Jairus Byrd celebrates teammate Drayton Florence's go-ahead INT returned for a TD against the New England Patriots in Week 3.

OK, OK. Really, I get it. They have only played three games. Once against an apparently greatly-overrated Chiefs team, and two times they have had to overcome early 18- and 21-point deficits. (Which, though not recommended, is rather impressive.)

But these 2011 Buffalo Bills may just be for real.

I’m clearly not the only one noticing. The headlines are abuzz this morning with all the shock and awe of the Bills’ big victory yesterday over their current most-hated arch rival: the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick New England Patriots.

That hasn’t happened since September of 2003. Only four players remain on this roster since that game. Fifteen games ended as losses since that last victory. The Patriots this season have looked as good and better (at least on offense) as the undefeated team of 2007.

This win is definitely big.

Add to that that the Bills got down 21-0 in the first half. Twenty-One to NOTHING. That’s almost always where Brady and the Pats put it on cruise control against any opponent. Especially the Buffalo Bills of the last decade or so. Game over!

But not this team.

They came back against an Oakland team the previous week that had actually been even more dominant than the Patriots yesterday. The Patriots very efficiently took advantage of just a few early mistakes by the Bills. (That may sound like it’s the view through Bills-colored glasses, but an objective review of the film will likely confirm that statement.) And this year’s Bills are nothing if not resilient, confident, and persevere…ant. :-)

To post a ‘W’ against this Patriot team, outscoring them 31-3 after giving them that 21-0 lead, and to finish off the game with great clock management…

Something has changed in Buffalo.

The best part? The Bills know that this win, while it is fantastic and exciting, means nothing. None of them think they have “arrived”. They are glad to get their due respect, but they know they are earning it by working hard all week, practicing, knowing their game plan and their opponent’s tendencies. They know that they have to earn every victory, and perhaps now even more. (Now that they have actually beaten a very good New England team, other teams will “bring their A-game”.)

So while the season is still very young—WAY too young to determine anything about playoffs and beyond—long-time Bills fans can sense that something is different.

The last time the Bills had a good start was 2008. Trent Edwards was the QB, and he was doing fairly well. The Bills might have actually started 6-0 had he not been knocked out of the game on the first drive against Arizona, forcing JP Losman to take the helm. They started 5-1 and then just completely hit the wall. Everything quite literally fell apart.

So why is there reason now to think anything other than a normal Bills collapse will happen in 2011?

A few good reasons.

Fred Jackson. The NFL’s leading rusher after Week 2. But more than that. This guy can get yards where there are none to be had, and that’s great. But his intangibles are off the charts. An undrafted free agent from a division III college (Coe College, where Marv Levy also matriculated), he’s always had (1) something to prove, and (2) the fortitude and attitude to see that “something” through. He never stops, always has supreme confidence, and as a natural leader, he infuses the rest of his offense and his team with that same attitude.

Ryan Fitzpatrick. Who knew? Really. Who knew?? This Harvard QB is on pace to shatter Bills passing records, and equalling the pace of Bills’ Hall of Famer, Jim Kelly’s best season! What??! Fitz, as he is called here, does not have the best arm, best accuracy, super physical abilities… but he IS very smart, savvy, definitely “sufficient” in all the necessary physical categories (can throw fairly accurately, has a good fastball, and great “wheels”) to more than overcome any deficiencies. And honestly, his best quality (other than his beard and his scream) is the same as his starting RB: his attitude, his confidence, and his leadership. The team trusts and follows him, and this “gun-slinger” is getting the job done like no Bills QB since, well… Jim Kelly!

The Offensive Line. This one is truly a shocker. One thing the Bills of 2011 do lack is depth. They pretty much across the board (except maybe at line-backer) do not have experienced, trustworthy depth. And in the preseason it looked like they didn’t even have starters who were NFL-caliber players! It was ugly. But now? Ryan Fitzpatrick has been sacked ONE TIME. ONCE through three games. That leads the NFL, and is most definitely NOT the same O-line that Bills fans have come to expect (and loathe) over the past many years. Add to that great pass protection that this unit (which, actually has already lost one starter at RG, Kraig Urbik) is also leading the way for the NFL’s leading Rushing Offense. Thanks, certainly to the talents of the man mentioned above, Fred Jackson, but you don’t get that kind of production without solid play from the starting five O-line guys. And the Bills are definitely getting that.

Lastly, the improved defense. This one might seem like a stretch, but the Bills don’t win that game yesterday without the 4 INTs by their defense. The Bills are now +5 in turnovers, thanks to good work by the offense, and playmaking by the defense. While the stats may not reflect an improvement (though, it’s not hard to better their 31st-ranked ‘D’ of 2010) the defense is markedly improved, and a reason for their 3-0 start, and Bills fans’ optimism.

(Plus, playing Tom Brady, and even the Raiders’ RBs this season hurts any team’s stats!)

And I didn’t even mention guys who might start to (or already have begun to) turn heads around the league and its fans: TE Scott Chandler (4 TDs?!), dynamic/productive WR Stevie Johnson, the teams’s other leading receiver WR David Nelson, and even jack-of-all-trades Brad Smith.

Interesting times here in Bills-fan-land.

Conclusion: Don’t get too excited… but take notice.

This Bills team is not the team of the 2000s. Chan Gailey and Buddy Nix are building something, and while 2011 may still prove to not be “their year”, at this point, with the highest-scoring offense, the never-say-die team attitude and unquenchable confidence, this edition of the team from Buffalo (which began to take shape toward the end of 2010) looks like they will begin to make a name for themselves, and bring respect back to a team that once commanded it weekly.

Way too early to tell how the season will end, but it’s good to have a “winner” back in Buffalo.