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Patriots present ultimate litmus test for upstart Bills

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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — New England is the standard, and the Bills know it. As impressive as their season-opening victory over Indianapolis was, the Bills have bigger fish to fry, and that’s their arch nemesis, the Patriots of quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick.

Rex Ryan knows all about the obstacle the Patriots have long presented in the AFC East. As coach of the New York Jets, Ryan started off pretty well in 2009 and 2010 against Belichick, but he’s 1-6 in his past seven meetings and was 4-9 overall counting the playoffs against New England during his six years in New York.

“I don’t know if a whole lot has changed,” Ryan said, referencing his change of address within the division. “The fact that they are kind of the hunted in my eyes, because they are the world champions. They obviously won our division every single year that I have been here. Obviously they are ones you want to knock off. That probably hasn’t changed a whole lot.”

Ryan hinted that just because this is Patriots week doesn’t mean his staff hasn’t been getting ready for this game for a while.

“It’s a tough Sunday because of their skill,” Ryan said. “Great coach, a Hall of Fame quarterback, that’s what makes it more difficult than anything else. We don’t have to worry about getting our team ready to play. The Patriots are the ones you want to beat. It’s not like we’re just now preparing for them.”

The Bills have had a horrible time with the Patriots, losing 25 of the past 28 meetings. One of the victories came in the season finale last year, but it came with an asterisk. Brady played about a quarter, and Jimmy Garrapolo finished the game with several other New England reserves around him.

It was a win, and the Bills aren’t giving it back because it secured just the Bills’ second winning record since the turn of the century, but they know this week’s game means a whole lot more, and there’s no team they want to defeat more.

“I don’t like New England, so yeah, it’s definitely personal for me,” said safety Aaron Williams. “Just the way they carry themselves on the field and stuff. All the stuff that has happened to me in the past with some of the players has definitely gone through the roof for me. That’s a reason it’s personal for me and they’re our rival. It’s the history. So it’s not just personal. It’s the Buffalo Bills’ history.”

Defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, who returns to action this week after serving a one-game suspension, did not mince words regarding his feelings about the Patriots. “Don’t nobody like the Patriots,” Dareus said. “Let’s just be honest about it now. Put it out there.”

And there it is. Would the Bills be chirping like this if Ryan wasn’t their coach? Perhaps, but it’s no secret that Ryan considers Belichick his chief rival, and he and the Jets were never shy when it came to revealing their desires to beat New England.

Ryan has been caught up to speed on the misery the Patriots have inflicted on the Bills through the years, and he knows this is Buffalo’s No. 1 rival. So, while thanking the fans for their voluble support against the Colts, he said, “I can’t wait to see what our fans are going to be like when you have the hated Patriots … I mean this kind of rival, coming into our stadium. I don’t think our fans need any more prompting.”

This may be the first time since Brady took control of the Patriots in 2001 that the Bills may actually have a team that can go toe-to-toe with New England. Buffalo’s victories in 2003 and 2011 were considered big upsets, and last year’s game was a throwaway, but Ryan’s revamped roster can give Brady and Belichick trouble, and the home-field advantage could be decisive.

Belichick has heard all this talk before, and he’s lost only twice in Buffalo. Tuesday, when asked about the crowd noise, Belichick said, “They will be as loud as we allow them to be,” the inference being the best way to quiet a crowd is to take control of the game from the outset.

The Patriots pay the Bills lip service every time they play them, but the reality is that with the series so one-sided, it’s tough to imagine they ever fear Buffalo. Perhaps the tide will turn Sunday.

“We just have to go out there and play the game,” said wide receiver Sammy Watkins. “We know they’ve been dominating this league and winning games and making it to the playoffs every year, but this is our year I think. We just have to go out there and play and have fun. We have great coaches, great players, great staff, so we’re just going to leave everything on the field and I can’t wait for Sunday.”

INJURY NOTES: WR Marquise Goodwin (rib) and LB Tony Steward (knee) continue to be sidelined and will not play Sunday. … WR Percy Harvin did not practice Wednesday, a rest day for his sore hip, but he will likely be back to work Thursday. … FS Corey Graham was limited due to a concussion suffered last week, and his availability is still up in the air.

SERIES HISTORY: 111th regular-season meeting. Patriots lead series 67-42-1. Since 2001 when Tom Brady became the Patriots’ quarterback, New England has won all but three of the games for a record of 25-3. Buffalo’s only victories came at Ralph Wilson Stadium in 2003 and 2011, and then last year’s season finale when Brady and many of the New England starters played only a quarter.

GAME PLAN: The Bills came after Andrew Luck with every blitz imaginable, and with the Patriots rotating in three rookies on the offensive line – at least they did so against Pittsburgh – you can expect Rex Ryan to try to generate pressure up the middle and force Tom Brady out of the pocket. Ryan may not blitz as frequently, though, because he has to figure out how to cover TE Rob Gronkowski and WR Julian Edelman, so now that Marcell Dareus is back, he may try more four-man rushes.

On offense, the Bills have to do a better job establishing the run. QB Tyrod Taylor is still very much a work in progress, and Bill Belichick eats young and inexperienced quarterbacks for lunch. He will surely have something planned for the athletic Taylor, and the Bills will have to make sure they have Taylor’s back and lessen the burden my moving the ball on the ground. LeSean McCoy will be important, but you may see rookie Karlos Williams attack between the tackles as well.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

–Bills LB Manny Lawson vs. Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski. Lawson won’t be the only guy assigned to cover Gronkowski. In fact, it may take a small army to contain the league’s most dominant tight end who opened his season with three TD catches. But Lawson is a veteran player who can be physical with Gronk at the line and try to disrupt his release. That’s a must, especially in situations when Rex Ryan blitzes defensive backs and leaves Gronk in single coverage.

–Bills RB LeSean McCoy vs. Patriots LBs. McCoy didn’t look very sharp in the opener as he rushed 17 times for 41 yards. The Colts did a nice job of penetrating the Bills line and stringing plays out to the sideline, and McCoy wasn’t able to make his one cut that usually turns him loose. The Bills need McCoy to be more productive against the Patriots defense because Bill Belichick will surely find a way to limit what QB Tyrod Taylor can do.


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