FORXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP)There was a time in the not too distant past when the Buffalo Bills traveled to New England looking to prove they could give the Patriots a fight at the top of the division.
This season, New England is enduring its worst start in more than two decades and is just hoping to put up any kind of fight against the Bills.
At 1-5 for the first time during his Patriots tenure, coach Bill Belichick said the message to his team remains straightforward even as calls for wholesale changes echo around New England.
“Get ready to play Buffalo,” he said.
While the Bills haven’t performed the way they’re accustomed to on offense over the past two games, they enter Sunday’s matchup at 4-2 and are just three weeks removed from handing AFC East-leading Miami a 28-point loss in Week 4.
Including the playoffs, Buffalo has also won the last four meetings and six out of seven against the Patriots. It makes the Bills’ 15-game losing streak to New England from 2003 to 2010 feel like ancient history.
Long snapper Reid Ferguson, who has been with Buffalo since 2017, said the mantra coach Sean McDermott has preached has been to win at home and in the division to get to the playoffs.
That approach has helped this new generation of Bills players view the Patriots like any other opponent.
“The Patriots had a great run in this division before a lot of us got here,” Ferguson said. “I think it’s a mindset change and just knowing each and every week you can beat anybody you get on the field with.”
Losers of their last three games, the Patriots will be looking to avoid their first four-game skid since 2020.
Running back Ezekiel Elliott, who scored his first touchdown of the season during last week’s loss to Las Vegas, said the Patriots’ routine should remain the same.
“Keep working,” Elliott said. “We’ve got to handle this thing one game at a time. That’s how we would handle it if we were 5-1 instead of 1-5. We’d still be attacking it the same way.”
For the second straight week, Belichick changed the team’s schedule, moving up the week’s first practice from Wednesday to Tuesday. Energy in the locker room is still high, linebacker Jahlani Tavai said.
“We’re not going to back down from any challenge. And we’re not going to hit the panic button,” Tavai said.
Bills center Mitch Morse is preaching patience in light of Buffalo’s suddenly sluggish offense and criticism of coordinator Ken Dorsey.
“When something doesn’t go well, the world’s going to hell, and when things are going well, no one’s ever been a greater play caller,” Morse said.
It’s something he reminded teammates during a three-game winning streak in which Buffalo outscored its opponents by a combined 123-33 and starters were being removed from games in the fourth quarter. Buffalo’s offense is supported by a defense allowing just 14.8 points per game.
Bills edge rusher Von Miller is feeling more comfortable with each outing as he ramps up his playing time since missing more than 10 months because of a torn right knee ligament.
Miller went from playing 20 snaps in his debut against Jacksonville to 27 against the Giants last week. All that’s missing now is a sack for the NFL’s active leader in the category.
“It’s process over outcome,” Miller said. “And I feel like that’s the type of process to get me where I want to be at the end of the season.”
Miller is still wearing a brace, which he hopes to trade for a smaller one in a few weeks with the plan to be free of the brace by the end of the season.
The Patriots’ two rushing touchdowns in last week’s loss broke a 12-quarter TD drought and were the first semblance of production the offense has shown since the Week 3 win over the Jets.
It’s something to build on for a unit that ranks 31st in the NFL, averaging just 12 points per game.
Quarterback Mac Jones hopes the ability to get into the end zone will carry over.
“To work through tough times shows a lot about people’s character and who they are, and I feel like we have the right group to do it,” Jones said. “I definitely want to face the challenge, look at it in the eyes and attack it.”
Belichick will try for a fourth straight game to join Don Shula (328) and George Halas (318) as the only NFL coaches with 300 regular-season wins.
Including the playoffs, Belichick is 36-12 against the Bills.
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