Sometimes it’s okay to dislike GOATs. Here before you is a love letter, of sorts, to the idea of a Tom Brady-less NFL, now that he appears to have called it a career for real this time. Fans and league analysts, talk show hosts, and more have already begun discussing who they think will be the next GOAT, before the current one has his face bronzed for the world. While Brady didn’t make it to another Super Bowl before retiring, it’s nearly impossible to avoid discussing his career and legacy in the NFL around the big game. That’s especially so when a still-very-young Patrick Mahomes has already drawn comparisons to his greatness.
Why on Earth would I bother writing about Tom Brady in this space, the now-once-again former quarterback of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New England Patriots — who infamously and very publicly roasted Buffalo-area hotels? I hope to spark discussion and debate, and doing so on this topic is cathartic for what was often a very traumatic time to be a Bills fan. There’s a lot to discuss, considering Brady’s career began when the Bills still wore the proper classic red helmet with royal blue jerseys and white pants.
You’re Bills Mafia, and you know the Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots are no stranger to one another. Tom Terrific and One Bills Drive squared off over parts of 20 years and most of three days. In the NFL. Two torment-filled decades. You don’t need me to remind you of the very one-sided history favoring the Flying Elvi since Y2K was a serious concern (but I did, anyway).
J.P. Losman and a rotating cast of try-hard starting signal callers, the dark blue ‘aughts uniforms, and a penchant for fielding great running attacks. Mind you, those are just a few of the things that represented the reality of being a Bills fan during a very dark period of franchise history. I do also realize saying such things does a disservice to great Bills of that era in Fred Jackson, Lee Evans, Terrance McGee, Marshawn Lynch, Brian Moorman, and others too numerous to list here.
But there’s some good news! Thankfully, Buffalo wasn’t a part of Brady’s playoff legacy. Wait, is that good news? Interestingly, the Bills and Brady never faced off in the NFL playoffs. Maybe not so interesting because, for certain, that has everything to do with The Patriots and Brady’s success against Buffalo, and the team’s 17-year playoff drought. Suffice to say: They matched up like two peas in a rotten pod. Whoever said that competition brings out the best in people wasn’t aware of a future that would consist of Tom Brady vs. Buffalo. You see, most of these matchups were decided by halftime.
With that future now firmly in the past, let’s review the history Between the Buffalo Bills and Tom Brady. This was no rivalry, for such a thing would imply a shared success. It’s a relationship bested in time by little else in sports. I’ll provide cursory observations where memory serves best, because recalling all 36 matchups fails me at this point. Thankfully the encyclopedia of stats known as Pro Football Reference (PFR) has my back on the numbers. (Link provided so you can inform me when I misstep.)
For this exercise, QB wins will absolutely count as a valid stat. I’ve heard your complaints and I share them — but Brady’s a different dude, who transcends traditional stats.
Thomas Edward Patrick Brady carries a 33-3 record against the Bills into retirement. That’s a stat far too many of us can readily rattle off any day of the week. I bet most of Bills Mafia can recall those three defeats of Brady (and the Patriots), while wiping from memory nearly all of his victories against Buffalo.
In 36 games, Brady’s key career-average stats against the Bills were as follows:
21.4-of-33.3 for 251 yards, 2 TD, .7 INT / 1.8 times sacked for 10.8 yards / 2.4 rushes for 4.2 yards, 1.75 per att., .1 TD / .4 FUM, .2 FUM LOST, .11 FUM REC
You might find yourself saying “those stats don’t really jump off the page.” And for that, you’d be correct. But sometimes GOATs do GOAT things. They are a destructive force. GOATs erode the foundational soil, whisking away hope and opportunity for a prosporous future. But I digress. The reality is that Brady saved his best football for the biggest moments, and he decimated Buffalo time and again. There’s also this to consider...
With the New England Patriots, Tom Brady finished:
32-3, with 70 TDs and 25 INTs / 63.9 / CMP% / 97.9 QB Rating
Of Brady’s 335 total games played:
- 9.31% of his games played were versus Bills
- 7.61% of his wins came at Buffalo’s expense
- 9.9% of his passing yards were against Bills
- Buffalo surrended 9% of Brady’s touchdowns
Well, that’s awesome, right? We’re on to the head-to-head matchups.
