Column as I see ’em, Week Seven:
• Bills fans are probably not in the mood for this. No doubt, you’re still reeling from that physical beatdown at the hands of the Dolphins on Sunday. The last thing you need is a refresher on how dominant next week’s opponent has been during the Tom Brady era.
Leave the room if you must. Going back to 2001 season, the year Tom Brady took over as the quarterback, the Patriots have never lost twice to a team in the AFC East in the regular season. On Sunday at New Era Field, the Bills will attempt to become the first division opponent to sweep them since 2000, Bill Belichick’s first year as head man.
Sorry if this seems old, but every time I go over the Pats’ history in this millennium, I’ve staggered anew. They’ve had a winning record in the AFC East in every season since Brady became the QB. They’ve reached 10 AFC championship games during that time. Ten! They’ve gone 12-4 each of the last four seasons.
Do you think Belichick wants a little payback for that 16-0 loss to the Bills four weeks ago? No one bites back harder after a loss. Over the last 15 years, New England has lost the first game of a divisional home-and-home series just nine times.
They’ve won the rematch every time, the last six in resounding fashion. Here are the Pats’ winning margins in those six games: 28, 28, 42, 17, 20 and 31.
Bills fans will recall two of them: The Pats blanked them, 31-0, in the 2003 finale, atoning for a loss in the season opener by the exact same score. In 2011, the Pats smoked the Bills in the finale, 49-21, after losing, 34-31, at Buffalo in Week Three.
On top of that, you have the Brady revenge tour, which is humming along quite nicely after three weeks. In three games since his return from his four-game exile for underinflating footballs, he has completed 76 of 101 passes (75 percent) for 1,004 yards, with eight touchdowns and no interceptions.
Not bad for a guy who will turn 40 next August. Brady believes he can play effectively well into his 40s, and who can argue when he’s playing just as well as he did five and 10 years ago? I’d say 12-4 is a low bar this year. Knowing Belichick and Brady, they’re determined to run the table and win their fifth Super Bowl.
Oh, and while we’re telling stories around the campfire, let’s not forget what Brady did the last time he set foot in Orchard Park: He went 38 for 59 for 466 yards and three TDs, breaking George Blanda’s 54-year-old passing yardage record against the Bills.
Rex Ryan did a terrific job of containing Brady in the rematch at Foxborough last year, but Brady has all his main weapons clicking now, and he’ll be primed to light it up again at New Era.
Ryan’s defense needs to snap back from that meltdown at Hard Rock Field in a hurry. The Bills didn’t strike me as a squad that’s poised to become the first AFC East team ever to sweep Belichick and Brady in a season, that’s for sure.
• The Dolphins’ Jay Ajayi became the fourth running back in NFL history to rush for 200 yards in consecutive games on Sunday. It has happened five times, and as veteran Buffalo fans are probably aware, the Bills were involved in four of them.
O.J. Simpson did it twice for the Bills: In the final two games of the 1973 season, he had 219 yards at New England and 200 at the Jets in the finale, giving him a then-record 2,003 yards on the year. In 1976, Simpson had 273 at Detroit and 203 at Miami late in the season.
Miami’s Ricky Williams rushed for 228 yards in a memorable 38-21 loss in the snow at The Ralph on Dec. 1, 2002. Jim Kelly was on the sidelines that day and Peerless Price jumped in Kelly’s arms at the back of the end zone after making a TD catch from Drew Bledsoe. Williams gained 216 yards at the Bears the following week in a win.
Earl Campbell had 203 and 202 rushing yards in consecutive weeks in 1980 – neither time against Buffalo. He had a career-high 1,934 yards that season, the eighth-best total in history. Campbell had the only four 200-yard days of his career in ’80.
• By sacking Ryan Tannehill on Sunday, Lorenzo Alexander became the first NFL player to start a season with at least a half-sack in seven straight games since Jared Allen went nine in a row to start 2011. Alexander is the first Bill with a seven-game sack streak since Bruce Smith had nine in a row straddling the 1986 and ’87 seasons
Alexander, 33, leads the NFL with nine sacks through the first seven games. He had nine sacks in 127 career games heading into the season.
• Watching Arizona’s Chandler Catanzaro and Seattle’s Steve Hauschka choke on chip-shot field goals in overtime of Sunday’s 6-6 tie made me appreciate the stunning reliability of ageless Indianapolis kicker Adam Vinatieri.
Vinatieri continued his amazing run on Sunday, breaking the record for consecutive field goals by making two in Indy’s win at the Titans. Vinatieri is 43, which is the same number of field goals he’s booted through the uprights since his last miss in Week Two of the 2015 season.
Vinatieri broke the record of former Colt Mike Vanderjagt, which stretched from late 2002 to the ’04 opener. He has converted nine straight kicks of 50 yards or longer, so he’s not doing it with chip shots.
There is only one kicker, Jan Stenerud, in the Hall of Fame. I’ve spoken with electors who consider kickers mere specialists who aren’t “real football players.” It’s a silly bias. They call it football. Kickers score points. They decide games and reputations. How many players wouldn’t be in the Hall if a kicker hadn’t won some key games along the way?
Vinatieri made the deciding field goal in New England’s first three Super Bowl wins. He’ll get in the Hall some day, but he shouldn’t be a rarity. Morten Andersen, the all-time scoring leader, belongs. Kickers don’t need to have proportional representation, like other players, but they deserve more than this.
• This week’s featured fantasy guy in “Is He Owned?” is Colts tight end Jack Doyle, who had a career day on Sunday with nine catches for 78 yards and a touchdown in Indy’s 34-26 win at Tennessee. Doyle, who was undrafted out of Western Kentucky in 2013, has 29 catches (on 33 targets) for 282 yards and four TDs.
Doyle has become a favorite of Andrew Luck, who is having a terrific bounce-back year, and would be a great addition. I checked three ESPN leagues and he was still available in all of them as of Monday afternoon.
• The Cardinals had 14 possessions and 46:19 in possession time at home against Seattle in Sunday’s game and settled for a 6-6 overtime tie. That’s the same Arizona team that led the NFL in offense a year ago. I suspect the Bills’ offense might have its hands full when it travels to Seattle for a Monday night game in two weeks.
• Washington and the Bills have had eerily similar seasons. Both started 0-2, then reeled off four straight wins before blowing a fourth-quarter lead on Sunday (Washington’s at Detroit) to fall to 4-3. And like Buffalo, Washington has a daunting stretch ahead: vs. Cincinnati, vs. Minnesota, at Packers, at Cowboys.
Oh, and like the Bills, they have a quarterback (Kirk Cousins) who has one guaranteed year on his contract and can cash in if he proves himself this season.