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Sliding Patriots consider Saturday more than mere rubber match against the Bills

Bills quarterback Josh Allen was too much for Deatrich Wise and the Patriots to handle at Gillette Stadium last month, but they'll get another shot at him on Saturday in Orchard Park, N.Y., with the season on the line.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

The Patriots are turning the page to the playoffs.

They’re hoping to move on from their ugly finish to the regular season, in which they lost three of their final four games. They know their slow starts, poor execution, and uncharacteristic lack of discipline won’t get them very far in the postseason.

Their first challenge is a Saturday night showdown against the Bills in Orchard Park, N.Y. — the third meeting between the two teams over the past month and a half.

But players don’t seem to be viewing the matchup as Round III between a pair of divisional foes. Instead, they’re viewing it as its own entity. A chance to reset and extend their season.


“It’s 0-0,” linebacker Kyle Van Noy said Monday afternoon. “It’s a playoff game. The Bills won the division. They’re playing at home. We got to go up there and win. We got to prepare like this week’s the last week. It’s all on the line.”

Added wide receiver Nelson Agholor: “We’re all at an even slate with an opportunity to write whatever history we want to write.”

Under coach Bill Belichick, the Patriots have faced an opponent three times in a season only twice. In January 2007, they beat the Jets after splitting the regular-season matchups. Then in January 2011, they lost to them after also splitting their regular-season contests.

Over a decade later, the Patriots find themselves in similar circumstances: They beat the Bills amid extreme wind gusts and wintry conditions in Week 13, but lost handily thanks to an impeccable performance from quarterback Josh Allen in Week 16. Saturday’s the rubber match.

Bill Belichick was all smiles after a December win over the Bills in Buffalo.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

“You have to be at your best,” said center David Andrews. “It’s a one-week season every week. You don’t really get anything for trying hard. Really, the only thing you get rewarded for is execution and winning.”


The Bills opened as 4½-point favorites.

Coach Sean McDermott, however, is expecting plenty of the adjustments from Belichick and his staff. The film from the second game should be much more valuable, given the impact that weather had on both teams’ strategy and ability to execute in the first.

McDermott lauded Belichick for his ability to “change things up” and “stay a step ahead.”

“It’s really hard because they’ve been together so long, with coach Bill Belichick and Josh [McDaniels] and some of their staff that’s been there for quite some time, Matt Patricia again,” McDermott said. “It’s really hard to anticipate where they’re going next and their next move.

One obvious change for the Patriots on offense will be the return of Agholor, who was sidelined in Week 16 because of a concussion. Agholor ended up missing two games with the head injury but returned Sunday against Miami.

During his time away from the field, Agholor said he still studied the game plan for the Bills and tried to keep up with the material on his own.

“There’s nothing like live reps,” he said. “I wasn’t able to get those reps, but I tried to give myself as many mental reps as possible if I were to get that call to be able to play.”

What will the playoffs bring for Nelson Agholor and the Patriots?Matthew J Lee/Globe staff

The Patriots will need all the help they can get against Buffalo’s top-ranked defense. Agholor lauded the group for both their strong schemes — both in zone and man coverage — as well as their communication. He stressed the importance of maintaining spatial awareness, understanding where people are moving and where voids may be.


“This game is going to be about you executing what’s in front of you, not anticipating,” Agholor said. “We know we’re going against a quality opponent. Preparation, focus, and true competitiveness, in my opinion, is what’s needed.”

Executing a disciplined passing attack is just one piece of the puzzle for the Patriots, who will likely emphasize establishing their balanced, effective run game. Defensively, they’ll need to contain Allen, and get back to forcing turnovers and sacks — they did neither in Week 16.

But the message on Monday was clear: The Patriots are looking forward.

“We got to put it all on the line,” Van Noy said. “Put everything on the table and empty the tank.”

Added Andrews: “Really the only thing that matters is Saturday at 8 o’clock.”

Nicole Yang can be reached at nicole.yang@globe.com.Follow her on Twitter @nicolecyang.