Inside Bills Report

Regardless of the outcome of Saturday's regular-season finale against the sky-high New England Patriots, beleaguered Buffalo Bills head coach Gregg Williams will leave Foxboro still with a job. <P><P> How long he holds it is open to great speculation.

It's been learned Williams will meet with president and general manager Tom Donahoe on Monday or Tuesday to review the season and talk about the future and whether their three-year professional marriage should continue.

The Bills are 3-13, 8-8 and 6-9 heading into Saturday's finale under Williams.

Despite some media reports, Donahoe has maintained all along that he has not made a decision on Williams' future, but he intends to come to one by the end of next week. Williams' contract doesn't expire until the end of January, but prolonging a decision serves nobody's interest.

"Next week is next week. We'll sit down as soon as possible, but I don't have any (prediction)," Williams said. "We'll start probably two days after the season, tear everything down, and go through every phase of it. He and I have done that every year."

While many insiders believe Williams and the Bills will part ways, there are signals surfacing that he could earn at least a one-year extension were he to overhaul his offensive coaching staff and agree to an option clause, where the Bills can re-sign him under longer terms were things to turn around in 2004.

Williams, it's now known, was offered a one-year extension last off-season but chose to turn it down, believing, apparently, that had Buffalo made the playoffs this season he'd have more options and leverage. The ball is now back in Donahoe's court.

Even if as many as 10 head coaching jobs open up, Williams won't be high on anybody's list of candidates. Donahoe, whose style is to take his time and not react emotionally, believes in top-down management and won't lay all the blame for this season's struggles solely on Williams.

He also likes stability.

So while it would be easy to assume Williams is a goner, it's also possible Donahoe will choose to stay the course, allowing Williams to keep intact a rising No. 2 defense and staff of assistants, while the focus shifts to revamping the offense.

Many players favor that direction.

"I think we have good people and good personnel here and I truly believe that," fullback Sam Gash said. "I don't think we need an overhaul to be a winning team, but it's not my job to do. I don't get into that. I handle me."

Said defensive tackle Sam Adams: "I expect us to reload, we don't have to re-build. We have a good football club."

Owner Ralph Wilson deftly skirted the issue when asked about Williams' future after last Sunday's dismal 20-3 loss to the Miami Dolphins. The game marked the sixth time this year the offense failed to score a touchdown.

"It's been disappointing all the way around. The defense has played tremendous but the offense has been out of kilter," Wilson said.

"Players like Gregg; they've always played hard for him from what I've seen. But we'll just have to sit down and go over it with Tom and see what we'll do."

Saturday's game marks the fourth time quarterback Drew Bledsoe will square off against his former team since last season's big trade, and New England leads 2-1. This season began with Buffalo defeating New England 31-0 back on Sept. 7, a game where the Bills rode the emotion of signing Pro Bowl safety Lawyer Milloy, cut by Patriots coach Bill Belichick just days before, to a convincing win.

Since that game, New England has won 13 out of 14 games, including 11 in a row. Buffalo has lost nine out of 14.

"It's been almost surreal to me to look at where we started," Bledsoe said. "It seems like forever ago that that happened. We were playing well and if you'd have only seen one game this season and were talking about the last week of the season, that one team would be playing for home-field advantage and the other was out of the playoffs, well you would've probably thought the opposite teams would've been in those respective situations."

SERIES HISTORY: 87TH meeting, New England leads 45-40-1. Bills won the last meeting 31-0, riding a pair of Travis Henry touchdown runs and a 37-yard Sam Adams' interception return for a score, to victory.


--Former Philadelphia Eagle Pro Bowl quarterback and ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski covered Buffalo's loss to Miami and despite Drew Bledsoe's struggles, came away still feeling the Bills can build around the 11-year veteran, who may not break 3,000 yards passing for the first time since his rookie season of 1993. "I think a quarterback certainly is the most important part of the offense, but you have to look at the talents of the quarterback you have and Drew is one of those guys who needs protection," Jaworski said. "He's what I call a plant-step-and-throw quarterback. He needs to feel comfortable in the pocket where he can do that. If you start showing color in his face, he's going to start throwing off his back foot and if there is pressure up the middle, he becomes a little bit erratic. So when you talk about building around him, you have to start with the interior of the offensive line."

