Patriots-Bills Preview

The Buffalo Bills’ blowout win in Week 1 turned some heads, and

a stirring comeback last weekend left them among the league’s seven

unbeatens.

Any kind of victory Sunday would take the buzz to a whole new

level.

The upstart Bills will face the ultimate early test when they

try to avoid a 16th straight loss to the New England Patriots, who

visit western New York for a showdown between the AFC’s

highest-scoring offenses.

Coming off a 4-12 season that extended its playoff drought to 11

years, Buffalo (2-0) is surely the most surprising of the three AFC

East teams yet to lose.

After steamrolling Kansas City 41-7 in their season opener, the

Bills rallied from a 21-3 halftime deficit last Sunday and beat

Oakland 38-35 on Ryan Fitzpatrick’s 6-yard, fourth-down touchdown

pass to David Nelson with 14 seconds left.

As happy as the Bills are to start 2-0 for only the second time

in eight seasons, wide receiver Stevie Johnson knows they have a

chance to make an even bigger statement against the Patriots

(2-0).

“If we want to change things around here, this is where we’ve

got to start,” Johnson said. “We know that they’re the team above,

but we feel like we can go out there and beat these guys.”

That’s something the Bills haven’t done since a stunning 31-0

win Sept. 7, 2003. Although they challenged New England in a 38-30

road loss last Sept. 26, the NFL’s longest active streak in any

series stretched to 15 with the Patriots’ 34-3 win in Orchard Park,

N.Y., on Dec. 26.

Fitzpatrick had major problems in that game with three

interceptions and two of the Bills’ four lost fumbles, but he’s

turned the ball over just once this year. He’s completed 63.4

percent of his passes and thrown for seven TDs while getting plenty

of help from Fred Jackson, the NFL’s leading rusher with 229

yards.

“This is a new Buffalo Bills team,” New England defensive tackle

Vince Wilfork said. “Looking at them on film, they’re making big

plays after big plays. They actually look pretty good. It’s no

smoke and mirrors with them.

“They’re the real deal.”

That’s certainly true of Tom Brady, on pace to throw for more

than 7,500 yards this season after two prolific performances.

The reigning NFL MVP posted a career-high 517 passing yards and

four TDs in a 38-24 win at Miami, then torched San Diego for 423

yards and three scores in last Sunday’s 35-21 victory.

Brady is 17-1 with a 103.0 passer rating against Buffalo.

“With Brady, it has to be one play at a time because he’s going

to make plays,” Bills defensive lineman Kyle Williams said. “If you

get caught up on junk that happened before, I think that’s when he

burns you.”

While the Patriots are third in the NFL with 73 points, the

Bills lead the way with 79, and they could post another big number

against New England’s 31st-ranked defense and banged-up

secondary.

Safeties Josh Barrett and Patrick Chung and cornerback Leigh

Bodden are all battling thumb injuries. It’s possible all three

play Sunday, although it’s unclear which players will need

casts.

The status of rookie cornerback Ras-I Dowling (thigh) also is

uncertain after he left last Sunday’s win.

“It seems to be going around a little bit on the defensive

backs,” Barrett said. “You’re not in there thinking about it at

all, but just wrapping up (ball carriers), small stuff, that it can

hinder and inhibit you from doing.”

A knee injury will sideline Aaron Hernandez, who has combined

with fellow tight end Rob Gronkowski for 337 receiving yards and

five touchdowns. The Patriots also released Gronkowski’s brother

Dan, leaving Rob Gronkowski – who caught three touchdowns against

the Bills last year – as New England’s lone healthy tight end.

The Gronkowskis grew up in the Buffalo area.

A tight end also has made a major impact for Buffalo. Scott

Chandler had two touchdown catches against the Chiefs and one in

the fourth quarter last weekend.

He and Nelson may be asked to carry a heavier load after Roscoe

Parrish was placed on injured reserve with an ankle injury this

week. Parrish had 400 receiving yards in eight games last year,

including a season-high 83 at New England.

“He’s a big part of what we do and what we wanted to do,”

Fitzpatrick said. “That’s going to be hard for us.”

Not as hard, perhaps, as the challenge the Patriots pose.

“It’ll be a great test for us,” Jackson said. “It will be a good

way for us to establish ourselves as one of the best teams in the

league if we can go out and get this win this weekend.”