The prime time match-up with the Patriots would be more special if the Bills had a chance.
Sal Maiorana and Leo Roth and Virginia Butler, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
It’s that time of year again for the Buffalo Bills, one of their twice-annual autumn opportunities to stand opposite the New England Patriots and see for themselves what a successful NFL franchise looks like.
Rarely in the NFL has one team dominated another the way the Patriots have the Bills since the start of the 21st century. And here again, in 2018, nothing has changed. The 5-2 Patriots are on their way to another AFC East division title, the 2-5 Bills are very likely headed to another last-place finish.
No one is giving Buffalo a chance when it hosts the Patriots on Monday Night Football, and even though this will be only Sean McDermott’s third encounter as a head coach facing the Patriots, he knows the history and understands why this is.
“Is that new?” McDermott said when he was asked about the mountainous 14-point spread. “I mean last year, this year, I don’t think it’s new. They were in the Super Bowl last year and have won the division X amount of years, so until you beat them, then that’s how it works. We’ve got to earn every part of it.”
1. Can the Bills avoid getting Gronked yet again? Rob Gronkowski, the superstar New England tight end, sat out last week’s victory in Chicago, but he is expected to play Monday night in his hometown. This, of course, is not a positive development for the Bills because Gronk has tortured the Bills ever since he entered the league as a second-round draft pick in 2010, the draft where the Bills picked defensive tackle Torell Troup one pick before the Patriots selected Gronk. Since then, Gronkowski has played against the Bills 13 times, and his team has lost only twice, and one of those was the 2016 game that Tom Brady did not play because he was suspended. Gronkowski has 66 catches for 1,027 yards and 12 TDs against Buffalo, his most in each category against an individual team. The Bills are not alone in their inability to defend Gronk, but they have never had anyone who could realistically take him away from Tom Brady, though they hope rookie LB Tremaine Edmunds can step up and start making things more difficult.
2. How much will Brady be trolling Bills Mafia after the game? He already got a jump start on this last week when he was leaving Soldier Field after New England’s hard-earned 38-31 victory over the Bears. Brady smiling that smug Brady smile and saying he was looking forward to getting to Buffalo did not go over well in western New York, but what could anyone really say? Brady has owned the Bills and has earned the right to taunt them and their fans. And let’s face it, chances are extremely good that Brady will be smiling late Monday night because while the Bills’ defense has been pretty good at times this season, it won’t be able to shut down the latest Patriot juggernaut offense. Brady may have more weapons than he’s ever had. After a sluggish 1-2 start, things, as they always do for the Patriots, have come together. WR Julian Edelman is back after a four-game suspension, troubled WR Josh Gordon was acquired in a trade and naturally is starting to blossom, WRs Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett have been functional pieces, and RB James White has actually been Brady’s favorite target with 45 catches, more than the entire Bills’ wide receiving corps combined. The Bills won’t have to worry about rookie RB Sony Michel who will miss the game, but it’s doubtful that will matter.
3. Will Derek Anderson be any more functional in his second start? Anderson had basically zero chance to succeed last week in his start against the Colts because he simply hadn’t had enough meaningful time to get prepared. Now that he has had a second week of practice with the Bills, it’s reasonable to believe that he’ll be able to handle a more sizable game plan. However, the expectations remain extremely low because while he may know more plays and more verbiage, the fact remains that nothing has changed in Buffalo’s personnel – it’s not good enough. The Bills might have LeSean McCoy back from his concussion, but McCoy hasn’t been productive all season with just 329 yards rushing and receiving. His backup, Chris Ivory, has 339 yards from scrimmage with one fewer touch. What the Bills need is for the receiving corps to have an out-of-body experience and make difference-making plays. Kelvin Benjamin has some history with Anderson, and they connected four times for 71 yards last week. Last year, Benjamin had his best game against the Patriots with 70 yards. Hey, maybe it’s time the big lug wakes up just in time for the Tuesday trade deadline.
