ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) - Anytime someone tells Bill Belichick how great his team is, the New England Patriots coach needs only to slip in a tape of last year's season opener to stay grounded.
More than a year later, a 31-0 loss on the road to Buffalo still has a humbling effect.
Long before the Patriots won their second Super Bowl in three years last February, and before they reeled off 17 straight wins to now sit within one victory of matching an NFL record, New England was briefly a team in disarray.
"We went in there last year and got hammered in every phase of the game," Belichick said. "We got outcoached, outplayed. ... The game could have been a lot worse than it was. You can't ignore it."
What Belichick does ignore is that the Patriots have already made up for that loss by beating the Bills at New England 31-0 to end the 2003 regular season.
And he also neglects to mention the Patriots appeared in a state of shock following the surprise release of a defensive leader, safety Lawyer Milloy, days before the season opener - compounded with Milloy signing with Buffalo.
But Belichick's message is clear as the Patriots travel to play Buffalo on Sunday. The master strategist might shrug off his team's momentous streak as being relatively meaningless, and refer to last year's success as being in the past, but he'll refer to history when it provides him a motivational advantage.
"I don't think anybody's worried about anything around here except trying to find a way to do better against the Bills in Buffalo," Belichick said. "That's plenty to fill our plate right now."
His players appear to be buying in to the usual "one-game-at-a-time" mantra.
"We're not even thinking about it," cornerback Ty Law said, referring to the winning streak. "It's hard to play in Buffalo. We'll be the first team to tell you how hard. We got hammered the last time there."
Recalling losses is becoming difficult for the Patriots, coming off their bye week after opening this season with wins over Indianapolis and Arizona. Their last loss came more than a year ago, a 20-17 defeat at Washington, which dropped New England's record to 2-2.
They're 14-0 in regular-season games and 3-0 in the playoffs since, on the verge of becoming only the seventh professional football team - including the 1947-48 AAFC Cleveland Browns - to win 18 in a row, and the first since Denver in 1997-98. With a win against Buffalo, the Patriots will get an opportunity to break the record by hosting Miami on Oct. 10.
The streak adds a dimension to what in recent years has developed into a much-anticipated game between two AFC East rivals.
Two years ago, their meetings were referred to as "Bledsoe Bowls," after the Patriots traded veteran quarterback Drew Bledsoe to Buffalo. Last year, the Bills' addition of Milloy brought extra spice.
Now it's "The Streak," one the Bills vow to break.
"They ain't winning 18 straight, I'll tell you that," defensive tackle Pat Williams said. "I don't care what kind of game plan they come in with, we're going to win on Sunday. The guys are hungry around here. We ain't settling for nothing less."
The Bills, also coming off their bye week, have many reasons to be motivated. Buffalo has opened this season with consecutive 13-10 losses to Jacksonville and Oakland.
That's a discouraging start for new coach Mike Mularkey's team that has so far shown few signs of overcoming its recent troubled past. How bad has it been in Buffalo? The Patriots' 17 consecutive victories match the number of times the Bills have won since the start of the 2001 season.
Williams is growing sick of the constant questions he faces from reporters and fans.
"I've stayed home the last two weeks because you're tired of hearing it. Everybody's on you," Williams said. "We've got to make a change on Sunday. Then we can go out and people will be saying, `Congratulations. Good job."'
The Bills, in some cases, are the anti-Patriots. They feature a sputtering offense and seem incapable of winning close games.
Including this season, Buffalo has lost six of its last 12 by four points or less.
The Patriots, in comparison, count seven wins by four points or less during their streak.
Law chalks it up to teamwork and a little bit of luck.
"I think it takes a little luck anytime," Law said. "Ain't nothing wrong with that, is there?"