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Patriots feel `vulnerable' in preparing for Bills

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) -Amid accusations that Randy Moss has quit, concerns whether Tom Brady has lost his magic touch and with an inability to win a road game on this side of the Atlantic, Kevin Faulk readily acknowledges the Patriots might be vulnerable.

By the way that we're playing as a football team, yes, we are vulnerable,'' the New England running back said this week.We know that as of right now we are playing inconsistent football. We have to play better in order to get where we want to get.''

The admission of a sliver of doubt is uncustomary coming from a veteran leader who's been part of a team that, for all it's warts, still sits atop the AFC East. The Patriots (8-5) have proven nearly virtually unbeatable once the calendar turns to December: New England's now an NFL-best 25-3 in the final month since the 2003 season.

If the air of invincibility has fully seeped out of the ever-proud Patriots, the true litmus test comes on Sunday. That's when New England travels to face the Buffalo Bills (5-8), a division rival that's very much played the role of Patriots patsy in what's become a near-decade of futility.

Snow, rain or shine, day or night, summer, autumn or winter, home or on the road, one thing has been a near constant in this series since their second meeting of the 2001 season: the Patriots coming away with a win. In most every conceivable fashion.

Except for one minor blip, a 31-0 loss in the 2003 season opener, New England's won 12 in a row and 17 of 18 by blowouts, comebacks, shutouts and everything in between.

No need to remind the Bills, especially the seven players left who can actually say they've been on a Buffalo team that's beaten New England.

Absolutely, it's kind of embarrassing. You get tired of it. They've had our number,'' said defensive end Chris Kelsay, whose only win over the Pats came in his rookie debut.There's definitely a sense of pride to go out there and win this game on Sunday.''

Just don't ask Kelsay to buy into all the doubts being raised about the Patriots.

When a team that's had as much success as they've had, when things aren't going well, you guys in the media are going to find reasons why,'' Kelsay said.We aren't paying too much attention to that. We know that they're a great football team.''

The Patriots might still be considered great when assessing them through Bills-colored glasses. After all, the teams' first meeting this year in the opener ended in bitter frustration for Buffalo.

Sandwiched around Leodis McKelvin fumbling a kickoff return, Brady produced two touchdown drives in the final 2:06 to overcome an 11-point deficit and pull out a 25-24 victory.

The Patriots, however, haven't been the same team against other opponents. They're no longer dominating their other division rivals, having split their series with the Jets and Miami. Their only road win of the year came at London's Wembley Stadium, where they beat Tampa Bay 35-7 in October.

And rather than producing comeback victories, they've faltered in the clutch by blowing fourth-quarter leads - most memorably squandering a 17-point edge in a 35-34 loss to the Colts last month.

More curious is how Moss vanished in last week's 20-10 win over Carolina, after which Panthers defenders accused the receiver of appearing to give up. Moss was limited to one catch for 16 yards.

Coach Bill Belichick fired back, chalking it up to the Panthers being sore losers. And the issue was old news by Wednesday, when Belichick said he was primarily focused on Buffalo.

``Whatever did or didn't happen in the past, last week, last month, last decade, it's all in the books. It doesn't really count at this point,'' he said.

And yet, he had a bitter reaction when asked why ``vulnerability'' isn't part of his vocabulary.

Look, that's your characterization of it. I have a lot of respect for this game,'' Belichick said.If you want to do a documentary on the New England Patriots and my career and all that, this right now is not the right time to do it. Right now's the time to focus on Buffalo. That's where I'm at.''

The Bills, in the meantime, are playing with nothing to lose in a season that's already gone awry with injuries. Coach Dick Jauron was fired and Buffalo is likely to finish out of the playoffs for a 10th straight year.

They've been the trademark of our conference for a number of years,'' receiver Lee Evans said.You couldn't make it seem to be a season-saving thing or anything like that. But it would certainly be a great feeling to beat a division opponent and beat a team you haven't beaten in a while.''

A while? For Evans, a first-round pick in the 2004 draft, try never.

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