The New England Patriots know a home field advantage when they see it. After all, the six-time world champions play in one of the most feared venues in all of football — one that teams hardly want to visit come the regular season, let alone playoff time. Gillette Stadium is not the only arena in the AFC East, however, that has built a reputation throughout the years. Enter New Era Field in Orchard Park, just south of Buffalo.
The Patriots will visit the Buffalo Bills’ home turf on Sunday in a battle of unbeaten division rivals, and they will also have to go against one of the most raucous home crowds in the entire NFL. The so-called “Bills Mafia” will certainly come out in full force against a team that has not lost in its stadium since the 2011 season, which means that that the Patriots will also have to be prepared for what will be a hostile environment.
“The atmosphere is awesome,” Patriots safety Devin McCourty said earlier this week when talking about the Bills’ home stadium. “I think as an away team, if you like that type of atmosphere where everybody’s against you, you know it’s going to be just you and your guys there for three hours trying to get a win. When you can get a win in that environment, I think it builds great character. It bonds a team together.”
“But it’s going to be tough,” he continued. “We know how hard it is. We went there last year on Monday night. It was a back and forth, low scoring, tough game. I think that’s the type of battles they want to have there, and the crowd was in it from the beginning to the end. So, we know it’s going to be the same type of game Sunday. They’ll be ready to go. I think this is only their second home game anyway, and it’s a division game coming.”
Playing in Buffalo is nothing new for McCourty, who registered an interception return for a touchdown the last time the Patriots visited. Sunday’s game will be the team captain’s tenth road game against the Bills, and he and his club have been quite successful in the previous nine: New England lost only one — the 2011 contest mentioned above — and is entering the contest on a seven-game winning streak.
Quarterback Tom Brady has been a part of all those games, and is entering this year’s meeting with the Bills with an impressive 15-2 career record when playing in Buffalo. He draws some extra motivation from going against one of the NFL’s loudest and most dedicated fan bases: “I think it’s always gratifying when you go in there and then by the end of the game, you look up and there’s only Patriots fans left. I always think that’s pretty cool.”
Until that point is reached, however, New England will need to silence the home crowd first — and both Brady and McCourty know that this will not be an easy task. “To go on the road in the NFL is tough, and certainly early in the game, after their pregame tailgate when they’re a little fired up. So, they’re pretty into it, they’re pretty loud and we’ve got to go out and we’ve got to execute early,” said Brady.
“They’ll be in there breaking tables probably from 8 a.m. all the way throughout. So, we’ll get their best shot on the field and their fans,” added McCourty when talking about the challenges of going up against the Bills players and the up to 70,000 people supporting them. Considering that the top spot in the AFC East is at stake, though, one could not envision a better atmosphere for the contest.