Bills Still Have Options Without Lynch

Marshawn Lynch (Getty Images)

It looks like Buffalo Bills running back Marshawn Lynch will not play against the Patriots this week. That would be a bad thing for Buffalo, the only team with a chance to compete with New England in the AFC East. A win on Sunday would keep Buffalo's distant playoff hopes alive, but without Lynch in the lineup, Buffalo still has options.

As if beating the New England Patriots (9-0) as heavy underdogs weren't a daunting enough task, the Bills (5-4) apparently will have to do it without star rookie running back Marshawn Lynch.

Lynch suffered what coach Dick Jauron is now describing as a severe ankle sprain in last week's win, his team's fourth in a row which set the stage for Sunday night's showdown at sold-out Ralph Wilson Stadium.

"We're not optimistic about it," Jauron said when asked whether Lynch would suit up.

In fact, Lynch's injury could keep him sidelined for more than one game.

"Yes, but we've all seen things happen real fast and people heal real fast, particularly when they're that young," Jauron said. "He's a little bit different, so we'll hope and see what happens. But if he can't go, then we'll go right on to our other three guys, and we like them all."

The Bills will get by with a rotation of rookie Dwayne Wright, veteran Anthony Thomas and Fred Jackson, but expecting them to do great things against New England's No. 4 defense would be delusional. The Patriots, led by linebackers Mike Vrabel, Rosevelt Colvin, Adalius Thomas and Tedy Bruschi, have given up an average of just 275 yards, 91 yards rushing, and 16.3 points per game.

And they've all had two weeks of rest, as New England is coming off its bye.

Lynch has been Buffalo's most consistent offensive player, and his six rushing touchdowns are most by a Bills rookie running back since Antowain Smith in 1997. With 751 yards on 196 carries, he was on a pace to break Joe Cribbs' rookie rushing mark of 1,185 yards set 27 years ago.

The thought of having to keep pace with New England's offense, ranked first in points (39.4) and total yards (428.7), without his best ball carrier isn't a pleasant thought for quarterback J.P. Losman.

"He's been a tremendous force for our offense all year, and he'll continue to be. But if he's not there, everyone else is going to have to pick up their load," Losman said. "Whoever is stepping in for him, Anthony (Thomas), Dwayne (Wright) or Fred (Jackson) are going to have to step up and make some plays as well. We'll have some things to cater towards what those guys do best as well, which will help us out. Right now our offensive line is comfortable with Anthony and those guys, and we need to keep it rolling."

Wright, a physical back out of Fresno State, has 76 yards rushing and likely would get the bulk of the work.

"Marshawn is a great player, everybody can see that," Wright said. "He has a lot of determination when he plays. I'm just going to pick up the flag and show my part of what I can do. I believe that I can step in and do the same things. It's just going to be a different way to see the running game."

On Wednesday, Patriots coach Bill Belichick heaped his usual praise on his next opponent and didn't quite believe that Lynch would actually miss the game.

"Of course I would expect him (to play)," he said. "Hey, if they're on the 53-man roster, until they're declared out, then we prepare for them like they're going to be there. He's a good player. He's a competitive guy. I'm sure it's not the first time he's been banged up. I mean, everybody's banged up this time of year, but if he can't play, he can't play, but we'll be ready for those other players anyway."

It could ultimately fall on the shoulders of Losman and wide receiver Lee Evans to get into sync early so the running game opens up for Buffalo.

Losman will remain the starter despite rookie Trent Edwards being fully recovered from a wrist injury. Coincidentally, it was a knee injury suffered in Buffalo's 38-7 loss to New England on Sept. 23 that opened the door for Edwards to steal Losman's job. Now that he's got it back, it's up to Losman to hang onto it.

His play was hardly inspiring in last weekend's 13-10 win over Miami, as he completed just 12 of 23 passes for 157 yards with a bad interception in the end zone. But he has also led two fourth-quarter rallies, and the coaching staff wasn't about to upset the club's hard-earned momentum.

Buffalo's four-game winning streak is its longest since a six-game streak in 2004 put the team into playoff contention before a final-game loss to Pittsburgh left the Bills at 9-7. They've been climbing back from that disappointment ever since.

The Bills have lost 13 of their last 14 games against New England, including their last three at home by a total of 64 points.

"It's a great opportunity all the way around and any way you want to look at it," Losman said. "Individually, team-wise, everyone has a lot to prove against this team. There's no one to prove it against better than this team. Like I said, individually and from a group standpoint, everybody has something to prove, and if you want to say me, of course."

New England is on a mission to become the first NFL team to go 19-0 (Miami went 17-0 in 1972). The Patriots have lit scoreboards up to the tune of 38, 38, 38, 34, 34, 48, 49, 52 and 24 points. They rallied to beat Indianapolis two weeks ago in their only real test.

Despite Buffalo's inspiring comeback from a 1-4 start, it still can't match New England's talent across the board.

"There's not anything we can say about this opponent that everybody doesn't seem to already know," Jauron said. "They're as good as their record indicates. There are not a lot of weaknesses on their football team, at least none that we can find. You don't see them, and it doesn't look like anybody else has found them either."

Said Belichick about the Bills: "We've been very impressed with them and the way they're playing in all three phases of the game. They've won five, and they lost two on the last play of the game. This could very easily be a 7-2 team. I'm glad we have the extra time. We'll need it. This team is playing very well. They have their own style of play, but it's effective, and it's winning a lot of games. I'm sure there will be a lot of energy in the stadium on Sunday night, and I hope we can match it."

SERIES HISTORY: 96th meeting. Patriots lead, 54-40-1. New England's 54 wins are its most against any opponent. The Patriots have owned the series since 2000, winning 13 of the last 14 meetings, including eight games in a row. From 1999 to 2001, the clubs went to overtime four times in six meetings, each team winning a pair.

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