By: Bob George/
October 02, 2004

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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. - At least Lawyer Milloy won't have anything to do with this one.

Where: Ralph Wilson Stadium
Orchard Park, N.Y.
When: Sunday 10/3/04
1:00 PM EDT
TV National:
TV Local:
DSS: DirecTV
Channel 706, 930
2004 Team
Patriots 2-0
Bills 0-2
Latest Line: Patriots by 6
Milloy will miss this game with a forearm injury, a malady which will cost him over half the season. But he was at the epicenter of what turned out to be a major Patriot earthquake a little over a year ago, and the Patriots make their first return visit to the site of one of the most decisive Patriot losses in recent memory. The Bills whipped the future world champions in the 2003 season opener, 31-0, and the switching teams by Milloy was perceived by many as the main reason for the result of this anomalic game.

The Patriots debunk this Milloy theory pretty much by and large. In the NFL Films Super Bowl XXXVIII DVD, Rodney Harrison says that the Bills simply "kicked our butts”. The Patriots don't want to admit that the Milloy situation was a huge distraction, to say nothing of what message was sent by team management to the rest of the team.

The casual observer might disagree. The Bills had the Patriots by a mile in every aspect possible, including energy, discipline and execution. Drew Bledsoe never has such an easy time with a Bill Belichick defense. The Bills' defense was flying all over the place, inducing four Tom Brady interceptions, one of which was run back 37 yards for a touchdown by Buffalo's Son Of Sam, Sam Adams (whose dad was a former Patriot lineman). Given the 13-1 regular season (and a Vince to boot) which followed this game, only a shattering development like the Milloy release could have precipitated such a horrid result for the Patriots.

The clincher for the Milloy theory was the season finale. Needing a win to nail down home field throughout the playoffs, the Patriots clobbered the Bills at Gillette Stadium, with Buffalo returning much the same cast as in Week 1 (minus right tackle Ruben Brown). It is perhaps no coincidence that the final score was 31-0. It could be said that the reason the Patriots won so handily was that Buffalo was playing soft to make the skids for former coach Gregg Williams' departure more greasy, but scoring 31 points on a Bills defense is hard to do under any circumstances. The Patriots smelled blood, plain and simple.

Now, with both teams off a bye week and plenty rested (or stale, depending upon your point of view), the Patriots return to Ralph Wilson Stadium with another score to settle with Buffalo. Last December, it was just the team. Now, it's the team and the venue. The Patriots will be driven to erase the bad memories of Week 1 last year.

Not that that's what they will tell you. They'll repeat the party line, the Belichick dogma just perfectly. Just another game. The Bills are a tough team. What win streak? Last year means nothing. One game at a time. Revenge is for suckers.

Adding some spice to the mix is a report out of Buffalo that linebacker Takeo Spikes has guaranteed a Bills win. Spikes, who has been a thorn in the Patriots' side both in Cincinnati and Buffalo, decided that it was a good idea to try and fire up his team up by going Joe Namath on the Patriots. One has to wonder which team Spikes will wind up firing up, as the Patriots normally feast on opposing big mouths who either have no discipline or no ability to obey the coach's admonitions to respect the other team.

If the Patriots merely let the emotion of the game carry them through, the game will come down simply to the continued confounding of Bledsoe, and what kind of effect Corey Dillon will have on loosening up the stout Bills' defense. The Patriots have plenty of talent to win the game, and the Bills are an offensive disaster thus far in this young season (20 points and two touchdowns in the first two games). Bledsoe has sunk to the lowest of lows during his 12-year career, and the Patriots should offer him no hope whatsoever of resurrecting what used to be a stellar career.

It's not really worth the time to try and speculate on how Belichick will defense Bledsoe this time. Belichick pretty much has owned Bledsoe for most of his career, and the Patriot defense is pretty much up to the task of whatever Belichick tells them to do. The only real issue that might come up is how well the front seven handles Travis Henry, a prospect which might reveal how far along in the learning process Vince Wilfork has come.

The Patriots, meanwhile, are banged up on offense, not a good prospect in facing the Bills. Ben Watson is now gone for the year, Deion Branch has not yet fully recovered from his freak injury at the end of the first half at Arizona, and Kevin Faulk is also not one hundred percent. Brady will need Christian Fauria, David Givens and Troy Brown to step up and provide as many offensive options they can give. New tight end Jed Weaver might not be ready to make significant contributions just yet.

Whatever they can do will be greatly enhanced by what Dillon can do.

This is a perfect situation for Dillon to really show the Patriots what he brings to the table. With two key receivers and a running back either out or ailing, and facing a defense which is very strong up the middle (London Fletcher, Pat Williams and Adams are hard for anyone to run on), Dillon's power running will be badly needed to help Brady facilitate the passing game in its current state. Not having Milloy in there to stuff the run will help, and it will be unlikely that Buffalo will bring eight men in the box with regularity, if at all. Dillon should be given a chance here to be the biggest component to a Patriot win.

A matchup problem the Patriots need to address is Matt Light on Aaron Schobel, the sack specialist for Buffalo. Dwight Freeney of Indianapolis had the better of Light in the season opener; it might be prudent to have Daniel Graham help out with blocking in obvious passing downs. Dillon's success will help dictate Brady's ability to play-action and perhaps keep some heat off him, but it might behoove Charlie Weis to give Light a little help if Schobel becomes problematic.

Weis might choose to spread the Bills' defense with five-wideout sets in an attempt to work around Troy Vincent and Nate Clements, the outstanding cornerback duo of the Bills. If Weis does this, the extra tight end won't be used to help block Schobel. Reports abound that rookie P.K. Sam might be activated for this game and for this very reason. This would make a receiving corps of Brown, Givens, David Patten, Bethel Johnson and Sam. Reports also state that Weis might run this offense in a hurry-up mode to keep the Bills off balance. If Brady can get the time to throw, this could be an effective game plan.

Maybe this matters not. If Bledsoe plays like Bledsoe against Belichick and if Henry is neutralized, Buffalo's chances of winning are greatly hampered. The raw emotion that was there in 2003 in Orchard Park won't be there this year, at least for the home team. The Patriots will not be dominated in the intensity category, and maybe not anywhere at all.

Still, you the fan can still have fun romanticizing. The December payback was fun to watch, but payment in full comes due on Sunday.