Rallying Past Patriots, Bills Start Another Celebration

Rian Lindell made a 28-yard field goal as time expired to cap a 34-31 win over the Patriots in which the Bills overcame a 21-0 second-quarter deficit and ended a 15-game losing streak against New England.

“It’s the biggest win of my career; I can’t think of any bigger,” said linebacker Chris Kelsay, one of four current Bills who took part in the team’s last win over New England, in the 2003 season opener. “To beat these guys at home, in front of our fans, with the way they’re behind us despite being down early, it’s huge. I’ll never forget it.”

The former lineman Ruben Brown hugged the Bills as they ran up the tunnel. Running back Fred Jackson ran around the field carrying a Bills flag. And stadium workers took no chances, first guarding the goal posts and then lowering them before fans got any ideas.

The Bills (3-0) won with yet another Fitzpatrick-led rally. And it was reminiscent of what they did in a 38-35 win over Oakland last week, when they scored touchdowns on their final five possessions to overcome a 21-3 deficit.

Tom Brady went 30 of 45 for 386 yards and 4 scores for New England (2-1), but the Patriots uncharacteristically unraveled. New England was called for eight penalties, and Brady matched a career worst with four interceptions. One was returned 27 yards for a touchdown by Drayton Florence with 10 minutes 22 seconds left, only 14 seconds after Jackson tied the score at 24-24 with a 1-yard plunge.

¶ Matthew Stafford threw two touchdown passes in the second half to help Detroit get to overtime, and Jason Hanson kicked a 32-yard field goal to finish off the Lions’ 26-23 victory over the Vikings. Detroit is 3-0 for the first time since 1980. “I feel sick right now,” Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson said after the Vikings blew another big lead.

Steelers Edge Colts

¶ Shaun Suisham kicked a 38-yard field goal with 4 seconds left, lifting the visiting Steelers to a 23-20 victory over the Colts in a game that was far closer than expected. Even when Pittsburgh (2-1) finally thought it had shaken off Indianapolis (0-3), it hadn’t. After Troy Polamalu returned a fumble 16 yards for a 20-13 lead with 5:13 left, Curtis Painter — replacing the injured Kerry Collins — led the Colts on an 80-yard drive to the tying touchdown, a 6-yard run by Joseph Addai.

¶ Drew Brees passed for 370 yards and 3 touchdowns and twice erased fourth-quarter deficits in leading the Saints to a 40-33 win over the Texans at the Superdome. Mark Ingram’s first career touchdown, on a 13-yard run, gave the Saints (2-1) the lead for good.

¶ The stakes were not as high as in their previous meeting at Soldier Field, but the Packers once again beat the Bears, 27-17, as Aaron Rodgers threw three touchdown passes to Jermichael Finley. It was the teams’ first meeting since Green Bay (3-0) beat Chicago (1-2) in January to win the N.F.C. title.

Turnaround Victories

¶ Baltimore (2-1) bounced back from a disappointing loss to Tennessee with a record-setting day in St. Louis. The Ravens pounded the Rams, 37-7, behind a 27-point first half in which they gained 406 of their team-record 553 yards. They wrapped up their dominant performance when Haloti Ngata scored on a 28-yard fumble return after Ray Lewis stripped Sam Bradford on a sack late in the fourth quarter.

¶ Josh Freeman scored the first rushing touchdown of his career and Tampa Bay’s defense forced three turnover, helping the Buccaneers beat the Falcons, 16-13.

Comebacks in Ohio

¶ Colt McCoy capped an 80-yard drive with a 14-yard pass to Mohamed Massaquoi with 43 seconds left, rallying the Browns to a 17-16 win over the winless Dolphins. Before his game-winning throw, McCoy had overthrown, underthrown and flat-out missed receivers all day. But when it mattered most, he completed 9 of 13 passes for all 80 yards on host Cleveland’s winning drive.

¶ Kendall Hunter ran 7 yards for the only touchdown with 3:59 to go, rallying the 49ers to a 13-8 victory over the Bengals that began their extended stay in the Buckeye State on an upbeat note. The 49ers (2-1) will practice at Youngstown State the next few days, then head to Philadelphia for their next game.

