Bills limp into New England

Loaded with injuries at key positions, Buffalo stumbles into New England having lost three of its last four games.

The Bills, in the throes of a 1-3 slide, need a victory in the worst way to re-establish themselves as a viable playoff contender. But things aren't getting easier, just tougher.

Buffalo (5-3) travels to New England (5-3) on Sunday for a matchup of first-place teams in the AFC East. The Bills have lost 14 of their last 15 meetings in the series and nine games in a row to the Patriots.

But ending that skid means the Bills will have to win playing without three starters: wide receiver Josh Reed (ankle, Achilles), defensive end Aaron Schobel (foot) and strong safety Donte Whitner.

A fourth starter, linebacker Kawika Mitchell, also didn't practice on Wednesday with an ankle injury, while on a positive note, two offensive linemen -- Brad Butler (knee) and Jason Whittle (back) -- were able to practice on a limited basis.

Wide receiver Lee Evans is 0-8 against New England. Of the four games played at Gillette Stadium with him in the lineup, Buffalo has lost 29-6, 21-16, 19-17 and 38-7. Combined with a 56-10 home loss, the Bills were outclassed 94-17 in last year's Patriots series.

New England, unbeaten last season until being upset in the Super Bowl by the New York Giants, aren't the same powerful team without quarterback Tom Brady, out for the year with a knee injury.

But the Patriots still play stout defense and the sound coaching of Bill Belichick has kept the team competitive each week starting fourth-year pro Matt Cassel, who backed up two Heisman Trophy winners (Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart) at USC and learned some lessons.

"Obviously they are a veteran team and they have done it time after time and that is what we are trying to get too," Evans said. "I have never beaten them. It's one of those things where that is where you have to get to. That is what you strive for and if you think you are going to win this division or go to the playoffs, that is the team you have to beat."

Doing it with this many key injuries, however, will take Buffalo's best effort plus a lot of fortunate breaks.

Cassel has been sacked 28 times and he's been hassled into seven interceptions. But Buffalo's pass rush, which produced 10 sacks in the team's first four games, has gone practically dormant with just three in the last four games.

The big loss is Schobel, the Bills' No. 2 all-time sack leader who has missed three games with a foot injury.

Schobel's status was downgraded by coach Dick Jauron on Monday, and on Wednesday, Schobel went to see a specialist in North Carolina. The Associated Press reported that the team fears Schobel has a Lisfranc sprain, the type of injury that ended Indianapolis Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney's season last November.

Some reports have Schobel out two more weeks minimum and there's a chance his season could be finished.

"I don't know if it's more or less serious than we thought," Jauron said. "He is getting, we could call it a consultation, with somebody who has seen a lot of these foot sprains, so we should know a little bit more about it as we move through the week."

Could Schobel's injury be season-ending?

"I haven't heard that," Jauron said. "But there's always a concern when somebody doesn't play for 'X' number of weeks and they have an injury. I'll leave it at that."

Schobel has just one sack this year and his streak of 117 starts was snapped.

Ryan Denney has started in his place.

Offensively, Reed's injury has crippled Buffalo's passing game and, to an extent, its running game because he's the team's best downfield blocker. But mostly what's caused the once-productive unit to score just 16 and 17 points in losses to Miami and the New York Jets are mental mistakes.

Buffalo has 11 turnovers in its four-game slide compared to five in its 4-0 start. Save for a good game against San Diego, quarterback Trent Edwards hasn't been the same since suffering a bad concussion against Arizona on Oct. 5. The line, battling injuries, definitely hasn't been the same either, allowing 23 sacks so far after giving up just 26 all last year.

Buffalo is averaging 3.6 yards per carry and 93.8 yards per game rushing.

Pressed for answers, offensive coordinator Turk Schonert said he's most disappointed about leaving points on the field but it's nothing that better execution won't cure.

Against the Jets, Buffalo came away with no points on three trips into the red zone and actually gave up seven on a 92-yard interception return. The other drives ended on downs and with a missed field goal.

"We have to quit turning the ball over. That's it," Schonert said. "Seven in two games, you are not going to win against good teams especially in your division (doing that). We have to stop that first and then we have to get better running the football. Our passing game has been fine. We have been pretty efficient in the pass game and have made a lot of big plays. We do have to protect a little better and we have to run the football better. If we do that and just eliminate turnovers, we'll be fine.

"We had turnovers all three times in a scoring area. If we just kick those three field goals, that is nine points and they don't get seven. Do the math because we win."

SERIES HISTORY: 96th regular-season meeting. Patriots lead 54-40-1. New England has won nine consecutive games in the series and Buffalo has never won at Gillette Stadium. The Bills' last win in Foxboro, Mass., was 16-13 on Nov. 15, 2000, when Steve Christie kicked a 32-yard field in overtime.

Courtesy of The Sports Xchange

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