Bills prep to say goodbye for good to Patriots’ Bill Belichick


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Tom Landry and George Halas maintained gravitas in their fedoras and tailored suits. Square-jawed Don Shula was all business in his tinted glasses and collared shirt. Bill Walsh struck a grandfatherly tone with his snow-white hair, sweater and khakis.

Then, there’s Bill Belichick. For two decades, a rumpled appearance belied his superiority. His wardrobe remains scissored hoodies and ratty T-shirts. His comb probably is four fingers dragged over his scalp. He still appears miserable at all times, a ghoul dressed to the upside-down nines.

These days, Belichick’s team looks like he does.

That’s why this might be the last time he faces the Buffalo Bills as head coach of the New England Patriots. Once considered an unkillable fixture, the Bills can help vanquish him Sunday in Highmark Stadium. Rumors have been hot and heavy throughout New England that owner Robert Kraft will part ways with Belichick after a wretched season. If the gossip proves true, depending on whether Belichick retires or assumes control of another club, then this could be the last time his visage darkens Orchard Park.

“The one thing I’ve learned in this league,” Bills center Mitch Morse said, “is to expect the unexpected. Until I see that …

“He’s been one of the most frustrating guys to play against, such a masterful mind on the defensive front. I have the utmost respect for what he’s done and what he continues to do.”

Belichick has been a menace for the entire league, but his division dominance is unprecedented. New England has won 16 AFC East championships since the NFL realigned divisions in 2002 and 17 total under Belichick. The next closest coaches are Landry, Shula and Andy Reid at 13 division titles apiece. Belichick won 11 in a row until Buffalo stopped the streak in 2020.

Sean McDermott’s boys need a victory to keep their hopes robust for a fourth straight AFC East crown.

Belichick’s mystique alone is reason enough not to take New England for granted. The man has been a head coach in nine Super Bowls, three more than any other franchise.

“I look forward to it,” Bills right tackle Spencer Brown said. “I’m glad he’s in our division. I enjoy going against those legends, coaches with that kind of background. It’s always a fun game to look across the field and think, ‘Holy … That’s Bill Belichick.’ I feel the same way when I got to play against Tom Brady in Tampa and Aaron Rodgers in real life.

“When you leave the game and you’re driving home, you think, ‘Man, I just played Bill Belichick.’ It hits home a little bit harder when you play against those guys.”

The Patriots have won only four games and are 13-point underdogs Sunday, but the Bills choked against them in Week 7, when since-benched quarterback Mac Jones orchestrated a last-minute, winning touchdown drive.

Even through a rough year, Bill Belichick’s Patriots found a way to best the Buffalo Bills again with Week 7’s upset win. (Kathryn Riley / Getty Images)
Nobody has beaten Buffalo more often than Belichick. As New England’s coach, he is 37-11 against Buffalo and 104-42 against the entire division. He needs 15 more victories to surpass Shula for the NFL record, including the postseason. Shula jacked up his record against the Bills, too, going 35-20. Shula swept the entire 1970s, the 20 consecutive wins an NFL record against any one opponent.

Might Belichick hold diabolical powers over Buffalo and foil their fortunes one last time?

“We’ve grown as a group collectively,” Bills quarterback Josh Allen. “I don’t want to take credit away from them. Their defense is playing at a very high level. They’ve got guys that are smart. They can play multiple positions. They’re rushing the passer very well right now. It’s a Bill Belichick-coached team. So we’ve got to take that into account.

“The fact that we lost game one, I think, shows we’ve got to put our best stuff on the field or we’re not going to win this game. Frankly, it’s a game that we need to win. They know that. We know that. If I’m in the New England Patriot locker room, I’m looking to ruin (Buffalo’s season). An opponent’s hopes are on the line, a division rival. They’re going to be ready to go; I can guarantee that. So that, in turn, makes us ready to go as well. With the guys we have in this locker room, there’s very little doubt we will be ready to go.”

For all the demerits, Belichick has cobbled together a formidable defense. New England ranks sixth in yards allowed per play. Opponents are averaging an NFL-worst 3.2 yards per carry, which would be the lowest in 10 seasons if the number holds up. Buffalo, meanwhile, has made a concerted effort to run the past two weeks. Allen completed just 22 passes combined while beating the Dallas Cowboys and Los Angeles Chargers.

After stunning the Bills in Gillette Stadium, the Patriots lost five straight games, but have won two of their past three, doubling their win total with road upsets over the Pittsburgh Steelers and Denver Broncos.

“Their record doesn’t show it,” Brown said, “but you have to respect them and need a good game plan. You have to pay attention to the details, be disciplined and execute. We’ve played them so much that you know what they’re going to do, and they know what you’re going to do.”

