When the Bills toppled the Patriots in New England three weeks ago, they couldn’t count on it being the final word between the two teams this season. Already, there was the idea that they could face the Patriots again quite soon.
Safety Jordan Poyer admitted that it felt somewhat inevitable.
“I had a feeling we would probably see them again,” Poyer said Tuesday. “It’s very fitting.”
In winning the rematch, Buffalo has now won three of the last four. But evenness of splitting this season and the intensity it brings are part of why Poyer finds the next meeting, this Saturday in wild-card weekend, to be apropos.
“They beat us at home, we beat them at [their] home. It's a playoff game, Buffalo, New York, on Saturday night,” Poyer said. “I mean, it's just really everything you asked for in a football game, football season, this type of game right here.”
The No. 3 Bills and the No. 6 Patriots are well-versed in each other, with 124 games to show it. The Patriots hold a 77-46-1 series lead, but Buffalo is no longer trapped under it. As the Bills prepare for Saturday, the focus is on a fresh slate.
“Each game is its own game, particularly against a team like this, that couldn't be more true,” offensive coordinator Brian Daboll said Monday.
It’s a sentiment shared by players, who know how quickly the Patriots can morph.
“Yeah, I think playing them a couple of weeks ago, you kind of have a feel of some of the things they do,” Poyer said. “But they change so much.”
“The one thing you can expect is the unexpected,” center Mitch Morse added.
The two teams have met one other time in the postseason: 58 years ago, prior to the Super Bowl era. It was in the 1963 AFL Eastern Division playoff, back when the opposing team was still called the Boston Patriots. The teams split their two earlier meetings, but the Patriots won the third, 26-8 over the Bills.
Now, as the two teams get ready for this year’s rubber match, it’s in a condensed timeframe. Saturday will be the third meeting in seven weeks for the rivals.
“I guess you can say it’s a little fresher, but they do such a good job of switching things up that it’s hard to get a beat on it,” quarterback Josh Allen said Tuesday. “You can’t put your trust in something and bank on something happening because earlier that’s when things get switched up. And you gotta find a way to make a good play and not make the bad one.”
The time between the Week 13 and 16 meetings with the Patriots was the shortest that Allen has played the same opponent in the NFL. The Bills played the Jets twice in a four-game span his rookie season, but he was inactive for the first contest. In 2018 and 2019, he played the Dolphins twice in five weeks. But the Patriots, helmed by Bill Belichick, adapt to their opponents better than perhaps any team.
In prepping for his eighth meeting with the Patriots – Allen was inactive for the Bills’ first game against the Patriots as a rookie – he knows not to get comfortable, even when familiar.
“No, you always gotta adjust for him,” Allen said. “The second you start thinking it’s a sure thing, that’s when it gets the rug swept under your feet and you’re thinking wrong coverage and throwing a ball to a backside corner which you didn’t think was there.”
Allen threw for 314 yards and three touchdowns in the last meeting the Patriots. The win in New England was part of a four-game win streak to end the regular season, during which the Bills worked toward a more consistent run game.
Morse thinks the Bills have done a solid job in recent weeks of being more two-dimensional, even though the strength of the offense is still the passing game. But the evolving run game will be needed to go deep into the postseason.
Morse says the idea that playing a team so many times in a short window doesn’t mean much, and especially against New England.
“I think, for most teams, it would be the same sentiment, but I think the Patriots kind of wrote the book on it,” Morse said. “For them, they’re exceptional at it. So it’ll be a great challenge, and it’ll be a great test for us as players and coaches to relay information, be fluid as the game progresses, understand the ebbs and flows when you face a good team like the Patriots.
“And you’ve got to compete, and you can’t shut off your mental faculties, 'cause that’s when this team will exploit you.”
Any familiarities, of course, go both ways.
“Playing a team three times in the season, we know each other extremely well,” Allen said. “They know us, we know them, so it's whoever can adjust quicker.”