Bills, Patriots will learn what they have right away

March, 23, 2009
3/23/09
10:27
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

DANA POINT, Calif. -- Much will be revealed on the first Monday night of the 2009 NFL season.

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady should be dropping back to pass on his surgically rebuilt left knee. Terrell Owens will be running routes in a Buffalo Bills uniform for the first time.

There won't be much of a feeling out process for the original AFL rivals when they meet Sept. 14 in Gillette Stadium.

The NFL on Monday announced the Bills will visit the Patriots as part of the AFL's golden anniversary in the first game of a "Monday Night Football" doubleheader. The second game features the San Diego Chargers at Oakland Raiders.

But the Patriots and Bills will be the matchup fans get geeked about.

"This game is going to have a lot of drama and marquee value," said "Monday Night Football" analyst Ron Jaworski. "This will be a very special game."

Fans don't have to hail from Patriot Nation to be interested in how Brady will look in his first action since crumpling to the Gillette Stadium turf on Opening Day one year earlier.

We might get a general idea during the preseason how well Brady's knee has recovered from multiple surgeries, but nobody really will know until the all-world quarterback faces genuine game action.

"There are a lot of questions surrounding his injury and the infections," Jaworski said, "but the fact the Patriots traded Matt Cassel ensures that this game will be Tom Brady's coming out party.

"When you come back from an injury of the magnitude Tom suffered, you can practice all you want, run all you want, drill all you want. But there's nothing like live contact. He'll be anxious to take a couple shots and think 'Whew, OK. Now that's behind me.' "

The Bills quickly will find out whether they're ready to compete in the AFC East. They are coming off three straight 7-9 seasons, but have shown desperation in signing Owens.

"The mere fact the Bills signed T.O. to a one-year contract indicates a sense of urgency, a commitment that they have to improve on 7-9," Jaworski said. "They need to get off to a good start like they did last year, sustain it and maintain it for 16 games. They have to get out of the box fast."

Due to a quirk in scheduling last year, the Bills didn't play their first AFC East game until Week 8, while the other three teams had played each other by Week 3. The Bills bolted to a sensational 5-1 start, but they careened through the last two months of the season thanks to an abysmal 0-6 record against the division.

The Bills won't have to wait to measure themselves against the AFC East standard. The Patriots went 11-5 minus Brady last year but didn't make the playoffs, losing the postseason tiebreaker to the Miami Dolphins.

"As we know, our division's awfully tough," Bills coach Dick Jauron said. "The Patriots up until last year just ruled the division. We're chasing them and everybody else. We're trying to get better. We know how talented they are. We know how good they are. It'll be a great challenge for us, a great way to start the season."

Buffalo likely won't have Pro Bowl running back Marshawn Lynch to start the season. The NFL is expected to suspend him as punishment for his Feb. 11 arrest on multiple gun charges and his subsequent plea bargain.

The Bills have had enough trouble beating the Patriots on the road. The last time they won in Foxborough, Mass., was in 2000.

Patriots owner Robert Kraft, standing next to Hall of Fame displays that commemorated the 50th anniversary of the AFL, indicated there will be plenty of pomp and circumstance in and around Gillette Stadium. Kraft called it "a showcase game."

Jauron can't wait to see the uniforms.

"I'm assuming we'll both be in our throwbacks," Jauron said. "I think that'll be unbelievable. I was certainly an AFL fan and lived just outside of Boston. I tracked that league. I remember those uniforms. I remember a number of those games. I'm really excited about that. It's great news for us, great news for our fans."

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