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Bills eager to beat Patriots

Talk about your football fantasies. Josh Reed can envision nothing sweeter than the Buffalo Bills eliminating the New England Patriots from playoff contention on Sunday.

Despite everything, it's the last game of the season,'' the veteran Bills receiver said.They're looking to get to the playoffs, and we can ruin that for them.''

Here's another good one: Coach Bill Belichick and the Patriots sound worried.

Absolutely. We have a lot of respect for the Bills. I think they're a real good football team,'' Belichick said.One play here or there and you can change their record by four or five wins.''

Sure, anything can happen, especially in an AFC East that has experienced its share of monumental swings and surprises already this season. Remember when the Bills were 5-1, and the Patriots were counted out after Tom Brady's season-ending injury in Week 1?

But if there's one thing that's usually as certain as snow in Buffalo in December, it's the Patriots beating the Bills.

New England has won 10 in a row and 15 out of 16 against Buffalo since 2001. And there's little beyond the Bills' hopes to indicate that trend will be altered when Buffalo (7-8) closes yet another in a long line of flawed seasons by hosting the Patriots (10-5). New England has shown remarkable resilience in staying in contention to secure a sixth straight playoff berth.

How much have the Bills been dominated since beating the Patriots 31-0 in the 2003 opener? They've been outscored 308-96 over their past 10 meetings.

Consider, too, that the Patriots have been nearly unbeatable in the final month of the regular season, having won 11 straight and 23 of 25 in December dating to 2003. And they have everything on the line Sunday, needing not only a win - though a tie wouldn't entirely knock them out - to get into the playoffs, but they also require help in the form of either a Miami loss to clinch the division title or a Baltimore loss to clinch a wild-card berth.

``It's a one-game season,'' Belichick said.

Just don't ask the ever-guarded coach to discuss the Patriots' longtime domination of the Bills or recall how many wrote off his team once the very untested Matt Cassel was forced to take over for Brady.

I'm not really worried too much about what everybody else thinks,'' he said.Our team has always had a good level of confidence. You don't replace Tom Brady. Tom's a great quarterback. But Matt's a good football player, too.''

Cassel's emergence has surprised many, including the player himself.

The Patriots' 2005 seventh-round draft pick out of USC, Cassel spent his four-year college career backing up Carson Palmer and then Matt Leinart, a role he replicated in his previous three NFL seasons.

As for when he last played a meaningful game, Cassel replied by saying: ``When was the last time I really played, is the first question. I haven't played extensively since really high school.''

He's made up for lost time.

Cassel ranks among the top five in five AFC passing categories, is leading an offense that's produced 5,606 yards to rank fourth in the NFL and is 360 yards short of finishing with the second-best total in franchise history.

It helps that he's leading a unit that features Randy Moss and Wes Welker, one of the best complementary receiving tandems in the NFL. What's remarkable is how quickly Cassel has adapted.

Well, you never really know what you're capable of until you get in there and actually do it,'' he said.I guess I have exceeded my own expectations.''

Whatever expectations the Bills had after getting off to their fast start have been dashed by a meltdown in which they lost seven of eight before a gutty 30-23 win at Denver last weekend. It's a slide that knocked Buffalo out of playoff contention for a ninth straight season and put coach Dick Jauron's status in jeopardy.

Team owner Ralph Wilson told The Associated Press this week he's undecided on Jauron's future, and will make a decision as soon as next week.

If that's the case, Bills player want to do as much as they can to influence Wilson into not making a change.

Any time you have a coach like coach Jauron, you want to stand up and play hard for him,'' defensive tackle Marcus Stroud said.And if that's going to determine whether he'll be here next year or not, we're going to try to turn it up an extra notch and play that much better.''

Defensive end Chris Kelsay also supports Jauron, and said a win over the Patriots would provide a salve to a bitter season.

We've had a rough go. We realize that,'' Kelsay said.It would be a great thing for us to knock off the Pats, especially with a playoff berth in store for them. It's been so long since we beat them that a win would be great regardless.''

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