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MONDAY BILLBOARD

Big Picture: - Despite their ghastly offense in Sunday's loss to the New England Patriots, the Bills are still in a tie for first place in the AFC East. The Bills, Patriots and Indianapolis Colts all check in at 5-3. The Miami Dolphins missed a chance to make it a four-way deadlock when they lost to the Dallas Cowboys.

Play of the Game: - Willie McGinest's 46-yard interception return for a touchdown to give the Patriots a 28-18 lead with 41 seconds left in the game. The play came as the Bills were driving for a potential game-tying field goal.

Hit of the Day: - Jeff Burris' resounding tackle on Curtis Martin in the third quarter, causing a fumble which Buffalo recovered on the Patriots' 37-yard line. It set up a Bills' field goal.

Unsung hero: - Thurman Thomas, who ran for 119 yards on 26 carries -- the first time he's rushed for more than 100 yards this season. Normally, a 100-yard game by Thomas produces a Buffalo victory. But for only the fourth time in 40 such games, his production was wasted in a loss.

Close shave: - The Bills' record-setting streak of winning the tight ones is over. Buffalo had won its last 12 games that were decided by seven points or less, a league mark. The Bills' last such loss was on Dec. 24, 1994, a 10-9 defeat inr Indianapolis.

Zebra watch: - A punt return by Jeff Burris and a kickoff return by Eric Moulds in the first half were nullified by holding penalties on the special teams.

Attendance update: - A crowd of 58,858 watched one of New England's rare night games. Another 1,444 ticket buyers stayed home to watch Red Sox videos.

Kelly in crisis: - Jim Kelly had a peaks-and-valleys game. He doubled his season touchdown pass total by throwing two against the Patriots, but he was also intercepted for what proved to be the winning touchdown by defender Willie McGinest. His dismal 4-for-12 first half put the Bills in a hole.

Safety first: - When Kelly was penalized for intentional grounding in his own end zone, resulting in a safety, it was the first safety by the Patriots in 10 years.

Coming Attractions: - It doesn't get any easier when the Bills start the second half of their schedule. The 7-1 Washington Redskins come to Rich Stadium on Sunday for a 4 p.m. game.

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