ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. - Stevie Johnson thinks the undefeated New England Patriots are still ahead of unbeaten Buffalo despite what the standings say. So he knows if the Bills want to show the football world they are for real, the litmus test will be Sunday when the two AFC East rivals meet.
"If we want to change things around here, this is where we've got to start," Johnson said Monday, a day after Buffalo's thrilling 38-35 comeback win over the Oakland Raiders. "We know that they're the team above, but we feel like we can go out there and beat these guys."
Saying they think they can beat the Patriots (2-0) and actually doing it, though, have been two totally different items, as Tom Brady and Co. have strung together 15 consecutive wins over the Bills. But No. 16 may not come easy, as Buffalo (2-0) enters armed with the seventh-ranked offence thanks in large part to the inspired play of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and running back Fred Jackson.
Fitzpatrick has thrown for seven touchdowns already, joining Hall of Famer Jim Kelly as the only two quarterbacks in team history to toss for seven or more scores in the first two games. Jackson, meanwhile, leads the league in rushing with 229 yards, and his 43-yard scamper to the end zone Sunday in the third quarter ignited Buffalo's rally from an 18-point halftime deficit.
The Bills are also tops in the NFL in red zone efficiency, registering eight scores in 10 trips inside the opponent's 20-yard line. Their 79 points are also the most in the league.
"In terms of the points, it's a tough pace to keep up," Fitzpatrick said. "We know we're not going to go out and score 39, 40 points a game.
"It starts with the guys up front, and I think that's what is getting us going and allowing plays to happen."
As good as the Bills offence has been early on, the Patriots have been that much better. They have the top-ranked offensive attack, with Brady being as good as ever.
In Sunday's win over San Diego, he became the first player in NFL history to follow a 500-yard passing performance with a 400-yard game.
"With Brady, it has to be one play at a time because he's going to make plays," defensive lineman Kyle Williams said. "If you get caught up on junk that happened before, I think that's when he burns you."
It won't help Buffalo that Fitzpatrick will be short a weapon against New England, with Roscoe Parrish already ruled out because of a left ankle injury sustained in the second quarter Sunday against Oakland. Coach Chan Gailey said Parrish's injury is more longterm, which could force the Bills into placing him on injured reserve in order to sign a free agent receiver or call one up from their practice squad since they only have four healthy ones.
Parrish is expected to undergo further tests later this week to get the true extent of the problem.
"He's a big part of what we do and what we wanted to do," Fitzpatrick said. "That's going to be hard for us."
Right guard Kraig Urbik will also be out at least two weeks because of a left knee injury.
Without those two, the Bills are still ready to see how they measure up against a team they haven't beaten since a 31-0 blowout win at home to open the 2003 season.
"It'll be a great test for us," Jackson said. "They're a great team and they've established themselves as a great team, but we feel like we're a good team, too.
"It will be a good way for us to establish ourselves as one of the best teams in the league if we can go out and get this win this weekend."