Tuesday, September 17, 2002

Bledsoe a cut above in leading Bills to stunning win

AP Sports Writer

Bills quarterback Drew Bledsoe looks for a receiver in the first quarter against the Minnesota Vikings Sunday.
(AP photo)
| ZOOM |
        ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Drew Bledsoe's lip was puffy and the cut on his neck stapled shut. And yet he didn't think he looked convincing enough with the game on the line.

        Sensing that his Buffalo teammates were looking to him for inspiration, Bledsoe went for the full effect.

        “That cut on my neck? I was trying to get some of the blood to drip down on my jersey,” Bledsoe recalled Monday. “To make me look tough.”

        A year — almost to the day — after losing the starter's job in New England after suffering a severe chest injury, Bledsoe erased any lingering doubts about his durability in the Bills' 45-39 overtime victory at Minnesota on Sunday.

        Bledsoe finished with 463 yards passing, setting both personal and franchise marks, and placing him 25th among single-game performances in NFL history. And he did it with a dramatic flair.

        After forcing overtime with a 29-yard drive in the final 21 seconds to set up Mike Hollis' 54-yard field goal, he capped it with a two-play, 76-yard drive that ended on a 48-yard touchdown pass to Peerless Price.

        It marked the 20th fourth-quarter comeback of Bledsoe's career, his fifth 400-plus-yards passing game, placing him in a tie for fifth all-time, and it came on a day in which he became the 24th player — and third-fastest — to pass for 30,000 career yards.

        Bledsoe played down the numbers, calling the victory — his first in two games with the Bills — much more important.

        And yet it was a stunning performance from a veteran quarterback intent on having something to prove after being all but discarded by New England, which traded him to the Bills in April in favor of the younger Tom Brady.

        Bledsoe acknowledged that he learned to appreciate football more after spending most of last season watching from the sideline as Brady led the Patriots to the Super Bowl title.

        But, he added, he's having too much fun with his new team to think about the past.

        “To the outside world, it might be a statement. But for me, personally, that's what I expect to do,” Bledsoe said. “Regardless of being hurt, regardless of losing my job, regardless of whatever else has happened, I know that I can play this game. So to have a game with a bunch of yards, that's kind of what I expect.”

        Sunday's performance might have eclipsed even the expectations of the Bills, who were looking to Bledsoe to rejuvenate a talented but underachieving offense that sputtered under Rob Johnson for most of the past two seasons.

        In two games, Bledsoe has racked up 734 yards passing — something that took the Bills almost four games to produce last season.

        “We've been around him a little bit and we realize that nothing he does at this stage is surprising,” tight end Jay Riemersma said. “He's a tremendous talent and a great leader. And any time that we've got the ball in his hands at the end of the game, we've got a chance to win.”

        Bledsoe showed that in Buffalo's season-opener, tying the game in the final minute of regulation with a 29-yard touchdown pass to Eric Moulds. He never got the ball back as the New York Jets won when Chad Morton ran the overtime kickoff back for a touchdown.

        Rebounding with a win at Minnesota was critical for a revamped Bills team seeking improvement after enduring a 3-13 season.

        “It means the world to us,” Riemersma said. “Last year, we didn't win those tight ball games. Winning this ball game gives us the confidence now to go ahead and do it over and over again.”

        Bledsoe agreed.

        “Sometimes it takes a game like this to get guys to start believing that things are going to happen,” Bledsoe said. “Whether or not that happens for this team, I don't know. But it kind of feels like that.”


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