The mere sight of Belichick can be triggering. Bills fans will be nervous Sunday because of the stakes. While the New York Times’ playoff simulator says the Bills have an 89 percent likelihood of getting in, there’s a 24 percent likelihood of winning the AFC East.

With a quarter century of bad memories against the Patriots to draw from, it’s easy to imagine them making some crazy play on special teams — long a Belichick hallmark — jumping out to an early lead and putting Highmark Stadium on edge about ruining what can transpire next Sunday in Miami Gardens.

That’s all part of Belichick’s cruel mystique around these parts, and wonderful bonus for Bills fans if they can watch him get bounced in his last potential appearance.

Brown, who turns 26 in February and doesn’t have children, knows he’ll be talking about games such as these for the rest of his life regardless of what happens.

“Wherever he goes, whenever he leaves — if he leaves — it’s going to be different,” Brown said, “not playing against him or seeing him in those Patriots colors.

“I don’t know if he’ll still be coaching when I have kids because he’s one of those guys you imagine being in the NFL forever, but they’ll know who he is.”

Should auld acquaintance be forgot?

That's the question we ask in song each New Year's Eve. This year, in Buffalo, the question carries extra weight.
Bill Belichick is coming to Highmark Stadium, where his Patriots will put the New England into New Year's Eve. He's about as auld an acquaintance as Buffalo Bills fans have. Belichick was the New York Giants' defensive coordinator when they slowed the Bills' K-Gun offense in Super Bowl XXV. He has been head coach of the Pats since, oh, the beginning of this millennium. And, as if you need reminding, he has had more than a little success against the Bills.

Sunday's visit is potentially his last here as the Pats’ coach. Speculation runs rampant that his tenure with the team will end soon after this season does. Folks in New England spend so much time reading those tea leaves that they have enough for another Boston Tea Party.

Greg Bedard, of Boston Sports Journal, said on radio the other day that Pats owner Robert Kraft is "quote-unquote conflicted" about what to do. But if Belichick is a goner in New England, he'll likely end up coaching elsewhere. He's still Bill Belichick, after all, and some coach-needy NFL teams are bound to have him at the top of their wish lists.

Then there is the small matter of the career wins record for NFL coaches. Don Shula — speaking of auld Buffalo antagonists — is alone in first place with 347 wins, including playoffs. Belichick is in second with 333. He wants to coach until he passes Shula. Not that he says so out loud, but longtime observers say of course he wants that.
Bob Ryan, "the quintessential American sportswriter," as Tony Kornheiser calls him, spoke on Kornheiser's podcast this week. Ryan called Belichick's pursuit of Shula "the elephant in the room." Then he corrected himself; the better metaphor, he said, is "the white whale."

The reference, of course, is to Herman Melville's "Moby-Dick." (Steelkilt, one of the novel's minor characters, is "a desperado from Buffalo.") We think of Belichick as a villain here in Western New York, but Bob Ryan is a New Englander's New Englander, and his metaphor fashions Belichick as a baddie. (Captain Ahab, not the monstrous whale, is the real villain of this Great American Novel.)

We have heard so much about Belichick's becoming the winningest coach in NFL history that it almost obscures his quite likely becoming the losingest coach first. Tom Landry has the most NFL coaching losses, including playoffs, with 178. Belichick's 11 losses this season give him 176.

To be fair, it takes great coaches to be high on the list of losingest. They are the only ones who stick around long enough to amass so many wins and losses.

"This season has been lousy in so many ways," wrote Chad Finn in the Boston Globe this week about the four-win Pats. "Belichick did a poor job of building the roster over the last several years. We know these things. That he's won two of the last three games — beating Mike Tomlin and Sean Payton — with this damaged roster feels like a surprise. But it shouldn't. Belichick is a tremendous coach, still."

Few hereabouts doubt that. The Bills have lost to the Pats once already this season. Another loss could sink their season. If Bills fans are honest, this has them a tad nervous.
"Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?" That is the rhetorical question in the first line of "Auld Lang Syne," the old Scottish song title that means "Old Long Since." Or, more colloquially, "for old times' sake."

So once more, for old times' sake, it is Bill versus the Bills. That dynamic, for far too long, has mostly meant Captain Ahab versus some lesser whale. The game on New Year's Eve could change all that. Or not.

"We'll take a cup o' kindness yet," the song goes. That means raising a glass with kind regard in remembrance of noble deeds. And who has had more of those in NFL history than the head coach who's won six Super Bowls?

Happy New Year, Bill, from all of your friends in Buffalo. We feel as conflicted as Robert Kraft in raising our glass to you, but here goes.
We offer a toast to you — and a hope that the Bills turn your team to toast come Sunday.