ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Having apparently been kept in the dark since being drafted by the Bills, rookie cornerback Tre’Davious White was genuinely curious about Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s career-long dominance of Buffalo.
“Uh, no, I don’t know the record. What is it?” the first-round draft pick asked.
He was informed of Brady going 26-3 against his AFC East rival, and needing one more win to break Brett Favre’s record (set against Detroit) of most victories by a quarterback against one opponent.
“Phew,” he said. “Yeah, that’s a good winning percentage.”
Impressed as White might be, the numbers ultimately didn’t matter much.
“I don’t care about it because I wasn’t here,” he said, while noting much of Buffalo’s roster has changed under first-year coach Sean McDermott. “We’ve got pretty much a new core of guys, including myself. So we’ll see how it goes.”
Youthful enthusiasm prevails at a time the Bills (6-5) attempt to keep pace in the AFC playoff picture while hosting an opponent on Sunday they’ve defeated five times in their past 34 meetings.
“I understand what you’re getting at there,” McDermott said, referring to Buffalo’s struggles against New England. “What I’m most focused on right now is the game this weekend.”
Buffalo has regained some semblance of momentum following a 16-10 win at Kansas City , which snapped a three-game skid in which the Bills were outscored 135-55, and allowed 1,242 yards offense. It didn’t help that McDermott’s decision backfired in benching quarterback Tyrod Taylor in favor of rookie Nathan Peterman, who threw five first-half interceptions in a 54-24 loss at the Los Angeles Chargers on Nov. 19.
The Patriots (9-2) have won seven in a row and set an NFL record by clinching the team’s 17th consecutive winning season following a 35-17 win over Miami . It’s a run during which Brady has completed 176 of 253 attempts for 1,975 yards with 16 touchdowns and three interceptions.
The Patriots’ revamped defense has rebounded by not having allowed more than 17 points in its past seven games after giving up an average 32 in its first four.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick is the master when it comes to dismissing the past, whether coming off a win or loss, by insisting he’s focused solely on the next opponent. He even balked at saying anything positive about Brady during a conference call with Buffalo-area reporters.
“I’m sure there are other people that can talk about other historical things and our team and the league and our players and all that,” Belichick said. “We’re trying to get ready for Buffalo, and that’s a big task.”
A number of things to look out for; the two teams meet again in three weeks at New England:
RED-ZONE FOCUS: The Patriots struggled to produce touchdowns in the red zone early this season. Only twice in their first 10 games did they score touchdowns on 75 percent or more of their possessions inside the 20-yard line.
That changed in last week’s win over Miami, when New England went 5 for 5 with five TDs and no field goals. Including field goals, the Patriots are 18 for 18 in the red zone over their last four.
SUSTAINING DRIVES: The Bills’ offense is still struggling to stay on the field under Taylor. He was benched after Buffalo managed 99 net yards and four first downs through 55 minutes in a 47-10 loss to New Orleans on Nov. 12. Against the Chiefs, the Bills combined for 81 yards and four first downs on five second-half drives.
“That’s all third-down situations. We had three, three-and-outs,” coordinator Rick Dennison said. “We need to stay on the field. We know that.”
JOB SECURITY: McDermott won’t commit to Taylor starting beyond this weekend, while saying he has full confidence in his quarterback.
“My job is to focus on winning games, preparing myself and getting this team ready,” Taylor said when asked how he interprets McDermott’s mixed message. “I don’t necessarily put my mind on those comments.”
LEWIS HITS STRIDE: It’s been a long road back for Patriots running back Dion Lewis, who missed parts of the last two seasons with knee injuries.
After a slow start this year, he has become New England’s most consistent threat out of the backfield. Lewis has had at least 10 carries in the each of the past six games, and leads the Patriots with 498 rushing yards and a 5.1 yard per carry average — both career highs. He’s also second on the team with three rushing TDs (also a career best), to go along with one kickoff return for a score.
TURNOVER TIME: In six wins, the Bills have 15 takeaways (five fumbles, 10 interceptions), while turning the ball over just twice. In five losses, Buffalo has four takeaways (two fumbles, two interceptions), while turning over the ball 11 times.