Bills lean on player-driven leadership to prepare for rematch against the Patriots

Buffalo Bills against the New England Patriots at Gillette Field on December 24, 2017. Photo by Craig Melvin. Buffalo Bills Jordan Poyer (21) runs in his interception for a touchdown against Tom Brady.

This Bills team has experienced a lot throughout Sean McDermott's tenure in Buffalo. The team has gotten used to playing big games in December throughout the past couple of seasons and that experience will help them this Sunday against the Patriots.

The majority of the captains on this team have been here for three or more years and know what McDermott expects from the team and have learned how to win meaningful games. With these last three regular-season games essentially having the importance of playoff games for the Bills, McDermott explained a big factor in the preparation for Sunday's game. 

"That's where leadership really comes in," McDermott said. "The team is led by player-driven leaders during this time of year. It's good to be playing in important games down the stretch so we respect that and respect the opponent. But again, I think the big key is the leadership in the locker room during the back quarter of the season if you will, and now in the last couple of games here. So, that'll be a big piece for us going forward."

Sunday's game will be the second since 1991 in which Buffalo has played New England in Week 16 or later with at least a share of first place on the line. It is one of the more important regular-season games that the Bills have played in some time and a win can set them up to win the AFC East. This team preaches that the easiest way to get into the playoffs is to win the division and hosting games in the postseason further sets them up for success. 

Bills' quarterback Josh Allen has experienced both starting the postseason on the road and at home and has seen the different outcomes that occurred. This team understands what this upcoming game means for their season and postseason aspirations, but they won't let that distract them from staying focused and working on bettering themselves. Allen noted after Wednesday's practice that it will take more than just the team captains to win the game – it will take everyone. 

"With all the distractions that could be distractions, we've just got to make sure we're talking to each other and leaning on each other and not letting little things become big things," Allen said. "More importantly, letting the main thing be the main thing. And that's to go out and try to execute and win a game Sunday against a really good opponent. It's gonna take all of us, practice squad included. From everyone from the mailroom to the cafeteria, it's gonna take us all. But we're excited for an opportunity like this."

The Bills have the opportunity this weekend to re-write the story of their season, get back in the driver seat of the AFC East, and have back-to-back wins for the first time since Weeks 4-5 of this season. They can also get the bad taste of their last meeting with the Patriots out of their mouths and once again be one of the top teams in the conference. 

With the margin for error getting smaller and smaller with every passing week of the regular season, a win against your division rival would mean so much to this team and the fan base. Jordan Poyer noted after practice that you can't ask for a better matchup in December and that everyone is going to have to step up this week to get the result that they want. 

"Player leadership is important every week," Poyer stated. "In particular, down the stretch, this time of year where every day seems to be getting harder and harder. Games are getting harder, and the games are more meaningful. And that's what you want, that's what you sign up for. So, guys are excited for the opportunity to be able to go out and show what we can do on Sunday."

Josh Allen describes playing in the atmosphere up in Foxborough

For the teams still in playoff contention, the fans will create a rowdy atmosphere to help out their team any way they can. That is what the Bills will be walking into when they face the Patriots on Sunday. The Bills have played in Foxborough in December every year since 2017 so they are familiar with what crowd noise they are up against. Josh Allen knows the history of these two franchises, and he's focused on having his team prepared so that the crowd in New England doesn't affect them.

"We've talked about this before, every game from here on out is like a playoff game, and the type of atmosphere that's going to be there," Allen said. "I mean, the energy is going to be extremely high, we know that the crowd is gonna be really loud. We know that and so we got to prepare as best as we can and again, be prepared as possible before we step foot in that stadium on Sunday and not let it affect us and really just do our jobs."

The Bills played the Patriots late in December last season, but there were no fans in the stands. In that game, Allen went off and completed 27 of his 36 passes for 320 yards and four touchdowns. With the New England crowd in full force this week, Allen explained the difference between playing with and without fans.

"These types of games, the ebbs and flows, the momentum, you can't see it, but you can definitely feel it," Allen added. "So that type of energy and that juice, you're able to either have that energy from the crowd and it can push you or when you draw that and steal that from the crowd that can also push you. So, we got to be aware of that and we got to be ready for the moment."

Jordan Poyer talks about using lack of respect as fuel down the stretch

Jordan Poyer feels like his defensive unit has been disrespected this season. The defense ranks first in total yards per game (287.9), first in yards per play (4.7), second in points allowed per game (17.4), third in interceptions (17) and takeaways (27). The unit has improved their play from the 2020 season and has been a big factor in many of their wins this season. Poyer knows that respect from outside of the facility isn't everything, but he and his teammates use it as fuel to be better.

"It'll probably never change, but I mean we use it as fuel," Poyer said. "I know that's cliche, but at the same time, we understand the lack of respect for I'm talking about our group in particular, but even for our defense. … We use it as fire, we use it as fuel to fuel the fire and really try to just continue to come in here every day. And days that maybe we are tired and coming in here, Micah and I are motivating each other saying, 'Hey, they don't respect us. We got to go to work.' And it's just a little motivation that we continue to use."