The problem with following the Bills through the long, painful playoff drought – and I'm sure Bills fans can understand – is that you start to feel like you've seen every game before.
Sunday's 41-25 loss to the Patriots was a classic example of Drought Deja Vu. The score, the flow of the game, the familiar sight of Tom Brady torching the Buffalo secondary – it was all sadly reminiscent of last season's 40-32 loss to the Pats here.
The only major difference was that it occurred in New Era Field this year, instead of what we used to know fondly as Ralph Wilson Stadium. But as far as the Bills-Patriots "rivalry" is concerned, we're still a very long way from a new era.
OK, so there weren't many objective observers who felt the Bills had much of a chance against the mighty Pats, who had Brady back from Deflategate detention and were highly motivated to atone for a 16-0 shutout loss to Rex Ryan's guys four weeks earlier in Foxborough.
The Pats were on a roll and had never been swept by a divisional foe in the regular season with Brady as their quarterback. The Bills were playing without star running back LeSean McCoy and three of their top four wide receivers.
But injuries aside, the distressing thing was that the Bills played the same dumb, boneheaded football they had played against the Pats here a year ago. They didn't lose their cool this time, but they made just about every mistake imaginable in one 60-minute football game.
"The better team won today, without question," Ryan said . "We made way too many mistakes, mistakes we haven't made all season, and against a guy like Brady, he makes you pay any time you have a mistake. We knew that going in, and he was true to form."
It's a stretch to say the Bills hadn't made those mistakes all season. The Jets game, anyone? Then again, Rex said he couldn't recall ever getting burned by Brady this way, clearly forgetting that Brady had thrown for a record 466 yards against him a year earlier.
Perhaps Ryan's head was still spinning from all the brainless play by his team. I could bore you with a rehash of Brady's surgical performance, including four touchdown passes in the first half to four different receivers. Instead, I'll run through the grocery list of dumb plays by the Bills along the way.
Really, I began making a list of their colossal gaffes early in the game and didn't stop typing until the fourth quarter. When it came to dumb and stupid, the Bills were the team that kept on giving Sunday. It started early, too.
On their first drive, Taylor had to burn a timeout on first and goal from the Patriots' 6-yard line. I imagine this was the rare occasion when Anthony Lynn wasn't able to get the play in on time. Taylor wound up throwing the ball over his receiver's head on third and goal and they settled for a field goal.
Later in the first quarter, the defense was called for 12 men on the field. Then they held on a kickoff return. Stephon Gilmore let Chris Hogan get away for a couple of third-down catches, one for a 53-yard touchdown. The latter was a miscommunication, as Gilmore, who fancies himself an elite cornerback and has an excuse for every mistake, was quick to point out.
On a first-and-20 play, safety Robert Blanton got called for holding. First down Pats. Ryan, who won't say a bad word about Gilmore or Tyrod Taylor but has no problem criticizing a backup, called it "unacceptable."
Back on offense, they were whistled for an illegal formation for having five men in the backfield, negating a big gain. Five men in the backfield? Two plays later, Walt Powell was guilty of offensive pass interference.
That was only the first half. It didn't get much better. The special teams got back in the act, allowing Danny Amendola to return the second-half kickoff 73 yards. Later, punter Colton Schmidt dropped the snap but somehow managed to run for the first down. Even the good moments were a slapstick act.
The defense was guilty of having 12 men on the field, again. Considering the way Brady was playing, it wasn't a bad strategy. Nickell Robey-Coleman was called for unnecessary roughness for hitting Amendola out of bounds – as in, halfway to Angola.
Gilmore was caught holding in the end zone, their 10th penalty of the day. Later, the Bills drove toward a score and tried a halfback pass by Reggie Bush, who couldn't find anyone open and shoveled it backward to Taylor, who recovered the fumble.
On the Pats' next drive, rookie Shaq Lawson was so excited about sacking Brady that he got called for roughing the passer later in the possession.
The culminating stupidity was leaving Taylor on the field until the final possession. I'm sure this was so Ryan could show the world his team never quits. It constantly amazes me how NFL coaches leave their precious franchise QBs on the field in blowouts. Bill Belichick did it with Brady, who took a couple of big hits with the Pats safely ahead.
EJ Manuel didn't come in until there was 2:26 left in the game. The Bills profess to have faith in Manuel as a top backup. Such claims ring hollow when they leave their presumptive franchise QB on the field in a blowout. Taylor was chased around the pocket all day. He exposes himself to injury all the time. Why leave him out there in a lost cause, especially with so many other offensive players out of action?
Of course, it was Ryan who played McCoy with a balky hamstring a week earlier in Miami, desperate for a conference win. McCoy was useless, reaggravated the injury and was out for the Pats. Ryan said he didn't know if McCoy would be ready for Seattle.
However they got here, the Bills are 4-4 at the midpoint. They were 4-4 at this point a year ago on the way to 8-8. Deja vu, folks. They look the same as they did a year ago in Ryan's debut season in Buffalo: An average team with an average head coach and a tendency to suffer brainlock in the most critical circumstances.
"We're mediocre," said linebacker Preston Brown. "That's as mediocre as you can be. We're 2-2 in both halves. That's not what you want to do. We know we can only drop about two more games if we want to get into the playoffs."
Ryan said the division is a lost cause at this point. He said the same thing a year ago when the Bills were four games back of the Pats in the AFC East after nine games, heading to Foxborough for a Monday nighter.
"I think it's unrealistic to think you're going to win your division," Ryan said. "How many games are they up, three? So I don't see that changing."
It can't be very inspiring, hearing your coach concede halfway through the season. But Ryan has a point. The Bills are three games behind the Pats, who have won at least 12 games and finished first in the division six years in a row.
Here's a stunning fact from the drought archives: The Bills have finished at least three games behind the Patriots in the AFC East in every season since 2002, the year they picked up Drew Bledsoe from New England in a trade.
So as usual, they're looking at a wild card, as Rex readily admits. Two weeks ago, I said the Bills looked the part, and they're still in the hunt. But they're also 1-4 in the conference, which could be problematic down the road. That's the same AFC record as Jacksonville, a team in disarray with a coach on the hot seat.
So it seems worse than 4-4, I told Ryan.
"Well, I think it's 4-4," he said. "As bad as you want to be, negative-wise, I get it. We're halfway through the season, but we'll see. We have a lot of football left to be played. I believe in this team, maybe more so than others."
And less so than anyone who hasn't actually conceded the AFC East to the Patriots.