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Deja Review

It's amazing how little things change with the Bills over the years. I was doing some research on Mike Mularkey and came across my column from locker cleanout day after the 2005 season -- Mularkey's last in Buffalo.

Here's a quote from London Fletcher, who advised against major changes and said the Bills' record (5-11) could easily have been 10-6 or 11-5 if a few plays had been different: "You don't blow up a team because of a couple of plays here or there," Fletcher said.

I'm sure we'll hear similarly lame rationalizations after this season. We're accustomed to hearing defensive players say that if you took away the two or three long runs, they actually had a pretty good day.

Here are some chilling stats from the '05 season: The Bills were last in the NFL in third-down defense and 31st against the run. Currently, they are (drum roll) last in third-down defense and 31st against the run.

They were 30th in red-zone offense that year. They've dropped to 25th this year, as Mark Gaughan chronicles in Friday's News. They were outscored by 96 points on the season -- 93 in second halves. They've been outscored by 76 points this season -- 72 in second halves and overtime.

Mularkey walked away from the third year of his contract when Ralph Wilson fired half his staff and hired Marv Levy to look over his shoulder. You have to wonder: Is Wilson lucid enough to make the sort of bold moves he did seven years after a season that was so strikingly similar to this one?

Video replay: Bucky & Sully Show by segment

1. Bills (Stevie, Fitz & Chan) and NHL lockout:

2. Baseball Hall of Fame, Spurs sitting out, David Wright, 49ers QB situation and Adderall:

3. Guest Keith McShea on All-WNY team:

4. Something We've Read and Bozos of the Week:

Live video: Bucky & Sully show followed by chat

Watch a replay of the Bucky & Sully Show, broken down by segment, by clicking here.

Bunch of Mularkey

Mike Mularkey doesn't want to dwell on past resentments. On a conference call with Buffalo media on Wednesday, he said his departure from the Bills after two years as head coach was "old news". But Mularkey, who returns to town as the Jacksonville coach this Sunday, said the infamous 2004 finale -- and other parts of that season -- does stick in his craw.

"A lot," Mularkey said. "I've used it a number of times, because of where we were and what we had to do to get to that point, I just told (Jags PR man) Dan Edwards, 'If the Jacksonville game, if we stopped them any one of the three fourth downs they converted, we don't have to beat Pittsburgh to go to the playoffs.'"

Mularkey was referring, of course, to the opener of that '04 season, when the Bills allowed the Jags to drive to a winning TD at home. That led to an 0-4 start. The Bills later fell to 3-6 before winning six straight games and setting up a finale at home against the Steelers, who had clinched home-field advantage. Using mainly backups, Pittsburgh beat the Bills, 29-24, and knocked them out of the playoffs.

The Bills went 5-11 in 2005, Mularkey's second season as coach. Ralph Wilson fired Tom Donahoe as president and GM after the season. Mularkey resigned with one year left on his contract rather than accede to some organizational changes that were in the works. The 9-7 record in '04 is the last Bills' winning season.

"I've used the example of how one play can affect a season," Mularkey said. "There's a number of plays that changed the whole scenario in that Pittsburgh game. We would not have needed to win it. We would have been in the playoffs. I still talk about a lot of things in that season, how that team had to overcome the adversity of starting 0-4, sticking together. That was a very memorable season for me."

Given the way his time here ended, and seeing how Sunday will be his first time back in Buffalo since then, would winning this game be especially sweet, he was asked?

"Well, I'll be honest," Mularkey said. "I was very excited for our players this last game (a win over the Titans). They have done everything we asked. We haven't had a lot of good feeling here, and I wanted our players to feel good about what they did. We want to improve and see progress in all the players, all of our schemes and us as a team and coaches.

"We want to win all these games," he said. "We want to finish the season strong. Will it have extra feeling? I'll be happy for our players, because they have worked their tails off. I don't know if it'll be anything extra special for me."

Mularkey was asked if he has imagined how differently things might have gone for him, for the Bills, and for Buffalo if he had won that finale against Pittsburgh in 2004. He gave a long pause before answering.

"I can honestly say I have not thought that," he said. "I did not. Maybe I did back then. But I have not thought that for a long time. No."

The Bills, who appeared to be on the rise after '04, fell apart in 2005.

