Since the year 2000, the Buffalo Bills have bested the New England Patriots on just five occasions. They’ve lost 31 times. Which means, among other things, that the Bills haven’t had a rivalry with the New England Patriots in two long decades despite playing in the same division. In fairness, the Bills haven’t really had a rivalry with any team. It would be like saying a fly has a rivalry with a windshield; it's more like it was in the way.
The twice-annual division match-up begins its first leg with some Monday Night Football, when the Bills will start a quarterback who has been on the team, come game time, for just 20 days. On the opposite side of the field is a man who has dominated Buffalo regularly: Tom Brady, who has been on the Patriots for 19 years.
That sort of explains what the balance has been like for almost 20 years, which is to say, no balance whatsoever. Unfortunately for Bills fans, the game takes place Week 8, well after the Patriots are vulnerable, before they are resting players, and well beyond any sort of reasonable optimism for the season that the Bills players, front office, and fans normally possess.
With all that in mind, let’s look at the match-ups since 2000, a marker that works well enough as an arbitrary date in part because it’s also when Brady was drafted (although he didn’t start right away). Plus it makes the Bills look better because they won the first match-up.
Inexplicably, three of the first four games of the new millennium between these two teams went into overtime. In 2000, the clubs exchanged road overtime victories, nearly mirroring each other as the Bills won in November 16-13, while the Pats won a month later, 13-10. The following season involved another overtime Pats' win, a 12-9 victory that featured only field goals. These games took place well before the new overtime rules went into effect ensuring teams a chance to respond to an opening drive field goal. In each of these three overtime games, however, the team that got the ball first failed to score on that drive .
In a very strange coincidence, the two games played in 2003 featured the exact same score, with the home team winning each battle. And it wasn’t just any score--in a bit of fitting symbolism, it was 31-0. If this absurdly detailed list is to be believed, the score 31-0 has only taken place 44 times in NFL history. However, only 29 have taken place since the merger, and while it has occasionally happened twice in the same season, it’s never involved the same two teams.
That the Bills could win 31-0 to open the season only to lose 31-0 to close the season speaks volumes about how these teams operate as the season wears on. It's a 62 point swing from Week One to Week 17! It’s been well noted that the Patriots will have some hiccups in September and October, but always finish strong to set up for the playoffs. The Bills conversely seem very high in the off-season and, as September nears, only to lose steam and fall apart down the stretch. That turnaround in 2003 was the beginning of a long, sad series of Bills seasons, as the Patriots dominated.
Fifteen in a Row
The victory that closed the 2003 season initiated a stretch of 15 straight wins for the Patriots over the Bills. That’s seven seasons of wins! Some games were closer than others, with the Pats beating the Bills 19-17 on a late safety in 2006. Some games were not close, with a 56-10 drubbing in 2007 offering the largest winning margin. Not for nothing, but the Patriots closed that winning streak with a 34-3 victory--not 31-0, but pretty close!
Bills Best Brady
A 34-31 home victory in September 2011 is the last time the Bills beat Tom Brady….so perhaps we are due this season? Ryan Fitzpatrick led a comeback and Rian Lindell kicked the winning field goal with no time left. Huzzah! The Bills would finish the season 6-10, last in the AFC East. The Patriots would lose in the Super Bowl. So that’s something.
That Final Victories
In 2016, Tyrod Taylor (remember him?) led the Bills to an October 16-0 victory against the Pats and Tom – err, Jacoby Brissett. It was a game in which, however enjoyable for Bills fans, the Pats were playing their third string quarterback and absolutely limiting the playbook. It was almost as if Bill Belichick was conceding the game. The Patriots would win the Super Bowl that year.
The victory before that also bears an asterisk. Tom Brady played the first half of a Week 17 game in 2014 that the Patriots did not need or care about, giving way to Jimmy Garoppolo in the second half. The Bills won 17-9, to finish the season with a winning record! Unfortunately at 9-7, they did not make the playoffs. The Patriots would win the Super Bowl that year, too.
Week Eight Mini Preview: We can try to be clever and blindly optimistic, thinking the spotlight and home crowd will buoy the Bills, but that’s just folly. At their best, they cannot beat an always-prepared Patriots team. It’s nearly November and New England, as usual, is in control. It’s a blowout on Monday Night Football.