ORCHARD PARK - It's official.
I'm on board.
I'm a Bill-liever.
Cue up the Monkees signature hit from the late 1960s.
And make it the team's 2011 theme song, because there's really no reason any more not to Bill-lieve.
The 4-1 start is not a mirage, folks. This spunky group of castoffs with chips on their shoulders the size of the Ralph should be taken seriously now as playoff contenders, not pretenders. They are indeed good enough to dream.
Yes, the Bills "D" has given up 450 yards or more four straight weeks - a franchise futility first. But somehow, some way Buffalo finds ways to score a few more points than the opposition, which, the last I looked, is still the point of the game.
"I don't care if we give up a thousand yards a game,'' said George Wilson, the Bills safety and loquacious elder statesman. "At the end of the day the only stats I care about are the W's."
And, now, after Sunday afternoon's 31-24 victory at the sunny, soldout Ralph against a Philadelphia Eagles team that's become a nightmare, the Bills have 4 W's and are tied for first in the AFC East with the New England Patriots - a club Buffalo vanquished here two weeks ago. (And, just think, if the Bills hadn't squandered that game in Cincinnati last week, they'd be 5-0, and sitting even prettier. But, hey, why get greedy? Playing .800 football isn't too shabby. Savor the moment.)
If I had told you before the season the Bills would be 4-1 and would have intercepted Tom Brady four times and Michael Vick four times, you would have told me I was demented or on drugs. Or both.
Yes, they've lived on the edge, spotting Tom Terrific a three-touchdown lead two weeks ago and allowing Vick to throw for 315 and run for 90 Sunday.
But they're also incredibly opportunistic, and, in the end, they wind up taking more than they give. A lot more. For the first time since 1960, the franchise's first year of existence, the Bills have returned interceptions for touchdowns in three consecutive games.
"We have talent, too,'' Wilson said, when asked about beating an Eagles team that was favored despite coming to town with a 1-3 record. "We don't back down from any challenge."
No they do not.
Vick and his speedy receivers and running backs posed the kind of challenge that causes defenders and coordinators to lose sleep - and faith.
But the Bills responded by pressuring and confusing Vick from the get-go. In what turned out to be the game-changing play, rookie linebacker Kelvin Sheppard drilled the quarterback as he was releasing the ball with nine minutes to go in the second quarter. Nick Barnett picked it off and returned it 31 yards to give Buffalo a 21-7 lead.
With Vick driving his team for the touchdown that would either win the game in regulation or send it into overtime, Bills cornerback Drayton Florence got his hands on a pass intended for Jason Avant and Barnett plucked it out of the air again.
Despite the fifth takeaway of the day, it wasn't over. After the Bills failed to convert on a third-and-three from their own 49, it appeared that the dangerous Vick would get one final shot with 1:23 remaining. Buffalo, employing the old, try-to-draw-'em offsides play, lined up on fourth down and Ryan Fitzpatrick began barking his signals. It was obvious to everyone in the stadium what the Bills were attempting to do. Obvious to everyone, that is, except Eagles defensive end Juqua Parker, who wound up crossing the line of scrimmage and crashing into Bills guard Andy Levitre. Oops.
"Every Saturday, we line up and we practice it,'' said Chan Gailey, who is 8-5 since that 0-8 start last season. "You don't think it's going to work, but the one time it does, it wins the game for you."
It was reminiscent of a few weeks ago, when Fred Jackson was ruled down at the one instead of in the end zone. The Bills were able to run down the clock and kick the winning field goal, denying Brady an opportunity to stage a last-minute, game-winning drive.
"We don't care what other teams think,'' said Wilson, who had a monster game with 11 tackles, three pass deflections, an interception and a quarterback pressure. "We're worried about our jobs and our locker room. If we do our job, we're going to be a tough football team to beat, regardless of who we are playing. We just have to take it one game at a time. We'll enjoy this one until tomorrow afternoon."
Then, it will be time to prepare for next week's road game against the New York Giants.
And attempt to go 5-1 and add to their growing legions of Bill-lievers.
Award-winning columnist and author Scott Pitoniak has followed the Bills since the mid-1960s and covered them since 1985, writing five books about the team along the way. His 14th book overall, Color Him Orange: The Jim Boeheim Story, will be published by Triumph Books in late October and will be available both in print and digital editions. You can read more by Scott at www.scottpitoniak.com .
SCOTT'S REPORT CARD
COACHING: Chan Gailey got his team to bounce back from a game they gave away to win a game the pundits said they couldn't. He's convinced his players they can go head-to-head with anybody. Grade: B-plus
OFFENSE: Fred Jackson, Fred Jackson and more Fred Jackson. He lugged it 26 times for 111 yards and one touchdown and caught six passes for 85 yards as the Bills won the time of possession, 33 minutes, 38 seconds to 26:22. Only turned the ball over once, a harmless interception by Fitz that wasn't cashed in for points. Chris Hairston filled in admirably for the injured Demetrius Bell at left tackle. Grade: B-plus
DEFENSE: Hey Vick had another big yardage day, but the Bills also picked him four times and forced a fumble. Buffalo has given up more yardage and points than last year at this stage, but it also has 10 picks in the last three games, including three pick-sixes. Grade: B-plus
SPECIAL TEAMS: Brian Moorman averaged 50 yards a punt and pinned one of them inside the 10. The coverage teams kept the Eagles dangerous kick and punt returners in check. Grade: B.
OVERALL: They are 4-1 and find themselves tied with New England atop the division. A win next week against the Giants on the road would be a nice way to head into the bye week. Grade: A