ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Of course the Patriots can’t assume they’re going to win Sunday, even though it feels like they win every Sunday they travel to Buffalo. One look at what’s going on in Buffalo this Sunday has to slow their roll, no?
The Bills, like the Patriots, are 3-0, clearly making them a better foil than any of the three patsies the Pats have beaten this season. Their quarterback is young and getting better, his churning legs unafraid to take off when his strong arm has nowhere to throw. Their head coach is dynamic and fearless, with coordinators who are creative and daring.
And then there’s the crowd, which regularly turns its home stadium into an open-air frat party, open cans and open flames fueling an atmosphere Bill Belichick described multiple times this past week as “intense.” Undefeated and uninhibited with the hated Patriots rolling in? Tables might start flying at dawn. For a sports passionate city without much recent success to latch on to, the hope these Bills might finally return to consistent playoff form is definitely fermenting in upstate New York. The Patriots expect no less than mayhem.
“Very intense crowds,” Belichick told Buffalo area reporters during his regular midweek conference call. “They’re totally into it. They’re vocal, have a great passion for the game. Some stadiums, I would say, don’t have quite the intensity that Buffalo does, [they have] clubs and other things going on during the game. At Buffalo, you get 60 minutes of . . . they’re there to watch the game, they’re there to cheer and be into the game, kind of no other agenda.”
All true, and all very respectful of Belichick to point out.
But come on. How can the Patriots not believe they’re going to win Sunday?
They always win on Sundays in Buffalo. And Mondays in Buffalo. And Thursdays in Buffalo. Tom Brady’s 15 wins as a starter in Buffalo’s stadium are more than any Bills quarterback has since Brady entered the league. That’s insane. More wins as a starter with ONE opportunity a year than any quarterback who’s had the chance to play EIGHT games there every season. The definition of dominance.
But the Bills have no choice but to keep looking for their own Brady, and it’s Josh Allen’s turn on the other side now. The 23-year-old has been good enough under third-year coach Sean McDermott and second-year offensive coordinator Brian Daboll that there is growing belief he might be the franchise’s best long-term solution since Hall of Famer Jim Kelly.
Yet here comes Brady, ready to throw cold water all over those sizzling chicken wings and puncture holes into those hopeful dreams.
“I think it’s always gratifying when you go in there [to a road stadium] and then by the end of the game you look up and there’s only Patriots fans left,” Brady said this past week. “I always think that’s pretty cool.”
He would know. He is a road favorite in Buffalo for the 15th time in his career, second all time (to Dan Marino) against any single opponent. Though it’s worth noting that Brady is also third and fourth on that list for being favored against the similarly overmatched Jets and Dolphins over the years, Buffalo is his true personal playground. While he’s compiled those 15 career victories, 18 different Bills quarterbacks have won at least one game at New Era Field, though none has won more than 13 in a Bills uniform, a number shared by Tyrod Taylor and Ryan Fitzpatrick.
It wasn’t always that way, not when Kelly was leading a vaunted offense to four straight Super Bowls. But as anybody who knows their NFL history is aware, Buffalo lost all four of those title games. The city has no real history of championships, no Stanley Cup for the Sabres, no Super Bowl for the Bills, a history of frustration that something like the 2017 NWHL title for the Buffalo Beauts cannot offset.
Might this year be different? At 3-0, fans can hope. But that hope is tempered until tested against the Patriots. New England is the barometer by which all other teams are judged. Beat the Patriots, and we’ll believe you’re for real. Beat them, and things start feeling real.
Brady has just made it so hard.
“To go on the road in the NFL is tough, and certainly early in the game, after their pregame tailgate when they’re a little fired up,” Brady said. “They’re pretty into it, they’re pretty loud, and we’ve got to go out and we’ve got to execute early. I think starting fast, which we’ve actually done a good job with this year, that’s really important this week.”
The fired-up fans will do their best to thwart him, more than eager and ready to invest in the brewing optimism of a success-starved city.
“The atmosphere is awesome,” fellow Patriots veteran Devin McCourty agreed. “I think as an away team, if you like that type of atmosphere where everybody’s against you, you know it’s going to be just you and your guys there for three hours trying to get a win. When you can get a win in that environment, I think it builds great character. It bonds a team together, but it’s going to be tough. We know how hard it is . . .
“They’ll be ready to go. I think this is only their second home game anyway, and it’s a division game coming in. They’ll be in there breaking tables probably from 8 a.m. and all the way throughout.”