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Halftime analysis: Patriots 21, Bills 10

09.25.11 at 2:32 pm ET
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The Patriots and Bills are done with two quarters in Buffalo, and New England holds a 21-10 lead on host Buffalo. Here are a few quick notes:

‘€¢As was the case over the first two games, the Patriots’ offense has been pretty crisp. New England scored on its first two opportunities, with Tom Brady connecting with wide receiver Wes Welker on a 14-yard scoring strike on the first drive and Rob Gronkowski on a one-yarder on the second. Brady also found Gronkowski with a 26-yarder in the second quarter to give New England a 21-0 lead midway through the second. Overall, Brady is 16-for-22 for 222 yards and three touchdowns.

‘€¢However, he ended the half with an interception — his second of the season — when Buffalo defensive back Bryan Scott made a great interception on a tipped ball deep in Bills’ territory. (Buffalo turned that into a field goal just before the end of the half to make it 21-10.)

‘€¢Defensively, the Patriots were able to put the brakes on the Bills’ offense with a pair of picks from cornerback Kyle Arrington. The Hofstra product collected the first on the Bills’ second play from scrimmage on a tipped ball, and his second came when Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (who ended the first half 20-for-28 for 224 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions) tried to force the ball into double coverage. Buffalo was able to cut the deficit to 21-7 with just under two minutes left when Fitzpatrick hit Stevie Johnson over Devin McCourty on a 15-yard pass play.

‘€¢Overall, as was the case last week with the Chargers, Buffalo has been able to get big chunks of yards (primarily in the passing game), and the Patriots haven’t been able to get much pressure on Fitzpatrick. But the Patriots have made the plays (namely, the turnovers) and have played well enough on third down to keep the Bills at bay for much of the first two quarters.

‘€¢The Patriots have gotten a very good performance out of their special teamers. Zoltan Mesko, who was a question mark coming into the game because of a knee injury, punted twice and looked very solid. (He got off a 57-yarder in the second quarter.) New England has also done an excellent job at containing Buffalo’s kick and punt returns, with Matthew Slater and Ross Ventrone picking up special teams tackles.

Read More: Bills, Patriots,

Live Blog: Patriots take on Bills in battle for first-place in the AFC East

09.25.11 at 12:36 pm ET
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Patriots/Bills

Fantasy football: Latest on Peyton Hillis, Michael Vick, Arian Foster and Jerome Simpson

09.25.11 at 12:24 pm ET
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With just a few hours left until Week 3 Sunday kick-off, late roster changes are out and here are some important moves you may want to make to your lineup.

Browns running back Peyton Hillis will be out Sunday with strep throat. Conflicting reports about his status emerged Sunday morning when Hillis appeared at the stadium Sunday although he “did not look well at all” Sunday morning, according to Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon-Journal. Later reports said Hillis left the stadium and will not play against the Dolphins. Expect Montario Hardesty to play in Hillis’s place.

Concussed Eagles quarterback Michael Vick is expected to play Sunday just six days after suffering a concussion. Arian Foster is out again for the Texans, and Ben Tate will get the start in his place against the Saints Sunday.

Cinncinnati Bengals wide receiver Jerome Simpson is also expected to play Sunday after police discovered over eight pounds of marijuana at his Kentucky home Wednesday. Simpson did not practice on Thursday or Friday, but the team said Simpson is “innocent until proven guilty” and deserves to play Sunday, ESPN sources said. Simpson was a key fantasy contributor last week after making four receptions for 136 yards against Denver.

Read More: Arian Foster, Jerome Simpson, Michael Vick, Peyton Hillis

Setting the scene: Patriots-Bills

09.25.11 at 11:05 am ET
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The Patriots have beaten the Bills 15 straight times dating back to Sept. 7, 2003. This figures to be a far bigger test than the previous 15 encounters for a number of different reasons.

Here’s why:

The Bills have proven to be a far more dynamic offense in the first two weeks, hanging up 41 and 38 points, respectively, in wins over the Chiefs (on the road) and the Raiders. They have the perfect tandem of speed, power and finesse in the backfield with NFL-leading Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller.

The Bills have home field advantage back. Ralph Wilson Stadium has not always been filled the last 10 years. It’s one of those sites in the NFL that has been hard-hit by the economy with 10,000 empty seats not unusual with a team that hasn’t been to the playoffs in over a decade. It has gotten so bad that the Bills have had “home” games in Toronto, with rumblings that Bills ownership might be willing to move the team – even north of the border to get out of Western New York.

But that malaise won’t be the case today as Bills have sold out the 68,000-seat facility. It’s expected to be so loud that Patriots players have readily admitted this week they have to get off to a quick start to make sure it doesn’t become a factor. The Patriots even played loud music like “JUMP” inside Gillette Stadium on Friday morning to simulate the expected conditions today at Ralph Wilson.

“We know their crowd will be going early, so it’s important to get off to a good start this week,” said Wes Welker, who remarkably has never scored a touchdown in 14 previous career games against the Bills, both with the Patriots and the Dolphins.

