FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — As it turns out, Doug Marrone was a little too optimistic about EJ Manuel’s chances of playing in today’s finale against the Pats. It’s likely to be a long time before the Bills’ head coach plays the old “110 percent” card again.
Really, can you be that certain of anything in life? I’m not 110 percent sure that an alien spaceship won’t land on the 50-yard line today, or that Bill Belichick hasn’t been leaking information about domestic spying to agents from other countries.
As we know, 100 percent is sufficient. And I’m 100 percent certain that the Bills haven’t won at New England in 13 years. You can look it up. Their last win came in overtime at old Foxboro Stadium on Nov. 5, 2000, two days before George W. Bush was elected president for the first time.
The Bills have never won in Gillette Stadium, which opened in the 2002 season. They’ve lost all 11 games they’ve played here, in every way imaginable. The stadium named for a razor has been the site of some of the most lacerating defeats in franchise history.
So maybe it’s not such a bad thing that Manuel won’t play. It would have been great for Manuel to finish his rookie season with a win here. Marrone was right when he said there’s a lot to play for today.
Winning at Gillette would make the Bills 4-2 in the AFC East (the only winning record within the division) and send them soaring into the offseason on a three-game winning streak. It would give them a foundation of confidence on which to build.
But history suggests that the opposite is likely to happen. Gillette Stadium has been a chamber of horrors for the Bills over the last 11 seasons. It’s amazing how many defining and peculiar setbacks have befallen the Bills in this place.
The quarterbacks have suffered the most. Drew Bledsoe was routinely awful here as a Bill. J.P. Losman had a short, miserable debut. Trent Edwards was the definition of mediocrity. Ryan Fitzpatrick had the best performances of any Bills QB over the last dozen years, mainly because he played against some weak Pats defenses.
Fitz suffered his most discouraging defeat here, though. I’ll never forget how distraught he was after the loss here last year, when he threw a late interception in the end zone. After the game, he was near tears. He said it could have been a culture-changing victory.
It’s troubling to see Manuel sit out the last two games with his third knee injury in four months. But look at the bright side: It might spare him a rude introduction to Gillette Stadium and, at least for now, a place in the annals of woe.
Some fans would rather not be tortured. But until the Bills win here, I feel it’s my duty to revisit the past. Here’s a capsule ranking of the Bills’ 11-game losing streak at Gillette:
1. Losman’s Debut (Nov. 14, 2004): Drew Bledsoe threw three interceptions, including one to receiver-turned-cornerback Troy Brown, in a 29-6 loss on Sunday night. Rookie J.P. Losman relieved and had a lost fumble and interception on three dropbacks.
2. Leodis’ Lament (Sept. 14, 2009): Bills lose a Monday night opener, 25-24, blowing an 11-point lead in the last 5:32. McKelvin returns a kickoff from 2 yards deep and fumbles, setting up Pats’ winning TD. Donte Whitner weeps in the locker room. Vandals desecrate McKelvin’s lawn.
3. The Bookend Game (Dec. 27, 2003): The Pats smoke the Bills in the finale, 31-0, atoning for an opening day loss by the identical score. Bledsoe is typically horrible. Ruben Brown stays home after a dustup with Gregg Williams. Two days later, Tom Donahoe fires Williams.
4. The Sack-Fumble (Oct. 30, 2005): In yet another national night game, Bills blow a nine-point lead in the fourth quarter of a 21-16 loss. Tedy Bruschi’s emotional return from a stroke fails to inspire the Pats, who are badly outplayed. But Rosevelt Colvin’s sack of Kelly Holcomb and fumble recovery gives Tom Brady the opening he needs.
5. Happy New Year (Jan. 1, 2012): Bills lead, 21-0, in the first quarter of season finale. Stevie Johnson lifts his jersey to display a “Happy New Year” message on his T-shirt after catching a TD pass from Fitzpatrick, drawing a 15-yard penalty. Chan Gailey benches Johnson for the rest of the game. Patriots go on to win, 49-21.
6. Deep Pockets Dick (Nov. 9, 2008): Bills promising season continues to unravel as they lose to an AFC East opponent for the third week in a row, 20-10. Trent Edwards is brutal, throwing for 120 yards and two picks against Belichick’s confounding schemes. Speaking of confounded, Dick Jauron fails to get challenge flag out of his pocket.
7. Fourth and Stupid (Sept. 10, 2006): Leading 17-7, Bills reach Pats’ 7-yard line on opening drive of the second half. But Willis McGahee is stopped on fourth and 1. Pats win, 19-17, sacking Losman in end zone for the decisive safety to spoil Jauron’s debut. Later, McGahee admitted that “to be honest,” he didn’t know it was fourth down.
8. The Fitz Pick (Nov. 11, 2012): Fitzpatrick threw for 337 yards and 2 TDs. But with 23 seconds left, he was picked off by Devin McCourty in the end zone when rookie T.J. Graham ran the wrong route. After the game, Stevie Johnson revealed that Graham had never run the play in practice. You could see Fitz and Gailey heading toward the door.
9. A New Era Begins (Sept. 26, 2010): Two weeks into his first season, Gailey cuts Edwards and makes Fitz his guy. Rookie C.J. Spiller scores his first two TDs, one a 95-yard kickoff return. Bills take 13-7 lead, but Pats run for 200 yards and Brady gets good games from rookies Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in a 38-30 triumph.
10. Blockheads or Tails? (Dec. 8, 2002): A breezy, 27-17 win for the Pats, who say that the Bills were predictable and easy to prepare for. Not a good day for Gregg Williams. The Bills even screwed up the opening coin toss, forgetting to indicate to the officials which end they wanted to defend. You can’t make this stuff up.
11. A Door Opens (Sept. 23, 2007): Still angry over “Spygate” scandal, Pats drill the Bills, 38-7. Linebacker Paul Posluszny breaks his arm, sidelining him for the last 13 games of his rookie season. Losman sprains a knee, opening the door to Edwards and another quarterback controversy. And to think, it’s last on the list.