Bills Offense Dangerous On Ground Too

The Buffalo Bills have weapons on offense in both the passing game and the running game. Just ask Ryan Fitzpatrick who gets to watch the Bills C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson in practice every day.

Quarterbacks Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tom Brady share the NFL lead with seven touchdown passes each, so naturally the spotlight is on their individual duel.

   But Sunday's showdown between AFC East Division leaders Buffalo (2-0) and New England (2-0) will likely boil down to the team that doesn't necessarily throw the ball better, but runs it better.

   For its part, Buffalo wants to control the clock and keep Brady off the field. And they have the personnel capable of doing it.

   Running back Fred Jackson leads the NFL with 229 yards rushing and is the first Bills player since Thurman Thomas in 1991 to open the season with consecutive 100-yard games.

   If Buffalo has any shot of ending its 15-game losing streak to the Patriots, it will have to put the game on Jackson's shoulders. Fitzpatrick threw five interceptions in two losses to New England last year, so keeping the Patriots' defense on its heels with a running game is crucial.

   The Bills fell behind the Raiders last week 21-3 and while it was Fitzpatrick's three second-half touchdown passes that proved the difference, it was Jackson's 43-yard touchdown run that sparked the rally.

   "We started slow and we hurt ourselves tremendously in the first half of the game last Sunday," Jackson said. "We can't do that. We need to play consistently up to what we feel like we're capable of doing. To not score or be down 21-3 at halftime is not going to favor us well if we continue to play like that."

   Fitzpatrick said he could not have done what he did through the air without Jackson's talents on the ground. Adding to that was the play of second-year pro C.J. Spiller, who had four carries for 63 yards against the Raiders, all in the second half.

   "We need to get him more touches with what he did in that game," Fitzpatrick said. "Fred got over the 100-yard mark with 15 carries. We ran the ball really effectively and that really helped us. There comes a point in the game where you can't run as much when you're down. (Spiller's) touches are going to come. It's good to see the progress he's made. Everybody knows how explosive he is."

   And they know how underrated Jackson is.

   The former Division III free agent has moved into seventh-place on the team's career rushing list. He's also a complete back, catching and blocking equally well.

   "He's running the ball extremely well," coach Chan Gailey said. "He's hitting the holes like we all know he can and he's such a valuable player for us. He can protect, he can run routes, he can run the football inside and outside and the line's doing a job of helping him find those creases, too. They're blocking people, too. I mean you got to have that. It's not just a one-man show out there running the football."

   When it comes to its own running game, New England had its way with the Bills last year, amassing 417 yards on 79 carries in both division matchups. Buffalo's remodeled defense, led by rookie Marcell Dareus, is stopping the run better. But Sunday's games pits the Bills' front seven against a very good offensive line.

   Of course, there is no denying the magnitude of the game for Buffalo. Victories against a weak Kansas City team (0-2, outscored 89-10) and an Oakland team (1-1) that played on Monday and had to travel across the country haven't swayed critics or fans who can't forget about the fact the Bills have missed the playoffs 11 consecutive seasons.

   "We're excited about the matchup but it is (still) one game out of 16," Fitzpatrick said. "What we've talked about here, in order to get to the playoffs, in order to do what we want to do you got to win your division. We feel like we may have the toughest division in all of football. It's going to be a tough test for us and we're looking forward to the challenge."

   Buffalo hasn't defeated New England since a 31-0 romp in the 2003 season opener, one of the few times it forced Brady into mistakes.

   The Patriots are sounding more cautious than normal in interviews leading up to a Bills game.

   "It has no bearing," wide receiver Deion Branch said of the team's 15-0 winning streak over the Bills. "It's a big game. It's a divisional game. It's part of their growth. They're a young team. They're playing good."

   Said coach Bill Belichick, who makes every opponent sound Super-Bowl worthy: "I know we have a lot of respect for Buffalo and the way they play. It's always competitive against them, and they've done nothing but get better since early in the season last year. They have a good experienced quarterback, good running backs, good receivers and tight ends, an offensive line that has really improved. And they added Dareus to a strong defense ... We've got our hands full this week."

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