ORCHARD PARK, NY (AP) — If this is the end of Jerry Hughes’ career, the Buffalo Bills defensive end is ready for the playoffs.
Whether it’s facing rival New England Patriots for the third time in seven weeks or the prospect of playing in potentially sub-zero temperatures on Saturday night, the 12th-year veteran is eager to take both. head on.
“Spend some time outside, take your pants off, put on some shorts and enjoy the weather, really enjoy it,” Hughes said of the build-up to what could be the coldest game in Bills history.
When it comes to the Patriots, there’s more than enough bad blood between the division’s foes to amplify it.
“It’s just going to be an old-school drooling knocker,” Hughes said, at a time when his future at Buffalo is uncertain to complete the final year of his contract. He would love to come back, but it’s out of his control and out of his focus.
More importantly, Buffalo has a chance to make up for unfinished business a year after its longest playoff streak in 27 years ended in a loss to Kansas City in the AFC Championship Game.
“If this is my last chance to be a Buffalo Bill, I want to be the best,” Hughes said.
Leave the only player left on Buffalo’s roster from the days of late Hall of Fame owner Ralph Wilson, and making his fourth playoff appearance in five years, to set the stage for a rubber game after the teams have split their season series.
Buffalo briefly relinquished first place in the AFC East after being embarrassed at home in a 14-10 loss to New England on Dec. 6. Three weeks later, the Bills responded with a 33-21 win at New England on a four-game winning streak to clinch their second consecutive division title.
The Patriots, deservedly, stand in their way, an opponent who essentially owned Buffalo by winning 35 of 40 meetings from 2000 to 2019, but lost three of the last four.
“I had a feeling we’d probably see them again,” Bills goaltender Jordan Poyer said.
While Buffalo (11-6) became the team to beat in the AFC East, the Patriots (10-7) experienced an accelerated transition following the departure of Tom Brady two years ago.
After missing the playoffs last season for just the fourth time since coach Bill Belichick arrived in 2000, the retooled Patriots relied on a multi-faceted running offense and solid defense to relieve the pressure on rookie quarterback Mac Jones.
It’s how the Patriots have faltered in the streak losing three of four, and being outscored by a combined 93-62 in those losses is concerning.
No worries, linebacker Matt Judon said.
“All we wanted was a ticket to the dance,” Judon said. ” We understood. We are in the playoffs. And now we have to get there.
It helps that the Patriots know they can win in wintery Buffalo conditions after Jones attempted just three passes and saw New England’s running offense produce 222 yards in the face of flurries of 30 mph wind.
“I don’t think we lacked confidence,” Belichick said. “We are doing enough good things to be competitive. We just need to be more consistent.
FOCUS THIRD DOWN
New England’s inability to stop Buffalo on third down in Game 2 was a big contributor to the Bills’ victory. Buffalo went 6 of 12, converting third downs on three of its first four drives to build a 17-7 lead.
“If they convert on third down, then literally you’re there all day,” Belichick said.
HOME CROWD ADVANTAGE
After staging two playoff games a year ago with around 7,000 fans in attendance due to COVID-19 restrictions, the Bills are eager to have what should be close to a full house for the first time in the playoffs. since Hall of Famer Jim Kelly’s final. game, a 30-27 loss to Jacksonville in the 1996 playoffs.
“First of all, it’s a huge sense of pride to see a fanbase supporting you through this,” said Mitch Morse of fans showing up in the worst weather. “And then you also wonder about the level of inebriation of some of these people.”
The Patriots may have a decision to make on the offensive line if left tackle Isaiah Wynn (hip, ankle) is unavailable.
Wynn has allowed nine sacks in 16 games this season, but his greatest value has been in the running game where he was able to use his 6-foot-2, 310-pound frame to help gain the advantage.
The Patriots used it to their advantage in the first two games against Buffalo, combining for 371 rushing yards and four touchdowns.
If Wynn is unavailable, one option will be to move right tackle Trent Brown to the left side and insert Mike Onwenu at right tackle.
TATS IN THE BACK
After losing his first three games to New England, Buffalo’s Josh Allen has won three of four. His three wins over the Pats are more than any Bills QB since Doug Flutie was 4-2 in his three seasons at Buffalo from 1998-2000.
“Winning is a team stat in my opinion,” Allen said. “Obviously the last two years we’ve had a pretty good squad and guys doing the right things, and that usually relates to the wins.”
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