The Buffalo Bills felt they had turned a corner two years ago when they opened the 2003 season with a 31-0 victory over New England. They rode an emotional high into that contest after picking up strong safety Lawyer Milloy, who was cut just days earlier by the Patriots.
But since that game, the Bills are 0-5 against the Patriots and have been outscored 147-46, including Sunday's 35-7 debacle that dropped the Bills to 4-9 and officially eliminated them from the playoffs for a sixth consecutive season.
Overall under general manager Tom Donahoe, who took charge in 2001, Buffalo is 1-9 against the team it needs to catch and pass if it has any hope of making the playoffs again.
The Bills looked to have closed the gap on the Patriots with a 21-16 loss back on Oct. 30 in Foxborough, Mass., a game Buffalo led 16-7 with 10 minutes to play. But the gap has never looked wider than it does now, even with New England a modest 8-5 after dealing with an injury wave.
How far away are the Bills from contending with the Patriots?
"If we play like that, we're a long ways away," coach Mike Mularkey said. "If we hadn't had the chance to play them earlier in the year, I'd question ourselves, but we are better than that. We've played better than that, I should say, and we've responded better than that after tough losses. When we played them the last time, we were coming off a bad road loss (38-17 at Oakland) and we came back and played better in their place, but we didn't respond (this time)."
The Bills were coming off a heart-breaking 24-23 loss at Miami where they blew a 21-point lead, then endured a week of controversy that involved Donahoe calling an antagonistic fan a "jerk" on a radio show, followed by Mularkey's one-game suspension of popular wide receiver Eric Moulds for arguing with an assistant coach.
"It was a tough week, but you always have distractions," wide receiver Lee Evans said. "It really didn't play a huge role in this game. Obviously, missing Eric on the field, that speaks for itself. But distraction-wise, no. We just didn't play very well."
The Bills were woeful on both sides of the ball as the Patriots tallied numerous season statistical highs and some team records.
Buffalo, outgained 494 to 183 in total yards, had eight first downs to New England's 32. The Bills' total was the fourth-fewest in franchise history, and the Patriots' total was a New England record.
Buffalo rushed just 14 times for 12 yards, its fourth-fewest rushing attempts in a game and third-fewest yards. It was the second fewest rushing yards allowed in a game in New England history.
Mostly, the Bills were never in the game, falling behind 14-0 at halftime and 35-0 late in the fourth quarter. If not for two Tom Brady interceptions, it may have been 49-0.
"It's an embarrassment to everybody associated with the Buffalo Bills, to come out at our home stadium and perform the way we performed," linebacker London Fletcher said. "Collectively, they just kicked our rear ends."
The Bills have little time to feel sorry for themselves.
They host Denver (10-3) on Saturday night, wrapping up the home portion of their schedule.