In discussing how the Buffalo Bills cope with losing AFC East games so often, center Eric Wood evoked the definition of insanity.
“It’s tough,” Wood said. “We’ve struggled in the division, and it hurts us.
“You just go back and go to work and try to come up with a different game plan next time. You can’t just keep repeating the same mistakes or things that have gotten you beat in the past.”
The Bills enter Thursday night’s game against the Miami Dolphins in Ralph Wilson Stadium on an eight-game losing streak in the division. They’ve dropped all three of their AFC East matchups this year, including Sunday’s heartbreaking defeat to the New England Patriots.
A team’s goal every season is to win its division because that’s the only way to guarantee a playoff berth.
But the Bills continue to stumble against their most important opponents. They’re 2-13 in the division since Chan Gailey became coach, 3-13 with Ryan Fitzpatrick as the starting quarterback and 23-56 since the Bills last went to the playoffs.
It has driven the fans crazy.
“It’s frustrating,” Bills receiver Stevie Johnson said. “We talk a lot about turning the corner and trying to be that team.
“We got a great team in this locker room. You look at it on paper and all that, and it is great. But we’re still getting losses. It’s time to turn it around.”
While it’s understandable for one team to have your number in any league, the Bills are routinely victimized by all three of their AFC East opponents.
The Bills have losing records against each rival from 2000 onward (including 0-4 vs. the Colts before divisions were realigned after the 2001 season). Gailey never has beaten the New York Jets and is 1-5 against the Patriots. His best divisional record is 1-3 against the Dolphins.
This year’s expectations have made the losses sting even more. The Bills spent big money to acquire defensive end Mario Williams, signed defensive end Mark Anderson away from the Patriots and drafted cornerback Stephon Gilmore in the first round to cope with Tom Brady.
They haven’t closed the gap.
“We’ve made moves the past couple years to shore up games in the division, and it hasn’t quite worked out yet,” Wood said.
Rather than compete for the AFC East title as they’d hoped, the Bills must win both remaining games against the Dolphins and beat the Jets in their rematch merely to break even in the division this year.
Hall of Fame outside linebacker Andre Tippett knows both ends of the spectrum. The Patriots drafted Tippett in 1982, and they went to the playoffs three times in his first five seasons, reaching the Super Bowl once.
Then the Patriots walked into that AFC East buzz saw of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. In a division loaded with superstar quarterbacks, the Patriots went through seven dark seasons in which they averaged six victories.
“You all go through training camp thinking, ‘This is going to be the year,’ ” Tippett said Wednesday. “We go through the draft and some minicamps and then July comes around and you’re looking at your team with the goal of ‘Let’s win our division first, and then we’ll see what happens from there.’ ”
Tippett then laughed at the thought of how those Patriots teams fared despite their lofty aspirations.
“Knowing that we had to play Dan Marino and Kenny O’Brien and Jim Kelly and that whole group,” Tippett said, “and it’s, like, ‘How do you get around all this stuff? How do we pull it together?’
“You don’t. You’ve got to figure out a way to keep up. You had to go into each one of those games and play like there was no tomorrow because you couldn’t even split with those guys.”
That the Bills’ 12-year playoff drought is taking place during the Patriots’ ongoing reign of dominance under Bill Belichick isn’t a total coincidence. No AFC East team has had a better record than the Pats since 2000.
The Dolphins and Jets, however, have had their opportunities despite rebuilding multiple times.
Miami won the AFC East on a tiebreaker in 2008 and has been to the playoffs three times with two head coaches since Buffalo stopped going. New York has been to the playoffs six times with three head coaches in that stretch.
Miami and New York each has posted four seasons with double-digit victories since Buffalo’s last playoff berth. Buffalo has had zero.
Based on win percentage and margin of victory, the Bills actually have gotten worse in AFC East games the past few years. Gailey has the worst divisional record of Buffalo’s 21st century head coaches.
Gregg Williams won 22.7 percent of his divisional games, losing by an average of six points. Mike Mularkey had the most success at 41.7 percent, losing by an average of three points.
Dick Jauron won 38.1 percent of the time and lost by an average of five points.
Gailey has won 13.3 percent of his AFC East games. The average score has been 34-19.
“Any time you’re playing someone in the division you get a little extra cranked up because you know how much they mean,” Wood said. “To have had such poor production, it’s deflating. ... It’s something we definitely need to change in a hurry if we’re going to move forward.”