The Buffalo Bills opened the season with their best start in 13 years before playing a division rival.
Since then they've gotten off to an inauspicious start within the AFC East, and now a meeting with the five-time defending division champions looms.
The Bills look to rebound from back-to-back losses and shake up the logjam at the top of the East on Sunday when they visit the New England Patriots, who have dominated the rivalry under coach Bill Belichick.
Buffalo (5-3) won five of its first six games for the first time since 1995, the year of the team's last division title. Though the Bills appeared capable of ending that drought, they've followed up their strong start by losing their first two games against East foes.
They gave up the final 18 points in a 25-16 road loss to Miami on Oct. 26 before totaling a season-low 30 rushing yards in a 26-17 home loss to the New York Jets last Sunday.
"Losing the last two games is hard. There's nowhere to hide," cornerback Jabari Greer said. "No matter what we've done before, having that two-game losing streak, the taste in your mouth can easily become something if that's not corrected. It can change the whole mind-set of the season."
Luckily for the Bills, a win over the Patriots (5-3) could work wonders for restoring their earlier optimism. Less fortunate Buffalo, however, is it's lost 14 of 16 meetings with New England since Belichick took over the club before the 2000 season.
The Patriots, locked in a three-way tie atop the division with Buffalo and New York, have won nine straight in the series, including two games last season by a combined 94-17, prompting Bills coach Dick Jauron to call New England "a team with no weaknesses."
The Bills haven't won against the Patriots in Foxborough since 2000.
Much of New England's success against Buffalo in recent years has been due to Tom Brady, the four-time Pro Bowl quarterback who has led the team to three Super Bowl titles in seven years, but was lost for the rest of this season with a knee injury on Sept. 7.
In Brady's absence, the Patriots have turned to career backup Matt Cassel, who's eighth in the league with a completion percentage of 67.0. Cassel has four 200-yard passing performances in his last five games, but has also totaled seven interceptions along with just seven touchdowns this season.
"I think Matt has continued to improve every week since Week 1," Belichick said. "It doesn't surprise me. He works hard. He is a very attentive, smart kid who has talent, and every opportunity he gets a chance to practice, take reps and play, I think he improves.
"He's worked hard on it and I think that has shown up in his performance on a consistent basis."
Cassel was 25-for-34 for 204 yards with an interception in New England's 18-15 loss to Indianapolis last Sunday night. He could've altered the outcome of the game, but as he was sneaking for an apparent first down deep in Colts territory in the fourth quarter, Belichick called a timeout that wiped out the play.
The Patriots settled for a field goal on that drive, thanks to an unusual miscalculation by one of the NFL's best strategists. Belichick said he felt like it would be smarter to just get the three points before reiterating he trusted his offense.
"I am confident in Matt throwing the ball," Belichick said. "I am confident in us running it. I am confident in us stopping them, but we just have to do a better job of it, that's all."
Jauron is also hoping for better execution from his club after it totaled seven turnovers in its consecutive defeats.
"Once again we made too many errors to overcome, particularly the turnovers," he told the team's official Web site. "They end up being huge in any game, and they were huge again in this game. It's a very somber group of players."
Trent Edwards, who's thrown three interceptions in the last two weeks after totaling two in his first six games, was among them.
"For the most part, we're kind of beating ourselves," said Edwards, who was 24-for-35 for a career-high 289 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions on Sunday. "The only finger I'm pointing is at myself."
Edwards and Cassel are both making their first career starts in the series.
Cassel could have a little extra breathing room with Buffalo's top pass rusher Aaron Schobel still sidelined with a left foot injury. The two-time Pro Bowl defensive end will miss at least another two weeks and could miss the rest of the season.