The Bills head to Gillette Stadium Sunday afternoon for a Week 16 matchup with Bill Belichick’s Patriots sporting a 5-9 record on the season.
But, a Buffalo squad that lost to the Patriots 25-6 in Buffalo On Oct. 29 has won three of its last six games and is trying to build some momentum heading into the offseason. Three of the Bills five wins came against teams that beat the Patriots.
Conversely, the Patriots head into the penultimate week of the regular season looking to snap a two-game losing streak and clinch the AFC East title while still fighting for a first-round playoff bye.
Both teams are 3-3 in their six games since their previous matchup.
When Belichick met with the media for his big mid-week press conference previewing the opponent, the first thing he noted was the differences between this Bills team and the one New England beat less than two months earlier.
“It’s been a few weeks since we’ve seen Buffalo, but this is a lot different team than we saw up there,” Belichick began. “Offensively, they’ve got a lot of explosive weapons. We didn’t see [Josh] Allen. He’s been impressive; [Robert] Foster. They have a lot of big plays. The receivers have done a good job. Obviously, [Charles] Clay and the backs, [Chris] Ivory and [LeSean] McCoy. So, a lot of weapons there. Defensively, they’re at the top of the league in a lot of categories. They’re playing very well, don’t give up a lot of points, don’t give up very many big plays, make you earn everything. We’re going to have to have a lot of well-executed plays to move the ball and score points against them. We weren’t able to do a lot of that up there, so hopefully we can improve on that this time. They’re very well-coached and they have a good scheme. They play hard, they play well and they make you earn everything.”
What’s the biggest change from late October to now in Buffalo?
“I’d say all of the big plays, the big plays they have from the receivers and the quarterback,” Belichick said. “The quarterback is a big difference. That’s a big difference right there. But the receivers, no [Kelvin] Benjamin. Foster has emerged. They’re much different. The other guys have continued to play well – Zay Jones, [Isaiah] McKenzie, Clay, Ivory, McCoy. [Jason] Croom’s come along. The tight ends have made some plays for them so he seems to get more involved. But again, they’re a game-plan team. They do things differently from week to week, but they’ve gotten production from a lot of different players.
Beyond Belichick’s opening thoughts on Buffalo, here are some of the key takeaways from his big Wednesday press conference at Gillette Stadium.
Gilmore’s “good year” gets Pro Bowl nod: Quarterback Tom Brady and cornerback Stephon Gilmore were the only Patriots to earn Pro Bowl recognition when the NFL announced the all-star rosters Tuesday night. Gilmore earned his second Pro Bowl honor by virtue of a vote of his peers, coaches and fans, his first since joining the Patriots last season.
Wednesday Belichick was asked what kind of improvement he’s seen from his $65 million No. 1 corner over the last year-plus working with him.
“Steph’s had a good year. I thought he had a good year for us last year,” Belichick said. “I mean, all players improve as they’ve been in the system longer. He was a good player when he got here. He’s had a good year for us.”
Gilmore leads the AFC and ranks send in the NFL with 18 passes defensed this season, though Belichick didn’t seem to connect the number – tied for a career high – with improvement from his nine passes defensed last fall.
“I thought he had a good year last year, too,” Belichick said. “I don’t know about all of the stats and all of that, but I thought he had a good year. He’s having a good year this year.”
Homefield advantage?: The Patriots finished the 2018 road schedule with a 3-5 record, including consecutive losses in Miami and Pittsburgh over the last two weeks. They finish out the regular season over the next two weeks against the Bills and Jets at Gillette Stadium, where Belichick’s team has yet to lose this season.
The clear divide between the Patriots play on the road and at home has been a burgeoning topic in recent weeks, but the advantage of playing at home was clearly not a point of much discussion for Belichick on Wednesday.
“I think playing well creates an advantage,” Belichick said.
Allen “running” Buffalo’s attack: Rookie first-round quarterback Josh Allen missed the first meeting between the teams with an injury. Not only has Allen returned to action, but his production along with the team’s impressive defense has helped Buffalo win more often than not over the last month-plus.
While Allen remains quite raw as a passer and has limited options to work with through the air, he’s certainly been making plays with his legs. He leads the Bills in rushing with 75 attempts for 506 yards (6.7 avg.) with six touchdowns. He’d rushed for at least 99 yards in three straight games prior to last week, each game including a run of 28 yards or longer.
“He’s good. He’s had three 100-yard games in a row. He’s the leading rusher. He’s a good player,” Belichick said.
According to Belichick, Allen’s success on the ground has come both on designed runs and off pass plays, though the big plays result from the latter.
“I’d say most of Allen’s long runs have been off scrambles,” Belichick explained. “He’s got some designed plays, quarterback draws and keeps and things like that. I’d say most of the big runs have come – the 30, 40-yarders – have come off scrambles.”