When Tom Brady went from the Patriots to the Buccaneers in 2020, Bills fans everywhere rejoiced that the Bills wouldn't have to face him two times in a season anymore. That doesn't mean that the Bills were free from ever playing against him again. When the Bills go down to Tampa to play the Buccaneers, it will be the 36th matchup between Brady and the Bills.
With the amount of continuity the Bills defense has stemming back to 2017, 14 players on the defensive side of the ball were on this team when Brady faced off against the Bills. Harrison Phillips, who is coming of his best game of the season, has a lot of respect for what Brady has done as a player but hopes to take him down as an opponent.
"I love playing against Tom Brady," Phillips said. "I really do. I think that it's incredible to have a chance to go against somebody who's that amazing of a football player and the things that he's done in his career. And so, I'm excited that this is the opponent that we're facing this week."
Going up against the reigning Super Bowl Champions is never an easy task for any team. For the Bills, getting a win is crucial as the team needs wins to stay competitive in the AFC playoff race. After a 4-1 start, the Bills stand at 7-5 which is where the Bucs were through 13 weeks last season. As Josh Allen said after Monday's game, the team is in control of their own destiny and everything that they want to accomplish is in front of them.
With five games left to go, the Bills have time to get back on track, but it starts with a tough test in Tampa. Bruce Arians and Brady have put together a team with a lot of talented players and Brady knows how to get the best out of them. Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frasier knows that his defense will need to be sharp to stop all the weapons they have.
"He still has a really good arsenal of receivers and one of the best tight ends in pro football in Gronkowski, Frazier said. So, it's going to be a challenge for sure, but we've got to find a way. We've got to find a way to be able to put ourselves in a position to make some plays on the back end. And we look forward to the challenge. It's a game that we need for a lot of reasons. And we've got to find a way to slow that passing attack down and give us a chance to get a W."
Like Frazier mentioned, Gronkowski is one of the best tight ends in NFL history and the Bills are very familiar with him. A Buffalo native, he has been a thorn in the side for many Bills fans because he is just so tough to cover throughout an entire game. Gronk has played 15 games against the Bills and has had many big performances over the years. Since 2017, the Bills defense has been able to keep him in check, for the most part, only allowing him to have two games over 100 receiving yards. Micah Hyde explained what it's like to go up against Gronk and how he defends him.
"I feel like whenever I get put in those situations, I try to use my quickness," Hyde said. "But when those guys are as big as what he is, he kind of just boxes you out. And whatever route he runs, whether it's an over-out across the field or a slant or a 10-yard out, he just uses his body, and his frame is so big that Tom puts the ball right on him, accurate every single time. It's tough to get around him. It really is. You got to try to get your hands on him and just do what you can to try to not allow them to complete that pass."
One thing that both the Bills and the Buccaneers have been successful at this season is converting third downs. The Bills rank second (48.4%) with the Bucs ranking third (48%) just behind them. The Bucs have been successful at running the ball to get those first downs with the help of running back Leonard Fournette.
Besides the long touchdown run the Patriots scored, the Bills defense held the Pats to 3.5 yards per carry and had nine tackles for loss, last Monday. Harrison Phillips had eight tackles and one tackle for loss against the Patriots, and he will play a big role in stopping Fournette and the Bucs rushing game on Sunday. Phillips explained what Fournette brings to the Bucs and why it's so important to stop him early and often.
"A ton of respect for their offense overall, and the evolution of Leonard Fournette," Phillips said. "He's really turned himself into a true three-down back, and you've seen what he's been able to do in the passing game as well. I think their success in the run game stems from their success in the pass game, and so being able to make them more predictable or try to get them one-dimensional will obviously help us. But he's a great downhill runner, can make guys miss, and go through you. So again, it's gonna be a fun test for us."
Gabriel Davis will be playing in front of many friends and family on Sunday
When the Bills head down to Tampa, it will be a homecoming of sorts for wide receiver Gabriel Davis. Davis was born in Fernandina Beach, Florida and went to high school in Sanford, FL. Florida is a special place to Davis and still has a lot of loved ones that live there. He's expecting a large turnout for the game on Sunday, and he's excited for them to watch him play in person.
"It'll probably be anywhere between 30 and 50 people there for that game. I have a lot of family and a lot of people support me throughout the years. So, it's good, and will definitely be exciting with them in the crowd. … It's always great especially playing in front of people that have been watching me for years. Then having the opportunity, since I live all the way up in New York now, to go back home and be able to have them in the stands supporting me, it's the greatest feeling."
Harrison Phillips reflects on being Bills nominee for Walter Payton Man of the Year
It was announced on Tuesday that Phillips would be the Bills nominee for the Man of the Year Award. This is the second consecutive year that Phillips has been named the Bills nominee. Last year, Phillips went down to Tampa to be a part of the NFL Honors ceremony and met with the other teams' nominees. He didn't know how much respect came with the award and he was able to gather ideas from other players and implement them here in Buffalo. Phillips is honored to be nominated for the most prestigious award in the NFL.
"So this year, to be nominated again, on a team – once again, you guys have seen so many guys doing things in our community: here, back home where they're from, through the whole Covid stuff, as well as Thanksgiving, and now the holiday season. You see tons of players on our roster doing things and giving back, and that's just part of being Bills – Bills' DNA. So, the fact that I'm the representative of our organization, means the world to me. And I'm so, so, so grateful.