This figures to be another classic, tiresome New England beatdown of the Bills. There is no measurable that favors the Bills on either side of the ball. Buffalo may be able to generate some pass rush pressure on Brady, and CB Tre’Davious White will probably have success from play to play depending on who he’s covering, but outside of that, where else would the Bills have an advantage? The answer is nowhere. The Bills have been shut out in the first half four times this season, while the Patriots have scored 120 first-half points. New England will jump out to an early lead, the Bills will have to press, they will make mistakes, and the deficit will continue to rise during the night. The only way the Bills have a prayer of winning this game is if Brady endures a rare miserable night where he turns the ball over three or four times, and the Buffalo offense finds a way to capitalize with touchdowns and not field goals. Now, it’s entirely possible the Bills can keep it close if the Patriots aren’t motivated, but it seems there’s nothing Brady and Bill Belichick enjoy more than blowing out AFC East rivals. New England is battling Kansas City for home-field advantage in the playoffs, and it won’t slip up against the Bills. MY PICK: Patriots 38, Bills 10.
By the Numbers
34 — That’s Thurman Thomas’ old number with the Bills, and it will never be worn again as the Bills are retiring it during a halftime ceremony Monday night.
13 — That’s how many times the Bills have reached the red zone this season and they have scored just six TDs. The opposition has made it into the red zone 23 times and scored 16 TDs.
81 — The Bills point total is their third-lowest in team history through seven games. The Patriots have scored 86 points in the second quarter alone of their seven games.
Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll on his time with Bill Belichick: “There’s not much that I haven’t taken from him or learned from him. He’s a phenomenal football coach, and his track record speaks for itself.”
Bills FS Jordan Poyer on his interception of Tom Brady last year: “Tom doesn’t make many mistakes, at least not the same one twice, so I doubt that I will be in that same coverage and have that exact same route. When that ball’s in the air and is tipped or whatever, we’ve got to come down with it and be able to get our offense in good field position.”
Patriots coach Bill Belichick: “It’s a division game. It’s always tough with them up there. We know that. I mean, we know it’s going to be tough. We talked about it, but talking about it is the easy part. It’ll be dealing with it Monday night that will be the hard part.”
Quote to Note
Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels: “(They’re) a force on defense … they don’t give up many big plays, they force you to be patient and disciplined and execute a significant number of plays to drive the ball and finish drives with points, which has kind of been the hallmark of this team. They’re in the top 10 in turnovers and sacks, which when you put those two things together, force you to drive it a long way, and they really do a good job of putting pressure on the quarterback and taking the ball away.”
Total offense: 234.0 yards (31st) 381.1 (10th)
Rush offense: 104.6 yards (19th) 120.9 (13th)
Pass offense: 129.4 yards (32nd) 260.3 (14th)
Points scored: 11.6 (32nd) 30.6 (4th)
Total defense: 320.9 yards (4th) 389.9 (25th)
Rush defense: 110.7 yards (16th) 114.0 (21st)
Pass defense: 210.1 yards (4th) 275.9 (25th)
Points allowed: 25.0 (16th) 25.6 (20th)
Bills: LeSean McCoy 63 carries, 244 yards; Chris Ivory 67-210; Josh Allen 35-155; Marcus Murphy 21-123.
Patriots: Sony Michel 95-422; James White 40-189; Rex Burkhead 24-86.
Bills: Josh Allen 75 of 139, 832 yards, 2 TDs, 5 interceptions; Derek Anderson 20 of 31, 175 yards, 0 TDs, 3 interceptions.
Patriots: Tom Brady 170 of 250, 1,876 yards, 16 TDs, 7 interceptions.
Bills: Zay Jones 19 catches, 226 yards; Charles Clay 16-133; Kelvin Benjamin 14-217; LeSean McCoy 13-85; Jason Croom 9-81.
Patriots: James White 45-380; Rob Gronkowski 26-405; Chris Hogan 21-284; Phillip Dorsett 20-198; Julian Edelman 16-147; Josh Gordon 14-241.
9/9 at Ravens, L 3-47
9/16 vs. Chargers, L 20-31
9/23 at Vikings, W 27-6
9/30 at Packers, L 0-22
10/7 vs. Titans, W 13-12
10/14 at Texans, L 13-20
10/21 at Colts, L 5-37
10/29 vs. Patriots, 8:15 p.m.
11/4 vs. Bears, 1 p.m.
11/11 at NY Jets, 1 p.m.
11/25 vs. Jaguars, 1 p.m.
12/2 at Dolphins, 1 p.m.
12/9 vs. Jets, 1 p.m.
12/16 vs. Lions, 1 p.m.
12/23 at Patriots, 1 p.m.
12/30 vs. Dolphins, 1 p.m.