Buffalo Bills receiver Stevie Johnson was talking this week about his mind-set going into today's game against the New England Patriots.
"I'm expecting a shootout," Johnson said. "I can't really speak for our defense. I'm just saying we have to put up numbers. If it is going to be a shootout, we have to be ready for it on the offensive side. We gotta bring it."
Johnson wasn't taking anything for granted. He wasn't predicting the Bills would have their way with the Pats' defense. But it doesn't take a general manager to figure out the Bills' offense needs to stay hot today when New England -- the Evil Empire to all of Bills Nation -- rolls into Ralph Wilson Stadium.
If there is one thing that has distinguished the Bills' 15-game losing streak to the Patriots, it is Buffalo's offensive ineptitude. Finally, the Bills just might have an offense that can play competitive football against Brady, coach Bill Belichick, and the rest of the Patriots.
Buffalo has scored 79 points in two games, the most in the NFL. Ryan Fitzpatrick is the first Bills quarterback since Jim Kelly to throw seven touchdown passes in the first two weeks of a season. Bills back Fred Jackson leads the NFL in rushing. And under coach Chan Gailey, the Bills finally have an offense that doesn't give their fan base indigestion.
It adds up to what could be an entertaining game before a crowd that has not witnessed a quality Bills showing against the Pats at home since the Bills' last win over them -- the 31-0 result to start the 2003 season. In the seven home games against the Pats since, New England has outscored Buffalo, 214-43.
It will not be easy for the Bills' offense to hang with Brady's attack, which has scored 30 or more points in 10 straight regular-season games.
The Bills will need to continue their rushing success, which includes 380 yards in two games.
"It's one of the things we know the longer we're on the field, the more their offense is on the sidelines," Jackson said. "We want to get the running game going. That takes a lot of pressure off of Fitz."
New England's run defense was good, but not great last season, which prompted an offseason overhaul. The Pats were 11th in rush yards allowed last year but 16th in yards-per-rush allowed, and they were pushed around in their playoff loss to the New York Jets.
Three-time Pro Bowler Vince Wilfork and linebacker Jerod Mayo remain studs in the Pats' defensive front. The Pats added 350-pound Albert Haynesworth from Washington, 34-year-old Shaun Ellis from the Jets, 32-year-old Andre Carter from San Francisco and veteran Mark Anderson, formerly of the Bears. Ellis and Carter have played about 60 percent of the snaps. Haynesworth has played only about a third of the snaps and only has two tackles. He's out today with a back injury.
It will be interesting to see what combination of players Belichick uses to contain the running game, given the fact he will be forced into five- and six-defensive back alignments against the Bills' spread offense.
Of course, having Brady put up some quick touchdowns does wonders for the run defense. The Pats' defense faced the second most pass attempts in the league last year, as offenses struggled to play catch-up. New season, same trend: Through two weeks the Pats have faced the third-most pass attempts. The Pats gave up 414 passing yards to Miami's Chad Henne, then 378 to San Diego's Philip Rivers. The Pats won by two touchdowns both games.
"Both those teams [Miami and San Diego] are coming from behind, throwing a lot of yards when the score was stretched out a little bit," Fitzpatrick said. "I don't know if that's a true indication of the talent they have back there. "
The Pats' best cornerback is 2010 first-round pick Devin McCourty, who had an excellent rookie season. He teams with Leigh Bodden. Big rookie Ras-I Dowling and Kyle Arrington are the next two corners.
"They're running a lot of man coverage, which may be more than they have in the past," Fitzpatrick said. "But they feel like they match up good against the teams they've played."
Against the Patriots, Fitzpatrick knows to expect what he hasn't seen.
"They do a good job of mixing things up from week to week," he said. "I think that's the biggest thing, not really showing you the same looks. They've always got a few wrinkles you haven't seen, that they haven't shown before. You've got to expect the unexpected. You've got to be prepared for anything and be prepared to adjust."
During the 15-game losing streak, the Bills have averaged just 10.8 points and 164 passing yards a game. Bills quarterbacks have been sacked 45 times and have thrown 10 touchdown passes with 23 interceptions.
Most of those games followed a similar pattern: Pats defensive front controls the trenches and hems in Bills run game; Pats throw an invisibility cloak over Lee Evans; Pats dare Bills QB to find other weapons that can win the game. Bills find no answers.
Through two weeks, the Bills look like they might have more places to go with the ball if the Pats take their favorite options away.
Fitzpatrick put up 30 points on the Pats in the first meeting last year. But the Bills made seven turnovers in the second.
"They're very good about protecting the ball on offense, and they're good at taking it away on defense," Fitzpatrick said. "So winning the turnover battle is going to be key for us."
Dec. 27, 2003: Patriots 31, Bills 0 Perfect closure: Pats return favor for 31-0 opener.
Oct. 3, 2004: Patriots 31, Bills 17 Bledsoe yields sack-fumbletouchdown to key Pats win.
Nov. 14, 2004: Patriots 29, Bills 6 Oh, the indignity: Bledsoe picked off by Troy Brown.
Oct. 30, 2005: Patriots 21, Bills 16 Bruschi returns; Bills hold ball for 39:20, lose.
Dec. 11, 2005: Patriots 35, Bills 7 Pats hold ball for 41:59, Losman stinks.
Sept. 10, 2006: Patriots 19, Bills 17 Sack of Losman for safety is decisive score.
Oct. 22, 2006: Patriots 28, Bills 6 Losman fumbles twice, throws pick.
Sept. 23, 2007: Patriots 38, Bills 7 Wilfork KOs Losman, Pats roll up 485 yards.
Nov. 18, 2007: Patriots 56, Bills 10 Largest margin of defeat in Bills history.
Nov. 9, 2008: Patriots 20, Bills 10 Jauron can't get red challenge flag out of his pocket.
Dec. 28, 2008: Patriots 13, Bills 0 Belichick snookers Jauron again in 35 mph winds.
Sept. 14, 2009: Patriots 25, Bills 24 McKelvin fumbles KO return as Bills collapse.
Dec. 20, 2009: Patriots 17, Bills 10 Bills treat fans to 11 penalties for 124 yards.
Sept. 26, 2010: Patriots 38, Bills 30 Brady outguns Fitz, Pats rush for 200.
Dec. 26, 2010: Patriots 34, Bills 3 Pats rush for 217 yards on lowly Bills D.