By: Bob George/BosSports.net
December 26, 2003

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The Patriots could still lose this game.

But frankly, will they?

Patriots/Bills
Close-Up
Where: Gillette Stadium
Foxborough, Mass.
When: Saturday 12/27/03
1:30 PM EDT
Television: CBS
WBZ Channel 4 in Boston
DSS: DirecTV
Channel 930
2003 Team Records: Patriots 13-2
Bills 6-9
Latest Line: Patriots by 9
Okay, the Bills have the second best defense in the NFL. They have a strong safety who will be celebrating an emotional return to the area he called home for the last seven seasons. They have a quarterback who, despite all he might say to dispel such thoughts, will also be on an emotional high as he returns for the second time to his original NFL home. They have a team which will play with nothing to lose, and will be deeply committed to duplicating, or at least coming close to, it's dominating Week 1 shutout win.

But what the Bills will be facing will be a 13-2 team in its own crib who is one win away from securing home field advantage for the entire AFC playoffs. They will be facing a team which has long since gotten over the loss of Lawyer Milloy, and is a better team without him. They will be facing a team which, assuming the players have no tensions or mental funks to deal with, has the players and coaches to stymie the Buffalo offense in general and Drew Bledsoe in particular. They will be amidst a rabid fan base which, once the ovation for Milloy has subsided, will be insanely anti-Buffalo in every way imaginable.

In all ways imaginable, advantage Patriots.

Simply stated, given how this team has overcome adversity all season long, and given how they have always found a way to win against teams not from Washington, they will not only find a way to defeat Buffalo on Saturday, but they should also do so in convincing fashion. All the intangibles, all the tangibles, they all point to a New England win. Buffalo could give the Patriot offense some fits because they are the second best in the league, but the Patriot defense, which pitched home shutouts against both Dallas and Miami, could very well do the same against a team which managed only three points at home last week against the Dolphins.

There are only a few scant scenarios where Buffalo might break through. The Patriots could suffer one or several cataclysmic injuries from which they won't have the material to overcome it. Tom Brady could once again cut a stinker like he did 16 weeks ago. Someone could suffer an external tragedy like Brett Favre did, and not have the spirit like Favre to overcome it and have a career game.

But if the Patriots bring their "A" offense and "A" defense to the game Saturday, the Patriots will win and likely win big. Buffalo won't have the advantage it had over the Patriots in Week 1 with the Milloy situation, and the Patriots will use that 31-0 loss to motivate them plenty. Factor in that Week 1 loss in with the AFC top seed at stake, and with the game at home, and Buffalo literally has no chance.

Well, as we said, they actually do. But don't bet on it.

Offensively, the Patriots must find a way to do something they have not yet shown they can do, and that is to contain Takeo Spikes. In his last two games against the Patriots (Week 1 in 2003, Week 1 in 2001 with Cincinnati), he has dominated the game and wreaked havoc on the Patriot offense. He had two interceptions in the '03 season opener, and was second on the Bengals in combined tackles and assists, with a sack of Bledsoe in the '01 opener.

The other Bill who had a big game in Week 1 was the big guy, Sam Adams, Jr. Son of the former Patriot guard, he clogged up the middle and had an interception return for a touchdown. In this game, Adams will be matched up against Dan Koppen instead of Damien Woody. Antowain Smith might not be able to make a lot of hay up the middle, but the Patriots might otherwise prevent Adams from dominating the middle with their offensive line which has been able to stay together intact for much of the season.

As for Milloy, he will be a force against the run, but he had better thank his lucky stars that he has two decent cover corners to work with. In Antoine Winfield and Nate Clements, Troy Brown and Deion Branch will find slim pickings. What Brady should do is something he should have tried to do more in the opener, and that is to flood the secondary with multiple wideout sets and try to isolate Milloy on someone. Milloy is not anywhere near the cover man as he is the run stopper, and if forced to play man coverage, advantage Patriots. The reason Brady was not able to do this in the opener is because he usually did not have time to throw, so the offensive line must be able to protect Brady properly.

What the Patriots might want to try is three wideouts and two tight ends, and have Brady work out of an empty backfield. The tight ends will give better protection, and the three wideouts will help expose leaks in secondary coverage. Four wideouts would be more preferable, but go with two tight ends if one isn't enough to stem the Bills' pass rush. When Brady is in an empty backfield set, the plays that follow generally have to be of the quick developing variety. Brady can usually make quick reads and find the right receiver, and he will need to do so if the Patriots decide to attack Buffalo in this manner.

All this speculation is worthless if the Patriots play with the emotion everyone expects them to come out with. The Patriots are the emotionally charged team this time, unlike the opener. Their level of emotion alone could completely negate any material advantage Buffalo might have on paper. The Patriots will take the field on Saturday with the fullest of confidence that they should, and must, win this game.

The players will tell you that HFA will be the prime motivation, and not revenge. That may be true, and that is what Bill Belichick will have tried to accomplish this week. But to a man, there won't be any Patriot who won't want to beat the tar out of Buffalo merely out of anger over the 31-0 whitewash in September. The feeling is that neither of these motives will dominate the other, but rather work in concert to help ensure a Patriot win.

The Patriots are on the doorstep of two things they have never done before in team history: Win 14 games in the regular season, and secure the top playoff seed. Having won a Super Bowl two years ago, these may seem like artificial and ceremonial goals more than material and substantive goals. Some folks think that the Patriots are conference title faves regardless of how they are seeded. With these two landmark achievements at hand, and with Buffalo as the one final obstacle, and with the game at Gillette Stadium, again, advantage Patriots.

Advantage Patriots. That should be the prevailing theme Saturday.

Because beyond Saturday, any of these goals are really ceremonial and totally worthless unless the Patriots make it to Houston on February 1.

But as for right now, it's all about 14 wins, home field, and a team which beat the Patriots 31-0 16 weeks ago.


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