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Keys to Victory: Buffalo Bills vs New England Patriots

This is it. The 5-8 Buffalo Bills, on the verge of an off-season of sweeping change and their tenth consecutive season without playoff football, are about to play in their Super Bowl. Call it Super Bowl AMNF (Avenge Monday Night Football), if you like. (Super Bowl ADOF - Avenge Decade Of Futility - works too.) The point is this: as far as big games go, this is by far the biggest of the three that the 2009 Bills will play this season.

You know the facts. The New England Patriots have won 12 straight games against the Bills, and 17 of 18 overall. The Bills had the Pats dead to rights in Week 1, leading the game 24-13 in the fourth quarter, but two Tom Brady touchdown throws to Benjamin Watson - sandwiched around a fumbled kickoff by Leodis McKelvin - allowed the Patriots to stick a dagger into Buffalo's hearts yet again, escaping with a 25-24 victory.

The Patriots are on something of a slide, however. They've lost three of their last five games after starting the season 6-2, and now lead the AFC East by just a game. We're all aware of what the Bills are, but there's a chance - however minor - that Buffalo could pull the upset on a vulnerable New England team. They'll need to accomplish all five keys to victory after the jump, however, to do so.

Find a way to get off the field defensively. Even with Brady banged up and the offense struggling to score points, Buffalo's defense is not going to be able to completely shut down the Pats, because nobody can. Buffalo has never been capable of containing Brady, either - just look at Brady's 39 completions in Week 1 after returning from a year's football hiatus as proof of that. The Bills' league-worst run defense won't be able to completely contain the Patriots' deep stable of runners, either. You can bet large sums of money, too, that Bill Belichick is keenly aware that the Bills have forced at least four turnovers in four of their five victories this season - so he'll preach ball security at all costs. That leaves third down defense. If Buffalo can't get off the field on third downs, they're duck soup.

Limit the big play. As mentioned, New England's offense is struggling a bit right now. They're averaging 19 points per game in their last three outings, and if the Bills play well, that number shouldn't grow dramatically given the Patriots' road woes. With that in mind, the Bills absolutely cannot give up long gainers on a frequent basis to bail the Pats out. Make them earn every yard. This obviously goes for Brady and the passing game (specifically Randy Moss), but it goes for the run defense, too, which gives out 20-yard runs like Santa gives out Christmas gifts.

Play mistake-free football offensively. By mistakes, I obviously mean penalties and, far more importantly, turnovers. The Bills have not had a turnover-free game offensively since their Week 7 victory at Carolina put them at 3-4 on the season. That's the team's only turnover-free game all season. Last week, a three-turnover outing offensively ruined Buffalo's chances of blowing out Kansas City; instead, they snuck out a hideous 16-10 victory on the road. Asking for a minimal amount of penalties might be getting greedy, considering the Bills will start their eighth different offensive line combination this week, but playing turnover-free football against a desperate opponent is of critical importance.

Get Lee Evans involved. This won't happen if Terrell Owens doesn't play (I think he will), because without Owens on the field, Belichick will simply employ his usual double coverage and completely erase Evans from the game. I swear, Patriots fans don't even know Lee Evans exists, unless they happen to have him on their fantasy teams. In 11 career games against New England, Evans has a mere 28 catches for 397 yards. That's less than 3 catches and about 36 yards per game. Lee Evans has never scored a touchdown against the New England Patriots. That's tough to wrap your mind around, isn't it? The statistical ineptitude needs to end, because the Bills are a different offensive team when Evans is involved, and there's no reason not to target Lee as many times as they target T.O. It's time for the New England suckitude to end, Mr. Evans.

Give these Pats your best shot. I don't mean play hard, because that's a weekly goal, win or lose. I'm talking about being the aggressor. I'm talking about playing with "1-17" stamped ferociously into your brain, Buffalo. Play pissed off, because you should be. This is a team that has used you as a freaking doormat for a decade. They clearly remain the more talented team, but there is absolutely no reason not to play to dominate this game - that's what the Pats do, after all. It goes beyond playing for pride, or playing to hang around with a superior team. It's about getting the franchise a signature win - it's been a meaningless decade of football in Buffalo, but knocking off New England and ending the losing streak might be the win of the decade. Play to dominate. Play to embarrass. Play within yourselves, Buffalo, but don't be passive. Kick some Patriot ass, even if you lose. Take it to this team.