-ranked Dolphins defense. But he was also helped by two returns for touchdowns.

During the five-game winning streak, Bledsoe's quarterback rating was 87.7, just ahead of where Jacksonville's Byron Leftwich, Houston's David Carr, and the Giants' Kurt Warner were for the season. It's ordinary territory for a quarterback.

Ultimately, without defensive and special teams breaks, I doubt Bledsoe can win against a high-quality defense, particularly if Buffalo falls behind by a couple of touchdowns. Of course, that won't happen this Sunday, when Buffalo plays at 2-12 San Francisco.

The only way Buffalo loses is if its players get caught in multiple dimensions of the space-time continuum. They'd better watch Back to the Future.