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Bills seek to regain division edge

Posted Oct 30, 2008

Marcus Stroud flashed an apologetic grin while cutting off the question in mid-sentence.

The Buffalo Bills defensive tackle already had an answer for what his team needed to do to restore its confidence.

``Win,'' Stroud said, before allowing the rest of the question to be asked.

As for confidence, Stroud shrugged and said: ``Our confidence level is still high. This is the NFL, man. You're going to lose some games and you're going to win some. We're just trying to win more than we lose.''

That's been the case so far for the Bills (5-2), who host the New York Jets (4-3) in an AFC East matchup Sunday.

A cause for concern, though, is how Buffalo, coming off a 25-16 loss at Miami, has dropped two of its past three to stunt much of the momentum it generated in getting off to a 4-0 start.

No longer do the Bills sit alone atop the AFC East standings, having allowed New England to catch them. And here come the Jets, who have won three of four.

This combines to make for an intriguing midseason matchup that will help begin separating the contender from the pretender to challenge New England for a division title up for grabs now that the Patriots have been left vulnerable without Tom Brady.

``I guess when Tom went down, the whole league in some respects took a sigh of relief,'' Jets quarterback Brett Favre said, while cautioning that the Patriots can't be ruled out. ``Even though there's a lot of football left, I expect whoever wins this game comes away wiping their brow, saying, `Whew!'''

Favre is certainly making things entertaining with his high-risk, high-reward style he brought to a Jets team that lacked flash on offense. He's tied with Drew Brees for second in the NFL with 15 touchdown passes, but also is tied for first with San Francisco's J.T. O'Sullivan with 11 interceptions.

Favre has been so inconsistent that he can be booed off the field one moment - after he threw his third interception in a 28-24 win over Kansas City last weekend - and hailed for his clutch performance soon after. Favre engineered the 41st fourth-quarter comeback victory of his career with a 15-yard touchdown pass to Laveranues Coles with 1 minute left.

The victory was all that mattered to Jets coach Eric Mangini, especially after a 13-10 overtime loss at Oakland a week earlier.

``Not really big into style points on wins,'' Mangini said, who's team has already matched its victory total from last season.

Then again, these don't look like the same old Jets.

Favre has helped spark an offense that, in a 56-35 win over Arizona, produced it's most points in one game in 23 years. In its past two games, New York has surpassed 400 yards offense each time, the first time that's happened in back-to-back games since 1998.

But the Jets also lost at Oakland and barely got by Kansas City, two of the AFC's tailenders.

The Jets' defense has been more stout with the offseason addition of defensive tackle Kris Jenkins, who has freed up Shaun Ellis and Bryan Thomas to generate a consistent pass rush. Ellis and Thomas have combined for 10 1/2 of the Jets' 24 sacks, third in the NFL.

And yet, there's still a healthy sense of skepticism surrounding New York, which opened the week 5 1/2-point underdogs, the first time the Jets not been favored in five games.

``We'll come out and now they can tell us how bad we are and take the pressure off us a little bit,'' safety Kerry Rhodes said. ``It should be fun in that role and coming out to have to prove something and not being expected to win.''

The Bills, of late, have been confounding, sandwiching two losses around a bye week and their most complete performance, a 23-14 win over San Diego.

Injuries haven't helped. Defensive end Aaron Schobel (left foot) is expected to miss his third straight game, while starting cornerback Terrence McGee, who returned last weekend after missing two games with a sprained knee, was ineffective against the Dolphins' short passing attack.

The Trent Edwards-led offense was downright sloppy against Miami, committing three turnovers and yielding a safety on its final four possessions. That was quite a departure from a poised unit that has produced three fourth-quarter comeback victories already this year.

``I don't think we've lost momentum,'' said Edwards, who turned 25 Thursday. ``A lot of guys are going to be pretty motivated to get that taste out of their mouth from Sunday. And I know I'm one of those individuals.''

If many Buffalo players referred to the victory over the Chargers as a signature win, then it appears they're in need of another one this weekend - the second game in a three-week stretch against division rivals that concludes at New England next weekend.

``If we go take care of this game, then we'll be No. 1 in the AFC East,'' safety Donte Whitner said. ``We understand that the stakes are high for both teams. And we just want to be victorious.''