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Passionate response

Players won't hear of silence in stands

When the Patriots play host to Tampa Bay Dec. 17, we may see whether a few days of players criticizing fans for a lack of noise and passion woke up the masses.

Richard Seymour was the first to be critical of the fan support after the 16-3 win over the Jets last Sunday. Tom Brady, who last night received Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year award in New York, backed Seymour on his regular segment on the ''Dennis and Callahan" radio program Monday.

And then, during a Q&A with fans on his website, nose tackle Vince Wilfork put his spin on it after receiving a question about the lack of noise at Gillette Stadium.

''Last year they didn't make much noise, but this year is even worse," said Wilfork. ''It is so quiet in there that when the defense is on the field we can here the QB. They make more noise when the offense is on and that is when they should be silent. The 12th man is vital."

Robert and Jonathan Kraft declined comment on the subject.

For a defensive player to be able to clearly hear the visiting quarterback speak to his teammates in a sold-out 68,000-seat stadium is almost unheard of. A few fans have e-mailed in the past few days saying that perhaps the folks who have season tickets should turn them in and allow those on the waiting list to come in and make noise.

The Celtics and Bruins went through this when the new Garden opened, but the subpar performances of those teams were certainly a factor in that.

One factor is that the Patriots, after dominating opponents over the past four years, haven't given the fans much reason to go crazy this season. There was only one touchdown in Sunday's game, and it didn't come until the third quarter.

Perhaps the fan reaction at Gillette was especially noticeable to the Patriots after they played the previous week in Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium, the self-proclaimed loudest venue in the NFL.

The Patriots have not had the benefit of false-start of delay-of-game penalties on visiting teams induced by crowd noise. The Seahawks fans, by contrast, contributed to 11 false starts by the Giants two weeks ago in an overtime victory.

Snap judgments
The Bills can't win on the road -- 0-6 -- but they are 4-2 at home. This Sunday's game against the Patriots will be coach Mike Mularkey's biggest challenge. He's trying to tell his players that the division is mathematically still up for grabs, even after their 24-23 loss to the Dolphins in Miami, which dropped them three games behind the Patriots.

The question is, are any of the Bills listening?

How the Bills finish may have a lot to do with whether Mularkey and general manager Tom Donahoe retain their jobs.

Donahoe gave Mularkey a talented team that was pegged by several prognosticators as capable of winning the AFC East and going far into the postseason.

One of the problems has been the inconsistent performance of quarterback J.P Losman, who is coming off his most impressive outing. He threw three first-half touchdown passes to Lee Evans before the Dolphins mounted a comeback. Losman was given the job over Drew Bledsoe, who wouldn't accept a backup role.

Losman started the season, then got hurt, and had trouble getting his job back until Kelly Holcomb was also injured. The Bills have not had a consistent year from running back Willis McGahee, who surpassed the 1,000-yard mark last Sunday but has been running behind an injured and below-average offensive line.

Picked apart
Last Sunday's Buffalo-Miami game seemed to turn on a questionable play call by the Bills' staff in the third quarter. The Bills, leading 23-3, had a first and goal at the 3 when Losman threw behind Josh Reed and was intercepted. With a back like McGahee, and your team up 20 points, why not run? ''We felt like we had a key on them and we could stick one in for a touchdown," Mularkey said. ''We were trying to go for the jugular on one play and it cost us. I wish I could take it back, but it was a lesson learned. If it's not there cleanly, we have to throw it out of bounds or run on second down."

Different path?
How different might the Bills' fate have been had Donahoe hired Charlie Weis over Mularkey? Weis, who is on a recruiting trip for Notre Dame this week, would have taken the job if offered it, and the Irish right now might be preparing for a low-level bowl game . . . The Bills are No. 2 in the NFL in kickoff returns, averaging 25.8 yards, in large part because of Terrence McGee. They're also allowing a league-low 18.9 yards on kickoff returns . . . The Bills are starting drives, on average, at the 32.8-yard line, tops in the league. Their 25 takeaways are third in the AFC.

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