"I think there's a number of things ... that changed the, the makeup of the team, to start the offseason off," Mularkey said. "I'm not going to get into specifics. The guys were proud of what they did that year. I still think they felt very good about what they accomplished after the start that we had."

Presumably, he was speaking about changes that were made after the '04 season. Donahoe cut ties with Drew Bledsoe and handed the starting job to J.P. Losman, who proved unready. He also allowed Pat Williams and Jonas Jennings to leave in free agency. The run defense went from seventh in '04 to 31st in '05  and has never recovered. Ah, memories.

Shootout At The Ralph?

As of Tuesday, the Bills still had 15,000 unsold tickets for the Jacksonville game this Sunday. There's no way they're moving close to that many tickets. There's a greater likelihood that thousands of fans will be trying to move their own tickets so they can start their Christmas shopping.

But maybe the Bills should promote this game as a possible offensive shootout. The Jaguars are 29th in the NFL in points allowed. The Bills are 30th.  I know the Bills' defense has come on in recent weeks, but Jacksonville has been on a tear since Chad Henne replaced Blaine Gabbert as the starter. Over the last two games, the Jags have averaged 30.5 points and 389.5 yards a game. Remember what happened when Jake Locker went down and the Titans turned to a veteran QB, Matt Hasselbeck.

Which two teams have given up more points than the Jags and Bills, you ask? Oakland and Tennessee. Somehow, four AFC teams have managed to allow more points than New Orleans. The Saints are 28th. Kansas City is 27th and the Jets 26th. Six of the worst teams in the league in points allowed are in the sorry AFC.

Further proof that the AFC was down this year and it was a great opportunity for the Bills to sneak into the playoffs. Sad.

 

Live Chat at 1

I'm scheduled to chat live at 1 p.m. from the News today. Conventional format only. The weekly video chat with Bucky is slated to go next Friday.

Pats Scoring Machine

When the Bills lost, 37-31, in New England a couple of weeks ago, I came away thinking the defense had actually played OK. The performance seemed at least average, based on their horrid play early in the year and the stunning efficiency of the Patriot offense.

In fact, it was a perfectly average defensive effort against New England. After last night's 49-19 evisceration of the Jets, the Pats are averaging exactly 37.0 points a game. They've scored 108 points in their last two games, 190 in their last four. It's scary. They keep getting better. They're now on pace to break their own NFL record for points in a season. The Pats scored 589 points (36.8 a game) during their unbeaten 2007 regular season.

Is there anything more certain in today's NFL than the Patriots improving over the course of the regular season? They went 8-0 in the second half the last two regular seasons. They've won their first three games of the second half this year, and five in a row overall, opening up a big lead in division that had all four teams tied at 3-3 a month ago.

Tom Brady has 14 TD passes and zero interceptions during the five-game winning streak. Brady, who always talks about the Pats getting better later in the season, has been especially good from the ninth game onward. During the Pats' 19-game win streak in the second halves, Brady has 41 touchdown passes and 2 interception. And you wonder why I consider him the best of all time.

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Bills-Pats Notes

FOXBOROUGH -- A couple of quick game notes from the Bills' 37-31 loss to the Patriots this afternoon at Gillette Stadium:

Rob Gronkowski has scored at least one touchdown in all six of his career games against his hometown Bills. "Gronk", who caught a 2-yard TD pass from Tom Brady in the second quarter, had nine TDs against Buffalo in all. Gronkowski has eight TD receptions this season. He has 35 TD catches in his career. He is trying to become the first tight end in NFL history to score 10 TDs in his first three seasons.

The Patriots have scored at least 30 points against the Bills in six straight games. In their last three games against Buffalo, they have 138 points. 

The 37 points allowed was the fewest against the Bills in the last four AFC East games. They had allowed 49 to the Pats in last season's finale, 48 to the Jets in the season opener, and 52 to the Pats in Orchard Park earlier this season.

The Patriots scored on their first four possessions of the game. That gave them 11 consecutive scoring possessions against the Bills, dating back to the opening of the third quarter in the first meeting. The Pats scored TDs on six straight possessions in that game, then tacked on a field goal at the end.

Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for 337 yards and went over 10,000 yards passing as a Bill, becoming the first player to reach that plateau. Fitzpatrick has 10,265, moving him past Drew Bledsoe (10,151) and into fourth place on the Bills' career passing yardage list.

 

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