Drew Bledsoe facing the Patriots will feel odd. Jerry Rice against the 49ers will seem downright weird.
It's the NFL's version of homecoming weekend, with New England, mired in a four-game slump that has the Super Bowl champions spiraling into mediocrity, visiting Buffalo. The Patriots will find their former star quarterback running a potent offense.
"I'm having fun playing with the guys that I'm playing with," Bledsoe said. "And I'm glad in the situation that I'm in."
So is Rice, the game's best receiver for 15 years with the 49ers (5-2). They head Sunday to Oakland, where Rice still is posting strong numbers for the Raiders.
"He looks as if he hasn't lost any steps at all -- actually, he's looking even better than he did the last two years here," 49ers quarterback Jeff Garcia said.
Bledsoe has been driven all season, intent on proving wrong the Patriots and coach Bill Belichick for discarding him in favor of the younger Tom Brady, who led New England (3-4) to the championship. Bledsoe leads the NFL with 2,500 yards passing for Buffalo (5-3).
"Any time you leave a team, you'd love to go back and beat them," he said. "This would be sweet."
Belichick is trying to keep the focus off his former quarterback in "Bledsoe Bowl I."
The Raiders, like the Patriots, need to break their losing ways. They won their first four and have lost three straight.
Rice, however, keeps right on rolling with 45 catches for 604 yards. He and Tim Brown (43 catches, 522 yards) lead the NFL's No. 1 passing offense.
Rice will get another shot at the 49ers (5-2), who could desperately use the dependable receiving threat he provided before San Francisco dropped him two years ago. The Niners have several limping players on both sides of the ball, and Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Woodson will probably be activated to defend All-Pro WR Terrell Owens.
In the Monday night game, Miami still won't have QB Jay Fiedler, but WR Chris Chambers will return from a concussion. Also, Cris Carter came out of retirement for one last chance at an elusive Super Bowl ring. QB Ray Lucas is looking for atonement after being responsible for six turnovers in Miami's 23-10 loss to Buffalo.
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