In Other Games

¶ Cam Newton did not come close to matching the 400-yard passing days from each of his first two games, but he finally had the ending he wanted. Newton found Greg Olsen over the middle for a 16-yard touchdown with 4:20 left to help the Panthers beat the visiting Jaguars, 16-10. Newton finished 18 for 34 for 158 yards, but part of the blame went to the rain that arrived in the second quarter, turning the field into a slick, puddle-filled mess. “It wasn’t a pretty win,” Newton said, “but the last part counts, right?”

¶ Tarvaris Jackson put Seattle in the lead with a bulldozing 11-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, and Kam Chancellor sealed the victory with an interception of Kevin Kolb with 1:04 left in the Seahawks’ 13-10 win over the Cardinals.

¶ Eric Weddle intercepted Matt Cassel at midfield with 55 seconds left to preserve the Chargers’ 20-17 victory over the Chiefs. Kansas City (0-3) got the ball at its 33 with 1:26 left after Philip Rivers was stuffed on fourth-and-1. Cassel threw for 24 yards to Leonard Pope to get into Chargers territory, but on the next play, under pressure and backpedaling, he threw the ball right to the blitzing Weddle.

¶ Matt Hasselbeck threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Daniel Graham with 4:24 left, and the Titans rallied for a 17-14 victory over the visiting Broncos. The Titans (2-1) intercepted Kyle Orton twice, sacked him once and also stopped Willis McGahee on fourth-and-goal at the 1.

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Smith Set to Go for Bills

Smith, who signed with the Bills as a free agent last week, can run like a running back, throw like a quarterback, and catch like a receiver, and with his new team he’ll be doing all three under the guidance of coach Chan Gailey, who tutored the original “Slash,” Kordell Stewart, while the two were together in Pittsburgh in the mid-1990s.

“I see him being used in a similar role,” Gailey said about his Smith. “He can play some receiver and quarterback, and gives you a lot of versatility. He can play special teams, cover kicks and return kicks. He can do a lot to help a football team win games.”

Winning has certainly been the problem the past decade for a Bills team that hasn’t qualified for the postseason since 1999.

Smith, meanwhile, has gone to the past two AFC championship games with the New York Jets after being drafted out of Missouri as a dynamic quarterback in the fourth round of the 2006 draft.

That winning mentality is yet another item he’ll be bringing to the Bills, who have lagged behind the rest of the AFC East in recent years.

“I think we’ve got a group of guys that may not be the most respected group of guys because of whatever reason, but we’re so talented right now that we’re going to prove a lot of people wrong,” Smith said. “We’re in a tough division, but you wouldn’t want it to be any other way. It’s going to bring out the best in us. It’s not about who you have on the roster, it’s about what you do with it.”

Smith and the rest of Buffalo’s key free agents — linebacker Nick Barnett, quarterback Tyler Thigpen, and cornerback Drayton Florence — have been participating in team meetings the past few days, but had yet to hit the practice field due to the collective bargaining agreement not being ratified.

“I’ve never been this excited for a practice so I just can’t wait,” Smith said Thursday morning after the team’s walk-thru session. “Being out here with this hard working group of guys, I’m just excited to try and bring something to the table for them.”

Smith finally got the chance to hit the field with his fellow free agents during the Bills’ practice on Thursday night. Smith participated with the quarterbacks, but did not don a red jersey.

“It was great to see everybody and most everybody played some kind of play out there, which is great,” Gailey said after practice. “It’s good to see those guys.”

After becoming a free agent following the lockout, Smith talked at length with Gailey and liked what he heard. After accumulating 767 rushing yards and 557 receiving yards with the Jets, Smith is anxious to build upon those numbers after primarily returning kicks the past two seasons.

“Coach Gailey’s passion for this team and his vision for where he wants this to go, I want to be a part of it,” Smith said.

Smith will spend most of his time during training camp with the quarterbacks, but he said he’ll also be running some routes with receivers, returning kicks, and playing some special teams.

“The quarterback stuff is so I can grasp the entirety of the offense, and then kind of expand from there,” he said. “It’s a great plan by Coach Gailey and I want to keep growing on it. I try to earn everything that’s given to me, and that’s the way I’m approaching it.”

Along with starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, Smith will be spending plenty of time with Thigpen, who also signed as a free agent last week due in large part to his past relationship with Gailey while the two were in Kansas City.

