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Mike Gillislee's grudge game more about Belichick than Bills

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The loss of Mike Gillislee hasn't hurt the Buffalo Bills nearly as much as fans expected.

Yes, he likely would have offered an upgrade over Mike Tolbert when giving LeSean McCoy breathers throughout the season.

But much of the fear emanated from the thought of Gillislee joining the New England Patriots and helping the Evil Empire continue to thrive.

The angst manifested on opening night, when Gillislee scored three touchdowns. He added another touchdown the next game. But he hasn't scored since and has been a healthy scratch the past six games.

He's expected to make his return, however, Sunday against the Bills in Gillette Stadium.

"How'd they let you in here?" Gillislee asked me Friday afternoon in the Patriots' locker room.

To which I replied, "I wasn't sure you still had a stall in here."

Gillislee last week expressed his frustrations last to reporter Kevin Duffy, but the fifth-year running back wasn't grousing Friday.

With versatile Rex Burkhead sidelined by a knee injury, Gillislee not only should play, but also could take over goal-line duties. All four of Gillislee's touchdowns this year are from 2 yards or closer.

"I'm just going to stay calm and let it all come to me," Gillislee said. "Some things was out of my control. It was Coach's decision the games I didn't play, but I look forward to Sunday and just being out there with the team."

Gillislee's 98 carries for 355 yards still rank second in New England behind lead back Dion Lewis. They each have four rushing touchdowns, second to Burkhead's five.

Tom Brady has targeted Gillislee zero times, and other backs excel on special teams. Those two phases are how he became marginalized. Depth back Brandon Bolden has two carries all year, but he has forced two fumbles on kickoff coverage and has blocked a punt.

When the Patriots visited Orchard Park three weeks ago, Gillislee stood glumly on the sideline with a hoodie pulled over his head.

"I had to control a lot of emotions that I had, not being able to go out there and play," Gillislee said.

Now he has the chance to square off against one of his mentors.

"Shady has always been like a big brother since I met him," Gillislee said.

"But here in our room, we all clicked real fast. They welcomed me here with open arms. We don't get along just here; we chill away from the field at each other's house. We're really close."

Gillislee has been on the outs before.

The Miami Dolphins drafted him in the fifth round in 2013, but he played only three games before they released him before the 2015 season. The Arizona Cardinals signed him to their practice squad and cut him a month later.

The Bills signed him to their practice squad and within a month promoted him to the active roster.

He became a fan favorite for his long runs in relief of McCoy. Last year, Gillislee led the NFL with a 5.7-yard average and scored nine touchdowns.

Buffalo General Manager Doug Whaley, who placed on Gillislee the see-ya-later restricted free agent tender the Patriots blew away with a two-year, $6.4 million offer sheet, is gone. So are the coaching staff and a majority of his former Bills teammates.

There isn't a lot for him to prove to these Bills.

If Gillislee runs with a grudge Sunday, it likely will be about Bill Belichick's decision to bench him every game after Halloween.

"It seems like they have a good atmosphere around there," Gillislee said of the Bills. "They've gone through a lot of change.

"I'm a Patriot. As of now, that's my focus, helping this team get a win. It's just another opportunity to be able to dress and go out there with the team."

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