Games like this should make you nervous for a very simple, obvious reason: the Patriots have almost nothing to gain. They have everything to lose. A victory would leave few of us impressed and a defeat would further damage a public confidence that is already eroding.
Make no mistake, the Patriots are getting just what they need this week in the wake of a loss to the New York Jets last week that turned back the clock to 2009. The Patriots looked razor-sharp in the early going of last week’s defeat, only to be outscored in the second half, 18-0, by a Jets team that looked offensively inept and impotent only six days earlier. There is continuing question about who the Pats are compared to who they were, a point brought into great focus in the fascinating research done by ESPN’s Jeremy Lundblad.
But the Bills? The Bills are the Patriots’ elixir and, in recent years, an unfailing cure-all to everything that has ailed New England. The Bills are a punching bag. The Bills are a doormat. The Bills are a team that the Patriots have defeated 13 consecutive times by average margin of 17.9 points, an outcome that is likely to play out the same way on Sunday Foxboro.
Know what that means?It means the Pats can do almost nothing to impress us this week, even if they hand Buffalo the kind of beating they dealt Tennessee last season, a 59-0 annihilation that ultimately skewed the statistics of a team that finished 8-7, including playoffs, against anyone other than the Bills.
We said it before and we’ll say it again: some of us are taking a patient, bigger-picture approach with the Patriots this season given the youth on defense and the transition taking place at Gillette Stadium. The second half of this season is going to mean a great deal more than the first. The Patriots are officially in the mode of please-pardon-our-appearance, and what we should be looking for is growth as much as anything else.
In last week’s second half, the Patriots regressed. Or maybe they just looked no better than they did for much of last year. Whatever your interpretation, you aren’t going to get anything remotely resembling a confidence boost by beating a sorry outfit like the Bills.
Ask yourself a simple question today: when was the last time the Patriots had a legitimately impressive road win, the kind of victory that made you truly believe in them? For the answer, you probably have to go all the way back to 2007, when the Pats shredded anything and everything in their path en route to the only 16-0 regular season in NFL history.
In retrospect, that was the last time the Pats had a legitimate Super Bowl contender. They haven’t won a postseason game since, be it in Foxboro or anywhere else.
A victory this week over Buffalo isn’t going to change any of that, obviously, and it’s really not going to change our view of the Pats, either.
Whether this week’s game means anything to Pats is obviously an entirely different story, largely because of the aforementioned youth factor. Any ego boost that Darius Butler can get this week can only help. Ditto for Brandon Spikes, Brandon Tate and Rob Gronkowski, among others. The youngest and most inexperienced members of the Pats need to show some resiliency this week; anything else would be a terribly discouraging development for a team that will subsequently begin a difficult stretch of the schedule.
Given last week’s developments, all signs this week point to an angry Patriots team taking out all of its frustrations on the Bills. For as politically correct as Tom Brady has been in his comments leading up to the game - "There are a lot of game we could have lost," Brady said of the Pats’ meetings with Buffalo, against whom Brady is 15-1 as a starter – the Pats are currently nestled into the netherworld between the contenders and doormats. The Pats may not be the Colts at the moment, but they are absolutely, positively not the Bills, who are among the worst teams in the NFL.
On Monday, in his morning-after review of the Jets disappointment, Pats coach Bill Belichick still could not hide his frustration with his team. Asked what area he would place atop his list of concerns, Belichick gave a predictable answer: all of them. The Pats coach then gave a rare glimpse into his soul, sounding a touch like tightly wound San Francisco coach Mike Singletary when asked about last week’s game against New Orleans.
How will you try to stop Drew Brees?
We’re not going to try to stop Drew Brees. We WILL stop Drew Brees.
"We’re going to play a full 60-minute game this week," Belichick said with absolute clarity.
So said Bill.
Woe be the Bills.
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