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LATEST ROAD TEST YIELDS ALL-TOO-FAMILIAR RESULT

Here's a little statistic to enliven an otherwise dreary, depressing Monday: The Bills have played four nationally televised, Sunday night ESPN games in the Tom Donahoe era, and they've lost all four by a combined score of 119-18.

By this point, you'd think the folks at the all-sports network would have written off the Bills' road show as unsuitable for public viewing. Anything -- a spelling bee, the World Series of Poker, even the World Series of Go Fish -- would be better than subjecting the country to yet another wretched Buffalo road performance.

Considering how bad these things usually turn out, you wonder why the Bills even bother to show up. Of course, now that you mention it, I'm not sure they actually did show up for Sunday night's 29-6 loss to the Patriots.

One hardly knows where to begin. The high point of the night came moments before the opening kickoff, when the Patriots honored the World Series champion Red Sox. Johnny Damon came running out to a rousing ovation and, unlike the Buffalo defensive backs, he didn't fall down. Curt Schilling came out on crutches and seemed quicker than Drew Bledsoe.

The score doesn't do justice to the Bills' sorry performance. The Pats dominated from the opening series. They outgained the Bills in yardage, 428-125, and held the ball for a staggering 41:22. If not for a 70-yard punt return for a touchdown by Jonathan Smith (who?), they would have been shut out in Foxboro for the second year in a row. They have now lost 14 of their last 16 road games, averaging a shade over nine points in the losses.

Still, this might have been the most disappointing loss of Bledsoe's time in Buffalo -- which is saying a lot -- because optimistic Bills fans had been fooled into believing that this team was on the verge of a breakthrough, that it could compete on the road against the defending Super Bowl champions. Instead, they came out flat and barely competed at all.

"It was embarrassing," Eric Moulds said. "We came out flat and didn't make the plays. So I think it is embarrassing from that standpoint, because we played on national TV and didn't have a good showing."

Once again, the defense was asked to prove itself on the road against a worthy offense and came up short. They missed tackles. They fell down. London Fletcher was irrelevant, though he did get credited for his usual 11 tackles. Corey Dillon rushed for 151 yards and made Willis McGahee seem like a raw rookie by comparison.

Tom Brady wasn't great, but he was plenty good enough. Even with a big lead, he kept challenging the Bills down the field. Maybe he needed the practice. At one point, Brady had completed passes to nine different players. I think he completed a flat pass to the assistant trainer, though I can't say for certain.

Bledsoe had a grand total of four completions at the same point. He was awful, which isn't exactly a revelation in a road game by now. I hardly know what to say anymore. Just when you think he can't play any worse on the road, he reaches a new low.

In the fourth quarter, Bledsoe completed a pass to Troy Brown, who was his favorite receiver in a long-ago life. The problem was, Brown was playing defensive back for the Patriots, who are so depleted in the secondary they're using aging wide receivers to fill in. Bledsoe also threw a pass directly to Tedy Bruschi, who ran it back 29 yards to set up a touchdown.

Bruschi and his pals should hire a limo and bring Bledsoe to Gillette Stadium themselves. Bledsoe threw more accurate passes to the Patriots that his own receivers. On one play, he tried to pick on Brown, who was guarding Sam Aiken. He bounced it, like a one-hopper to shortstop.

"It was a bad game for him, but hopefully he'll bounce back," Moulds said. "As a team, I think everybody had a bad game."

The Bills were looking to validate themselves as a playoff contender. But this was a jolt of reality, a reminder of how far away they really are. Mike Mularkey said his team couldn't have beaten any team in the league, never mind the Pats.

"I think they lined up, challenged us to bring it at 'em, and we did not," Mularkey said. "We just didn't. We didn't answer the call. No excuses. You can put the blame on me for that. It's my job."

Fair enough, Mike. On the Bills' first possession, they had fourth-and-5 from the Pats' 35. Mularkey punted. You don't beat the Super Bowl champs, on the road, with that sort of passive attitude. It wasn't Gregg Williams punting from the New England 32, but it wasn't a rousing show of confidence, either. Mularkey coached scared and his team played scared, too.

The final score doesn't begin to express how bad it was. New England was content to kick field goals, knowing that the Bills score touchdowns on the road about once every lunar eclipse. I've run out of ways to describe how bad Bledsoe is on the road.

It's hard to imagine him ever setting foot in Foxboro as a starting quarterback again. The sooner J.P. Losman replaces him as the starter, the sooner the franchise can move forward. But you can't pin this one all on the QB. The Bills weren't ready to compete. The coaches got their heads handed to them by Bill Belichick's crew. This was a step back, as Moulds said, with defensive backs stumbling all over the place.

"We've got to man up," offensive tackle Jonas Jennings said. "New staff, same guys. We've got to keep building for the rest of this year. We've got to get stronger. We've got to know how to take these losses and turn them into something positive for upcoming weeks. We got to stay a team."

Yeah, you win as a team and you lose as a team. And it was a total team effort Sunday night. They were bad, disgraceful, a bunch of not ready for prime time players.
e-mail: jsullivan@buffnews.com

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