Pats show off knockout punch

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Bill Parcells is looking at George Foreman as a role model for his football team.

The New England Patriots coach is not talking about the fact that, like Foreman, he tends to lose the battle of the bulge at times.

Parcells is referring to Foreman's improbable knockout of Michael Moorer to win the heavyweight title Nov. 5.

Parcells, who still calls his Patriots an "upstart" even though they ended the Buffalo Bills' four-year Super Bowl run Sunday, said he doesn't think the Patriots have great talent yet.

But, like Foreman, he likes to think they can get the job done on one day.

They're now just one good day -- one victory -- from the playoffs for the first time since 1986.

"That's [talent] not necessary," Parcells said yesterday after reviewing the team's 41-17 rout of the Bills.

"There's a lot of teams that have won that don't have those things. It's [a question of] can you just, for the day that you're playing the important games, can you be at the top of your performance level?

"Can you muster enough energy and will and fortitude and whatever else it takes, toughness, preparation? Can you do it at the right time?" he said.

That's when Parcells brought up Foreman.

"George Foreman is a perfect example who, for that one night, could muster it up. So I think it's just a question of trying to get your team in the state of mind to function at its optimum level at the key time," he said.

If the Patriots beat the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on Saturday, they're in the playoffs. If they win and the Miami Dolphins lose to the Detroit Lions on Sunday night, the Patriots will win the AFC East and have a shot at a first-round bye.

But if they lose to Chicago and the Kansas City Chiefs beat the Los Angeles Raiders, the Patriots will miss the playoffs for the eighth straight season.

Still, it would be a successful year for the Patriots, who started out 1-11 last year with rookie quarterback Drew Bledsoe before rallying to win their last four, showing promise for the future. They started this year 3-6 before reeling off six straight wins.

"If we don't play well and we're not ready to go, it will have been a nice story," Parcells said.

The Patriots still don't do things the easy way. They fell behind 17-3 when Buffalo scored on its first three possessions. But New England tied the game 17-17 at halftime and then got turnovers on five of Buffalo's six possessions in the second half.

At halftime, Parcells said he had a simple message for the team.

"We've taken their best shot, fellas, and we're even. Now, let's see if they can take ours," he said.

They couldn't.

Bledsoe completed 22 of 31 passes for 276 yards and three touchdowns. With 653 pass attempts this year, he'll go into the final game only two shy of Warren Moon's NFL record. He's also only 27 completions shy of the league season record.

When Parcells was asked if it was Bledsoe's best showing, he said, "Yeah, I think so, but you don't have to tell him that."

The Patriots became the first NFL team to have five receivers with more than 51 catches in a season. Vincent Brisby became the fifth when he caught four passes against the Bills to boost his total to 51. The other four are Ben Coates (93), Michael Timpson (71), Leroy Thompson (60) and Kevin Turner (52).

In a way, it was almost fitting that a Parcells team ended the Buffalo reign. Parcells' New York Giants beat the Bills in Super Bowl XXV, 20-19, when Scott Norwood was wide right on a last-minute 47-yard field-goal attempt. The Bills were blown out in the next three Super Bowls.

Parcells quit four months after the Super Bowl victory and took two years off -- he turned down an offer from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after the 1991 season -- before taking the Patriots' job in 1993. Now he has ended the Bills' drive for five.

"Somebody had to get rid of those guys," Parcells said of the Bills, "and I feel fortunate that we were able to do it."

PLAYOFF SCHEDULE

Wild-card games

Saturday, Dec. 31 Sunday, Jan. 1

Divisional games

Saturday, Jan. 7 Sunday, Jan. 8

Conference championships

Sunday, Jan. 15

Super Bowl XXIX

Sunday, Jan. 29, Joe Robbie Stadium, Miami

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