Spot On: When the Bills Have Beaten Bill (Belichick)
Russell S. Baxter
Spot On: When the Bills Have Beaten Bill (Belichick)
By Brandon Fazzolari
Special to Pro Football Guru
This Sunday, the Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots are set to do battle for the 119th time since they both broke into the wonderful world of professional football back in 1960. Over the last 20 years, the rivalry has become an embarrassment for the Bills. But this serves as a reminder, yes, that Buffalo has beaten the Patriots even in the 21st century.
Bill Belichick has a 33-6 record as a head coach against the Bills. There are many ways to read that statistic, but how about this slant? Buffalo has beaten Belichick six times! Could this Sunday be number seven?
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
In October 1995, the Bills played on Monday Night Football in Cleveland where Belichick was in his last season as head coach. The Browns were coming off an excellent 1994 campaign while the Bills missed the postseason for the first time since 1987. Buffalo had installed former-Broncos head coach Wade Phillips as their defensive coordinator and his unit was solid on this night – allowing just field goals and a punt return touchdown. Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas and Andre Reed were their usual brilliant selves in a tight 22-19 victory.
Five seasons later, Buffalo faced Belichick in his first season as the Patriots head coach. Doug Flutie and the seesaw 2000 Bills did just enough in this one to defeat the rebuilding Patriots. The three-season Phillips era as Buffalo’ s head man will be remembered mostly for the “Music City Miracle” play in the 1999 postseason in Tennessee. However, his defenses anchored by Sam Cowart and Ted Washington were tremendous. On this day, they stifled New England in a 16-13 overtime win, holding the Pats to less than 200 yards of total offense.
Two Great Wins During the Drought
As has been well-documented, Buffalo went on a playoff drought from 2000-2016. During that time, they were humbled by "Tom Terrific" and the Patriots machine, sometimes in laughers, other times in heartbreakers. There were two memorable exceptions.
The first time the Bills beat the dynastic Pat riots occurred in Week 1 of the 2003 season. Steady safety Lawyer Milloy had been waived by the Patriots and picked up by Buffalo that week. Meanwhile, Drew Bledsoe was starting his second season in a Bills’ uniform. Enormous defensive tackle Sam Adams provided the thrill of the day and as it turned out, the season, when he intercepted Brady and rumbled 37 yards for the score. Brady was awful in the 31-0 loss. Of course, Buffalo went on to have a terrible season under Gregg Williams while New England won the next two Super Bowls. But for one September day, the Bills owned the Pats.
Eight years and a staggering 15 losses later, the Bills forced Brady into a true rarity, a four-interception performance. Indeed, this Week 3 tilt featured a multitude of game-changing highlights. Both teams were 2-0 with Buffalo crushing the hapless Chiefs on opening day. They then roared back from 21-3 down to stun the Raiders. The Pats won in sensational fashion at Miami to open the season and followed that up with an impressive home win over the Chargers, a game best remembered for a Vince Wilfork interception of Philip Rivers.
So, the stage was set. Unfortunately, things did not start well for the Bills on this beautiful early autumn day in Orchard Park as the Patriots took a 21-0 second quarter lead. Buffalo native Rob Gronkowski and the dynamite slot-man Wes Welker combined for 23 receptions and 326 receiving yards on the day and it looked like it was going to be the same old story.
But, Buffalo, led by Ryan Fitzpatrick and running ba k Fred Jackson chipped away at that margin into the fourth. Eventually, Jackson scored from the one-yard line to tie the game at 24 with 10 minutes left. One play later, Drayton Florence brought a deflected interception back 27 yards for a go-ahead tally. The fans were delirious.
Now, it was the Patriots turn to come back. They converted a fourth and goal from the 6-yard line on a Brady to Welker pass. It was 31-31 with just three minutes to go. Then, “Fitzmagic” was born. He proceeded to drill a throw into the chest of Jackson who raced to the one. Rian Lindell kicked the game-winning field goal and Buffalo won it, 34-31. Again, this would prove to be the high water mark of an otherwise dreadful season for the Bills while the Patriots won the AFC championship in 2011.
Two More for the Road
The only other times the Bills have defeated Belichick-coached teams occurred in 2014 and 2016, both Super Bowl-winning seasons for the Patriots. These two games were played amid very unusual circumstances.
In the final week of the 2014 season, the Pats had home field advantage locked up in the AFC headed into this game. While Buffalo was definitely the better team, they hardly got New England at their most competitive. Brady only played in the first half while a strong Bills’ defense coached by Doug Marrone overpowered Jimmy Garoppolo and the Patriots offense. Buffalo won 17-9.
Finally, in 2016, Rex Ryan and the Bills beat the Pats, 16-0, in Week 4. Brady was out, serving his “Deflategate” suspension, Garoppolo was out with a shoulder injury, and Jacoby Brissett was in with a major thumb injury. Buffalo showed no mercy as Tyrod Taylor and Zach Brown keyed the one-sided affair.
What’s in store for this Sunday? Bills’ fans hope it is time for lucky number seven!
Brandon Fazzolari (@spot_bills) is a lifelong Buffalo Bills fan and a Vegas sports reporter for Vegas the Network.