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Bledsoe returns to New England
(Sports Network) - With the cupcake portion of their schedule behind them
following their Thanksgiving feast of the Detroit Lions, the AFC East-leading
New England Patriots get back to business this Sunday when they host the arch-
rival Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium. Former Patriot quarterback Drew
Bledsoe will be returning to Foxboro for the first time since being dealt to
the Bills in the offseason.
"It'll be fun and interesting to go back and check out the new stadium, see
some of my old buddies and so on," said Bledsoe. "The bottom line is we are
going in there and trying to win a game. We obviously have to win to stay in
the race and I think they are feeling the same way. It's a huge game for us."
Buffalo hasn't quit on its season and it suddenly finds itself in the thick of
things in the wild East, just one game behind the front-runners. The Bills
came up with a huge 38-21 victory over the Dolphins to brighten their playoff
hopes last Sunday. Despite the important win, the Bills have a up-hill climb
to reach the postseason due to a murderous three-game stretch which starts
with this contest. In the coming weeks, the Bills have to face San Diego and
Green Bay with little room for error.
New England is in the midst of a late season run similar to last year's jaunt
that landed it in the Super Bowl. The Patriots have snapped out of their
midseason slumber to run off wins in four of their last five games to pull
into a first place tie with Miami in the East. New England faces a favorable
schedule down the stretch with all three of its remaining conference games in
the friendly confines of Gillette Stadium. The Patriots' lone road contest in
the final four weeks comes against Tennessee in Nashville.
Head coach Bill Belichick and company have to be happy after coming away with
a hard-fought 20-12 victory over the stingy Lions at Ford Field. The offense
wasn't in top form, but the defense picked up the slack with three
interceptions of young Joey Harrington. Tedy Bruschi's 27-yard interception
return for a score in the first half turned out to be a crucial play in the
"It was pretty even, but we were able to make the right plays at the right
time," Belichick said. "We converted turnovers, we picked up some big third-
down conversions and we played good defense in the red zone. You always have
to feel good when you don't give up a touchdown in this league."
SERIES HISTORY: New England has won four in a row in this series, including
its 38-7 shellacking of the Bills just over a month ago. Patriots QB Tom Brady
provided a spotless effort versus Buffalo, completing 22-of-26 passes for 265
yards and three touchdowns. Former Buffalo RB Antowain Smith added 111 yards
rushing and a score in the dominating victory.
Despite the blowout, three of the last five meetings in this series have ended
in overtime. In fact, four of the last six in the series have been decided by
three points or less.
Belichick is 4-2 versus the Bills, while Buffalo's Gregg Williams is 0-3
against the Patriots.
BILLS OFFENSE VS. PATRIOTS DEFENSE
The Bills rediscovered their vertical passing game versus the Dolphins thanks
to their ace formation. Buffalo had two WRs, two TEs and one RB on the field
for the ace setup and the Dolphins assumed that it would run out of the
However, offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride had other plans and used the
Dolphins' attacking run defense against them and threw the ball out of the ace
formation. Bledsoe made the most of Miami's resulting single coverage,
throwing for 306 yards and three scores in the win. The signal-caller shook
off the blistering cold and snowy conditions to have a big day.
"I've played in cold weather for a long time now, since high school," said
Bledsoe. "It never has been a real factor as far as throwing the ball. I've
got big hands. I can throw the ball."
The play of top wideout Eric Moulds made a huge difference for the Bills in
the win, as he registered 130 yards receiving and a touchdown. Moulds made an
outstanding catch on his 57-yard score that put the Bills up by 10 points in
the third quarter.
"We went out there and Drew came to us and said 'If I throw it up there, you
guys make a play.' You saw Peerless [Price] run after the catch Sunday," said
Moulds. "Drew threw it up there and took a chance and we made the plays.
That's what we were doing earlier in the season and we started doing that a
little more Sunday."
