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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.

"You never can underestimate any team," Patriots defensive end Mark Anderson said. "They got a great start. They look very good on offense from what I've seen, running the ball as well as passing."

It would be difficult to imagine a quarterback having a better start than 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 may sideline Aaron Hernandez, who has combined with fellow tight end Rob Gronkowski for 337 receiving yards and five touchdowns. If Hernandez can't play, Dan Gronkowski would team up with his younger brother, who caught three touchdowns against the Bills last year.

The Gronkowskis grew up in the Buffalo area.

"I don't know who they're going to root for and everything, but it's always fun going home," Dan Gronkowski said. "We've just got to stay focused on the game and not allow all the other stuff to get to us."

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."

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