There won’t be real change with the Bills until they beat the damn Patriots with regularity. At least there will be no waiting to learn if they’ve joined the same weight class. The schedule makers have presented this franchise with the chance to set the season’s tone by starting not just with a victory but one over a team that’s been Michael compared to the AFC East’s Tito.
A rivalry can’t be authentic if one competitor wins 90 percent of the time, as has dreadfully taken place in the Pretty Brady era. It’s not a true competition until winning happens consistently and not as an exception. Toying with the Bills can’t even be fun for New England, although that has not prevented them from enjoying the wins. One sure test that the Doug Marrone era is different will be when Bill Belichick stops taking the two Bills games for granted, as you know that joyless lump currently does.
Forget the deep bruising to pride: there’s the practical challenge of winning a division with at best a split against the acknowledged chieftain. Losing two of 16 games to a team in the same grouping makes hurdling a nearly impossible task. It’s up to this roster whether they have to hurdle a garbage can or garbage truck.
In long-term terms, all the Bills can hope is to leave this era of misery in the past. Their fecklessness against the Patriots since the millennium’s commencement is already a blot on their historical record. The inability to be even remotely competitive on balance is horrifyingly reminiscent of their utter ineptitude against the Dolphins in the ’70s. I remember watching an old Game of the Week episode on ESPN Classic featuring Buffalo and Miami from the O.J. era and realizing about halfway through that I knew they lost. Never winning against a twice-yearly foe is the worst kind of spoiler. Minus one glorious Sunday in September 2011, it’s been almost that wretched versus New England.
The Bills must first realize and accept that success results from a decision to create a new identity. Every day is a chance leave behind the meek Farrokh Bulsara and choose to become the dynamic Freddie Mercury. And what better way to forget about the last 13 miserable episodes than to have a new coach knock a despised aging heavyweight to the canvas? There are 30 other teams who would love to see it.
Now we know which quarterback will share a compelling story. E.J. Manuel will hopefully make worries about his knee seem like a problem of the preseason after his Wolverine-style mutant healing power granted him the chance to claw the competition from the first game. It would have been one heck of a memory if obscure youngster Jeff Tuel played a game for the ages on his first day, but Brady fans won’t get the chance to ruefully appreciate such a magic moment. We can still take delight at the optimistic thought of the more prominent rookie shining.
Concurrently, the defense can adjust before the opponent is ready. Mike Pettine unleashing every exotic blitz he’s got would not just be for the fun of leveling Foxboro’s supermodel quarterback. In a utilitarian sense, a high quantity of novelly-aligned pass rushers would take pressure off a secondary that was already thin before Stephon Gilmore’s wrist cracked. It inevitably takes offenses time to adjust to excessive pass rushing pressure, so exploit the rawness now. The risk of leaving inexperienced corners in single coverage will be mitigated by mercilessly attacking passes at the source.
A healthy dash of aggressive intensity is just what this quasi-rivalry needs. Giving the Patriots a reason to hate them instead of feel pity should be this season’s theme. Things can only seem to feel different until Sunday’s kickoff. But at least we’ll learn right away. The wait for football is interminable. But at least Bills fans will learn by dinnertime how their team measures against their longtime nemesis. Hopefully, Buffalo isn’t getting it over with but rather getting something to which to look forward. It’s about time.