ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Bills safety Jordan Poyer can appreciate the message coach Sean McDermott is attempting to send in publicly referring to Buffalo’s next opponent as “the first-place New England Patriots.”
Subtle or not, McDermott just might be reminding the inconsistent Bills where they were a year ago, where they’re not today, and what’s at stake Monday night, when Buffalo (7-4) hosts New England (8-4) with — guess what? — first place in the AFC East on the line.
“Yeah, it definitely gives you a little bit of motivation,” Poyer said, before refusing to say whether the coach made similar references during team meetings.
“I think you guys are trying to get too much into the locker room now. I think I’m going to keep that to myself,” Poyer said.
What’s not a secret is a year after sweeping the Patriots and running away with their first division title in 25 years, the Bills find themselves in the all-too familiar position of looking up at New England in the standings come December. It’s a place Buffalo became very accustomed to from 2001 to 2019, when quarterback Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick essentially ruled the division and went 34-4 against the Bills.
Brady might have left for Tampa Bay in 2020, but Belichick remains, and is again proving how the combination of a steady offense, this time under rookie Mac Jones, and an opportunistic defense is a formula for success.
The Patriots have won six straight and outscored opponents by an average of 35-11 during that stretch, while not allowing a point in the second half in each of their past three outings.
The Bills, by comparison, resemble a shadow of the juggernaut they were a year ago, when they won 13 games for the first time since 1991.
Since beating Kansas City to improve to 4-1 on Oct. 10, the Bills have been stuck in a lose-one, win-one pattern over their past six outings, and coming off a 31-6 victory against the injury depleted New Orleans Saints. It’s a stretch in which penalties, turnovers, a stagnant offense and sagging defense have all played factors in the three losses.
“Yeah, we’ve been inconsistent at times, and I think it really comes down to us shooting ourselves in the foot in some situations,” McDermott said. “So the great part about the season is we’ve got to continue to work every week to improve. ... And that’s our challenge this week, along with playing the first-place New England Patriots.”
Belichick, meantime, stuck to the familiar script of praising Buffalo, something he did even when the Bills were in the midst of a 17-year playoff drought spanning 2000-2016.
“From top to bottom, just a good football team that does everything well,” Belichick said. “Good, solid team. Good as anyone we’ve played. We know it’ll take a good effort from us Monday night.”
In a season Buffalo has defeated one team, the Chiefs, entering Week 13 with a winning record, and lost to Tennessee (8-4) and Jacksonville (2-9), the question is which version of the Bills show up?
New England’s J.C. Jackson continues making the case of being one of the league’s top cornerbacks.
The AFC defensive player of the month ranks second in the NFL with seven interceptions, with four coming in his past four games. He'll face Allen, who has thrown seven interceptions in his past four outings, and 10 overall. Jackson's 24 interceptions are the most among NFL players since he entered the league as an undrafted rookie in 2018.
“J.C., you leave any trash laying around, he’s going to pick it up,” Belichick said.
The Bills are turning to second-year cornerback Dane Jackson to take over as starter with Tre’Davious White to miss the remainder of the season after tearing a ligament in his left knee against New Orleans.
“Listen, you can’t replace a Tre’ White, right?” McDermott said. “The challenge is not just Dane’s, it’s everyone’s to raise our game to another level.”
Another player Allen will need to be on the lookout for is linebacker Matt Judon.
The former Raven has fit right into New England’s system in his first season by having generated a career-high 11 1/2 sacks.
He credited the success to the attention rookie defensive lineman Christian Barmore has drawn this season. In sacking Tennessee’s Ryan Tannehill last week, Barmore drew four blockers, freeing up Judon to slip around the edge and pull Tannehill down from behind.
“Sometimes they gotta block him. Sometimes they gotta block me. But they gotta pick their poison,” Judon said.
JEKYLL AND HYDE
In seven wins, the Bills have averaged 37 points, with Allen throwing 19 TDs passing, scoring three rushing, with five interceptions.
In four losses, the Bills have averaged 17 points with Allen throwing six TDs passing, with five interceptions and losing two fumbles.
On defense, Buffalo has generated 23 takeaways, including 15 interceptions, and 17 sacks in seven wins, as compared to an interception, a forced fumble and four sacks in four losses.
AP Sports Writer Kyle Hightower contributed.
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