For most of the past 10 seasons the Patriots have had the Bills' number. Buffalo feels the talent level on their roster is as close to that of the Patriots as it has ever been over the past decade. They pulled off last season's Week 3 comeback victory to end a 15-game winning streak by New England. Since then they've twice put themselves in position to beat the Patriots again, but emerging with a win has proven elusive.
"Yeah, it sticks in your craw," said head coach Chan Gailey. "And if it doesn't, something's wrong with you. With a 21-7 lead with 11 minutes to go in the third quarter and for that game to end up like it did, yeah, it probably more than sticks in your craw. It probably makes you sick. It does with me."
The story wasn't all that different in last year's regular season finale. The Bills sprinted out to a 21-0 lead only to surrender 49 straight points in a season-ending defeat at Gillette Stadium. This season in Week 4 Buffalo's aforementioned 21-7 third quarter lead evaporated in a barrage of points by the Patriots as they outscored the Bills 45-7 the rest of the way in a 52-28 loss.
That's why the buzz word in Buffalo's locker room this week was 'finish.'
"I talked to the team this morning about the same old term that we always use, 'finish,'" said Gailey. "We had them in two ball games in a position to finish the game and win the game and we haven't done it. We've just got to go learn to finish out the last three quarters, or finish out the last quarter and a half. We've got to learn to finish against this football team and it's not easy. They're good for a reason."
Since 2002 New England has had the better of the fourth quarter against the Bills. In 10 of the last 21 meetings between the clubs the Patriots have shut out the Bills in the final stanza. Over those 21 meetings New England has outscored Buffalo 192-85 in the fourth quarter alone.
"I think that's just it. We've been able to get some leads on these guys and we haven't been able to hold onto them," said Fred Jackson. "For us to get to where we want to be we have to finish executing. We've had good leads in games and then our execution goes out the window. We can't afford that."
Part of the problem has been turnovers. In their last two meetings with New England they've turned the ball over six times in the fourth quarter. Over the last five meetings with the Patriots the Bills have committed a total of 10 giveaways in the final quarter.
"The turnovers have been a big deal for us in the last few games versus them," said Ryan Fitzpatrick. "That's something you can't do versus them if you expect to win. We have to make sure that we stay within ourselves, and that I stay within myself, and just play what we're trying to play and possess the ball."
Finishing games hasn't just proven difficult against New England. The Bills have had their share of problems finishing games for most of this season. In their first eight games they've been outscored by better than a 3:1 margin in the fourth quarter (90-28) this season.
In five of their first eight games they've been shut out in the fourth quarter, and just once have they managed more than a touchdown.
"The whole deal with that is we've been behind in three games really big and you go out there and throw it every snap, bad things happen and that's when they end up getting field position and running the ball and scoring," said Gailey. "That's where the imbalance comes."
Against the Patriots the Bills admit they may have gotten a bit complacent when they've jumped out to big leads early. They've learned the hard way that there can't be any let up against a team with an offense that can rip off points at will at any moment.
"We've just got to keep the pedal to the metal," said Donald Jones. "Once we go up guys will kind of get lax and you can't do that against this team. Tom Brady is going to put points on the board regardless. So you've got to keep putting points on the board and outscore them. They've been known to score on the best defenses in the league. So we just have to do our job and convert on third down, and score points and not put our defense in a bad situation."
Once the Patriots offense got rolling in the second half back in Week 4 there was seemingly nothing Buffalo's defense could do to stop them. They scored five unanswered touchdowns in just over 15 minutes on the game clock.
Buffalo's defenders acknowledged they got rattled a couple of times in the last game with the way that New England would shift and change the tempo of their offense on the fly. They aim to wrestle that control back from the Patriots the second time around.
"You just try to get a hold of the tempo and try to control it and slow it down and don't get in a panic mode out there," said Kelvin Sheppard. "Say they get a big play on us and they rush to the line just like they do on just about everyone they go against and that next play is normally a big play. You just try to stop that and get control of the game."
That starts by tackling better, something that was a major issue in the first meeting.
"That was the biggest part of the issue last game," said Gailey. "We missed oh I don't know I want to say 12 or 15 tackles in that ball game."
The Bills also respect New England's ability to adjust and counter what they're executing effectively against them. At times Buffalo's success in the first half of games is thwarted by the Patriots' adjustments in the second half.
"We know they have a great coaching staff over there that's able to make adjustments fast so we have to counteract that with our play," said Jackson. "We've got to continue to go out and focus and execute what we have in our game plan. It'll be a good test for us. They're a good team. We know they're going to be able to put up points, so on offense we've got to do the same. We've got to score touchdowns this week."