Both Tom Brady and Drew Bledsoe are looking forward to this Sunday's game in Foxboro, but not for the simple reason people might assume.
While both acknowledge that it will be a unique experience for Bledsoe to return to New England and play his first game at Gillette Stadium in front his former fans, they also realize that the game is a key one in the AFC East playoff picture.
"This is December now and we are in position," Brady said. "We are 7-5 with four games left and there is not a lot of rest around here. I think everyone's geared up and really ready to make this push."
"It's the reason why we play football, to try and play games like this where there's a lot on the line and a lot at stake," Brady continued. "We've proven we can rise to the occasion, so it's one of those games where we've got to do it. They're coming off a big win and they're in a position where we need to beat them."
Bledsoe is just happy that the season has worked out so that the 6-6 Bills are in playoff contention and that his much hyped return to New England is an important game.
"The thing I said early on, that I hope would be the case, has come true," Bledsoe said. "I'd hoped all along that when we got to these games that they'd be important games from the standpoint of the playoff race, and a division race, and that's really turned out to be the case. This is the kind of game that, when you start playing, this is the kind of game that you hope you get to play in a lot of times in your career. It's a pivotal game in the race to get in the playoffs for both teams, and it'll be a great contest and I'm really looking forward to it."
The former Patriots franchise quarterback did admit that it would be a special game for him personally in many aspects, but he hopes the game will be more competitive than the Patriots 38-7 win over the Bills in early November in Buffalo.
"It's a homecoming and I get to come back and play against my old team, and play in front of my old fans, and it'll be an interesting game," Bledsoe said. "The big deal for us is that we've got to play a lot better than we did last time, that was really a disappointment to us, and a big setback for us to come out and play as poorly as we did in that game."
Bledsoe also realizes that fans at Gillette Stadium will likely welcome him on Sunday and that those fans still have an affinity for him and his actions last season.
"That's cool, it's nice to know that you're appreciated for sure," Bledsoe said. "It's the same old thing though, when I was there, you never knew if they're saying, 'Drew' or they're booing, so I was able to get by with that for a lot of years. So they might not even be cheering for me, they might be booing, you never know."
Patriots running back Antowain Smith, a guy that has seen both sides of this rivalry and knows all about returning to play your former team, knows what Bledsoe will be feeling on Sunday. He realizes knows that the Patriots face a strong challenge in Bledsoe and the Bills.
"He is going to be up and on an emotional high," Smith said. "He's is going to be geared up coming here and doing everything he can do to help put his team in position to win. He is going to be gunning out there we know that. But if we go out there an play out type of ball and not give up big plays and go out there and take our opportunities on offense to score when we have the chance this will be a good game."
Both teams know how much outside hype will be put on this game, but they also know how important the game is. In the end, when the final whistle blows it won't matter who is playing where or against who. The only thing that will matter late Sunday afternoon is that one team will have taken another important step towards possible postseason action.
Pro Bowl Voting
With two weeks remaining before the 2003 Pro Bowl selection and over 42 million votes cast on NFL.com, Brett Favre leads all players in votes. Bills quarterback Drew Bledsoe is the leading vote getter in the AFC.
The only Patriots player currently leading his position in Pro Bowl voting is special teamer Larry Izzo. Izzo, who leads the Patriots with 16 special teams tackles this season, had received over 76,000 votes as of Wednesday. Fans can continue to vote for their favorite players through Dec. 13 on NFL.com. Players and coaches will cast their votes on Dec. 16 and 17 The AFC and NFC Pro Bowl rosters will be announced on Dec. 19.