With the 2003 opener just two days away, Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick said Friday that his team was in a review phase of preparation and that at this point everybody is pretty much in full anticipation of the season kickoff.
"As I told you yesterday we kind of finished up the preparations in terms of all the new stuff and all the game plan stuff to be installed," Belichick said. "Today is kind of a review day to just tie up a few loose ends. I think we've had a pretty good week in terms of on the field practice once the dust settled a little bit and we are looking forward to starting the season on Sunday."
And Belichick's team will need to be prepared, because the Bills are certainly not the same team the New England beat rather impressively in two games a year ago. By jumping out to early leads in both games, the Patriots forced the Bills away from the running game and into a comeback passing mode that played right into the hands of the scheming New England defense.
The 2003 version of the Bills brings a group of new players on the defensive side of the ball that includes linebackers Takeo Spikes and Jeff Posey, as well as big defensive tackle Sam Adams. Emotional aspects of the game aside, both the Patriots and Bills are better teams on paper and Sunday will be the first chance for each to show the skills that should help to make the AFC East the tightest and toughest division in football.
Belichick also believes that new assistant head coach Dick LeBeau can bring a new wrinkle to the Buffalo defensive schemes.
"I think you can already start to see some of his influence in the defensive scheme, some blitz-zoning, some different pressures," Belichick said of the new-look Bills defense. "They are doing a few things schematically a little different than they did last year on defense. They have added some players like Spikes and Posey, Adams to go with Pat Williams on the defensive line. [Ryan] Denney is starting for them at left end so they look like they have incorporated a little bit of some scheme changes and then also some personnel changes. They look bigger on defense especially with Adams in there and Williams. They have added some pass rushers in terms of Posey and some playmakers in terms of Spikes. They are a good solid team that has added some players and added some scheme things in the offseason."
With the skills that the new defenders, including Lawyer Milloy in whatever limited role he may play, bring to the table the Bills should be involved in tighter games than a year ago. With the expected closer matchups the team may be better fit to utilize the impressive talents of running back Travis Henry, a 1,438-yard, 13-touchdown rusher from a year ago. And while the Bills may hope to use a more balanced attack, especially considering the loss of big-play receiver Peerless Price through free agency, Drew Bledsoe and Eric Moulds remain to give the Buffalo offense a potentially explosive mix.
Numbers and Notes
The Patriots are 9-2 in their last 11 games against AFC East opponents dating back to the 2001 season. … They are 11-7 (.611) in franchise history when opening the season against divisional opponents. The last time New England opened the season against a division foe was in 1999 when they defeated the Jets 30-28 in the Meadowlands. … The Patriots currently have a five-game winning streak against the Bills including 38-7 and 27-17 victories a year ago. … The Bills ranked 11th in total offense a year ago and 15th in total defense in finishing the year with an 8-8 record. Buffalo averaged 23.7 points per game while giving up 24.8 and finished the season with a minus-12 turnover ratio. … New Bills defensive tackle Sam Adams' father, Sam Adams, Sr., play guard for the Patriots for nine seasons from 1972-80. … The Patriots have 46 wins over the years against the Bills, the most against any opponent. … Bill Belichick holds a 5-2 career record against Buffalo, including a 5-1 record as the head coach of the Patriots. … The visiting team has won five of the last seven games in the series. … Troy Brown enters the season in the midst of an impressive run of production in New England. Brown's three-season total of 281 receptions from 2000-2002 is tops in franchise history, topping Ben Coates' 242 catches from 1994-1996. … The Patriots will play 10 games in 2003 against teams that finished .500 or better in 2002, including two matchups with the Bills. New England will also play 7 games against teams that qualified for the 2002 playoffs.
The Patriots finish the preseason with a 4-0 record, the third undefeated exhibition campaign in franchise history. … Tom Brady led the NFL in the preseason with a 116.7 passer rating and six touchdown passes. … New England was the highest scoring AFC team in the preseason totaling 108 points in the four games. … The defense registered a league best 33 sacks in the preseason, including 10.5 by first year Patriots.