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Edwards shakes off pre-season doubts, starts strong

Trent Edwards is on the hot seat.  He's sitting there next to head coach Dick Jauron, who has been on the hot seat pretty much since he began coaching the Buffalo Bills.  Edwards - 12-11 as a starter entering the 2009 season, with plenty of up-and-down performances to define hi as a player - suffered through a miserable pre-season, which culminated with a 46.9 quarterback rating, his offensive coordinator getting fired, and his left tackle was released.  I don't think I've ever heard the term "crisis of confidence" thrown around more in my life than I did in the three weeks leading up to the Bills' season opener.

If Edwards' performance on Monday Night Football - even in defeat - is a crisis of confidence, well, pass me the crisis, please.  Coming off of that horrendous pre-season, Edwards completed 15 of 25 passes for 212 yards, with two touchdown throws, zero interceptions and a quarterback rating of 114.1.  He was sacked four times.

Edwards was not perfect in New England as he and the Bills fell 25-24 to the Patriots.  That much is clear.  What's also clear, however, is that the young quarterback much of this fan base was so quick to dump on can really play the game of football.  There is work to do - and Edwards is the first to admit that - but his 2009 season is off to a great start.

Multi-TD performance number four
Much of the criticism surrounding Edwards in his first two seasons - aside from the obvious "Captain Checkdown" moniker - has been his inability, and by extension his offense's inability, to put the ball in the end zone.  Case in point: Edwards' performance last night was only the fourth multi-TD game of his young career.

       12/9/07 (vs Miami): 11/23, 165 yards, 4 TD, 0 INT
       12/23/07 (vs NY Giants): 9/26, 161 yards, 2 TD, 3 INT
       11/23/08 (at Kansas City): 24/32, 273 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
       9/14/09 (at New England): 15/25, 212 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT

That's pretty unbelievable.  It also shows he's making progress, because this was arguably his most productive NFL game ever, and it came in a situation that was by far his most hostile: in New England, against the Patriots, with a new offense and coordinator, and with very little confidence in him from the fan base.

He looked completely in control of the no-huddle offense for much of the contest.  He looked decisive.  He made plays and put points on the board.  That's a far cry from his pre-season performance, and it's about as strong a start for our quarterback as anyone could have reasonably expected.

Don't underestimate the importance of Alex Van Pelt
Edwards got a lot of help from his new offensive coordinator, Alex Van Pelt.  Calling plays in his first NFL game on just ten days' worth of preparations, Van Pelt found soft spots in New England's defense and repeatedly hit them where it hurt.  The game plan could have been more aggressive, but who's to say it wouldn't have been if the Bills had been able to hang onto the football for longer than 22 minutes?

Van Pelt put Edwards in advantageous situations.  Edwards knew where he was going with the football for most of the game (with the minor exception of the final drive, where things looked out of sync), he was asked to make quick reads, and he wasn't tasked with putting the team on his shoulders.  He did what Van Pelt asked him to do, and the performance was remarkable given what we saw in the pre-season and what was expected of the pair.  Again, it wasn't perfect, but there is a great deal of promise with these two.

Making plays in stress situations
One area where Edwards needs to grow more than any other is in making plays when the designed play breaks down, or when he's under pressure.  He did an OK job of that last night.  He bought time on some misdirection plays, such as his TD toss to TE Shawn Nelson, and he picked up two big first downs with his legs.  He did, however, make one bad decision and tried to force a throw into Roscoe Parrish that was nearly intercepted.  He looked accurate on the move, and more importantly, he looked instinctual - that's what we need out of Edwards.

Unfortunately, Edwards might have to rely on this particular skill set for a while.  Buffalo's extremely young offensive line had its moments last night, but they also had serious breakdowns, particularly at the end of the game.  Edwards was sacked four times; two of those came on the team's last-ditch effort with under a minute remaining.  LT Demetrius Bell in particular has a long way to go, and is by far the most up-and-down of the starting unit.

I don't want to get too ahead of myself here.  In no way am I saying anything about Trent Edwards other than the fact that his performance last night was extremely encouraging.  For him, it's all about continuing to get comfortable with his system, getting some more tosses towards Terrell Owens and Lee Evans, and perhaps most importantly of all, staying healthy.  If we get that Trent Edwards in the next 15 weeks, this team will have a strong chance to win a lot of football games.  That goes away if Trent can't build off of his strong start and stay healthy.