On the second play of the game in the Bills Week Two affair with the New England Patriots, Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor saw daylight in the gap between his right tackle and right guard. He sprinted away from blitzing linebacker Rob Ninkovich, and ran for 23 yards. That play kick-started a 10-play 80-yard drive that culminated in a Karlos Williams rushing touchdown.
But the Bills lead and the good feeling lasted for only six minutes. With just over four minutes left in the first quarter, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady hit wide receiver Julian Edelman for an eight-yard score to tie the game. Trouble began on the ensuing kickoff.
Bills wide receiver Marcus Easley committed a holding penalty on what would have been a 27-yard return by fellow wide receiver Percy Harvin. That penalty pushed the Bills back to their own 10-yard line. On third down, a sack of Taylor would force the Bills back to their own one yard line. Punter Colton Schmidt kicked the ball to the Patriots 45-yard line before Patriots wide receiver Danny Amendola returned the punt to the Bills 27. Flag on the play. Unnecessary roughness. A 14-yard assessment at the Buffalo 27. The Patriots started their drive 13 yards from the end zone. Running back Dion Lewis gave the Patriots the lead on a six-yard run on second-and-three.
"There are times when you let your emotions mess up the team," said running back LeSean McCoy when asked about the Bills' performance that day. "You make a big mistake or a bad decision and you let your teammates down."
In total, the Bills committed 14 penalties in the loss, five of them on special teams. Four flags were thrown for Unnecessary Roughness or Unsportsmanlike Conduct. But this Bills team feels they have matured as they head into their Week 11 rematch against the Patriots.
"I think now we've all learned from our mistakes, and we've come together as a whole team," said wide receiver Sammy Watkins. "We're not going to go out there fighting. We're going to go out there and play the game. That's what it's really about. Keeping your emotions down and know[ing]that it's a four quarter game, not a two-quarter game."
Taylor agrees that the team has grown and evolved since the first matchup with their division rival.
"We definitely learned a lot about ourselves in that game," he said. "I think we've learned from our previous experiences, in game, watching film. I think we're better in all phases, but we have to go out there and play like it as well. I'm looking forward to this group going out and playing on Monday."
Defensively, the team surrendered a team record 466 passing yards to Tom Brady. Now more than two months later the players on Dennis Thurman's unit believe they've developed an on field rapport with one another and with the preferences of their defensive coordinator.
"I feel like we'll be more prepared," said Bacarri Rambo. "We're a better group than the first time defensively. We're a better group. A lot of guys understand the scheme and know what the coaches want from us so I think it'll be a different result this next game."
While the game will be in primetime, McCoy is cautioning his younger teammates not to focus too much on the additional spotlight.
"It's a regular football game. I think it's a bigger game because it's a division game and we need to win. You can't let Monday Night get to you," McCoy said. "Sure, everybody's watching and it's a prime time game. I think big time players make big time plays in big time games. It's one of the games we must win. We have to prepare the right way and focus in." he said.
Right guard Richie Incognito believes the toned-down approach will be a major key to competing with the Patriots in Foxborough. He also senses that there is a quiet confidence that has grown out of their recent success in playing what the Bills call 'complementary football' where each phase of the team works to benefit the other.
"We came out really hot against them the first time and really got in our own way. To beat these guys you can't beat yourselves," said Incognito. "So we've got a focused group, we've got a confident group and we're headed into a big game."
For head coach Rex Ryan, this game is about atonement.
"We were outcoached. We were out everything'd in that game," he said. "The only way we can go out [this week] is we've got to prove it. We've got to show that we're a different team than we were in Week Two."