Brady vs. Bills — select game-by-game observations
As mentioned above, instead of discussing all 36 games, I’ve chosen to focus on those that represented career highs and/or lows for Brady vs. Buffalo. These games are noted by green (highlights) and red (lowlights) in the eye chart below.
Game 1 vs. Bills (2001/11/11, Week 9): Brady gets the W, 21-11 — 1-0 vs. Buffalo
Brady’s career versus Buffalo got off to a magnificent start, by way of directing the Patriots to victory in his first game against New England’s Orchard Park, NY foes. It was, however, a career lowlight for him in terms of sacks taken and lost yards (7 for -36 yards). Former Bills running back Antowain Smith showed up big against his former employer.
Stat line: 15-of-21 for 107 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
Game 2 vs. Bills (2001/12/16, Week 14): Brady gets the W, 12-9 – 2-0 vs. Buffalo
Brady’s first road start was his first road victory, at the expense of the Bills. He won a messy game of field goals in overtime. The Bills should have had the lead in the fourth off a TD pass from Alex Van Pelt to Peerless Price, but they chose not to challenge what would have been a call in their favor.
Stat line: 19-of-35 for 237 yards, 1 INT
Game 3 vs. Bills (2002/11/03, Week 9): Brady gets the W, 38-7 — 3-0 vs. Buffalo
I don’t recall much of this game, but it stands as Brady’s highest competion percentage (84.62%) against Buffalo.
Stat line: 22-of-26 for 265 yards, 3 TDs
Game 5 vs. Bills (2003/09/03, Week 1): Brady finds an L, the wrong side of 31-0 — 4-1 vs. Buffalo
“The Lawyer Milloy Game.” “The Sam Adams Game.” The Bills made the cover of Sports Illustrated following this beatdown. New England had zero answers for Buffalo in losing 0-31. This loss was, of course, the worst of Brady’s career vs. the Bills — also true for his TD/INT ratio (0/4) and passer rating (22.5). It was also the last game he and the Patriots lost against the Bills until 2011.
Stat line: 14-of-28 for 123 yards, 0 TD, 4 INTs
Game 6 vs. Bills (2003/12/27, Week 16): Brady gets the W, the right side of 31-0 — 5-1 vs. Buffalo
Statement game. Clearly, Brady and the Patriots had revenge on their minds following the thrashing in Week 1. There was zero celebrating in Buffalo after New England won in identical fashion, 31-0. This game stands out as Brady’s most rushing yards and yards per carry versus the Bills (23 yards at 4.6 ypc). Clearly, Tom Brady was going to be a long-tenured problem from this point forward. Incredibly, there appears to be no footage from this beatdown.
Stat line: 21-of-32 for 204 yards, 4 TDs
Game 13 vs. Bills (2007/09/23, Week 3): Brady gets the W, 38-7 — 12-1 vs. Buffalo
Lucky number 13. Of course the Patriots won, and in doing so Brady established career highs vs. Buffalo in terms of passer rating (150.9), yards per attempt (10.72), and adjusted yards per attempt (13.48).
Stat line: 23-of-29 for 311 yards, 4 TDs
Game 14 vs. Bills (2007/11/18, Week 11): Brady gets the W, 56-10 — 13-1 vs. Buffalo
This game represented a clear and present danger. New England won huge and it wasn’t as close as Bill Belichick probably thought. Brady established his “vs. Bills” TD highmark here, tossing five scores — as well his largest margin of victory and highest score. This was the game when it felt as though things changed in terms of the abject misery that Brady (and Belichick as well the Patriots) rained down on all of Bills Mafia. Sure, there were prior blowout wins by New England, but this felt like Madden on easy, and Buffalo was the NPC.
Of all the losses in Buffalo Bills history, this 2007 defeat is up there among some of the worst for me. It sits just a tier below Super Bowls XXV-XXVIII, the myth in Tennessee, and even 13 seconds. What happened in Ralph Wilson Stadium that night meant that no athlete would face my (very distant) wrath more than Tom Brady. (Yes, I’m aware he could not care less, then or now.) Though somehow, this wasn’t due to the Bills’ ineptitude on the field — which was on clear display to all tuned in to NBC’s 8:15 p.m. broadcast. Though, what the actual _ _ _ _ was Dick Jauron thinking punting from their own 45 down 56-10 with 11 minutes to go in regulation?
