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McGahee could be key to victory

The Buffalo Bills' offense aims to continue its modest revival today, and it hopes Willis McGahee can muster his A game against his favorite rival.

The Bills' attack has showed progress the past month, but it didn't do much last week against a San Diego defense ranked eighth in the NFL.

Today the Bills face a less dominant foe -- a New York Jets defense ranked 27th in the league.

A decent offensive finish over the last month of the season would be a promising way for the Bills to enter the offseason. Can they do it? A lot may depend today on whether their top running back can continue his success against the Jets.

McGahee has averaged 28 carries and 134 yards over his last four games against the Jets. McGahee has only two 100-yard rushing games in his last 18 starts. Both have come against the Jets.

But McGahee is battling a sore left ankle that kept him out of practice two days this week. He desperately wants to play today and said he plans to play. He will be evaluated in pregame warm-ups and probably will not be well enough to get 28 carries, presuming he is able to start.

"I'm pretty sure I'll be all right," McGahee said. "You can't be selfish out there and baby it. You just have to play."

McGahee would hate to miss a chance to play against Jets linebacker Jonathan Vilma, his close friend from the University of Miami.

The two traded playful barbs this week through the media.

"He's having a great year, and I'm having not so good of a year," McGahee said. "But when it comes to him I'm having a great year."

That was a reference to McGahee's career-best 150-yard rushing day in the Bills' Week Three, 28-20 loss to the Jets.

"John, you can't stop me," McGahee laughed. "You'll just catch a cold, that's about it. . . . I just own him. I've been owning him the past couple years."

Replied Vilma: "I can't stop him? Tell Willis that's real cute. Tell him when he gets defensive rookie of the year and he gets to the Pro Bowl and he gets to the playoffs, then we can talk. You know, I'm having fun with this."

Vilma said he and McGahee love to trash talk in the offseason when they're working out at their alma mater.

"I hold everything I can over him in the offseason," Vilma said. "Of course he's going to talk about the 100-yard games he's had against me. But I can talk about the wins that we've had in the playoffs."

Told of that comment, McGahee replied: "That's all right. But at the end, we're all sitting watching another team play in the Super Bowl."

The Jets (7-5) still have dreams of getting to the Super Bowl this year and need today's game to stay in the thick of the wild-card playoff race.

The Jets' legitimacy as a contender is debatable. All but one of their wins has come against losing teams. Yet they won at New England and played Chicago tough, losing, 10-0.

Despite the Jets' defensive ranking, they have played tougher on defense of late, allowing just four touchdowns the past four games.

The Bills must be wary of a slow start. New York has yielded just 26 first-half points the last seven games.

The Bills also must be wary of the blitz. In the first eight games, the Jets rarely blitzed. The past four they have opened up the defensive playbook, using a lot more pre-snap movement (a la New England) and more blitzes.

"You can see they're getting comfortable in the 3-4 system," said Bills tight end Robert Royal. "They're starting to do things now that they didn't do at the beginning of the season. They're moving guys around more. They're blitzing from different positions."

The Jets took control of the Week Three meeting with a safety blitz that caused a J.P. Losman fumble that was returned for a touchdown.

The Jets rank 20th against the pass and 26th against the run.

"We didn't run the ball very well in our loss to San Diego, and they played a part; no doubt about it," said Bills coach Dick Jauron. "We need to get more from our run game to give us the chance to win."

e-mail: mgaughan@buffnews.com

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