Harvard product Ryan Fitzpatrick is in complete control of the passing game and has become a true leader. With the Bills trailing 21-3 at halftime in their home opener, Fitzpatrick threw three second-half touchdowns and completed 28-of-46 passes. He joined Jim Kelly in becoming the second QB in Bills history to throw seven touchdowns in the first two games of  a season. Kelly had eight in 1991.

Fitzpatrick not only leads the NFL in TD passes but is 6th in the league in QB rating at 109.6, completing 45-of-71 passes for 472 yards.

Of course, the quarterback he’s facing did MORE than that in his opening game, as Tom Brady threw for 517 yards and four touchdowns in the win over the Dolphins on Sept. 12. Six days later, Brady became the first QB in history to follow up a 500-yard game with a game of 400 yards, throwing for 423 yards in a 35-21 win over the Chargers.

The Bills believe in Chan Gailey. The second-year coach in Buffalo has his players believing. They are 6-4 in their last 10 since starting the 2010 season 0-8. That included a crowning moment in Cincinnati. With the Bills getting blown out 28-7 at Paul Brown Stadium at halftime, Fitzpatrick and Gailey rallied the troops, outscoring the Bengals 42-3 in the second half in a 49-31 win.

The Patriots defense is not good right now. And it will be without Patrick Chung (out with a right thumb injury) and Albert Haynesworth (back). The Patriots D is ranked 31st in the league so far in yards allowed.

Read More: Buffalo Bills, C.J. Spiller, Fred Jackson, New England Patriots

Ten final thoughts on the Patriots and Bills

09.25.11 at 7:47 am ET
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With kickoff looming, here are 10 final thoughts on the Patriots and Bills:

1. All signs point to lots of opportunities for Chad Ochocinco. We noted this in our matchups, and with Taylor Price now officially downgraded to out and Aaron Hernandez on the shelf for another week or two with a knee injury, Ochocinco should see some chances against Buffalo. For what it’s worth, he’s played six career games against the Bills and has 29 catches for 385 yards and two touchdowns.

2. In that same vein, the fact that Albert Haynesworth is officially out (and the fact that Myron Pryor landed on injured reserve this week) should mean more reps for Kyle Love, a young defensive lineman who looked very impressive in limited action over the preseason and into the nascent stages of the regular season. Landon Cohen, who returned to the Patriots’ 53-man roster this week, could also see time on the inside. And it could also kickstart a chain reaction that could end up having Shaun Ellis move inside from end to tackle, and possibly see the Patriots utilize Jermaine Cunningham as an end.

3. Overall, the Patriots are really thin at two key positions — tackle and safety. No Chung at safety means New England will likely give significant snaps to James Ihedigbo and perhaps even Ross Ventrone, who was promoted from the practice squad this week. (You want surreal comedy? Check out Ventrone’s Twitter page. That’s where Ventrone, aka @RustyBenson35 delivers words of wisdom.) At tackle, it’s going to be Nate Solder on the right, filling in for Sebastian Vollmer, while Light will be on the left side. If either one go down for a significant stretch, the Patriots could be forced to use Logan Mankins as an emergency tackle.

4. Your Tom Brady stat o’ the week, courtesy of this week’s edition of Nuggetpalooza: Brady is 17-for-18 passing in the first quarter (94 percent) this season. Overall, Brady has completed 94 percent in the first quarter and 65 percent (46-for-70) over the rest of the game.

5. The Bills put new turf down in Ralph Wilson Stadium this summer, and there was some slipping and sliding in last week’s home opener for Buffalo on both sides.

6. I wrote about a billion stories heralding the Buffalo special teams when Bobby April was there. While they’ve clearly taken a step back after April left after the 2010 season, it’s still a relatively dangerous group. Brad Smith has the ability to break one as a kick returner, and it sure looks like C.J. Spiller is going to be returning punts. The Patriots have done well at containing their opponents on special teams through two games (Tracy White and Matthew Slater have been absolutely beastly), and need to keep that up on Sunday. It’s also going to be interesting watching punter Zoltan Mesko and whether or not that left knee is going to hold up.

7. It’s hard not to like Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick, who is reminded every day that he went to Harvard, kicked around with Cincinnati and St. Louis before landing in Buffalo as an afterthought prior to the 2009 season. After kicking the tires on several other possibilities over the years, he’s settled into the starters’ job nicely, and after Buffalo’s 2-0 start, is looking at the possibility of an extension. A good guy and a good player who deserves all the success he gets. (Frankly, it’s hard not to like Stevie Johnson as well. A free spirit who speaks his mind — he’d be a burgeoning star if he played in a bigger market — he also has unique taste in birthday cakes. We won’t link to it here, but Google “Stevie Johnson” and “birthday cake,” and you’ll see what I mean.)

8. There’s no no other way to spin this — he’s a nice guy, and his teammates and coaches rave about him, but the fact that Taylor Price is now inactive for the 18th time in 19 chances in his year-plus in the NFL is disappointing. Sitting and watching as a rookie is understandable, but he has now been inactive all three games in 2011.

