ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) -Ralph Wilson was making his way through the Buffalo Bills locker room after their latest dramatic victory. The team owner was asked if he was reminded of anything.
Sure, Wilson said without hesitation.
``The early '90s when we'd get the ball on the 3-yard-line and Kelly's going to bring us back and win the game,'' he said, referring to former star quarterback Jim Kelly.
This, after all, was the team's homecoming weekend in which the Bills' old guard - Kelly, Thurman Thomas and Marv Levy, Hall of Famers all - gathered Sunday to honor defensive end Bruce Smith, whose name was being placed on the Wall of Fame.
And, yet, there was truth to Wilson's reference. Amid the reminiscing, the new Bills - Trent Edwards, Marshawn Lynch and Donte Whitner, youngsters all - did something to overshadow the pomp and circumstance surrounding Smith.
Not only did they beat the Raiders 24-23, but they did it in a way few Bills teams have done in the franchise's recent and miserable past. They scored 17 points on their final three drives and sealed the victory on Rian Lindell's field goal as time ran out.
There has been only one other time when the Bills won on the final play when trailing: the 1989 opener when Kelly scored on a 2-yard run. Want more? The Bills, at 3-0, are off to their best start since 1992, when Kelly was running the show.
Do you Bill-ieve?
The Bills have used that slogan on an off for so many years that it had nearly lost all relevance. This is a team that has done far too little for far too long and broken too many hearts.
This is a team that spent the past eight seasons missing the playoffs, the longest drought in franchise history, by stumbling at every promising juncture. Remember last year, when the Bills lost two games on the final play? In one, they blew an 8-point lead to Dallas in the final 20 seconds before a national TV audience.
And don't forget the 2004 finale, the closest the Bills came to making the postseason this decade. Needing a win, Buffalo unraveled in a 29-24 loss to Pittsburgh in a game the Steelers had nothing to play for and sat most of their starters.
``You can go back every year and say, 'Well, we should've won this one. And, oh, we should've been 11-5 and in the playoffs,''' said punter Brian Moorman, who along with Aaron Schobel has been with the team the longest, since 2001.
So take it from experience when Moorman senses a difference.
There's definitely reason for excitement, reason for optimism,'' he said last week.It's not like all of a sudden we're 2-0. And you know what? We might be good.''
There is a rugged resolve to this group, which has overcome fourth-quarter deficits in each of its past two games, including a 20-16 win at Jacksonville.
They're winning behind Edwards, the 2007 third-round pick, who is playing far above expectations and might, in fact, solidify a quarterback spot that's been unsettled since Kelly retired after the 1996 season.
Ask Schobel why he has reason for hope, and the star defensive end will point to one person.
My confidence is in the quarterback position,'' he said.That's the biggest thing. I have a lot of confidence in what Trent can do. I feel he's a good player who's going to be a great player.''
The Bills' optimism is personified by a cocksure Whitner, who raised both expectations and eyebrows this offseason when the third-year safety offered his no-caveat guarantee that the Bills would make the playoffs. It was a proclamation borne as much out of confidence as it was out of frustration after hearing over and over how the Bills were a laughingstock and punching bag.
We want to use that same rage, everything that we felt at the time when we were losing and guys were beating up on us,'' Whitner said.We want to use that in our game. That's how we show our attitude.''
Whitner talks about respect, and says the team wants to earn it. That began Sunday in a game the Bills once had no business winning. They now find themselves alone in the AFC East lead for the first time this late in a season since Week 13 of 1996.
It was Levy, sitting in the press box Sunday, who turned to chief operating officer Russ Brandon and noted the Bills still had a chance after falling behind 23-14 with about six minutes left.
``I still had faith that the possibility was there in this group,'' said Levy, who played a role in forming this team before stepping down as general manager in January. Levy, who coached the Kelly-led teams, can also begin to see the comparisons.
I don't want to anoint them or put a hex on them, but I see many similarities that exist,'' Levy said.They're players of character. They're young and on the rise. I see encouraging parallels.''
In Buffalo, hope and Bill-ief just might be back in fashion.