For fans and NFL analysts it’s been an annual measuring stick in assessing the Bills. How Buffalo fares against the New England Patriots largely shapes outside opinion on just where the Bills might be headed. To an extent the assessment is a bit unfair as the Patriots have dominated the entire league for the better part of the last 20 years with nine Super Bowl appearances and six championships.
Under head coach Sean McDermott, the Bills have been competitive in their matchups with New England, but not successful when it comes to the end result.
Now armed with an identical 3-0 record to that of the Patriots to start the 2019 campaign, are the Bills better equipped to make life difficult for the defending Super Bowl champs?
Buffalo has certainly improved in a number of areas on offense in comparison to where they were last season when they finished 30th in total yards, 30th in third down efficiency and 30th in points scored.
The Bills offense is currently a top 10 unit with a the fifth-ranked rushing attack and has demonstrated an ability to overcome deficits on the scoreboard.
“We’ve got some playmakers on the offensive side of the ball and it’s showing up. It’s been fun,” said Pat DiMarco. “We’ve had some turnovers that have cramped some drives, but other than that we’ve been moving the ball really well every game and we’ve been productive on first and second down and converted on third. We’ve done a lot of things well.”
“They have a very diverse and explosive group of players offensively, especially when you include (Andre) Roberts in there and potentially (Tyler) Kroft,” said Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. “Their quarterback, their receivers, multiple tight ends, their backs and an offensive line that’s big and physical. (Mitch) Morse has been a good addition to that group and has given that offensive line a lot of stability and confidence. He directs traffic in there with line calls and adjustments. So a very good offensive team with a lot of good players at key positions.”
Chief among them being quarterback Josh Allen, who has engineered a pair of fourth-quarter comebacks thus far this season. His decision making in crunch time and the ability of Buffalo’s top five defense to get stops when they need them figure to make the Bills a tougher out for the Patriots.
“They’ve played very effective football in critical situations, like in the fourth quarter every game has been in the balance,” said Belichick. “So whether it be moving the ball to score or making stops defensively, they’ve made plays in all the critical situations. Their best football has been when it mattered the most. They’ve got a lot of good players and do an excellent job of game planning and making it hard for you.”
Perhaps the most important thing the improvements on offense have provided Buffalo as they prepare for their first meeting with New England is better balance.
Over the last two seasons, Buffalo’s offense found it tough to stay on the field and sustain drives with third down conversions. They had just a 34 percent conversion rate (19-56) in their last four meetings with New England.
Through three games this season the Bills offense has converted at almost a 42-percent clip.
“I think we’ve been doing a good job of playing complementary football,” said Josh Allen. “It’s something that coach McDermott preaches to us all the time. Making sure we’re doing the right things on the offensive side of the ball, the defensive side is taking care of business and the special teams game is dictating field position.”
And in the red zone, where Buffalo’s offense went 0-for-7 in their last four games with New England, the Bills are 7-for-9 out of the gate this season.
“I do think we’re more balanced,” said Jordan Poyer. “Early on in the Bengals game one of our coaches said, ‘Stay loose, you guys have only played 13 plays.’ And we’re thinking, ‘What? Only 13 plays?’ And we look up at the scoreboard and the time of possession was like 10:30 minutes for our offense and we were on the field for a minute and a half. When you see that it’s awesome.
“To have your offense be able to drive the football down the field and your defense can take a break is big because last year it seemed like we were on the field a lot. So to have an offense now that can go out and put points on the board, and then us with an ability to get a three-and-out, that’s the complementary football we’re capable of now. When that happens it’s different. You feel it. You feel the momentum and rhythm of the game and that’s huge for our team.”
What that balance has built within the players is greater belief collectively that each phase of the team can count on the other to hold up their end in a game.
“I feel like we just have more confidence,” said Tre’Davious White. “We’re confident in the pieces that we have and that we’re all going to be able to do our job. I feel like whenever you have confidence like that and you prepare the way we do each week you’re able to go out there and showcase your talents because you’ve put in the work. That’s a big difference that I see.”
All of those improvements offer a lot of promise for Buffalo’s 2019 season. Whether it’s enough to change the narrative in their bi-annual clashes with New England will be known late Sunday afternoon.
“This is a new opportunity for us to go out there and showcase what we can do,” said Micah Hyde. “We understand they’re a good football team and have been for a long time. The Super Bowl has gone through them. We’re just worried about playing our ‘A’ game in front of our home crowd so that’s what we’ll be looking to do.”
As the Bills prepare to play at home against the New England Patriots, scroll through to view photos from previous matchups between the two opponents.