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BILLS ERR IT OUT, PATS DELIVER A ROUT

FOXBORO, Mass. -- If this was a statement game, then the Buffalo Bills' statement was: Ho-hum.

Granted, the Bills lost starting quarterback Todd Collins to a shoulder injury nine plays into the game. That explains some of why they suffered a 33-6 loss to the New England Patriots Sunday in Foxboro Stadium.

But it doesn't tell the whole story. It doesn't explain:

the many blunders their offense made outside of the two interceptions, fumbled snap, and various ugly-looking throws on the part of No. 2 QB Billy Joe Hobert;

the 11 penalties by the Bills, six by their offensive line, to New England's one;

the poor pass-protection and mediocre run-blocking from the outset;

the mistakes and other shortcomings of their special teams, which had played such a vital role in last week's victory over Detroit;

the breakdowns in a defense that, through most of the first half, had done a decent job of keeping the Bills in the game despite their offensive follies.

Most of all, it doesn't explain the general lack of spark in all phases of a team that was playing for a chance to grab a piece of first place in the AFC East. Now, with a 3-3 record, the Bills find themselves in fourth place behind New England (5-1), Miami (4-2), and the New York Jets (4-3).

"I'm angry at myself," coach Marv Levy said. "I take responsibility. Somehow or other, we didn't come here in the frame of mind to play as much as I thought we were."

Nice try, Marv. But there was no deflecting blame from the real culprits for their embarrassment. The responsibility for the Bills' worst loss in five years and fifth in their last six games against the Patriots was exactly where it belonged -- in the dressing room.

Jerry Ostroski wasn't about to let the coach take the fall.

"I've never been a believer of someone else having to get another person motivated for a football game, especially at this level," the offensive guard said. "What happened? I have absolutely no idea. To sit here and put a finger on it, I don't think you can. It was just an overall terrible performance (by the offense)."

Indeed, the Bills put up some atrocious offensive numbers. They turned the ball over four times. They converted only one of 14 third downs. They had eight three-and-out series.

"We couldn't move the ball," strong safety Henry Jones said. "You have to give their defense a lot of credit; they dominated our offense. And their offense played well enough long enough to make plays and win the ballgame."

For the Patriots, it was a case of redeeming themselves for their humiliating 34-13 loss in Denver last Monday night.

"We're just really happy to get back in this fashion," first-year coach Pete Carroll said. "We played the kind of defense we wanted to play, we controlled the ball on the ground, which was nice. It was just a great day."

The Patriots made it look almost too easy on the game's first drive, marching 63 yards in seven plays to Drew Bledsoe's 20-yard touchdown pass to tight end Ben Coates, who was a good step ahead of Jones in the end zone.

Jones and other Bills defensive players questioned the fact they were in three-deep zone coverage on the play because it created too many seams that the Patriots could exploit with their four-receiver set.

"The touchdown was a three-deep zone from the 20-yard line, which is a pretty tough call to be in," Jones said. "There were four receivers up the field, and Bledsoe's going to drill the ball to an inside guy in between the safety and the corner."

Collins, who grew up less than a mile from Foxboro in Walpole, Mass., had his homecoming ruined with 7:42 left in the first quarter. That's when linebacker Tedy Bruschi broke clean on a blitz and blasted Collins hard enough to force him to lose the ball, which Ostroski recovered at the
Buffalo 24, and suffer a strained rotator cuff on his left (non-throwing) side.

"It's very disappointing," said Collins, who before he left completed 1 of 4 passes for 9 yards. "It's kind of like a bad dream."

One play after Collins' departure, Hobert was intercepted by free safety Willie Clay, whose 26-yard return set up a 20-yard Adam Vinatieri field goal to give the Patriots a 10-0 lead.

"The first pass I throw gets away from me; that's not a good sign," said Hobert, who finished 17 for 30 for 133 yards while throwing two interceptions. "That's not a good way to get rolling."

Indeed, with Hobert over center, the Bills went three-and-out or worse on seven of his first eight full series. He didn't engineer a first down until his fifth series.

Levy was willing to cut Hobert some slack because it was his first real action of the season and the Bills were behind.

"He was in a tough spot, and it was difficult to come through," the coach said.

Nevertheless, Buffalo's defense held the Patriots in relative check through the first two quarters. The Patriots settled for two more Vinatieri field goals in the second quarter -- the first following Ty Law's interception of a Hobert pass and 40-yard return to the Buffalo 10 -- to take a 16-0 halftime lead.

"We felt that it was a ballgame coming into halftime," Jones said.

There was even a sense among the Bills that if they were able to score a touchdown before the half, things might have turned out differently. However, their only scoring opportunity of the first 30 minutes was a 34-yard field-goal attempt by Steve Christie -- and that was wide left.

"The guys in the huddle were saying that, 'We score a touchdown here, we're in it,' " Hobert said. "I personally thought we were going to go for it on fourth down (instead of trying the field goal), but we needed to get points on the board."

Buffalo's defense finally began to collapse in the third quarter. The Pats took the second-half kickoff and drove to another Vinatieri field goal. After another three-and-out by the Bills and a 29-yard punt return by Dave Meggett, New England blew the game open with a 26-yard touchdown run by Curtis Martin to take a 26-0 lead.

"It's frustrating, but it's not the end of the world because there's still 10 games left," linebacker Chris Spielman said. "We have to just come back. Everybody's got to hold up their end of the bargain, and I don't know if that's happening right now."

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