ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — 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
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
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
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
"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.