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Surging Bills edge into playoff contention

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) _ Coach Mike Mularkey refuses to do the playoff math because it's way too complicated to consider where his Buffalo Bills might fit into the equation.

I'm maybe not smart enough to go through it,'' Mularkey said Monday.But it's really irregardless of what happens out there. It's us taking care of our business that matters.''

The Bills have suddenly climbed back in the postseason picture, overcoming an 0-4 start to win six of their last eight, including a 42-32 victory at Miami on Sunday.

Buffalo (6-6) has four games left and is among five teams that have a realistic shot at winning the AFC's sixth and final playoff berth.

The group of contenders includes Denver and Baltimore, both 7-5, and two 6-6 teams: Jacksonville and Cincinnati.

The Bills aren't in the driver's seat, considering Baltimore and Jacksonville have the tiebreaker edge because they've both beaten Buffalo this season.

But the Bills might have an advantage in their relatively easy stretch Cleveland (3-9), Cincinnati and San Francisco (1-11) before hosting Pittsburgh (11-1) in their season finale.

Mularkey declined to look beyond this Sunday's game against Cleveland, choosing to stick to the one-game-at-a-time mantra he's preached since the Bills got themselves into their early season mess.

We're living day by day around here, week by week,'' linebacker Takeo Spikes said.If we can just focus on going 1-0 instead of worrying about going 4-5 or 6-0, everything else will take care of itself.''

For a team that hasn't enjoyed a winning season since going 11-5 in 1999, the Bills are playing with a newfound resilience under their rookie coach.

The offense is suddenly clicking, having produced 12 touchdowns in its last three games. That matches the number it generated in its first nine.

Willis McGahee has been a factor, helping the Bills go 6-1 since he replaced Travis Henry at starting running back.

And quarterback Drew Bledsoe appears rejuvenated, quieting the critics who were calling for his benching after he unraveled in a 29-6 loss at New England on Nov. 14.

In the three games since, Bledsoe was 59-of-91 for 737 yards passing, with eight touchdowns and four interceptions. In Sunday's win at Miami, he had his first four-TD game since Week 4 of the 2002 season and finished with a 132.9 quarterback rating, the fifth-best of his 12-year career.

I think a lot of that (criticism), he took personally,'' Mularkey said.He's a very prideful guy. His teammates are behind him, the coaching staff's behind them. I just think he responded as his team has all year.''

The defense, meanwhile, has avoided the inconsistency it displayed in the first four games by squandering three fourth-quarter leads.

Despite giving up a season-high 32 points at Miami, the Bills recorded seven turnovers, including Pat Williams' interception return for a touchdown.

Then there's special teams, which continues to be Buffalo's most consistent unit. Terrence McGee's game-opening 104-yard kickoff return for a score against Miami was the third of his season, making him only the 10th player to have three or more in one year.

The Bills have also returned two punts for scores this season, tying an NFL record held by three teams for most combined kickoff-punt returns for touchdowns.

Buffalo is a different team from the one that opened the season by losing three of four by three or fewer points. Still, Spikes said the turnaround won't mean anything until the Bills complete the job.

I don't see it as an accomplishment,'' he said.Anything else other than going to the playoffs this year is irrelevant.''

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