ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Bills safety Corey Graham was attending high school in Buffalo and has only a vague recollection of the blockbuster trade his hometown team made to acquire Drew Bledsoe from New England in April 2002.
Bledsoe was the established star and expected to fill Buffalo’s long-term need at quarterback. Tom Brady, meanwhile, was still an emerging quantity after filling in for an injured Bledsoe and helping the Patriots win a Super Bowl that year.
What amuses Graham in retrospect is being reminded of Bledsoe arriving at the Bills headquarters by police escort and greeted by thousands of fans and a marching band.
“Ha, ha, ha,” he said. “It just shows, they held a parade for Bledsoe, and look at Tom. Tom turned out to be one of the best to ever do it.”
Acquired for a first-round draft pick, Bledsoe lasted three seasons in Buffalo and failed to lead the team to the playoffs during what’s become a 16-season playoff drought — the league’s longest active streak.
In the meantime, Tom Terrific has spent much of these past 15 seasons being the bane of the NFL, and Buffalo in particular.
Brady is 25-3 overall against Buffalo, with a chance to match the NFL record for most wins by a quarterback against one opponent on Sunday, when the Patriots (6-1) play at the Bills (4-3). Brett Favre won 26 games against Detroit.
It’ll be Brady’s first and only regular-season meeting against his AFC East rival after he sat out a 16-0 loss at Foxborough on Oct. 2 while serving his “Deflategate” suspension.
“I’m back,” Brady said during a conference call with Buffalo reporters.
And the 39-year-old might be playing better than ever.
In three wins, Brady is 76 of 101 for 1,004 yards with eight touchdowns and no interceptions.
He credited the Bills for how they performed in beating a New England team with rookie Jacoby Brissett filling in quarterback. And he dismissed questions of having any added motivation to redeem the loss or bitter feelings over the suspension .
“You know, I don’t even think about it,” Brady said. “It’s just about doing what my job is.”
Bills cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman has plenty of respect for Brady, but refuses to get caught up in the quarterback’s aura.
“Even though that one person is the centerpiece of the whole organization, he’s still just that one person,” Robey-Coleman said. “I mean, I’m not going to say he’s God, because there’s only one of those to me.”
A number of things to watch out for as New England attempts to avoid being swept by a division rival for the first time in 15 years:
BLUNTING BLOUNT: The Bills gave up 256 yards rushing to the Dolphins, including 214 alone to Jay Ajayi, in a 28-25 loss at Miami . They face a Patriots run attack led by LeGarrette Blount, who had a season-best 127 yards and scored twice in a 27-16 win at Pittsburgh .
“I’m not really worried about Blount,” defensive tackle Marcell Dareus said. “As long as we do our assignments, fill our gaps, feel out the plays … he has nowhere to go, so it’s not a big deal.”
Dareus is expected to make his season debut. He missed the past three games with a hamstring injury, and sat out the first four serving a suspension.
GRONK: Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski has an opportunity to set a few franchise records in his old backyard. From Buffalo, Gronkowski is tied with Stanley Morgan for most career touchdowns receiving (67) and career TDs (68) in team history.
In purchasing about 20 tickets for family and friends, he noted he’s not focused on setting any records.
“That’s the last thing I’m thinking about,” Gronkowski said. “When it happens, if it happens, there’s another time to talk about it. But as of right now, I’m just focused on the Bills.”
He has 47 catches for 704 yards and 10 TDs in 10 games against Buffalo.
PRE-GAME FIREWORKS: An altercation erupted between players an hour before kickoff at New England when Brissett and rookie receiver Malcolm Mitchell jogged through the Bills’ defensive back drills.
Robey-Coleman warned the Patriots from doing it again on Sunday, but doesn’t expect that from Brady.
“Tom is a pro,” he said. “So I’m pretty sure that he’s not going to give us that ammunition.”
PICKOFFS: The Patriots have yet to throw an interception this season, their longest streak since an eight-game stretch in 2010. The NFL record for most games to start season without throwing interception is nine, set by Cleveland in 1960.
The Bills have six interceptions, four of them in a 33-18 win over Arizona on Sept. 25. Buffalo has also forced six fumbles and turned over the ball just four times to rank tied for second with a plus-8 turnover margin.
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