1:00 PM ET, September 8, 2013
New Era Field, Buffalo, NY
Brady and the Patriots look to begin a march to their 10th AFC East title in 11 years Sunday when they visit first-year coach Doug Marrone and the Bills, who are aiming to end the NFL's longest playoff drought.
After finishing 12-4 and falling 28-13 to Baltimore in the 2012 AFC championship game, New England could be without its top five pass-catchers from that squad.
Rob Gronkowski has been practicing with the team after forearm and back surgeries, but the tight end didn't play in the preseason and isn't likely to play Sunday.
"I'm preparing every single day to the max of my ability, preparing every day to (do) the best I can," Gronkowski said. "And when my number's called, that's when I'll play. I can't tell you when that will be."
Free agent acquisition Danny Amendola has been battling a groin injury but is expected to be ready for the opener. Amendola had a career-high 85 catches while with St. Louis in his last full season in 2010 and is one of the veterans the Patriots are counting on, along with Julian Edelman.
Three rookies -- free agent Kenbrell Thompkins and draft choices Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce -- may also help fill the void at wideout, while free agent rookie Zach Sudfeld and veterans Michael Hoomanawanui and Matthew Mulligan could step in at tight end.
A lack of reliable options, however, could make it difficult for Brady to put up another big year. The two-time NFL MVP completed 401 of 637 passes for 4,827 yards with 34 touchdowns and eight interceptions in 2012, finishing just shy of back-to-back 5,000-yard seasons.
Brady has certainly had his share of success against the Bills, winning 20 of 22 starts while completing 65.0 percent of his passes and throwing 51 touchdowns and 17 interceptions.
Brady passed for 340 yards and three touchdowns and Stevan Ridley ran for 106 yards and two scores as the Patriots put up 45 second-half points en route to a 52-28 victory in their last trip to Buffalo on Sept. 30. Ridley finished with 98 yards and a touchdown in a 37-31 home win Nov. 11.
Ridley, who rushed for 1,263 yards and 12 touchdowns last season, will attempt to build on that breakout effort against a Buffalo defense that ranked 31st against the run in 2012 with 145.8 yards allowed per game.
The Bills, however, hope to be much improved after implementing a hybrid 3-4 scheme under former Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. They'll attempt to slow down the Patriots without starting cornerback Stephon Gilmore (broken wrist) and most likely two-time Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd (foot).
Marrone, who along with offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett helped build Syracuse into a formidable offense before joining the Bills, will go with Manuel to lead the team in his debut.
The No. 16 overall pick's status had been in question after undergoing what the team called a "minor procedure" on his left knee Aug. 18. He was injured two days earlier while scrambling in a 20-16 preseason win over Minnesota.
"I'd be lying if I'm sitting here saying, 'I don't expect him to do great things,'" said Marrone, who looks to guide the Bills to their first postseason appearance since 1999. "We expect not just EJ, but all of our players that are out there to perform at a very, very high level."
That includes running back C.J. Spiller, one of the team's bright spots during last year's 6-10 season. Spiller rushed for a career-high 1,244 yards and averaged 6.0 yards per carry, matching MVP Adrian Peterson for tops in the NFL among running backs.
Leading receiver Stevie Johnson finished with 79 catches during his third straight 1,000-yard season. The Bills have second-year player T.J. Graham, and they added rookies Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin to their receiving corps.
They'll try to stretch a New England defense that allowed 37 passing plays of 25 yards or more last season -- tied for the fourth-most in the NFL.
"McCourty, he's been a Pro Bowl player," Johnson said. "But I still think we can take advantage of their defense."
The Patriots have won 23 of 25 against the Bills.
More from ESPN.com
Welker: Not worried about brain 'exploding'
Retired wide receiver Wes Welker doesn't spend time worrying about potential long-term health ramifications, even though he once referred to himself as the "poster child" for concussions in the NFL.
Death of ex-Bills, IU WR Hardy ruled a suicide
The death of former Bills receiver James Hardy has been ruled a suicide, the Allen County (Indiana) Coroner's Office announced Wednesday.
Julian Edelman shares apology letter from former English teacher
The doubt way back when of Edelman's chances of reaching NFL stardom still resonates with at least one former teacher of the jocular two-time Super Bowl champion.
Most outsized contracts: Gostkowski stands out
Few will argue against Stephen Gostkowski among the best kickers in football, a fact reflected in his current deal with New England.
Recent Blog Posts
New England Patriots
- Duron Harmon is Patriots' No. 3 safety, but assumes a starter-type role
- Patriots' CB duo of Stephon Gilmore and Malcolm Butler has great potential
- Hair-raising story is one of Wes Welker's personal favorites
|Avg Points Allowed||21.0||23.0|
Team Averages & NFL Ranks
|TEAM OFFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|TEAM DEFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|Pass Yds Allowed||NE|
|Rush Yds Allowed||NE|
Head to Head Matchups (Since 2001)
|New England leads 24-2|
|Nov 11, 2012||NE 37, BUF 31|
|Sep 30, 2012||NE 52, @BUF 28|
|Jan 1, 2012||NE 49, BUF 21|
|Sep 25, 2011||NE 31, @BUF 34|
|Dec 26, 2010||NE 34, @BUF 3|
|Sep 26, 2010||NE 38, BUF 30|
|Dec 20, 2009||NE 17, @BUF 10|
|Sep 14, 2009||NE 25, BUF 24|
|Dec 28, 2008||NE 13, @BUF 0|
|Nov 9, 2008||NE 20, BUF 10|
|Nov 18, 2007||NE 56, @BUF 10|
|Sep 23, 2007||NE 38, BUF 7|
|Oct 22, 2006||NE 28, @BUF 6|
|Sep 10, 2006||NE 19, BUF 17|
|Dec 11, 2005||NE 35, @BUF 7|
|Oct 30, 2005||NE 21, BUF 16|
|Nov 14, 2004||NE 29, BUF 6|
|Oct 3, 2004||NE 31, @BUF 17|
|Dec 27, 2003||NE 31, BUF 0|
|Sep 7, 2003||NE 0, @BUF 31|
|Dec 8, 2002||NE 27, BUF 17|
|Nov 3, 2002||NE 38, @BUF 7|
|Dec 16, 2001||NE 12, @BUF 9|
|Nov 11, 2001||NE 21, BUF 11|
Julian Edelman (NE): 1st career game with 2+ Rec TD Entering today, Edelman had 4 career Rec TD.
According to Elias, EJ Manuel is the first Bills rookie to have 2 Pass TD in a season opener.
After missing two preseason games with minor knee surgery, EJ Manuel used the shotgun effectively to limit unnecessary movement in his debut. Manuel was 18-for-25 for 150 yards and both of his touchdowns out of the shotgun, while the Patriots put Manuel under duress on only 6-of-30 dropbacks Sunday.
Danny Amendola had 10 receptions for 104 yards and nine first downs in his Patriots' debut. Since the start of 2008, Wes Welker had at least nine first downs in a game twice in 77 games.[+]
Brady to Welker/Amendola, 2008-13 Seasons
Tom Brady has now thrown a TD pass in 49 straight games, the second longest streak in NFL history.
* Da'Norris Searcy (BUF): 74-yard fumble return TD was the 2nd longest such play in Bills history. Only David Kilson's 87-yard return against the Oilers on Sept. 25, 1983 was longer.
ESPN Stats & Information