It seems light years ago the Bills dropped a one-point loss to New England in early September. That night, a signature victory was inevitable until the Patriots bounced back from a 24-13 deficit in the final quarter, prevailing 25-24.
The rematch has finally arrived Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium, but the nationally televised heartbreaker is long gone in player's minds. The Bills just want a victory.
Dating back to the 2000 season, the Patriots have won 17 of the last 19 games against the Bills including the last 12 in the series—the longest regular season winning streak in team history. With a victory, the Patriots would sweep the Bills six straight seasons.
Marcus Stroud said the streak won't sway his thinking come game time, despite the Bills' almost decade long futility against their division rival.
"I don't think so. I haven't been up here to play 12 against them so I don't factor into that equation," Stroud said. "It's something that you look at and you don't. You still have to go out and play the game on Sunday. That's partly for you guys to keep those stats and give you a good story to write about."
To a man, however, other players admitted the streak is inexcusable, giving them extra motivation this weekend.
"It's the Patriots. They've beaten us 12 straight times now. We're trying to get rid of that. We want to. I haven't beaten them since I've been here," Fred Jackson said. "I want to get that first win and know what it feels like to beat the Patriots."
While remaining a perennial contender in the AFC, the Patriots have struggled at times this season. Quarterback Tom Brady is putting up his usual productive numbers, but the defensive unit remains young and inexperienced. Their 8-5 record keeps them atop the division, yet the Bills could change that figure and position in a crowded playoff chase.
Even though the Patriots have shown their vulnerabilities this season, Jackson said they still resemble an elite team.
"They're the Patriots. They're going to show up and play. That's what they do," he said. "With all the stuff outside of football that's gone on up there, I don't think anybody here is too focused on it because when it's time to play on Sunday they're going to show up to play football."
Another failed playoff appearance is on the horizon, but the Bills surely have incentive. A win Sunday makes them 3-3 against division opponents, and ends the dreaded losing streak against New England. A respectable record in this area is a far cry from going winless in the division last season (0-6).
"If you can't sweep a team you want to at least split with them. And we don't want to get swept so we know there's an opportunity there," Chris Kelsay said. "We're 1-1 with the other two divisional opponents and we want to make it that way with New England."
"To go 0-6 last year was embarrassing and I don't think anybody in this locker room would disagree with me saying that. To put a win together and be 3-3 that would put us right in the mix division-wise if a couple of our division foes lose a couple," Brian Moorman said. "You never know what can happen. A 3-3 mark is respectable, but it's not something we'd be satisfied with by any means. Still it's much better than 0-6."
If anything, the Bills are losing close games. The last three meetings have been decided by a combined 24 points.
"I'm not saying they're unbeatable, but you have to make plays down the stretch to beat them," Lee Evans said. "In our first meeting we played well for most of the game, but down the stretch we didn't play well and didn't make any plays. To win against a good team like that, that's what you have to do."
A victory against the Patriots is certainly a positive step, but for several players and coaches who experienced the futility, the game symbolizes more. Kelsay said the fans deserve a signature victory, including his teammates.
"No question about it. It's been a long time since we beat New England. First game of my career," Kelsay said. "So it would definitely mean something. Even though there are no playoff implications, it's still a win against the Patriots. It's something that's in the back of our minds no doubt."
Another win Sunday gives Perry Fewell his third victory as interim head coach, who failed to beat the Patriots during his term as defensive coordinator.
"It would be a great one for everybody, the community, the fans, the organization, the players," Moorman said. "It would be on our home field too. It's been a long time. It would be nice to put it all together and come out and it'd be big for Perry and the coaches and really all of us. It would be a big game."