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PATRIOTS SEND BILLS REELING FROM PLAYOFF CHASE, 41-17

SHARE PATRIOTS SEND BILLS REELING FROM PLAYOFF CHASE, 41-17

New England coach Bill Parcells has ushered the Buffalo Bills to elimination twice in the past five years - once in the Super Bowl, and now, once in the regular season.

It seems fitting that he delivered the eulogy for the Bills on Sunday after his Patriots beat the four-time defending AFC champions 41-17 to knock them out of the playoff race."I know the season is over for them. But it doesn't end without a tremendous respect . . . for what these guys here accomplished," Parcells said. "I just think it is truly amazing what the Buffalo Bills have done.

"Quite frankly, I don't think they have gotten the credit or respect that they deserve. But I know firsthand that their accomplishments are really quite dramatic," he said. "So I wish them luck."

New England converted four consecutive Buffalo turnovers into 24 points, scoring 38 unanswered points after trailing 17-3 to earn its sixth straight victory.

The rising Patriots (9-6) can clinch their first playoff berth since 1986 with a victory over Chicago on Saturday. For the Bills (7-8), the loss was an embarassing end to a remarkable, though unsatisfying, string of success.

"It was a good, long ride for us," Bills linebacker Cornelius Bennett said. "Everybody has to step down at one point in time. I didn't want it to happen this year, but it's happened."

The Bills led 17-3 with 5:53 gone in the second quarter before the Pats tied it on Drew Bledsoe's touchdown passes to Ben Coates and Vincent Brisby. On the second play of the third quarter, Carwell Gardner fumbled a screen pass and Rickey Reynolds returned it 25 yards for a touchdown.

When the Bills got the ball back, Frank Reich hit Andre Reed on third-and-4 for an apparent first down. But safety Harlon Barnett knocked the ball loose and Reynolds fell on it at the Buffalo 47 - just 89 seconds after his first fumble recovery.

Bledsoe, who finished 22-of-31 for 276 yards and three touchdowns, hit Brisby again for a 6-yard touchdown to make it 31-17. Then Reed fumbled again - this time killing a drive at the Patriots' 5 yard-line. New England moved easily downfield before Marion Butts ran it in from the 1 to make it 38-17.