As much as Rex Ryan would love to put away the New England Patriots every time they come up on the schedule, his players first have to stop shooting themselves in the foot. A quick scan of recent history between the two teams shows that, along with turnovers, penalties have been a major Achilles heel in the Buffalo Bills' pursuit of victory.
Even before this season's Week 2 loss, the Bills were flagged for eight penalties in a 2014 loss to the Patriots, 10 in their first loss in 2013, and 14 during their second loss in 2012. Earlier this season, the Bills and Patriots combined for 31 penalties - 25 of which were accepted, with 14 of those committed by Buffalo. More pressingly, the Bills had an inexcusable four personal foul penalties in the first half alone, helping New England to build an insurmountable lead.
Following the early-season explosion of dead ball penalties, Ryan led an initiative to crack down on unruly behavior from his team, and the mentality is taking hold in the locker room, as Sammy Watkins recently shared to The Associated Press.
"You can't blow that game up and be so hyped to where you go out and want to fight," Watkins said on Tuesday. "You got to stay level-headed throughout the whole game."
Since Ryan's wrist band initiative started, Buffalo's personal foul penalties have dropped from three per game to fewer than one per game. The penalties on special teams, however, as well as judgment calls like holding and pass interference, continue to show up week to week.
That being said, those judgment calls by their very nature depend on the referee calling them. Buffalo's Week 2 loss was officiated by Ronald Torbert's crew, which has trended as one of the higher-frequency penalty units in the NFL this year, per ESPN's Kevin Seifert.
Bills entered TNF averaging 12.9 penalties per game. Brad Allen’s low-frequency crew called 5. Tendencies matter. pic.twitter.com/ieRPnEAnQv— Kevin Seifert (@SeifertESPN) November 13, 2015
This week's matchup will be officiated by Gene Steratore's group, which called 3.125 fewer penalties per game through the first nine weeks of the season. That bodes well for Buffalo. So, too, does another trend in penalties: Buffalo averages only seven flags on the road this year, compared to 13 when playing at home. They're going to need these tendencies to go their way if they want to win in Foxboro.