New England faces its second AFC East opponent this season when the Buffalo Bills arrive Sunday at Gillette Stadium. Rex Ryan's team may be somewhat depleted – star wide receiver Sammy Watkins will not play due to a nagging foot injury – but Buffalo will get no sympathy from the Patriots, who've dealt with plenty of adversity already in the first three games of 2016.
Still, despite not having two veteran leaders in QB Tom Brady and DE Rob Ninkovich because of suspensions, plus injuries to both of Brady's backups, the Patriots have managed to string three wins together to start the regular season. They hope to up that total to four this weekend, but understand that the Bills, fresh off their first win of the season, won't be easy to vanquish.
"These guys just came off a big win. They're very confident, they're very good," observed wide receiver Julian Edelman, who characterized Buffalo's defense as a "spin-the-dial" unit that presents manifold personnel groups and alignments throughout a game.
"A team that always plays us well," Edelman continued. "They've got a veteran group in the secondary that we've played a bunch. They know us, we know them… the team that executes best will have the best chance of winning."
"It's going to be a tough battle, as usual," cornerback Malcolm Butler declared, "just like everyone we go up against in this division. We know each other pretty well. It's going to be a tough game, going to come down to a few plays."
Familiarity, it's been long said, breeds contempt, but if anyone can appreciate both sides of this friendly feud, it's wide receiver Chris Hogan. After four seasons in Buffalo (he appeared in no games in 2012), he's in his first campaign with the Patriots and is enjoying his new team's thus-far undefeated record. His advice to teammates for beating Buffalo is simple.
"Keep playing the way we have been playing – special teams, offense, defense," said Hogan. "We have some really special things happening here. That's what we're focused on. I'm not focused on my relationships [with Bills players] or playing that team. It'll be great to see those guys at the end of the game, but it's all business for 60 minutes."
Hogan added that he felt like the Patriots had a good week of preparation, particularly with the extra day to work coming off last Thursday's game.
While most Patriots are loathe to admit it, the team's solid play and results in the first three games are a remarkable accomplishment in themselves.
"It's a great start, but it doesn't matter until the end," Butler went on. "There's a long way to go. It's great to start 3-and-0. You want to start fast, get on top of your division, build momentum, get better each and every game. In life, you're going to have things that don't go your way. You just have to adapt to that and keep going."
"It tells you that you've got a mentally tough team that goes out there and works hard, prepares hard and does the extra things," Edelman acknowledged. "I've been around here a little while and that's the mentality we've always had and tried to continue to grow.
"Both [Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett] have gotten wins [at quarterback]. It's great and all, but this is new team and a new goal and it all depends on everyone doing their own job, not just the quarterbacks… when [Brady] comes back, we'll obviously be happy, but we've got a job ahead of us with the Buffalo Bills."
Look who's back! (sort of)
Dion Lewis made a cameo in the Patriots locker room during the media interview period. The running back, currently on PUP (the physically unable to perform list), walked briskly to his locker to grab something before heading for the exit. He appeared to show no ill effects from his recent left knee procedure.
Under PUP rules, Lewis is eligible to begin practicing again in as soon as a couple of weeks, assuming he is medically cleared by the team's doctors to do so.