logoby Scott Benson

You don’t suppose we could flex tonight’s game back to a decent hour?

It’s an old complaint but at this writing, it really feels like the Pats-Bills game is, well, tomorrow or something. This prime time stuff makes for a long day, especially coming off a bye week.

No worries, though – we still have all the papers to go through.

In the Globe, Mike Reiss and Christopher Gasper have the news that Stephen Neal will miss the game with the re-aggravation of a shoulder injury that has already caused him to miss three games this season. The Patriots have managed to get through some o-line nicks with no trouble, in large part because of the reliable play of Russ Hochstein, who will step in at right guard tonight.

Gasper says that the Bills have been beaten, but unbowed.  Reiss checks with Bob Kraft, who’s pulling double duty today, before wondering about the San Diego Chargers in his league notes. Jim McBride likes the Pats by three scores tonight.

Bob Hohler does investigative duty on the duty of Kyle Eckel, who got bounced from the Navy while he bounced back and forth between the Dolphins and Pats. I’m not sure what the point of this story is, really, but I’m pretty sure drawing a fairly straight line from Eckel’s conduct, or lack of it, to the deaths in action of 14 Naval Academy alumni since his graduation is a bit much.

Is Eckel running for something, by the way? Because this Swiftboat-ish piece would really be relevant if he was.

Over in the Herald, John Tomase is bundling up for a chilly homestretch, a time that the Patriots are traditionally at their best (40-8 post-Thanksgiving record under coach Bill Belichick). Jeff Horrigan says a key to the Pats success has been their offensive line, who have been the best pass protectors in the league this season. Dean Pees tells Karen Guregian to save a little credit for the pass rush of the defensive front, which has helped to keep big plays off the scoreboard for New England.

Tomase adds five things to look for tonight, and a package of Quick Hits that includes a tribute to Rodney Harrison and an update on Bill Polian’s obsession with the ‘Furries’ subculture. That one’s a little disturbing. I really think all these things with Polian – the explosive temper, the outbursts of random violence, the Anthropomorphism – are just symptoms of the root issue; his apparent raging alcoholism. 

Lastly, it occurs to John that the Patriots might end up with a pretty nice draft pick courtesy of the 49’ers. Somebody should pick up that idea and run with it, maybe track it week-to-week.

In the ProJo, Shalise Manza Young ponders Tom Brady at 30, better than ever. Bill Reynolds says the Perfect Patriots will face two teams every week – their opponents, and the 1972 Miami Dolphins. I suppose this is true to an extent, but doesn’t this seem like a self-fulfilling prophecy? Who’s going to make sure Shula and the rest will be suited up for battle every week?

Robert Lee has Dick Jauron, who gives a primer on how to deal with the press when it comes to the New England Patriots. Respectful, even at times reverent, saying nothing that can be in any way used against him. No little wiseass slip, no ‘sad day’ moralizing, just deference. Nobody will remember a single thing he said, which alone makes him a more formidable opponent than most.

SMY likes the Pats in her game day analysis, and closes out up close with Rodney Harrison, who is still talking about being an NFL official despite his embarrasing suspension earlier this year.

Elsewhere, David Heuschkel of the Courant looks at the Pats prime-time bid to go to 10-0. Douglas Flynn of the MetroWest Daily News reminds us that the Patriots will meet a better Bills team than the one they encountered in September. Eric McHugh of the Quincy Patriot Ledger has more on the Pats defense, the stingiest third-down unit in the league. Mike Lowe of the Maine Sunday Telegram concludes that the only way to go undefeated is to take ’em one at a time.

Thanks for stopping by, and check back after the game for the early returns.