SEATTLE Drew Bledsoe doesn't get back to his hometown of Walla Walla, Wash., too often these days. A road game at Seattle is as close as it gets to a homecoming for the Buffalo Bills quarterback.
''It will be great to be back out there in the Northwest, to have some friends and family,'' said Bledsoe, a former Washington State standout. ''That'll all be pregame and postgame. We've got to focus on beating a good Seattle team.''
Exactly how good? That's a subject for debate.
The Seahawks (6-4) are leading the NFC West, but they've been erratic since a 3-0 start. They've been slowed by a stop-and-go offense, injuries to key defensive players and unreliable special teams play.
Still, coach Mike Holmgren sees the bright side. The Bills (4-6) did Seattle a huge favor last week by beating NFC West rival St. Louis, and now it's up to the Seahawks to seize control down the stretch.
''If we slog our way through wins, I'll take that,'' Holmgren said. ''Ideally, you'd like to not make any errors. If we keep winning ballgames and just keep battling ... I still think we're capable of playing better football.''
For the second straight week, the Seahawks have an issue at quarterback. Matt Hasselbeck was questionable after missing last weekend's 24-17 win over Miami with a deep bruise above his right knee.
Trent Dilfer stepped in, completing 14-of-28 for 196 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. He started strong, throwing a first-quarter TD to Jerry Rice, but Seattle's offense stalled in the second half.
Blame it on rust. It was Dilfer's first start in more than two years.
''It's not the quickness and speed,'' he said. ''It just wasn't as clear. Maybe only a quarterback can understand that. It wasn't as crystal clear as it has been in the past, and that's from not playing.''
Seattle won't have receiver Koren Robinson, sitting out the first game of a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy. Rice will start for the second straight week.
There are defensive changes, too, with linebacker Chad Brown out after arthroscopic surgery to clean out his left knee. Anthony Simmons is done for the season because of a broken wrist, leaving the Seahawks thin at linebacker.
''There are a lot of young guys, and it's different,'' said Orlando Huff, one of two veteran linebackers. ''We've got no time to sit and dwell on that. We've got to roll with what we've got. There are six more games, and we need all six.''
The biggest difference between these squads is on special teams.
Bills punter Brian Moorman has been solid, especially in bad weather, and Buffalo set a franchise record with four TD returns. Terrence McGee has returned two kickoffs for scores, while Jonathan Smith and Nate Clements have scored on punt returns.
The Seahawks, meanwhile, signed punter Ken Walter this week because rookie Donnie Jones struggled after replacing injured veteran Tom Rouen.
The linebacker injuries have made defensive regulars out of Isaiah Kacyvenski and Niko Koutouvides, thinning the pool on special teams. Seattle's punt and kickoff coverage has suffered, aiding opponents with field position.
''You take those guys off special teams and you put defensive backs, fullbacks, tight ends, whoever can fill those spots,'' Holmgren said. ''It has an effect that people don't think about much.''
Buffalo is trying to get rolling away from home after losing all four road games this season. Going back to last year, Buffalo has lost 10 of 11 on the road, including six straight.
In a 29-6 loss two weeks ago at New England, the Bills failed to score an offensive TD for the seventh time in their last 11 road games. Bledsoe, in particular, has had it rough on the road, throwing 14 interceptions with seven TDs in that span.
He rebounded with three touchdown passes last week against the visiting Rams, all to tight end Mark Campbell. If it helps Bledsoe get his head straight, maybe he should pretend it's another home game.
In a sense, it is, though Bledsoe has returned to southeastern Washington across the state from Seattle only a few times over the past two years. His parents now live in Montana and most of his high school friends have left Walla Walla.
He was asked if he expects to feel like he's home again Sunday.
''I hope so. It will be a challenge,'' Bledsoe said. ''We haven't played well as a team on the road. The 'Hawks defense presents a challenge. You just don't get anything easy against them. You've got to earn everything.''
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