“When you look at it from their perspective, right now we’re second in the division. So it’s like, of course, they’re going try to do whatever they can, just like we’re going to do whatever we can. Does that give us an opportunity to win the division? No. They’re going win the division. I don’t see them losing four games. I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t see it happening.”
– Rex Ryan on the New England Patriots being 9-0 and the Buffalo Bills being 5-4.
Maybe it’s yet another dose of gamesmanship from someone who loves messing with opponents’ minds with words every bit as much as, if not more than, with X’s and O’s.
Or maybe it’s a true reflection of how he feels about his team’s status.
Either way, the Bills’ players aren’t buying what their coach is selling.
“No, man, it’s never over,” running back Boobie Dixon said Friday. “We ain’t got no fat lady walking around our locker room singing.”
History does suggest, however, that she could definitely be warming up.
Since the 1970 merger between the National Football League and the American Football League, only one team that started the season 9-0 failed to win its division. That was the 2013 Kansas City Chiefs.
After scoring their ninth victory against the Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium, thanks largely to a decisive pick-six thrown by backup quarterback Jeff Tuel from the Kansas City 1, the Chiefs proceeded to lose their next three games and six of their final eight to finish 11-5 and settle for a wild-card playoff berth. At 13-3, the Denver Broncos would win the AFC West on the way to being pummeled in Super Bowl XLVIII by the Seattle Seahawks.
“Anything’s possible, anything can happen,” Dixon said. “Any given Sunday, anybody can lose, somebody can win big, and somebody can turn into a star.”
That also applies to Monday night, which is when the Bills face the Patriots at Gillette Stadium.
The players aren’t pretending to forget about the 40-32 loss to New England. Nor are they ignoring the fact the Bills have lost 27 of their last 30 games against the Patriots.
But they believe they have sound reasons to feel encouraged, beginning with the fact they have won their last two games, against Miami and the New York Jets. They also think they are catching the Patriots at the right time. Julian Edelman, New England’s best receiver, is out with a broken foot. Dion Lewis, the Patriots’ dynamic running back, suffered a season-ending torn ACL.
“I’m not giving the division to nobody,” Bills defensive back Nickell Robey said. “Nobody ever knew that” Lewis or Edelman “would get hurt at this time, and it happened. It’s evident that the power is kind of shifting in this game.
“On paper, it looks like this is going to be a good battle. On Monday night, that’s something that the world is going to have to see. It’s two great teams going at it, and it’s too hard to give it to somebody. Respect them, because they’re 9-0 and they deserve” the record. “But as far as giving them the division? I can’t do that. I’m a player, I take a lot of pride in that, so I just can’t give it to them.”
Still, history is very much on the Patriots’ side.
Entering 2015, 19 teams in the Super Bowl era started 9-0. All made the playoffs, 11 advanced to the Super Bowl, and seven won the Super Bowl.
But there are exceptions. Safety Duke Williams vividly recalls the 23-13 loss to the Chiefs in 2013. He remembers the tremendous frustration that he and his teammates felt about dominating Kansas City in every statistical category except the one that counted the most: the final score. And he remembers that the Chiefs made an early exit from the postseason with a wild-card loss to Indianapolis.
“I thought, ‘If that’s the best in the NFL, what actually can we do?’” Williams said. “It’s a good measuring stick when you play an undefeated team like that, especially this far in the season.”
The Bills are focused on the fact there are seven games left, plenty of time to make a run at the division crown their coach has already handed to the Patriots.
“It’s a long season,” defensive tackle Corbin Bryant said. “We’ve got seven more games. You don’t know what’s going to happen. We’re going to keep playing and go out there and see if” the Bills can win the division.
“I think we still have a chance,” Bryant said. “I’m sure everybody that you would talk to in this locker room would think that we would still have a chance at it. But in order to have a chance, we’ve got to win on Monday. It’s a must win. We’re going to take that approach and see what the outcome’s going to be.”
To a man, Bills players say that the confidence level within the team has never been greater.
“It’s sky-high,” Dixon said. “We feel like we can beat anybody, and we definitely feel like we can beat these guys. We’re a very confident group. The thing we’re trying to do is make sure we control that and not get too over confident or get too over excited.”