ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) – Safety Troy Vincent attempted to stem the barrage of questions involving the Buffalo Bills’ crisis du jour – this time it’s receiver Eric Moulds’ status – by asking whether anyone wanted to know what he thought of the team’s next game.

Oh, yeah, the Bills host AFC East rival and two-time defending champion New England today.

Not that anyone could tell in Orchard Park, where Team Turmoil appears to be coming apart, a reflection of a sputtering squad that’s 4-8, has lost five of its last six and in all likelihood will miss the playoffs for the sixth straight season.

Moulds’ status – he was eventually suspended Thursday by team owner Ralph Wilson for the New England game – capped a most unsettled week.

It began with questions of how the Bills blew a 20-point fourth-quarter lead in a 24-23 loss at Miami and continued with a fan challenging Tom Donahoe to resign with a call to the team president’s weekly radio show.

Then came the questions about Moulds after he was barred from practice, the punishment apparently for a sideline dispute with an assistant coach during the Miami game.

Running back Willis McGahee summed it up best.

“It’s crazy,” McGahee said. “It’s a lot of chaos.”

Meanwhile, in Foxborough, the unflappable Patriots (7-5) keep rolling along, on the verge of clinching their fourth division title in five seasons. They can do so as soon as Sunday with a win over Buffalo and a Miami (5-7) loss at San Diego.

While this by no means comes close to matching New England’s 14-2 finishes in each of the last two seasons, the Patriots’ success this year can be measured differently. It’s a testament to their resilience, the team having overcome a rash of injuries and an intimidating first-half schedule.

Just don’t ask coach Bill Belichick whether he’s noticed.

“Oh, I don’t know,” Belichick said. “We’ve tried to focus on our objectives and challenges every week. We’ll add them all up at the end of the year. Right now, it’s getting ready for Buffalo.”

Doesn’t matter that the Patriots have won nine of their last 10 against the Bills, including a 21-16 win in October in which New England rallied from a 16-7 fourth-quarter deficit.

Where outsiders see resilience, Belichick sees trouble.

“Let’s hope we can play better than last time,” he said.

Although the Patriots haven’t won more than two straight this season, what’s impressive is how they’ve bounced back from losses, having gone 45 games without consecutive defeats – the longest active streak in the league.

New England is coming off a 16-3 win over the New York Jets, and the team’s beginning to welcome back some of its banged-up players.

Defensive end Richard Seymour has played four straight after missing four games. Receiver David Givens returned against the Jets after missing three games. And running back Corey Dillon came back after missing two games to score a touchdown against the Jets.

New England has nine players on injured reserve, including safety Rodney Harrison, cornerback Tyrone Poole and center Dan Koppen, and has had only nine players start every game this season.

“We don’t really have a whole lot of choices,” linebacker Mike Vrabel said, referring to playing through injuries. “You’d like to play with the same 11 or 12 guys all the way through the year, but you know that’s not going to happen.”

Vrabel also shrugged off a question about playing a Bills team that’s unraveling.

“I don’t buy that a whole lot,” Vrabel said. “We’ve been in those situations ourselves where things don’t look so good and you don’t play very well. … But listen, that dog that’s hurt is the one you want to stay away from.”

The perception grows that the Bills in many ways have become the anti-Patriots, consistently unstable at the core.

Buffalo has been unable to overcome injuries, becomes distracted by the first sign of trouble and is suddenly incapable of winning games in the clutch. The loss to Miami marked the third time in five games the Bills squandered a fourth-quarter lead.

“One big difference between us and New England is that they know how to finish,” Vincent said. “Playoff games, championship games, Super Bowl victories, I think it’s that experience of, whether you’re in your first year or the guy in his 14th or 15 year, never ever believing that it’s over or never being satisfied. … They’ve shown how to finish.”

AP-ES-12-10-05 1136EST


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