--Patriots QB Tom Brady remembers the Bills, led by ex-Patriot Lawyer Milloy, thoroughly enjoying their 31-0 victory over New England on opening day. The Bills intercepted Brady four times and held him to 123 yards passing. Brady, talking to Bills beat reporters this week, said that loss knocked the Patriots out of a funk after coach Bill Belichick cut Milloy just days before the game, allowing the Bills to sign him. New England has won 11 games straight and 13 out of 14 since that game. "I remember that feeling we had of looking over at him (Milloy) celebrate after every tackle and every hit," Brady said. "You realize that for as big a funk we were in after losing Lawyer, I was in a helluva lot bigger funk losing 31-0. Having Lawyer with the Bills wasn't going to help the Patriots win any games. Losing 31-0 kind of brings all those feeling of anger that there's a loss. And now it's about, 'OK, well how are we going to salvage this season?' "

--LB Takeo Spikes on Saturday's season-finale: "I'm looking forward to it, I need to have something to talk about during the off-season. I'm good friends with (Patriots defensive end) Bobby Hamilton and he talks non-stop, so I've got to make sure I'm going to walk away from this season with something positive, and two wins over the Patriots would be nice."

--Bills fans booed from start to finish in the Miami loss, but one person got a little more creative. He blew up a white balloon, wrote the words "Bye, Bye Gregg" on it in black marker, and released it to be bounced around the stands like a beach ball. Talk about your balloon-o-grams.

--Another ugly statistic from the Dolphins game: The Bills failed to score a touchdown in the first quarter for the 18th time in the last 19 games in the series. Buffalo was shut out offensively both times this season.

--DT Sam Adams will achieve a career-long dream of playing in New England, where his dad, Sam Sr., was a star offensive lineman for the Patriots from 1972-80. It won't be the same field his dad played on -- the Patriots moved to new Gillette Stadium last season -- but it will still be very special for Adams. "It meant something more until they changed the stadium on me, but I've still never played there. It'll bring back a lot of childhood memories," Adams said.

--Saturday's game is the last for Bills radio play-by-play man Van Miller, who is retiring after 37 seasons, the longest run among current NFL voices. Miller's headset and spotting boards will be shipped to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, after the game. "I was blown away by that but my joy was tempered when I found out they want to put them in the men's room," Miller quipped. "Seriously, it's a great honor." Among play-by-play men in the NFL, Miller ranks first in years ahead of New England's Gil Santos and Philadelphia's Merrill Reese, each in their 27th season. "It's going to be tough," Miller said. "I've had a love affair with the Buffalo Bills and it's not going to stop." In a ceremony last Sunday, Bills owner Ralph Wilson presented Miller, a huge tennis fan, with a trip to Wimbledon.

--New Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling bought Drew Bledsoe's home in the upscale suburb of Medfield, Mass., this week for under the $6.5 million asking price. Bledsoe put the 26-acre estate on the market in August 2002 for $9 million. Despite his $37.5 million contract, Schilling drove a hard bargain, Bledsoe said. "We took a little bit of a hit on it, but we got it sold which is a good Christmas present," Bledsoe said. "We talked on the phone and met in the middle."

BY THE NUMBERS: 46 -- Times QB Drew Bledsoe has been sacked, tops in the NFL.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "No. It's a business and I realize that. I think you guys saw how I handled it and I think I handled it pretty well. No regrets. Hopefully, for my ex-teammates over there, it opened up their eyes to how ruthless and true this business really is." -- Ex-Patriots safety Lawyer Milloy, who insists any ill-will toward New England and coach Bill Belichick has waned.


Cornerback Antoine Winfield leads the list of Bills unrestricted free agents. The five-year veteran is arguably the best run-support corner in the NFL and is above average as a cover man, though he does present mismatches with his 5-8 height. Winfield is third on the Bills in tackles with 121 to go with a team-leading eight tackles for losses, a sack, 11 passes defended and two forced fumbles. Lack of interceptions (he has just one this year and six for his career) is a statistic that will hurt him at the negotiating table, but to what degree is difficult to predict since much depends on what a team desires Winfield for.

The Bills and Winfield talked before the season began about a new deal but didn't come to terms and Winfield now hopes to test the market, especially after his fourth straight season of not tasting the playoffs after getting there his rookie year.

"I don't want to cheat myself," Winfield said. "I mean, I would love to be back. We have a very talented team. But I want to win and I'm tired of losing. It seems like that has been the thing around here the last three years. I need to go to a contender, or hopefully, we can step up here and do something. I'll have to weigh my options."

Six new starters helped Buffalo soar to No. 2 overall in defense this season, but the offense plummeted to 30th and Winfield wasn't afraid to criticize offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride's work.

Overall, Buffalo's free agent list is short and sweet compared to other years:

Unrestricted free agents: Winfield, RB Sammy Morris, FB Sam Gash, FB Phil Crosby, LB DaShon Polk; restricted: OL Ross Tucker and Marques Sullivan, QB Travis Brown, DT Ron Edwards; exclusive rights: RB Joe Burns and LB Dominique Stevenson.


