ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Since the offseason, the Buffalo Bills have proclaimed their goal of winning the AFC East this season, with the acknowledgment that they needed to beat the New England Patriots to do so.
Midway into the season, they've proved themselves capable of doing both.
Buffalo snapped a seven-game losing streak to the Patriots with a 24-21 win Sunday, forcing a fumble on a promising Patriots drive in the game's final seconds. The win pushed the Bills to 4-0 in the AFC East and 6-2 overall, giving them a 3½-game lead over the slumping Patriots.
"It feels amazing," Bills safety Jordan Poyer said. "It feels good to be 4-0 in the AFC East, it feels good to come out with a victory at home. It was a grind. We didn't play the way we wanted to, but we got the victory."
It was the Bills' first win over New England since October 2016 and marked head coach Sean McDermott's first win over Patriots coach Bill Belichick after he lost in his first six tries.
McDermott downplayed Sunday's game throughout the week as nothing more than his team's next against a division opponent. That sentiment appears to have permeated throughout the locker room, as Bills players didn't believe their coach put any more stock into this game than any other contest.
"McDermott's not that kind of guy," safety Dean Marlowe said. "I think he's happy that we won the game -- and not specifically that it was the Patriots. Overall, a win is a win."
After the game, McDermott reaffirmed his stance that Sunday was simply the Bills' next game and nothing more; but the win didn't come easily.
Buffalo took a three-point lead over New England with just over four minutes left in the game, but the Patriots quickly drove downfield, reaching the Buffalo 19-yard line with 37 seconds left in the game. Bills defensive tackle Justin Zimmer forced a fumble by Patriots quarterback Cam Newton to end the drive, however, sealing the victory.
Although he wouldn't admit the game meant anything more to him, McDermott did say that he wishes Bills fans could have seen the win in person.
"It gets me emotional," he said. "We try to go though it one game at a time -- but we know. We know what this game means to our fan base."
Left tackle Dion Dawkins said he was happy for McDermott and proud to be part of the roster that helped earn his coach that first win over New England. Sunday marked Dawkins' first win against the Patriots, as well, and he equated the feeling to beating Penn State during his collegiate days at Temple.
Dawkins said the Penn State game felt like Temple's Super Bowl -- but he reiterated the Bills' mentality that this was a regular-season game just like any other.
"This isn't our Super Bowl -- it's just another game for us. We still have to beat them again," Dawkins said. "This is just a victory, and we know that we have to come with it the next time we play them."
Buffalo came close to beating New England in the 2019 season, losing both games by one score. The Bills got over the hump Sunday on the backs of Devin Singletary and Zack Moss, both of whom set season highs with 86 and 81 rushing yards, respectively. As a team, Buffalo ran for a season-high 190 yards against the Patriots' 27th-ranked run defense.
The Bills owned the eighth-best rushing offense in the NFL last season but struggled to run the ball through their first six games in 2020. After doing so effectively against the Jets in Week 7, Buffalo insisted on establishing the run Sunday.
"We came in here with a plan. We made a statement to run the ball today," Dawkins said. "The Patriots had a great plan, but we just kept it personal that we were going to run the ball today."
Now riding a two-game win streak after losing back-to-back games in Weeks 5 and 6, the Bills will host Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks in Week 9. Buffalo remains in the driver's seat in the AFC East, holding a 1½-game lead over the second-place Dolphins and a six-game lead over the last-place Jets.
With an 84% chance to win the division, per ESPN Stats & Information calculations, the Bills still have two division games remaining this season, wrapping up in Week 17 against Miami after a Week 16 rematch against the Patriots -- who the Bills expect will put up a similar, if not tougher fight the next time around.
"They don't handle losing very well over there," quarterback Josh Allen said, "so they'll find ways to come back from it."