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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 contest.

"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.


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 formation.

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 35 attempts.

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.


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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