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FOXBORO, Mass. -- The Patriots were true to their word Sunday. During the week, a few veteran players told coach Pete Carroll that he didn't have to worry about any lingering after-effects of the debacle in Denver on Monday night.

On Sunday they proved it, routing the Buffalo Bills, 33-6, in what was considered a battle for first place in the AFC East. The victory, the Pats' fifth in six games, coupled with Miami's victory over the New York Jets, leaves the Pats a game ahead of Miami and two in front of the Jets going into next week' game at the Meadowlands.

"This is still a work in progress here," veteran tackle Bruce Armstrong said. "It's a new coaching staff and in the process of trying to get to know these players, Pete asks questions.

"This week he wanted to know whether the players would be able to refocus after the Denver loss and get back to the level we were playing earlier," Armstrong said. "I told him that even though we had a short week and came back tired, we had three good work days at practice. Guys went after practices like they couldn't wait to get back on the field.

"I also pointed out that this team has always shown an ability to come back from a bad game and that I expected we'd be ready."

Carroll wanted to believe Armstrong, Dave Meggett, Keith Byars and the other veterans who promised that the team would respond. He just had no first-hand knowledge of their ability to do that.

"I was concerned how the team would respond after that loss in Denver," Carroll admitted. "The players told me things would be fine, but I don't know that I knew it. It's a matter of believing in the older guys on this club and their ability to take charge. They took it on themselves to get this thing organized."

The organization got a lot easier than expected when Bills quarterback Todd Collins was knocked out of the game on Buffalo's second offensive series. Linebacker Tedy Bruschi came in clean on a pass rush and got Collins head-on, forcing a fumble and a shoulder injury that sent Collins to the sidelines.

Billy Joe Hobert came in and threw two interceptions on his first three passes, but the Patriots players were convinced that the outcome would have been the same even if Collins had remained healthy.

"We had established ourselves right away," said safety Lawyer Milloy, who had one of the four Patriot interceptions against Hobert and backup Alex Van Pelt. "I think we would have been just as effective with Collins in there the whole way."

Linebacker Chris Slade, who had the other two Patriot sacks, agreed.

"We were on our game right from the beginning," Slade said. "We came out with the idea of stopping the run and making them pass and we were able to do that. I don't think the change in quarterback had anything to do with the outcome. We didn't get the job done in Denver, but we did what we set out to against Buffalo. We didn't let them get their running game going."

The biggest problem the Patriots faced was the elimination of the penalties that had plagued them all year. They had 41 over the first five games, including 10 for 117 yards in losses a week ago in Denver. Against the Bills, they took care of business, committing only one penalty -- a holding call against Ben Coates.

Two others (holding against Coates and pass interference against Jimmy Hitchcock) were declined. "That saved people some money," said safety Willie Clay, who pointed out that the team had instituted fines for penalties. Commit a penalty and pay $100.

"Ben's the only one who owes anything, but he can afford it," Clay said.

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