The Bills approach the midway point of the season with just two wins in their first seven games. But they’ve got a prime-time appearance and the creature comforts of home to lift their spirits, as they try to recover from a two-game losing streak.
Here are the top seven storylines this week as the Bills get set to host Monday Night Football:
1. MONDAY NIGHT LIGHTS
It doesn’t happen often for the Bills, just 42 Monday Night Football appearances in 49-years of the show. They haven’t hosted a Monday Night Football game in ten years since the Browns beat Buffalo 29-27 in November 2008.
But the Bills are back on Monday night at home, 45 years to the day from their first ever Monday night game. It was October 29th, 1973, when Buffalo beat the Chiefs 23-14, and Frank Gifford, Howard Cosell, and Don Meredith were in the broadcast booth. Then Rich Stadium was just two months old, and the stadium was buzzing with prime-time excitement.
The Bills haven’t won a home game on Monday Night since 1994 and they were 4-0 in Orchard Park on Mondays in the ‘90s.
2. FINALLY HOME
Four of Buffalo’s last five games, and five of the first seven this year, have been on the road. Safe to say the Bills are looking forward to a week that doesn’t end with a flight and an unfamiliar bed in a hotel.
” It will be nice to get home,” Sean McDermott said this week. “Being on the road five out of the first seven is not as comfortable maybe as playing at home. We like playing at home, we like playing in front of our fans. This’ll be a big week for us in terms of the energy around the city and creating an environment in our stadium where it’s hard to play, especially for visiting teams and offenses to do their thing.”
3. WILL THE DEFENSE RECOVER?
The play of the Buffalo defense was a big reason the team defeated the Minnesota Vikings and Tennessee Titans.
Since halftime of the home opener against the Chargers, the Bills defense had a strong four-and-a-half game run. They gave up a total of four offensive touchdowns in those games and won two of them.
It all fell apart last Sunday in Indianapolis. The Colts offense scored five touchdowns and ran the ball effectively with 220-yards on the ground.
“It’s disappointing; our guys are disappointed,” said Defensive Coordinator Leslie Frazier. “We are trying to set a standard on defense, and we didn’t play up to that standard (Sunday). It was not playoff caliber, and we have to play better. We’ve got to play a lot better on defense. We know that, and we have to get it done the next time we play.”
Bills defenders have been talking about gap control and focusing only on their jobs since the game ended in Indy. And this week they’ll try to recover up against Tom Brady and the Patriots 10th ranked offense.
4. D.A. WEEK TWO-A STEP FORWARD?
It’s Derek Anderson again at quarterback for the Bills. And instead of 12-days on the roster, he’ll have almost three weeks in the Buffalo playbook by the time the Bills kick off next Monday.
Will it make a difference?
Anderson had some moments last Sunday—passes came out on time, mostly on target. He seemed to have a good grasp on at least a portion of Buffalo’s offensive playbook. Anderson had three interceptions and lost a fumble—so there’s plenty of room for improvement this week.
Another full week of immersion in the playbook and throwing to his Bills teammates should produce better results.
5. DABOLL AGAINST HIS MENTOR
Brian Daboll’s Bills offense has yet to hit its’ stride this season. And they go into game eight with Daboll trying to do it against his NFL mentor.
Daboll has spent 11 of his 17 seasons coaching in the NFL under Bill Belichick in New England. And the Bills Offensive Coordinator views Belichick as critical to his professional development.
“I was with him for 11 years, so there’s not much that I haven’t taken from him or learned from him.” Daboll said this week. “He’s a phenomenal football coach, and his track record speaks for itself.”
Belichick’s Patriots track record against the Bills? Thirty-one wins, five losses.
6. RUNNING BACK HEALTH A QUESTION FOR BOTH
Both the Bills and the Patriots start their practice week with question marks at running back. Buffalo’s top back, LeSean McCoy, left last Sunday’s game after two plays with a hit to the head. He’s in the league’s concussion protocol now, which has no timetable for return.
The NFL concussion protocol has five specific benchmarks: rest and recovery, light aerobic exercise, more aerobic exercise with some strength training, football specific activities, and then full football activity. We may get word in the next day or so where McCoy is in the protocol.
Patriots RB Sony Michel, their first-round draft pick, may miss this week after getting his knee twisted in the 2nd quarter last Sunday in Chicago. An MRI has found so serious structural damage, but Michel may not be ready Monday.
There are other key players who are injury question marks this week. Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski is expected to play against the Bills. He missed last Sunday when his back troubles flared up again. And Bills DE Trent Murphy hobbled home from Indianapolis with a knee injury and McDermott says his status is week to week. That may mean more practice and playing time for former 1st round draft pick Shaq Lawson who started week one and got 42-percent of the defensive snaps last week.
7. HALL OF FAMER IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Hall of Fame RB Thurman Thomas decorated career will be in the spotlight all week, as the Bills get set to retire his number 34 at halftime Monday night. He’ll join Jim Kelly and Bruce Smith as the only other Bills to get their jersey numbers officially retired.
Dozens of Thomas’ former Bills teammates are expected in town for a reception Sunday night and the ceremony at halftime. And ESPN is expected to spend considerable time during their pregame pump-up to honor “Thurm.”