Surging Bills can’t ease up with Belichick’s Patriots up next, having lost to them already
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Forget the myriad scenarios — 14 in total — that would give the Buffalo Bills their fifth consecutive playoff berth if they beat or tie New England on Sunday. And don’t expect the Bills to do much scoreboard watching during the game, either, to find out whether the AFC East title will be on the line during their season finale at Miami.
None of that matters to Bills center Mitch Morse when facing a Bill Belichick-coached team. Nor does the Patriots’ 4-11 record, or the speculation of major offseason changes looming in Foxborough, Massachusetts.
“The one thing I’ve learned in this league is to expect the unexpected,” Morse said, dismissing speculation about Belichick’s tenure ending in New England after 24 seasons.
“Until I see that, he’s been one of the most frustrating guys to play against because he’s such a masterful mind on the defensive front,” Morse added. “I have the utmost respect for what he’s done, and what he’s continued to do.”
And if the Bills (9-6) need additional reasons to not take the Patriots for granted, they need only think back to their 29-25 loss at New England on Oct. 22. Buffalo was limited to 10 points through three quarters and then — after scoring twice to take the lead with 1:58 remaining — allowed Mac Jones to cap an eight-play, 75-yard drive with a 1-yard pass to Mike Gesicki with 12 seconds left.
“The fact that we lost Game 1 tells you we’ve got to put our best stuff out on the field or we’re not going to win this game,” quarterback Josh Allen said. “They know that. We know that.”
The Bills appear to have put their midseason inconsistencies aside. After dropping four of six, Buffalo has rallied by winning four of five to sit sixth in the AFC. The Bills control their path to the playoffs and even have an outside shot of claiming a fourth straight division title. They would need to beat the Patriots, have the division-leading Dolphins lose at Baltimore, and then beat Miami in the finale.
“They’re playing well, and doing it at the right time for them. Three weeks ago, everybody was talking about how much trouble they were in,” Belichick said. “Then they rip off three straight wins, and here we are.”
The Patriots are closing out what could be their worst season under Belichick. While New England’s defense is playing at a high level, the offense continues to struggle. That’s been a persistent issue since Tom Brady’s departure in 2020.
While the tandem of Belichick and Brady owned Buffalo, going 34-9 from 2001-19, the Bills have turned the tables by going 6-2 since, including a playoff win.
Jones has beaten the Bills twice, including a 14-10 win in terrible weather in 2021 in which the quarterback completed 2 of 3 attempts for 19 yards. But he’s currently backing up Bailey Zappe, who is 2-2 as a starter this season. This will be the seventh start of his career.
“Yeah, of course you would love to ride that momentum,” said Zappe, who completed all three passes for 36 yards on the final drive to set up Chad Ryland’s 56-yard field goal with 2 seconds left in a 26-23 win at Denver last week. “We’re playing a great Bills team and they’ve been rolling the last three weeks.”
OUT OF TOWN SCORES
The Bills, unlike some teams, don’t have a policy on whether they’ll show out-of-town scores — the Miami game against Baltimore in particular — on Sunday. “I’m not aware of the Bills having a rule,” coach Sean McDermott said, noting he’s going to be totally focused on beating the Patriots.
McDermott then acknowledged he was getting updates on the sideline during Buffalo’s 2017 season finale at Miami. In McDermott’s first season, the Bills ended a 17-year playoff drought by beating Miami before cheering on Cincinnati to pull out a last-minute win over Baltimore that eliminated the Ravens from contention.
ON THE RUN
The Bills have topped 105 yards rushing in each of their five games since offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey was fired and Joe Brady was promoted to replace him. New England hasn’t allowed a team to rush for 100 yards in six straight, and limited Buffalo to 81 yards on 24 carries in the first meeting.
“It’s another opportunity for us to showcase what we’ve got against the run. Whatever they have, we’ll be prepared for it,” New England linebacker Jahlani Tavai said.
BIG ON BILL
With his coaching background rooted in defense, McDermott praised Belichick and said the Patriots’ coach has influenced him.
“I think most coaches if not all coaches are learning from coach Belichick, and then also trying to get where he’s been for years,” McDermott said. “He’s changed the game in a lot of ways, and I think the league has listened to some of his recommendations.”