9. Four links to get you ready for the game: ten matchups to keep an eye on Sunday, an in-depth look at the Patriots offense and what’s made it go through two games, a look at why the Patriots are so worried about Freddie Jackson and a story on how seamlessly guard Brian Waters has become part of the New England offensive line.

10. Patriots, 38-24.

Read More: Albert Haynesworth, Bobby April, Brad Smith, C.J. Spiller

Nuggetpalooza: Patriots vs Bills preview!

09.24.11 at 10:35 am ET
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It’s a second straight “Battle of the Unbeatens” on Sunday as the Patriots battle the surprising Bills. While stats after two weeks still don’t mean as much as we would like, here are some things to chew on:

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* – The Patriots late touchdown on Sunday gave them 35 points, the 10th straight time they’ve scored 31 or more, which is the longest streak in the NFL since at least 1990… Seattle was shut out for the first time since Week 1 of the 2000 season, snapping a streak of 176 straight games scoring points. Denver has scored in every game since mid-1992, 295 consecutive games, the longest current scoring streak in the league… Washington has not shut out an opponent since 1991 (317 games), the longest streak in the NFL without pitching a shutout… Scoring is way up so far this season for the league as a whole as teams have averaged 23.5 points over the first two weeks, the most over any opening two weeks of a season since at least 1990:

23.5 – 2011
22.5 – 2002
22.2 – 1994
21.9 – 2000

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* – Over the last nine games between these two teams, the Patriots have committed only five turnovers while the Bills have turned it over 22 times.

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* – Over their first two games, the Bills have scored 28 points in the third quarter and 28 in the fourth quarter, both are league highs. It’s the first time that Buffalo has scored at least one touchdown in the third and fourth quarters in consecutive games since Weeks 16 and 17 of the 2004 season. In that same span, the Patriots have done it in consecutive games seven times, including a streak where they scored a third and fourth quarter TD in SIX straight games in 2006-2007.

NFL Note: The Chiefs have been shut out in the second half of both games this season. Last season, only two teams had two consecutive games in which they didn’t score in the second half: The Cardinals… and the Chiefs… The Chargers have scored in the second half of their last 59 straight games, the longest current streak in the league.

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* – With 79 points through two games, the Bills lead the NFL in scoring. They last led the NFL in scoring in 1990. They’ve scored 38 and 41 points, the first time they’ve scored 35+ in consecutive games since 2004. Here’s a thought: The Patriots have now scored 35+ points in seven of their last 10 games. Prior to their last two games, Buffalo had scored 35+ in seven of their previous 101 games.

NFL Note: The Jets haven’t scored 35+ in consecutive regular season games since 1972. Every other team has done it since 1989 (Cleveland) except Houston, who has yet to pull it off since rejoining the league in 2002.

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* – The Patriots have scored a touchdown on their opening possession of both games, while the Bills have not yielded a score on either of their opponents’ game opening drives this season.

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* – So far, the Patriots have started three drives on their opponents’ side of the 50-yard-line and managed only one field goal, while the Bills have had five such drives and cashed in with three touchdowns and a field goal. New England really made hay in these situations last season, scoring 19 times and averaging 4.52 points on their 25 drives that started with a short field. That 4.52 average was third best in the league behind Houston (4.93) and Indy (4.92).

——————————————————————————————– Read the rest of this entry »

Why Fred Jackson puts a lot of fear into the Patriots

09.23.11 at 10:02 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Vince Wilfork isn’t easily impressed or put in awe by the opposition. But Fred Jackson is certainly an exception to that rule – and for good reason.

Jackson has started 2011 with games of 112 games against the Chiefs and 117 more last week in a 38-34 come-from-behind win over the Raiders. Jackson is averaging 6.5 yards per carry, totaling 229 yards on the ground so far, both tops in the NFL through two weeks.

He isn’t mentioned in the same class as Adrian Peterson, Ray Rice or LeSean McCoy. But maybe the product of tiny Division III Coe College should be. Wilfork certainly has seen enough of him in the last four seasons to think so.

“Fred Jackson, he is so underrated,” Wilfork raved this week. “This guy, I think I said it a couple of years ago and I know I said it last year, he is so underrated. He’€™s just one of those tough backs. You can give him the ball 30 times if you want to. And Spiller, he’€™s just speed. He will kill you on the ground and in the air. Those two together make a good team, a good running attack. So, we have our hands full. It’€™s going to be challenging for us once again. I think every week so far we’€™ve been challenged.”

But a further look into the numbers reveal that the Patriots – thanks in part to their continued 15-game domination of the Bills – have been spared huge games from Jackson. The Patriots have led in every game against Buffalo, taking the running game away and forcing the game into the hands of Ryan Fitzpatrick.

When given the chance, Jackson has been very productive against the Patriots, averaging 4.83 yards per carry in seven games dating back to 2007. But beware of Jackson as a receiver out of the backfield, with 16 catches for 146 yards in those seven games. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Adrian Peterson, Bill Belichick, Buffalo Bills, Fred Jackson
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