New England Patriots

Why Patriots-Bills Week 1 Matchup Will Be Closer Than You Think

The Patriots have won 9 straight season openers since losing in Buffalo in 2003.
The Patriots have won 9 straight season openers since losing in Buffalo in 2003.Rick Stewart/Getty Images
Mike DussaultSenior Analyst ISeptember 6, 2013

One might look at the Patriots' 23-3 record against the Bills since 2000, add it to the Bills' rookie quarterback and all the injuries they've experienced this preseason and simply pencil in yet another New England win this Sunday, but doing so would be a mistake.

The Pats' dominance over the Bills in the last decade is well-documented, including a 15-game win streak that spanned from 2003-2011, and was the third-longest team winning streak over an opponent in NFL history. But opening day is always filled with mystery and unpredictability.

The Patriots have won their last nine openers in a row, with their last loss coming in 2003 to Buffalo, but overall the Pats and Bills are 4-4 when they meet in the first game of the season. 

Since that last opening loss, the Pats and Bills have met two more times in openers, and both were games that ended up being far closer than anyone might've predicted. 

Let's take a look back at the last three times the Pats and Bills have met in Week 1 and show why the Patriots would be wise to take the rebuilding Bills seriously.

 

 2003

The last time the Pats lost an opening day game it was 2003 to the Bills in Buffalo, which is where they'll play on Sunday. The game is most remembered for featuring Lawyer Milloy starting for Buffalo just days after his shocking release by Bill Belichick.

Tom Brady threw four interceptions, and the Pats racked up 12 penalties in a sloppy game—which wasn't surprising given the turmoil that surrounded Milloy's release.

The Bills pounded the dejected Patriots 31-0 but would only go on to a 6-10 season, while the Patriots were headed for their second Super Bowl championship in three seasons. New England returned the favor to the Bills in Week 17, defeating them by the exact same score of 31-0.

This game was a perfect example of just how irrelevant an opening game can be to a season. Even the Pats' Week 2 loss to the Cardinals in 2012, a team that would not win another road game all season, shows how random outcomes can be when teams are still figuring themselves out early in the season.

 

2006

The Pats offense for the 2006 opener was in a similar position to where it is now, with Tom Brady working with an almost entirely new set of targets.

Deion Branch was still a no-show and had yet to be traded, leaving Reche Caldwell, Kevin Faulk and Troy Brown, who was in his last meaningful season, as Brady's main passing options.

The game immediately got off to an unfavorable start when Brady was sacked and fumbled on his first snap, and it was recovered for a touchdown. Brady completed just 11 passes on the day and threw for five less yards than J.P. Losman did. 

Brady would also throw an interception on the day, with the Pats losing the turnover battle 2-0 and left needing a fourth-quarter field goal and safety to squeak out a 19-17 win. 

These Bills would finish the season 7-9 and were the 30th ranked offense in the NFL, while the Pats would finish 12-4 and suffer a stunning comeback loss to the Colts in the AFC Championship.

Again, it didn't really matter how good the teams ended up being that season—this one went down to the wire.

 

2009

The 2009 opener was one of the most exciting games of Tom Brady's career and one of the only exciting wins of an otherwise disappointing season.

It was Brady's first game back after his missed 2008 season, with the Pats in their "Pat Patriot" red throwbacks for the first time since 2002. Despite putting up 368 yards passing, Brady got little support from a ground game that averaged just 3.2 yards per carry.

When the Bills pulled ahead 24-13 with 5:38 left in the fourth quarter, it looked like the Pats were done. Instead, Brady led the greatest comeback of his career with two touchdown drives in 2:06 to steal a 25-24 win for New England.

Of course, the Patriots got a little help from Leodis McKelvin's fumbled kickoff return, an inexcusable play that made him a target of Bills fans.

The Bills would go on to a 6-10 season, again with the 30th ranked offense that featured three different starting quarterbacks. The Pats finished 10-6 in what was generally considered one of the most lackluster of Bill Belichick's seasons in New England.

In this case, the close call against Buffalo was actually a harbinger that this Patriots team was not very good.

 

Cause for Concern

All of these openers from last decade provide plenty to be concerned with. In all of them, the Bills gave the Patriots all they could handle despite having teams that would prove to be inferior over the long haul.

The hallmarks of these close games? Losing the turnover battle ('03, '06), committing too many penalties ('03, '09) and ineffective offense ('03, '06).

The difficulty of season openers is easy to pinpoint. Teams spend all offseason preparing for them, so the games are full of surprises, and given the jitters that come with the first game of the season, the football is often sloppy by both teams.

The Pats would come full circle with their 10th straight opening day win in Buffalo. The Bills may have a rookie quarterback and injuries to their secondary, but as history shows us, it might not matter. 

The Patriots will need to play smart and clean football, or they will be in another dogfight that comes down to the end.

 

Mike Dussault is a Patriots Featured Columnist and also writes and edits PatsPropaganda.com.  

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