Bills, clinging to playoff hopes, visit Patriots
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The Buffalo Bills are still very much alive to end a 17-year playoff drought and grab an AFC wild card spot.
But the task is anything but easy.
The Bills (8-6) finish with two games on the road — at New England this Sunday and then at Miami in the finale.
They have never beaten Tom Brady in Foxborough when he’s played an entire game. And the Patriots (13-3) are hot, winning nine of their last 10 and coming off a dramatic victory at Pittsburgh last Sunday.
“I spend very little (time on the playoff picture),” first-year Buffalo coach Sean McDermott said earlier this week. “I’ll say this — I’m proud of the fact that our guys have earned the right to be in that conversation, and I’m happy for our fans. To continue to grow and improve, we have to focus on what’s in front of us, and that’s us getting better as a team, and then the New England Patriots.”
Obviously, the Bills, currently sitting in the second wild-card position, have a better chance of making the playoffs at 10-6 than at 9-7 or 8-8.
“In my experience of being around the playoffs like I’ve been, the important thing is to stay focused on ourselves,” said McDermott, who formerly worked in Philadelphia and Carolina. “It’s fun to be in those conversations. That’s a credit to our guys and how hard they’ve worked. They’ve earned that, so I want them to enjoy that part, too. That said, making sure we’re focused on the task at hand.”
A potential sub-plot for this week’s game involves what the Bills might want to do to get at Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. The AFC offensive player of the week for his dynamic performance at Pittsburgh had been suspended for the previous game for a cheap shot on a defenseless Tre’Davious White in a win over Buffalo earlier this month.
Both White and McDermott say nothing is going to happen.
“I got over it, and I’m past it. I’m focused on winning,” White said. “I can forgive and forget.”
Said McDermott: “Well, we focus on what’s important and that’s the means and the steps necessary to win the football game. Any time spent on that situation is really unnecessary and a waste of time. We’ve got too much work to do and these weeks are too short to do anything like that.”
The Bills, who won 16-0 at Gillette Stadium last year during Brady’s four-game Deflategate suspension, have enough to worry about as 10-point underdogs to think about retribution. The Patriots, once again the AFC East champs after clinching last Sunday, won the Dec. 3 game 23-3. They’re rolling.
Asked about the Bills being out for revenge, New England coach Bill Belichick said Wednesday, “I’m sure it’ll be a very competitive game, like it always is against Buffalo. I think that the Bills have played great football all year long. Coach McDermott’s done a great job with the team. They’re very disciplined. They’re tough. They’re physical.
“They’re very competitive in every phase of the game on every play. There’s no downs off. There’s no plays off. We’re going to have to play a good 60-minute game. We need to play with fewer penalties, fewer mistakes, better ball security, better tackling, better discipline. There’s a lot of things we need to do better than the last time that we played them, but they’re a good football team. They’re well-coached and I’m sure that we’ll get their best shot. We need to give them ours.”
The Patriots lost valuable running back Rex Burkhead last week (he could return for the playoffs), which means former Bill Mike Gillislee, who has been in mothballs the last six weeks, could be part of the New England picture.
“Mike’s very consistent,” Belichick said Monday. “He works hard all of the time.”
Buffalo wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, who missed two games with a torn right knee meniscus but played last week, was held out of practice Wednesday. After making two catches in Sunday’s win, he said, “As soon as the season’s over, I’m having surgery on it.”
“He’s a guy that’s a target that (Tyrod) Taylor can look at out there and toss it up to either as part of a play or as part of an extended play — that type of thing, scramble play,” said Belichick. “But, Benjamin’s a big guy. He can go up and get the ball and has a good route tree, inside routes and vertical routes, a strong player after the catch.”