At risk of their first three-game losing streak in nearly a decade, the New England Patriots encounter an opponent that couldn't beat them for almost that long.
A win over the Buffalo Bills, though, is certainly no longer a given.
The Patriots look to put a stop to their frustrating skid Sunday in
Orchard Park, N.Y., where they blew a 21-point lead last year as their
long mastery of the Bills finally came to an end.
New England dominated its season opener at Tennessee, but it's now 1-2
for the first time since 2001. Another loss Sunday would give the
Patriots three consecutive defeats for the first time since a four-game
slide Sept. 29-Oct. 27, 2002, while matching the club's total from the
entire 2011 regular season.
"It is a great opportunity for us," Bills coach Chan Gailey said. "They
are going to be at an all-time focus level for this ball game just
because of who they are."
Bill Belichick's team would be 3-0 if a pair of field-goal attempts had
turned out differently. After Stephen Gostkowski badly missed a
potential game-winner in a 20-18 home loss to Arizona two weeks ago,
Baltimore's Justin Tucker made a 27-yarder at the gun to give the
Ravens a 31-30 victory last Sunday.
Tucker's kick appeared to go over one of the uprights, and Belichick
drew plenty of attention after the game for grabbing the arm of a
replacement official trying to get an explanation about whether the
play was under review.
"I'm trying to focus on coaching our football team," Belichick said.
"We need to do a better job of controlling the things that we need to
Tom Brady also pointed to the Patriots' play after the team blew a
nine-point lead in the final five minutes in Baltimore.
"We just don't play well when we need to," Brady said. "We've got to
play our best when it means the most, and we need to start winning
New England absolutely did not do that last year at Buffalo. The
Patriots entered the Sept. 25 matchup riding a 15-game winning streak
in the series, and they appeared well on their way to No. 16 after
taking a 21-0 lead late in the first half.
But the Bills intercepted Brady four times - matching a career high for
the two-time NFL MVP - and rallied to win 34-31 on Rian Lindell's
28-yard field goal as time expired.
Although the Patriots returned the favor at home in Week 17, erasing a
21-point deficit in a 49-21 victory, they're certainly not taking the
Bills lightly, especially with Buffalo (2-1) tied atop the AFC East
with New York.
After an ugly season-opening loss to the Jets, the Bills have bounced
back to beat Kansas City and Cleveland. Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for
three touchdowns without an interception in last Sunday's 24-14 road
win over the Browns.
Tashard Choice ran for 91 yards on 20 carries after C.J. Spiller went
down early in the game with a shoulder injury. Spiller, who had been
sensational since starter Fred Jackson suffered a sprained knee in the
season opener, is questionable to play Sunday, but Jackson was cleared
by a doctor and is expected to return ahead of schedule.
"You lose a guy like (Spiller), it definitely adds to wanting to get
back out there and helping your team," said Jackson, who practiced for
a third straight day Friday. "But from that standpoint, I always wanted
to be back versus New England just because it is New England and it's a
tough game for us."
Jackson was instrumental to the win over the Patriots last year,
running for 74 yards and a touchdown on just 12 carries while adding
five catches for 87 yards. He missed the road loss with an injury.
He may be eager to face a defense that looked vulnerable against the
Ravens, allowing 503 yards - the fourth-highest total in the NFL this
"The offense played their tails off, and we just left them out to dry,
and we can't do that," defensive lineman Vince Wilfork said. "So we
have to take it and move on. We have to get better from this. We
definitely have to get better. We will get better."
New England at least answered concerns about Wes Welker's seemingly
shrinking role, with Brady finding him eight times for 142 yards. But
even career-high totals of 16 receptions and 217 yards from Welker
weren't enough for the Patriots to win at Buffalo last season.
Western New York native Rob Gronkowski had two 100-yard games and four
total touchdowns against the Bills in 2011. He's been held to 156 yards
this year after having 1,327 last season to rank second in the AFC
behind Welker (1,569).
Sunday will mark the first time since 2000 that the Bills will have a
punter who isn't Brian Moorman. The former Pro Bowler was the team's
longest-tenured player before he was released Tuesday after some early
Rookie Shawn Powell will take over as the Bills try to end a six-game
skid against division opponents. Buffalo has lost 21 of 25 versus AFC
East foes since the start of 2008.
It may help the Bills if New England is without star offensive lineman
Logan Mankins, who hasn't been practicing due to a hip injury.
PREVIEW: Patriots - Bills
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