By: Bob George/
October 30, 2002

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Bills: 5-3. Patriots: 3-4. I don't think this is how most folks thought this season would turn out.

Over here you were supposed to have the 6-1 Patriots (gotta give Miami the win at home, folks, sorry). Tom Brady has a quarterback rating of 116.3. He's making Troy Brown look like Jerry Rice. Daniel Graham is vying for offensive rookie of the year. Antowain Smith is second in the league in rushing (behind Priest Holmes, naturally), gashing through huge holes opened up by the efficient Patriot offensive line. The defense has merely picked up where it left off last year; it's high water mark was Brett Favre being induced into throwing five picks against the clobbering Patriot secondary.

And over here, you have the 1-6 Bills (their one win was against the Jets, of course). Drew Bledsoe has already been sacked 43 times in seven games. He has thrown 19 interceptions and three touchdowns (all TDs against the Jets). He has looked totally befuddled out there, has lost all his confidence, yet starts every news conference with the phrase "I'm still thrilled to be here, I have a lot of confidence in my ability, and this was exactly the right situation for me to come into."

Honk if this is how you envisioned the season as the week of Drew Bowl I came around.

The invincible Patriots, world champs and getting better each week. The hapless Bills, with no running game, no pass blocking and a new veteran quarterback getting into a worse situation than what he came from. This was supposed to form the backdrop to Drew Bowl I. This was supposed to be the week where Patriot Nation would laugh silly at the Bills, laugh even harder Sunday evening after the inevitable huge win, and go to bed dreaming of that high first round pick the Bills would have to send to Foxborough next April.

Oh, yeah.

Look who's laughing now. Over here, you have the destitute and clueless 3-4 Patriots, a team bereft of all its skill and material that made them champs last year. And over here, you have the resurgent 5-3 Bills, and the second leading passer in the league.

It simply wasn't supposed to be like this.

But here we are, ready to go up against Bledsoe for the first time ever. Bobby Orr once wore a Chicago uniform. Ray Bourque wound up an Avalanche. Jo Jo White once wore Golden State duds in the Garden. Dwight Evans spent his final major league season in Baltimore.

But this will be more than just a one-year gig for Bledsoe. This is the beginning of a long association with Buffalo, and the linchpin for what promises to be a rivalry as keen as perhaps the Tuna Bowls. And don't let Bledsoe tell you otherwise: these games will be deeply personal on his part. Bledsoe will do everything in his power to kill the Patriots every time he meets them.

Bill Belichick perhaps had no choice than to trade Bledsoe to Buffalo. Nobody was biting on Bledsoe when he was dangled as trade bait (you can't do anything about stupidity in regards to Steve Spurrier, Jerry Jones or Mike Brown). Belichick took what was likely his best offer. There was no way that Bledsoe could have been a Patriot in 2002. Too much had been done. The Patriots were Brady's team, and Bledsoe knew that as well as anyone.

But what will drive Bledsoe every time he faces the Patriots is the fact that Belichick traded him to a division rival. You can take that any way you want, but it is in the abstract a cold slap in the face to Bledsoe. It is the ultimate indignity, the supreme diss.

In trading Bledsoe to Buffalo, Belichick is practically saying that he welcomes facing Bledsoe twice each year, and perhaps assumes two easy wins. As Jet defensive coordinator from 1997 to 1999, Belichick was able to confound Bledsoe with baffling cover-two schemes which would always produce low passing numbers and lots of interceptions. Belichick really put the shackles on Bledsoe, and made it look real easy.

It is, in a way, much like how well Belichick handles Peyton Manning of the Colts, now no longer in the same division as the Patriots. Manning goes up against Belichick and comes out of it looking like a dumbfounded rookie with a deer-in-the-headlights look. With Bledsoe now a Bill, Belichick had to be figuring nothing but success against a quarterback he basically has toyed with over the years.

But nobody counted on all that has gone right in Buffalo, and all that has gone wrong in Foxborough.

You all know what's wrong with the Patriots, which is good given that it is widely held that Belichick has no idea. So, we'll instead delve into what Buffalo is enjoying so much this year.

You knew about their wide receivers, Peerless Price and Eric Moulds. And tight end Jay Riemersma. These guys can catch the ball. We already know that.

What you didn't count on was the great year Travis Henry was going to have. Henry is currently fifth in the league in rushing yards (695). He's averaging 4.6 yards per carry and has scored nine touchdowns. He's on his way to a 1,400-yard season. This was crucial if Bledsoe was going to succeed, and Henry has given Buffalo more of a lift than Bledsoe has.

And that's saying a lot. Bledsoe leads the league in passing yardage (2,500), and is slightly behind the pace of Dan Marino's yardage record of 1984 (5,084). The top two receivers in the league in yardage? Moulds (785) and Price (740). Moulds and Price are 2-3 in the league in most catches (Moulds trails Indianapolis' Marvin Harrison by one catch). Buffalo trails only Kansas City in the conference and New Orleans in the league in total points scored this season (241).

Good trade for the Patriots?

Based upon what we've seen this past three to four weeks, Moulds and Price are going to run the poor Patriots silly, and Henry will hang at least a 150-spot on the Patriots. Henry had nothing to do with the trade, of course, but he has a great deal to do with who's getting the better of the trade now.

If the Patriots are to have any chance, they are going to have to get pressure on Bledsoe. But the Patriot pass rush has been as invisible as their run defense and pass coverage during this losing streak. Give Bledsoe the time, and he will go Veg-O-Matic on the Patriots. Given that the Patriots will have to respect Henry, it makes things so much harder.

One incredible statistical oddity will help the Patriots on Sunday. They are currently second in the NFL in pass defense. One wonders how, except that that stat is based on yards per game. Since five straight 100-yard rushers have bludgeoned the Patriots, opposing offenses have perhaps not felt a need to go for 300-some odd yards passing. This is one stat that is definitely misleading, and Bledsoe can probably make Otis Smith look like a fool out there if the tendencies of the past few weeks continue.

Trading Bledsoe within the division. Four more days before you get to see firsthand the brilliance or the stupidity of the move.

And if spend the afternoon pining for the good old days, chances are the home team is winning.