ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — No one needs to remind Bills defensive end Mario Williams what his job will be Sunday, when Tom Brady and the New England Patriots come to town.
The high-priced pass-rushing specialist has heard about it most everywhere he’s gone in Buffalo. Williams couldn’t even get through introducing a cereal named after him at a local supermarket without someone yelling out the question that’s been on most every Bills fans’ mind since he signed with the team in March.
“So, how many times are you going to put Brady on his back?” the fan wondered two weeks ago.
“Ah,” Williams said, breaking into a smile, “we’ll get to that.”
That time has just about arrived. And Williams, who signed a six-year $100 million contract three days into free agency, is itching to start proving his worth.
“The only way to beat them is to rattle No. 12,” Williams said, referring to Brady. “I’m looking forward to this game. It’s definitely a prime opportunity.”
Having bounced back from a season-opening dud at the New York Jets, the Bills (2-1) regard Sunday’s game against the Patriots (1-2) as their first big test in showing they’re ready to be taken seriously in a bid to end a 12-season playoff drought.
It’s the Patriots, for once, who find themselves in an unfamiliar position after stumbling out of the gate. They’re coming off back to back losses to Arizona — their first home-opening defeat since Gillette Stadium opened in 2002 — and Baltimore on a last-second field goal on Sunday.
“It’s frustrating when we lose,” Brady said. “It’s been two weeks in a row, and obviously, nobody feels good about it.”
And he’s quickly become familiar with what the Bills have done to improve their defense.
“Yeah, they’re big,” Brady said.
Big was the catchphrase in Buffalo this offseason after the Bills spared little expense in signing both Williams and former Patriots defensive end Mark Anderson to improve a porous and patchwork defense that had difficulty generating a pass rush.
Williams, at 6-foot-6, and Anderson’s 6-4 presence have paid off immediately. The Bills have nine sacks already this season, which is nearly a third of the 29 they managed all last year.
“I think we can stand up to any team,” defensive tackle Marcell Dareus said. “For us, the way to the playoffs is through the Patriots, and that’s what we’re striving for.”
That’s been easier said than done for Buffalo, which has spent much of the past decade serving as the Patriots’ doormat.
New England has won 21 of the past 23 meetings, while Brady’s production has been eye-popping. His 18 wins, 46 touchdowns and six 300-yard passing games against the Bills are the most he’s had against any opponent.
The Bills took a big first step a year ago when they beat the Patriots 34-31 at home. Buffalo won by rallying from a 21-0 second-quarter deficit and snap a 15-game losing streak against New England.
Dareus doesn’t take much stock in what happened last year, or how the Patriots have faltered in starting this season.
“They’re still good,” he said. “They’ve still got Brady, man.”
Brady aside, the Patriots are enduring what only in Foxborough is considered a slump. They’ve lost two straight for only the third time since 2003, and own a losing record for the first time since opening the ’03 season with a 31-0 loss at Buffalo.
Brady has questioned whether the Patriots lacked a killer instinct after squandering a 9-point lead in the final 4:01 of a 31-30 loss to the Ravens last weekend. Coach Bill Belichick lost his cool after the game, and was fined by the NFL $50,000 for grabbing an official’s arm to question whether Justin Tucker’s 27-yard field goal would be reviewed.
Belichick has apologized, and turned his attention solely on Buffalo.
“There isn’t really anything we can do about any other game than the present,” Belichick said. “Nothing in the past, nothing in the future, we’re just going to focus on this one.”
Brady isn’t panicking, either, noting the two losses have been decided by a combined margin of 3 points.
“It’s not like we sit here and look in the locker room and say, ‘Wow, we’re terrible. We can’t make any plays. We’re not even in these games,'” Brady said. “We’re right in them. We just have to do a better job in certain areas.”
The Bills could get a boost this week with running back Fred Jackson set to return after missing two weeks with a sprained left knee. Jackson’s presence should help offset the loss of C.J. Spiller, who’s not expected to play after hurting his left shoulder last weekend.
In Buffalo, beating the Patriots has been a prime focus for much of the offseason. General manager Buddy Nix went so far as to say his team has to respect the Patriots, but can’t fear them.
Kyle Williams agreed.
“Obviously, you have respect for them because of what they’ve done, and the team that they are,” Williams said. “But by no stretch of the imagination does that mean that people are going to quiver when they’re coming to town.”
Mario Williams isn’t afraid, and dismissed the Bills woeful past against New England.
“I really don’t care,” he said. “At the end of the day, this is new faces up front. It’s a new team.”