Drew Bledsoe's return to New England is a story in itself, but Sunday's game deserves attention for more than just the drama of Bledsoe Bowl II.
When the 7-5 Patriots and the 6-6 Bills take to the field at Gillette Stadium this Sunday at 1 p.m., the surrounding atmosphere will be that of a circus. Bledsoe will be playing his first game in a stadium that some have referred to as the house that Drew built. Bledsoe will return to a place where he made a name for himself. He will play in front of fans that will likely show enormous respect for their former quarterback when he is announced.
But as much as the media will try to make the game a story of a returning player and his former team, the game is much more than that. Both teams have positioned themselves for late season runs at the playoffs in the parity-ridden AFC. Each team represents a major hurdle for the other. The Bills are coming off an impressive win over the Dolphins and would like nothing more than to continue their assault on the leaders of the AFC East. Bledsoe's return may be the story played out in the media, but according to Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick the real story is the matchup of the Patriots versus the Bills.
"It's Buffalo versus New England for us," Belichick said. "It's two teams that are playing. I mean this isn't a one-man tennis match, a singles tennis match. This is team football. I am really just concerned with how our team plays against Buffalo. We are just trying to win the game."
Belichick also pointed out the fact that as the end of the season nears, each of these games carries an increasing degree of importance.
"Each game you win the next one becomes a little bit more important," Belichick said. "Right now we are not thinking as much about December as we are Buffalo. That's really our focus right now. There is a lot at stake in this game. There always is in a division game."
Belichick downplayed the fact that the Patriots defeated the Bills rather handily 38-7 a little over a month ago in Buffalo. The first meeting appeared to be a mismatch of talent as the Patriots used a dominating short passing game, helped by Bills missed tackles, to march to the easy win.
"It's like the double headers in baseball," Belichick said. "You play one game that is 11-10 and the next game is 2-1. We don't have any expectations about how the game is going to go, other than we expect Buffalo to do what they do which is to run the ball, make big plays in the passing game, defensively play a lot of eight-man fronts and get their safeties up near the line of scrimmage to pressure the quarterback, the running game and rely on their good coverage corners. We are not really too concerned with how the last one came out. We are concerned about preparing for this one."
"Obviously Buffalo had an outstanding performance against Miami Sunday. We saw them do a lot of things well on both sides of the ball. They got a lot of turnovers, hit some big plays and ran the ball well. They played a real solid game against a team that's leading the division. So we are expecting another tough battle like it usually is in this division."
So while Belichick will obviously be preparing for Bledsoe as a key Bills weapon, that is not the story of the game. Patriots and Bills matchups are always exciting affairs, and with both teams still clinging to playoff hopes the real story will unfold between the first and last whistle. Bledsoe Bowl II talk makes for enjoyable fodder, but a competitive matchup is even better.
The Patriots released a short but significant injury report Wednesday morning. Safety Tebucky Jones (leg) continues to be listed as Questionable. Jones has missed the last two games with the injury, after leaving the Oakland game with what was announced as leg cramps. Belichick said that Jones' injury now seems to be of the day-to-day sort and that he hopes he will continue to progress in his recovery.
Linebacker Tedy Bruschi is listed as Doubtful for Sunday's game with a knee injury. Bruschi left the Thanksgiving Day game in Detroit in the first half and did not return. His Doubtful status means that he has just a 25 percent chance to play and the Patriots will have to game plan accordingly for the Bills.
"We'll just have to take Tedy's situation as it comes," Belichick said. "He's obviously Doubtful this week, so if that is the case than we will take him week to week."
The Bills listed just one player on the injury report. Defensive end Kendrick Office is listed as Questionable with a wrist injury.