“He’s been a great mentor for me,” Thigpen said. “Last year when he started winning some games at the latter part of the season, I would text him congratulations. So we definitely have a good relationship.” Notes: TE David Martin sat out the night practice with a toe injury but Gailey expects him to be back soon. … DT Marcel Dareus, the team’s first-round draft pick, hobbled off the field toward the end of the night practice but Gailey expects him to be back Friday. … WR David Nelson left the field after some breathing problems according to Gailey, but he is expected to be fine. … TE Shawn Nelson, WR Marcus Easley and LB Kelvin Sheppard also sat out of night practice.

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Bills Stick With Improving Defense in NFL Draft

Once Auburn quarterback Cam Newton was out of the picture, the Bills general manager directed his attention in choosing defensive players with the team’s first three picks — including both selections on Friday. After taking Texas cornerback Aaron Williams with the 34th pick, Buffalo drafted LSU linebacker Kelvin Sheppard at No. 68.

Add in Alabama defensive lineman Marcell Dareus, who was selected third overall on Thursday, and the Bills defense suddenly has a fresh new look. It was a unit that was undone by injuries, struggled in making the transition to the 3-4 system and finished last in the NFL in defending the run last season.

“It’s obvious that we’re not where we want to be defensively, and we’re trying to fix that,” Nix said. “And we’re not through either.”

Nix acknowledged the Bills changed course by concentrating on defense once Carolina selected Newton with the No. 1 pick. Though Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert was a possibility, the Bills went with Dareus at No. 3, believing he could make the best and most immediate impact on a team with numerous needs and coming off a 4-12 finish.

“With the first pick, we wanted a franchise (quarterback),” Nix said. “If he wasn’t there, then we were going to get better on defense.”

The 6-foot, 204-pound Williams is “an explosive hitter,” who helped transform the Longhorns defense into one of the nation’s best against the pass. He adds size to a comparatively small group of cornerbacks, and the Bills believe he also has the versatility to play safety.

“You have big receivers, and you so you need big corners, and they’re hard to find,” Nix said. “And this guy’s talented.”

In 37 career games, including 23 starts, Williams finished his career with four interceptions, six forced fumbles and 97 tackles.

He also provides depth to a unit that stands to lose veteran Drayton Florence to free agency this offseason.

Shortly after Williams was selected, Florence posted a message on his Twitter account essentially ruling out his return.

“Congrats Arron williams,” Florence wrote. “I guess im done in buffalo enjoyed it while it lasted bills have the best fans!!!”

Sheppard, listed at 6-foot-2 and 250 pounds, led the Tigers in tackles in each of the past two seasons and is expected to provide help to a defense that allowed 200 yards rushing eight times last season. His 311 career tackles rank ninth in school history.

Bills coach Chan Gailey was impressed in seeing Sheppard firsthand at the Senior Bowl in January. Sheppard played for the South team that was coached by Gailey.

“He played sideline to sideline actually better in the Senior Bowl than he did sometimes on the tape,” Gailey said. “We heard some good things about him, but we also heard there were some limitations about him. And we saw just the opposite.”

Sheppard said he had an inkling the Bills might select him, especially after he traveled to Buffalo for a pre-draft visit.

“I kind of felt like I was coming back home,” Sheppard said. “Once, I stepped into the door, everyone was like, ‘Shepp, what’s up, man?'”

From an overall perspective, Gailey regarded the first two days of the draft a success, because the Bills were able to address their defensive needs, even though they failed to land a potential franchise quarterback.

It helped that Gailey has confidence in journeyman quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, and the spark and cohesion he provided Buffalo’s offense down the stretch last season.

“To me, Fitz’s abilities, his leadership and the way he played last year gave us the freedom to be able to do what we needed to do with our football team,” Gailey said.

The Bills have six picks over the final four rounds on Saturday, starting with the 100th selection.

Williams was elated once he was selected with the second pick of the second round.

“My emotions right now are crazy. I’m excited,” Williams said. “I’ve got Marcell there, so we’re going to try to bring as many wins as possible.”

As it turns out, Williams is familiar with Dareus. Aside from the two spending offseasons working out together, they faced each other in the 2010 national championship game, in which Alabama beat Texas.

They also share a history of leveling big hits on big-name quarterbacks. Dareus’ hit on knocked out the Texas quarterback in the first quarter of the national championship. In October 2009, then-Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford re-injured his shoulder after being jerked down by Williams in a 16-13 win.

Williams then helped seal the victory with an acrobatic interception.

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