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WEEKEND LOOK-AHEAD

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7 things to watch for in Bills-Patriots on Monday Night

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It’s the weekend before Monday Night Football. And for the first time in ten years, Bills fans get ready for a Monday Night Football game in Orchard Park. As fans get ready for cloudy and chilly weather here are some of the issues to keep an eye on this weekend:

1. PATS NOT PASS HAPPY

You think of Tom Brady, and you automatically think of footballs flying through the air, downfield strikes for big yardage, etc.

It’s different this year. In fact, the Patriots have evolved into a balanced offense in recent years. Three years ago, they threw the ball 65-percent of the time. So far this year, they’re throwing it 56-percent of the time. They’re in the top third of the league in percentage of run plays called.

The reasons seem to be varied. Brady’s age, perhaps. A better offensive line. A good combination of backs—first rounder Sony Michel paired with James White and Kenjon Barner.

Part of Bill Belichick’s genius has to be adapting his strategic approach to the talent on his roster. New England’s approach changes yearly, and even weekly.

2. NEW WEAPONS ON NEW ENGLAND OFFENSE

Belichick and the Patriots have to be happy with the offensive weapons they’ve added to their arsenal. Two key players did not suit up for the Pats at the start of the season. Their WR corps was hit with injuries and the Julian Edelman suspension.

Now, they can use WR Josh Gordon (13 catches in 4 games), who was just acquired in a trade with Cleveland last month. WR Cordarrelle Patterson was picked up in a trade with the Vikings in March. WR Phillip Dorsett came over from the Colts a year ago. Sony Michel was their first-round pick six months ago.

Some of the key offensive performers on the Patriots depth chart are recent additions. And they’ve changed the equation for Bills Coach Sean McDermott.

“This offense, they’ve got probably more weapons than what they’ve had in the last couple of years,” McDermott said this week. “You add the weapons …with the continuity that they’ve been able to have over the years plus the precision with the execution--they’re tough to stop.”

3. TWO POINTS OR NOT?

The newest fad in NFL strategy? The two-point conversion.

There have been 59 two-point conversion attempts in the league through the first seven weeks. Teams are on pace to break the record of 115 two-point attempts in a season, a record set in 1994, the first year two- point attempts were allowed.

So far this year, NFL teams have successfully converted for two-points 59-percent of the time.

Peter King, longtime NFL writer, now with PFT and NBC Sports, says coaches are paying more attention to the math, the analytics, when they make their decisions after touchdowns.

“I think the one thing I’ve learned is basically to ask this question, “Why aren’t we going for 2 here? And if we’re not, what's the reason why,” King said this week on One Bills Live. “if you go for it, you have to factor in a lot of things, how good is the defense you’re playing against and what kind of play could you make going into that,” he said.

Only four NFL teams have yet to attempt a two-point conversion so far this year. The Bills and the Patriots are two of them.

4. GRONK RETURNS

Monday’s game marks TE Rob Gronkowski’s first game in Orchard Park since last December, a game that led to a one game suspension for Gronk.

The Williamsville native drilled Bills CB Tre’Davious White in the head and neck while White was face down on the turf after an interception. Gronk got an unnecessary roughness penalty and a one game suspension for the hit, which he later apologized for.

It will be interesting to see how Gronkowski is greeted by Bills fans when he returns home Monday night.

5. THURMAN’S ALL SET FOR THE SPOTLIGHT

It should be a memorable halftime ceremony Monday night, when Hall of Fame RB Thurman Thomas has his number retired. He’ll join Bruce Smith and Jim Kelly as the only Buffalo Bills to achieve the honor.

Thurman left the Bills after the 2000 season, and his number-34 hasn’t been worn since then, even without an official retirement ceremony.

“I was fine with that,” he said this week on One Bills Live. “It hasn’t been (worn). And I appreciate that. They want to make it official. But you know what? It’s also for a lot of those guys who wore it before I got here—Booker Moore, Cookie Gilchrist.”

Thomas goes into the weekend ready for the honor, and the brief remarks he’ll make on the field at halftime.

“The speech is done...it is. It’s going to be a fun weekend,” Thomas said. “I got people coming in Thursday, Friday, Saturday. My mom is staying at the house for a couple of days then she’s moving down to the Marriott, the party area. We’re going to have a really good alumni presence there.”

6. AFC EAST HITS MIDPOINT

When the gun sounds late Monday night in Orchard Park, all four of the AFC East teams will be at the midway point of their seasons. The Dolphins are already 4-4 after their loss in Houston Thursday night. The Bills and the Jets are trying to work in rookie quarterbacks this season, and having the usual struggles playing a rookie at QB entails.

While Buffalo’s Josh Allen remains out with an elbow injury, the Jets will go with first rounder Sam Darnold again Sunday at 1pm, when they play at Chicago.

Darnold has started the first seven games for New York, and he’s completing 56-percent of his passes, with 10-touchdowns and 10-interceptions.

NFL Network analyst Kim Jones, who covers the Jets, says Darnold is having the usual ups and downs of a rookie quarterback.

“Listen, they’re last in the NFL in the red zone so they’re not getting it done big time. But he does show a lot,” Jones told One Bills Live. “I talked to someone leading up to the Vikings-Jets game and he said that he watches tape and particularly with Darnold on the move, he caught himself saying, ‘Wow, that was a great throw.’ He gets a lot of compliments in terms of his play and his poise.”

7. CHANCE FOR BILLS FANS TO SHINE

The Bills are heavy underdogs at home this week, on prime time. And that’s just the way some Bills fans want it. Some Bills alumni too.

Former WR Stevie Johnson was back in town this week for an appearance at New Era Field, his second visit in the last two months. After five years away, Stevie is re-connecting with the “Buffalo vibe.”

“I love that vibe,” Stevie says. “I love the feeling of Buffalo; how cold it is right now. This is what it is. This is our life. This is our road... I just miss the entire vibe of it. I feel like it’s a challenge. There’s a challenge in every week you get that win.”

“It’s that part of it. Proving everybody outside of Buffalo wrong because we all know what they are talking about, about the city, so when we can get that win or prove that you’re, I don’t want to say better but, you beat somebody on a play or whatnot you got the one-up for Buffalo and that’s what I’m about. I’m the underdog. The ultimate underdog.”

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