You might recall what happened under the lights of Sunday Night Football, none of it good for the home team. The Patriots, looking for their 10th-straight win en route to an undefeated regular season, built an insurmountable lead by scoring touchdowns on their first seven offensive possessions, with a sixth coming off an insane fumble return TD. New England more than doubled Buffalo’s yards, 510 to 229, and the final score isn’t even indicative of just how bad things went for the Bills. Yet, somehow, things didn’t seem so bleak early, after J.P. Losman tossed a touchdown to Roscoe Parrish to make it a 14-7 game in favor of the Patriots. But Brady and Moss made other arrangements via four TD connections before halftime.
During the broadcast, Al Michaels and John Madden discussed how the Patriots were accused of running up the score on opponents, yet Michaels went on to say that Belichick “loves Dick Jauron.” I guess love meant allowing Brady to continue playing until Matt Cassel took over with just under 11 minutes in regulation, all while up by 46 points. It felt classless at the time and, sure, the sting has worn off a bit with the benefit of hindsight. But still... in that moment, it wasn’t a good look for a team that was already bullying the league. Years later Brady would declare it his best game ever.
Stat line: 31-of-39 for 373 yards, 5 TDs
Game 15 vs. Bills (2009/09/14, Week 1): Brady gets the W, 25-24 — 14-1 vs. Buffalo
Monday Night Football, aka “The McKelvin Game.” Brady’s first game back from a torn ACL came nearly one calendar year later, and against Buffalo. He had much to prove, and the Bills obliged him a narrow victory in Terrell Owens’ first game as a Bill. Somehow, Trent Edwards nearly quarterbacked the Bills to victory. Brady hit his Buffalo watermark in completions, with 39. This game was a feast for the eyes of those who love amazing throwback uniforms, due to the NFL’s celebration of the original AFL.
Stat line: 39-of-53 for 378 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Game 19 vs. Bills (2011/09/25, Week 3): Brady claims the L, 31-34 — 17-2 vs. Buffalo
“The Fitzy Game.” Also another Sport Ilustrated cover moment for Buffalo. Facing a 13-game losing streak, the Bills finally won a game against Brady and New England. The curse had lifted. Or had it? Interestingly, Brady tied his “vs. Bills” worst with 4 INTs. The last time he did so, was also the last time Buffalo won.
Stat line: 30-of-45 for 387 yards, 4 TDs, 4 INTs
Game 24 vs. Bills (2013/12/29, Week 17): Brady wins, 34-20 — 22-2 vs. Buffalo
A fairly nondescript victory for Brady and company against Thad Lewis and the Bills. What stands out most about this game was Brady punting for the second, and last time in his career. He booted a kick 32 yards, with no return. (He’d finish in the NFL with a pair of punts for 68 yards, allowing no return yards.)
Stat line: 14-of-24 for 122 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
Game 26 vs. Bills (2014/12/28, Week 17): Brady claims the L — 9-17, 23-3
The last time Brady would lose to Buffalo, this time in Foxboro, MA. The Bills snapped a 12-game losing streak at Gillette Stadium. New England also ended its 35-game home win streak against AFC teams, as well 16-game home win streak versus any NFL team. Choosing health for the playoffs instead of a meaningless victory having locked up the AFC East and first seed in the AFC, Belichick rested Brady in the second half, and it stood as the only game of that year Brady failed to throw a TD. Ultimately, this was preseason football for New England, which had much bigger plans than a win to close the regular season.
Of note for the Bills, the win fully cemented the franchise’s first winning season (9-7) since 2004 (9-7). They were elimintated from the playoffs in Week 16 at the hands of the Raiders.
Stat line: 8-of-16 for 80 yards
Game 27 vs. Bills (2015/09/20, Week 2): Brady gets the W, 42-30 — 24-3 vs. Buffalo
Bigger plans came up short during the previous season’s playoffs, but New England was ready to make amends for mailing it in last game against Buffalo. The Patriots claimed their second of 11 straight wins in a season that ended with another Lombardi Trophy as Super Bowl winners against the Seattle Seahawks. In victory against the Bills, Brady established “vs. Bills” career highs in attempts (59) and passing yards (466).