Price, who had two catches for 93 yards and a pair of scores, and Moulds each
surpassed the 1,000-yard receiving plateau for the season. Moulds and Price
rank third and fourth, respectively, in the AFC in receiving yardage.
The duo of Moulds and Price should have an interesting matchup with the
Patriots' talented secondary. New England ranks fourth in the AFC in pass
defense, allowing just 196 yards per contest. Expect CB Ty Law to be glued to
Moulds, while veteran CB Otis Smith will draw Price. The Patriots will need to
rotate a safety to Otis Smith's side to help him with Price, as the Bills will
likely try to take advantage of the matchup.
Buffalo will need a balanced attack to keep the Patriots from backing off into
two-deep coverage to slow the pass down. Look for the Bills to attempt to get
RB Travis Henry going early in the contest. Henry provided a consistent
running attack last week, garnering 151 yards and a touchdown on a season-high
Expect the Bills, who currently rank just 12th in the AFC in rushing (101.8
ypg), to attempt to take advantage of the Patriots' 10th-ranked run defense
(126.5 ypg). Buffalo will need another impressive effort from the offensive
line to open holes for Henry.
LB Roman Phifer and strong safety Lawyer Milloy will be crucial to the
Patriots' success against Henry. Phifer has emerged as the Pats' top run
stopper with a team-high 80 stops on the year, while Milloy is a solid tackler
that oftentimes will edge up into the box on running downs.
The Patriots must make Bledsoe and the Bills become a one-dimensional
offensive attack, forcing them into throwing on nearly every down and possibly
turning the ball over. New England proved up to the task last week versus the
Lions, holding them to just 290 yards of total offense.
PATRIOTS OFFENSE VS. BILLS DEFENSE
New England must play a crisper offensive game this week after struggling to
get in the end zone against the Lions. Brady never quite found a rhythm,
completing only 18-of-30 passes for 210 yards and an interception. Belichick
understands the importance of his offense playing better this week.
"We all know what's ahead of us. It's just gonna keep getting tougher, it
always does this time of year if your in contention," said Belichick. "We know
what happened last time that we played them [Bills] and I'm sure they will
make some adjustments. This game will surely have some different dynamics to
it as always when you play a team twice."
WR Troy Brown dominated the pass receiving for the Patriots against Detroit,
grabbing 10 balls for 111 yards. Brown broke the 100-yard receiving barrier
for just the second time this season.
"Sunday wasn't one of the most attractive wins of the year," said Brown. "It
will be tough to win playing ugly now, because we've got three division teams
coming up, and we're all fighting for a spot."
Brown isn't the only receiving weapon that Brady has to work with, as David
Patten is a dangerous threat. Patten is the Patriots' top deep option,
averaging 14.8 yards per catch for 711 yards and four scores. Look for Brady
to find Patten more often this week.
The Bills' young CBs Antoine Winfield and Nate Clements should be matched up
head-to-head with Brown and Patten. Buffalo has emerged as the fifth-best pass
defense (196.3 ypg) in the AFC after holding the Dolphins to just 30 yards
through the air last week. The Bills must keep track of the Patriots' tight
ends in this contest, considering Daniel Graham and Christian Fauria combined
for five catches for 76 yards in the first meeting.
New England dedicated itself to the run last week and it paid off with
Antowain Smith registering 80 yards and a touchdown on 25 attempts. His
numbers weren't exactly gaudy, but the focus on the run helped the Patriots
win the time of possession by 10 minutes.
Antowain Smith must be licking his chops after watching the Bills surrender
270 yards rushing to Ricky Williams and the Dolphins. Buffalo ranks last in
the AFC and 31st in the NFL against the run (142.6 ypg). Expect the Patriots
to get Antowain Smith at least 25 carries in this contest.
New England seems to have Buffalo's number in recent contests and that
shouldn't change here. The friendly confines of Gillette Stadium and an
extended week to prepare will go a long way to helping the Pats in thwarting
Bledsoe and his new squad's playoff dreams.
12/05 13:45:12 ET
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