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By Tom E. Curran
FOXBORO - For the Patriots, this game is, as my buddy Joe pointed out to me Saturday morning, like fighting a girl.
Win and, well, you were supposed to. Lose and . . . hide your faces.
I didn't feel like getting into a Laila Ali conversation with Joe, so I just nodded and blew the steam off my coffee. But Joe has a primitively-phrased point.
I'm not here to pretend the 0-2 Bills are a daunting opponent. Merely to point out that, last week, that 34-7 beatdown the Packers hung on them? It was 13-7 at halftime and the Packers' three second-half touchdowns came after two picks and a failed fourth down late in the game.
WHEN THE PATRIOTS HAVE THE BALL
1. Respect The Playmakers. The Bills' secondary has four players who can change a game in the secondary if allowed to. Corners Terrence McGee and Leodis McKelvin and safeties Donte Whitner and Jairus Byrd are a better-than-average group. And they all are dangerous with the ball in their hands. Tom Brady has to protect the ball and guard against risky throws.
2. Find A Third Down Back. With Kevin Faulk down and out, Bill Belichick talked about finding a new recipe on third down. Will it be Sammy Morris, who's not the receiver or elusive runner Faulk is but can be a reliable enough player? Tiny Danny Woodhead? Will the Patriots shift their focus on third down and start going to an empty backfield? This week's game is one to find out because next week's game in Miami is going to be a handful.
3. Run, Benny, Run. OK, I'll say it. I don't get the fascination with BenJarvus Green-Ellis. I'm not saying Laurence Maroney should still be here and BJGE shouldn't. I'm just saying there's nothing exceptional about Green-Ellis except, it seems, his work ethic, which coaches and teammates laud at every opportunity. Maybe it's just a rep and comfort thing. If so, the Bills are not potent against the run. Sunday would be a good day to find him a rhythm.
WHEN THE BILLS HAVE THE BALL
1. Look Out For Sub Runs. Vince Wilfork was despondent last week that the Patriots' defense knew the Jets were going to get New England's nickel-and-dime packages on the field and run to the weak side of the Pats' defense. And that they did it with success. The Bills will have gone to school on that and Fred Jackson, their little changeup back, is a good matchip for the Bills.
2. Don't Let Fitzy Go Deep. Ryan Fitzpatrick is in this week in place of Trent Edwards. The 6-foot-2, 225-pounder's got a big arm and some mobility. The Bills as a group have little to lose. Lee Evans is a decent deep threat. Might as well take a shot here and there and try and get a cheapy on a Patriots defense that's reeling a little bit after getting dissected by Mark Sanchez in the second half last week.
3. Let Loose A Little. The Patriots have played two instinctive, aggressive first halves this season and two tepid, reactionary second halves. What exactly goes on at halftime with this team that makes them come out and play in the third and fourth like they are just being introduced to the game? Who knows. But Sunday would be a good time to let loose and play at the edge of recklessness.
DOESN’T SHOW UP ON THE STAT SHEET
Despite what we saw last week in New York,these Patriots are different from the 2009 team. My take on them is that they are very interested in burying the perception they aren't mentally strong. A win over the Bills won't erase that. But after a hard week of preparation in the wake of the Jets loss, the response figures to be decisive against Buffalo. If it isn't . . . well, then there may be cause for concern.
Patriots 31, Bills 20. I might be going a little heavy on the points for the Pats, but I believe Tom Brady is going to be blazing hot on Sunday. I also believe that the Bills, trending toward laughingstock status, are going to present more than a mild challenge, though.