Stat line: 38-of-59 for 466 yards, 3 TDs
Game 34 vs. Bills (2019/09/29, Week 4): Brady gets the W, 16-10 — 31-3 vs. Buffalo
Brady and the Patriots won, but it was a forgettable day for New England as a whole. Brady established a “vs. Bills” career low completion percentage (46.15%) in the win. Matt Barkley would replace an injured Josh Allen. Things might have played out differently had Allen not not suffered a brutal head injury as the result of a dirty hit.
Stat line: 18-of-39 for 150 yards, 1 INT
Game 35 vs. Bills (2019/12/21, Week 16): Brady gets the W, 24-17 — 32-3 vs. Buffalo
Listed here for one reason only — Brady’s final game against the Buffalo Bills as a member of the New England Patriots. Buffalo lost on a last-second incomplete toss to the endzone by Josh Allen, which would have set them up for overtime.
Stat line: 26-of-33 for 271 yards, 1 TD
Game 36 vs. Bills (2021/12/12, Week 14): Brady gets the W, 33-27 — 33-3 vs. Buffalo
It took two years following Brady’s departure from New England, but this was of course his last game against Buffalo. It was also the first and last time he’d compete against quarterback Josh Allen. Remarkably, Brady would establish his “vs. Bills” high in rushing attempts with seven carries (for 16 yards) and a TD. This was an incredible game, despite the end result. The Buccaneers and Brady built a 24-7 lead, which they held late into the third quarter. Then the legend of Josh Allen took over for the rest of regulation as the Buffalo outscored Tampa Bay 20-3 to force overtime. Of course Brady found the right play for a walkoff touchdown, as wide recever Breshad Perriman proved too much for Tremaine Edmunds to cover. An instant classic game, in retrospect. The shame of it all is that the world needed more Brady vs. Allen matchups, if this one was indicative of things to come.
Stat line: 31-of-46 for 363 yards, 2 TDs
Brady vs. Bills general observations
- Brady never lost a home game to the Bills, in which he started and finished.
- Every time Brady lost to Buffalo, he played in the Super Bowl a few months later.
- From the moment Brady became a starter for the Patriots, the Bills shuffled through 18 different starting quarterbacks (when considering the “start” for Matt Cassel).
- Brady finished his career 5-0 vs. Josh Allen. The only Bills QBs he lost to were Drew Bledsoe (1), Ryan Fitzpatrick (1), and Kyle Orton (1).
- Brady posted a passer rating of 100 or better (per PFR) in 18 of 36 games, including his final game against Buffalo.
- While not known for his running, there were only five games against the Bills where Brady didn’t attempt a single run.
- Incredibly, one of Brady’s best running days came in the last game he faced the Bills, while with the Buccaneers.
- Things can always be worse: Brady missed five games against the Bills (sparing the team and fanbase), with the Patriots going 3-2 without him. However, one was in 2000 when he had yet to claim the starting gig. You might recall at least a few of those contests, notably the ones following his season-ending injury in Week 2 of 2008, and the one lost to suspension over soft footballs. Additionally, Brady never managed a perfect passer rating versus Buffalo.
- That game where Brady was suspended? That was 10/02/2016, and New England lost 0-16. He’d return in time to face Buffalo on 10/30, and it was anything but a Halloween treat. Brady dominated in winning 41-25.
Since informing the world a second time that he was hanging up his cleats, Brady has gone on to say that he could absolutely still play. Who are we to doubt him? Well, we have every reason to consider that he may not really be fully retired. He’s said he will start broadcasting with FOX Sports in 2024, which gives him more than enough time for another go at this football thing.
So before we begin gleefully singing songs about wicked witches and such, it may be wise to hold off the celebration until he’s wearing that gold jacket. There’s something about him that leads me to believe he’s stepping away until he can return to claim the title of oldest starting NFL player, all time, all positions. You know, just to mess with the kickers.
Tom Brady rightfully holds the title of GOAT, even when considering other legendary players such as Joe Montana, Peyton Manning, Jim Brown, Walter Payton, and so many others. Much of it has to do with the the absolute dominance and ownership he took of the Buffalo Bills. I, for one, am thankful for the end of the Brady era. May it stick this time.