--OT Mike Williams did more team work on Wednesday but is still questionable for the Patriots with a tender knee.

--OG Mike Pucillo, who has missed the past four games with turf toe, is fine to play but the Bills appear to be happier with Ross Tucker at right guard.

--QB Alex Van Pelt sprained his right throwing wrist in pre-game warm-ups last Sunday and is questionable for the Patriots game. The Bills would use Travis Brown as the No. 2 if Van Pelt isn't ready.

--RB Willis McGahee said he won't play Sunday in New England, the rookie's last opportunity to get into a real game this season. McGahee has been practicing for two months since having major knee surgery last January, but at this point, risking injury doesn't make much sense. "Right now, we have to look towards the future, something bad could happen in the game and it could carry over to next year, so it's best right now to stay healthy," McGahee said.

--RB Travis Henry will finish out the season on Saturday by facing a New England defense that ranks No. 4 in the NFL against the run. Henry's 1,294 yards is the ninth-best single-season total in Bills history. He needs 145 yards to top his No. 5 mark of 1,438 set a year ago.

GAME PLAN: The Patriots (13-2) can clinch home-field advantage with a win so the Bills (6-9) can't expect any letdown from a resourceful New England team that has won 11 in a row despite a myriad of injuries and obstacles. To have a shot, Buffalo has got to put this game in the hands of running back Travis Henry and its No. 2 defense, and take it out of QB Drew Bledsoe's. If Bledsoe has to pass a ton, it will get ugly fast, since he'll likely be playing without his starting tackles again and New England corners Ty Law and Tyrone Pool are good enough to shut down a hampered Eric Moulds and Josh Reed one-on-one, meaning the Patriots can commit more numbers to the blitz. The Patriots have great speed off the edges with linebackers Mike Vrabel (9.5 sacks) and Roman Phifer and often times there is no pocket for Bledsoe to step into. Defensively, Buffalo was masterful in its 31-0 victory over the Patriots in Week One, holding resourceful Pats QB Tom Brady to 14 completions, 123 yards and 0 TDs while intercepting him four times. Brady is most effective on mid-range throws to an eclectic cast of receivers who excel at breaking tackles and running after the catch. Blitzing Brady is risky and the Bills will need to pick their spots. The Patriots, who have won seven games by eight points or less, know how to win in the clutch so getting off to a fast start is imperative for Buffalo.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Bills coach Gregg Williams vs. Patriots coach Bill Belichick. Belichick is 5-2 all-time vs. Buffalo.

--Bills defensive backs vs. Patriots QB Tom Brady. Brady has a knack for the big play when it's needed. Buffalo ranks 13th in third-down defense.

--Bills interior OL vs. Patriots interior DL. Ruben Brown, Trey Teague and Ross Tucker need to be effective against Ted Washington and Richard Seymour or it will be a long day running and passing the football.

--Bills RB Sammy Morris vs. Patriots LB Mike Vrabel. Vrabel has 9.5 sacks and Morris has to be sharp against the blitz.

--Bills LB London Fletcher vs. Patriots RB Kevin Faulk. Brady likes to throw to Faulk to keep the chains moving; he has 48 catches for 440 yards.

--Bills QB Drew Bledsoe vs. Patriots CBs Ty Law and Tyrone Poole. Poole and Law have combined for 12 interceptions. Bledsoe desperately needs Eric Moulds, Josh Reed or Bobby Shaw to make some plays for him.

INJURY IMPACT: The Bills thought they had good offensive line depth, then came the Miami Dolphins. With starting tackles Jonas Jennings and Mike Williams out injured, backups Marques Sullivan and Marcus Price struggled containing Dolphins' star defensive ends Jason Taylor and Adewale Ogunleye.

With his line unable to handle Miami's pressure with just four pass rushers, Bills quarterback Drew Bledsoe found himself throwing quickly into the teeth of a secondary stacked with seven men. The Bills needed to hit a couple big pass plays, but never sent their receivers deep because there wasn't time or they couldn't get off the line and gain separation fast enough. It got ugly, with Bledsoe completing just 12 of 24 throws for 114 yards while being sacked six times with two back-breaking turnovers.

Not having a healthy Eric Moulds since Week 5 clearly manifested itself with Josh Reed and Bobby Shaw not picking up enough slack. Reed hasn't caught a pass in two straight games.

"In our offense he's our best player," Bledsoe said of Moulds. "I mean, Travis Henry's a tremendous guy and is a great player in the league, but as far as a threat to score from anywhere on the field, Eric was that guy for us. We asked other guys to step up and fill that role when he was hurt but at the same time when you take your best player off the field, it's going to have an impact, no question."

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