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Cause for concern: Bills cashing in at home

FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots beat Buffalo at Gillette Stadium Oct. 30 in a game in which they scored the winning touchdown with a little more than five minutes remaining, so they are expecting a tough test this week at Orchard Park anyway. But the Bills' solid play at home is more cause for concern.

Buffalo is 4-2 this season on its home turf, with the two losses coming to Atlanta and Carolina in games that were decided in the fourth quarter.

''It's kind of interesting to see a team that has played so well at home," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. ''They've really statistically, and even just on tape, I'm not saying it's a different team, but sometimes they just look so much at a higher level at home. Let's put it that way. That's something that's impressive, and very concerning."

The Bills have allowed only 13 points a game at Ralph Wilson Stadium, and in six home contests have 12 interceptions, 6 fumble recoveries, and 19 sacks.

''I wish I could put my finger on why we've played better at home," Bills coach Mike Mularkey said. ''We've played more consistently in all of the games with the exception . . . We lost to Carolina on a last-drive effort by those guys. We've just been playing consistently. I don't know if it's confidence.

''If I knew the answer to that, I'd plug it into our road philosophy. Obviously we have a great fan base and the support and everything that goes along with the city certainly inspires these guys. Whether that's the lone element, I'm not sure. We've got to continue to do that, because that's important.

Should Miami lose at San Diego Sunday, a win by the Patriots (7-5) will clinch their third straight AFC East title. A Patriots' win will mean they can finish no worse than 8-8. And if the Dolphins (5-7) win their final three games to finish at .500, they will have a worse division record than New England and can't claim the title.

New England has been dominant in the division over the past five seasons with a 23-6 mark. None of the other teams in the division -- Miami (13-17), Buffalo (10-20), and the New York Jets (14-15) -- even have a .500 record in division play.

Passing him by

Running back Patrick Pass, who continues to struggle with injuries (he has missed three of the last five games), was not at the start of practice yesterday, and is listed as questionable with a hamstring problem.

''You feel like you're letting your teammates down when you're not out there," said Pass, who did not play last Sunday against the Jets. ''We have starters playing special teams. That's something that I really don't like to see, because I know I can get out there and help 'em out, but I can only do so much right now."

Pass doesn't know if he will be able to go at Buffalo. ''I'm just trying to put myself in a position to help the team win games," he said.

Defensive back Artrell Hawkins (thigh) and rookie left tackle Nick Kaczur (shoulder) were first-time additions to the injury report. Both are listed as questionable. Hawkins was not at the portion of yesterday's practice allowed to be viewed by the media. Neither were tight end Daniel Graham (shoulder), running back Kevin Faulk, and safety Michael Stone.

Tackling new task

Offensive tackle Tom Ashworth has played in 33 career NFL games, all with the Patriots. At the University of Colorado, he played in 45 games. But last Sunday's win over the Jets was unlike any other game for Ashworth, as he lined up as the team's short-yardage fullback. On the Patriots' lone touchdown -- a 1-yard run by Corey Dillon -- Ashworth pounded into Trevor Johnson, who was already being blocked by tight end Christian Fauria, knocking the Jets defensive lineman into the end zone to clear the way for Dillon.

''It was neat to do something different after being a lineman for so long," Ashworth said.

During the week, Ashworth (6 feet 6 inches, 305 pounds) not only watched film of the Jets' edge pass rushers, but also their linebackers and safeties in short-yardage situations.

''It takes some work to figure out what it's all about," Ashworth said.

Ashworth, who started the first eight games at right tackle before a knee injury forced him to miss two contests, has come off the bench the past couple of weeks, with Brandon Gorin starting.

Ashworth, 28, also lined up as a third tight end against the Jets, a bit more natural fit for him; he played the position in college until switching to tackle as a junior when Graham took over the spot.

''I forgot what it was like to be out there," he said.

Moulds's status in air

Buffalo's Eric Moulds was excused from practice yesterday and today after reports that the star wide receiver will be suspended, making his status uncertain for Sunday. Mularkey declined to say why he excused Moulds, but denied reports that he had any intention of suspending the team's leading pass catcher. Referring to Moulds at one point as ''a great player," Mularkey said he would not answer questions about Moulds's status until tomorrow.

Moulds's status was in question after numerous media outlets reported yesterday that Mularkey informed the three-time Pro Bowl selection in a meeting Monday that he planned to suspend him. Mularkey said he never used the word ''suspension" in any conversations he's had with Moulds. ''Don't put words in my mouth," he said.

The player's personal adviser, Greg Johnson, told the Associated Press that Moulds is being punished over a misunderstanding that took place during Buffalo's loss at Miami last Sunday. Johnson said the misunderstanding occurred when Moulds left the field after experiencing pain in his Achilles' tendon. Moulds, Johnson said, wanted to have the tendon examined by a trainer when Bills receivers coach Tyke Tolbert asked Moulds to get back out on the field. Moulds declined and was benched for most of the final three quarters.

Mike Reiss of the Globe staff contributed to his report. Material from Associated Press was used in this report.

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