Buffalo enters its second meeting of the season with the Patriots a different team than the one that fought early only to get blown out by the Patriots 38-7 in Week 3. The Bills -- a transitional team that entered the season picked by many to finish last in the AFC East -- have already lost five opening-day starters to injured reserve. The injuries hit especially hard on defense, losing second-round pick and starting middle linebacker Paul Posluszny as well as a pair of starting defensive backs in young safety Ko Simpson and veteran cornerback Jason Webster.
But as the injuries have piled up, surprisingly so have the wins. Buffalo has won five of six games since the loss in New England to pull to second place in the AFC East with a 5-4 mark, despite the difficult 0-3 start to the year. The only loss in the stretch was a one-point defeat against Dallas, a game the team had every opportunity to win and gave away at the end.
What's strange about the successful stretch that's included wins over the Jets (twice), Ravens, Bengals and Dolphins is that there is no tangible, statistical reason for it. Buffalo went into last weekend's game in Miami ranked 31st in the league in total offense and 29th in total defense.
The only thing to really point to for much of the last month-plus of success is the team's ability to control the time of possession against some admittedly questionable opponents. A developing young line has combined with rookie first-round running back Marshawn Lynch to help the Bills hold onto the football long enough to grind out victories. It's a strategy the team is almost sure to employ against the high-powered Patriots passing attack.
Lynch, who had a left ankle injury in the fourth quarter of last week's win, has been the focal point of the offense. His numbers aren't great -- 196 carries for 751 yards (3.8 avg.) and six touchdowns -- but they're pretty much the best the Bills have to offer.
"There's no rookie I have more respect for than what Lynch has done this year, in every phase of the game -- running, passing, blitz pick-up," Bill Belichick said. "He's made a lot of tough yards; he's made a lot of yards in the open field; he's blocked well when he's been called on to do that. We have to be ready for everybody."
He's been a constant on the unit that's seen both J.P. Losman (early in the year and the last two weeks) and rookie Trent Edwards take their shots at a lackluster passing attack. Both have thrown more interceptions than touchdowns. And to show Lynch's importance, he has as many touchdown passes (one) as Edwards in 120 less attempts. He's got just one less scoring throw than Losman's two.
On the defensive side of the ball, despite injuries the unit has fought the good fight. A developing young line has done a good job slowing the run during the bulk of the winning streak and Buffalo has done a decent job forcing turnovers with 16 takeaways, including a dozen interceptions divvied among eight different players.
But in the end, a team is what its numbers say it is. The statistics say the Bills are a well-below average football team. The record says something different. Either way, the players have been fighting for Dick Jauron through adversity and the coach knows his team hosts a huge test this Sunday.
"We know how good they are and everybody else does too," Jauron said after Buffalo's latest ugly win. "They're very, very talented. We've got an opportunity in front of us so we'll just get ready and prepare to play the best team we can play. You know what it's going to take to beat a team like that. Nobody has done it this year."