FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The Buffalo Bills keep changing coaches and quarterbacks. Someday one of those combinations might beat the New England Patriots.
Since beating the Patriots in the 2003 season opener, the doormats of the AFC East have lost every meeting to the team that has dominated the division. That’s 13 straight losses with five starting quarterbacks and four coaches.
“Just the same story, different year,” said linebacker Chris Kelsay, one of four Bills who played in all 13 games. “We’ve got a pretty nasty track record against them, and to pick up this win, it would be just that much more sweet.”
Chan Gailey inherited that sorry streak this year and gets his chance to break it Sunday.
The long list of losses is significant to the fans, the Bills new coach said, “and I totally understand that, but it has nothing to do with this year and this team.”
But Buffalo’s first two games this year offer little hope for a win.
The Bills (0-2) have totaled just 352 yards and 23 first downs. So Gailey decided to bench quarterback Trent Edwards, 0-3 against the Patriots, and start the more mobile Ryan Fitzpatrick. At least Fitzpatrick is just 0-1 against New England.
Lee Evans, who had no catches in last Sunday’s 34-7 loss to Green Bay for just the third time in his seven seasons, supports the change. Fitzpatrick is more willing to take chances by forcing the ball into small openings. And the Patriots (1-1) have left numerous openings in their young secondary.
“We’ve played some close games against them, but we just haven’t found ways to win,” Evans said.
They nearly did in last year’s opener.
Trailing 24-13 at home, the Patriots scored a touchdown with 2:06 left, recovered Leodis McKelvin’s fumble on the kickoff and scored again with 50 seconds remaining to win 25-24. McKelvin would like to make up for that.
“You always want to go out there and prove yourself,” he said. “It would be great if I get a return. It would be great if I get good yardage. But I promise I won’t turn the ball over.”
The Patriots are 18-1 in their last 19 games against the Bills and say they won’t dwell on the past. But they remember how the streak nearly ended last year before becoming the fourth longest by a team against a single opponent in NFL history.
“They’ve been in transition,” Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said. “Whatever happened in the past, it doesn’t have much bearing on what’s going to happen this week because they have different coaches, they have a different scheme. We’ve really never played this defensive coordinator (George Edwards) before.”
And they’ve rarely played without Kevin Faulk, but the valuable all-purpose running back is out for the season with a torn ligament in his right knee. He was hurt early in the fourth quarter of last Sunday’s 28-14 loss at the New York Jets.
“Everybody has to pick it up,” wide receiver Wes Welker said. “Kevin’s a huge loss, especially on those third downs.”
Still, the Patriots are two-touchdown favorites with extra motivation to rebound from a bad second half in which they were outscored 18-0 by the Jets.
Brady will face Buffalo’s new 3-4 defensive alignment that hasn’t played poorly. But the Bills haven’t forced a turnover after finishing second in the NFL last year with 28 interceptions.
“We’ve got to find ways to run the ball better than we did last week,” Brady said, “and, certainly, our passing game execution for the second half last week wasn’t very good.”
The Patriots rushed for just 52 yards against the Jets, with Faulk leading them with 22. Brady completed 7 of 16 passes for 69 yards in the second half but is 15-1 with 33 touchdown passes against the Bills.
“In the NFL, you can’t really look at the stats,” Welker said. “There’s good players everywhere.”
But fewer in Buffalo than on most teams, a stigma that goes back a long time.
The Bills were 6-10 last year and have just one winning season in their last 10. They haven’t been to a playoff game since 1999 and haven’t won in the postseason since 1995. They’ve been ranked 25th or worse in yards gained in each of the past seven seasons and didn’t score two touchdowns in 10 different games last year and in either of the first two this year.
But the Bills were 5-3 in Fitzpatrick’s starts last season and have a good running game with Marshawn Lynch, Fred Jackson and first-round draft pick C.J. Spiller.
“Coach (Gailey) won’t say it,” safety Donte Whitner said, “but I know he wants to be the first to go up there and stop this streak.”
It began after Drew Bledsoe outplayed Brady in a 31-0 win in the first game of the 2003 season. But Brady threw four scoring passes when the Patriots beat the Bills 31-0 in the regular-season finale.
After Bledsoe (0-3) left, Kelly Holcomb (0-1), J.P. Losman (0-5) and Edwards (0-3) have gone winless against New England. Fitzpatrick’s loss came in last year’s second meeting.
But after a slow start this year, “putting Ryan in there hopefully gives us a spark on offense,” Whitner said.
Fitzpatrick does have one edge in the quarterback comparison. He was an economics major at Harvard who had a nearly perfect score on the Wonderlic test, used by NFL teams to measure the intelligence of players.
“I don’t have much of a chance, believe me. I passed Michigan on a General Studies Degree,” Brady said. “I’m not getting into a math contest, thank God.”
No, it’s football. And the math is 13-0.