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Buffalo Bills off to inspiring 2-0 start after tumultuous offseason

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I'm 37 years old. I believe that the week of Sept. 8, 2014 will go down as the most disturbing, upsetting, tumultuous week in the NFL in my lifetime.

We all needed actual games and engaging Sunday subplots in the worst possible way.

We all needed a scene like we had in lovely Western New York.

After two brief weeks on the field, the best story in the NFL is, well, everything in Buffalo. The Bills are a surprising 2-0, sitting alone atop the AFC East. They have a new owner committed to their home region. And there's a wonderful big picture to remember when this squad eventually hits a rough patch.

New ownership should keep the Bills on course with head coach Doug Marrone, general manager Doug Whaley and a talented roster.

The scene was rocking Sunday in Buffalo during the first game since it was announced that Terry Pegula and his family were buying the Bills and keeping them in the area. And the amazing fans kept the volume at a fever pitch all afternoon during a 29-10 pummeling of the rival Miami Dolphins.

The great people of Buffalo needed a September smile as much as anyone. Think about the events leading up to this season.

Beloved owner Ralph Wilson, who founded the Bills in 1959, passed away. Franchise icon Jim Kelly continued to battle cancer, and at one point, some feared he wouldn't make it to Andre Reed's Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony.


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Star linebacker Kiko Alonso ripped up his knee working out over the summer and was ruled out for the season. EJ Manuel couldn't complete the forward pass in preseason games, which is a rather big problem when that's kinda your job as a quarterback. Buffalo panicked enough to pay Kyle Orton a cool $5 million this year, essentially so that he could be on standby for what many assumed would be EJ's eventual flop.

Then it was reported by CBSSports.com that Marrone feuded with management in the preseason, verbally sparring with the team brass. The second-year coach reportedly referred to himself as "Saint Doug," intimating that the Bills would need a miracle to complete a turnaround -- similar to the one Marrone orchestrated in pulling Syracuse football out of the toilet.

And, of course, Buffalo started the season in Chicago, with the heavily favored Bears as the conventional-wisdom survivor pool pick.

But then something unexpected happened: Buffalo's defense played hard, Manuel rocked steady and resembled a functional quarterback, Fred Jackson barreled over Chris Conte, and the Bills shocked the football world with an overtime victory in Week 1.

With the glorious news breaking of the Pegula family buying the Bills just days before the home opener, you knew the atmosphere in Buffalo would be electric. Pegula's purchase represents hope for the future, extinguishing a long-held fear that the Bills -- so connected to and ingrained in the fabric, soul and economy of Buffalo -- would skip town.

Kelly -- who, as it turned out, not only made it to Reed's ceremony but threw another pass to his favorite receiver on the Canton stage -- was on hand, waving to the crowd at midfield, letting everyone know he was "Kelly tough" and doing OK, having just received a cancer-free bill of health on his last visit to the doctor.

The Bills just had to keep it going by beating the Dolphins, a team that had impressively knocked off the New England Patriots in Week 1.

I think that many past incarnations of the Bills would have lost on Sunday. Instead, Marrone's team knocked the stuffing out of Miami. The Bills beat up the Dolphins. It was a statement. That's not a cliché; that's a fact.

These are not the same old Bills.

Rookie receiver Sammy Watkins had a breakout game, posting eight catches for 117 yards and one touchdown. This offseason, when I wrote about the Bills going for it by trading up for Watkins, I gave Whaley and Marrone a ton of credit for plucking the best receiver in the 2014 NFL Draft. Yes, they gave up next year's first-round pick in the process. And in the wake of Alonso's injury, EJ's struggles and the omnipresent drama surrounding the club in the summer, critics were crying that Whaley had foolishly relinquished what could end up being a top selection. No matter how it plays out, it was the right move. Watkins is an amazing talent, as evidenced by his dominant performance on Sunday.

Manuel was solid again and didn't throw a pick. Meanwhile, C.J. Spiller and Jackson ran the ball effectively. And Buffalo's defense suffocated Miami's attack.

Pegula needs to remember a win like this. There's no need to make sweeping changes just because you are the new owner and you can. Marrone and Whaley deserve time to see their vision through.

Now, I'm not writing this column from Planet Delusional. The Patriots are going to win the AFC East, per usual.

But look at the landscape of the AFC wild-card race. The Bills certainly are capable of winning eight-plus games and making a legit run at January football. This is especially true if Manuel can actually play. His respectable start (see: 95.4 quarterback rating) has been a pleasant surprise, and this development changes everything for Buffalo's overall potential.

We will learn a lot about the 2014 Bills over the next three weeks, as they host the Chargers, travel to Houston to face another 2-0 surprise and then draw the Lions in Detroit.

I think we've already learned that this team is well-coached. This team seized the moment at home on Sunday. This team is moving in the right direction.

Smile.

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

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