ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Whether there is tangible carryover from a strong finish to a season into the following year is debatable, but that is not keeping the Buffalo Bills from preaching about the potential momentum generated if they can close out 2013 on a three-game winning streak.
"I believe so," veteran running back Fred Jackson said. "I think you can always build on things from year to year and being able to win and have a winning record in the division and a three-game winning streak going into the offseason is something that I think can definitely motivate a team into getting better and picking out positive things to lean on.
"The way you played last year is something that gets you started in the right direction going into 2014, so I think a lot of guys are focused on that and hopefully we can go out there and continue to play as well as we have and get a win in New England."
The Bills haven't won three games in a row since 2011. They hadn't won two in a row since weeks 2-3 of the 2012 season, but after whipping Miami 19-0 last week, they have a chance to finish with a 4-2 record in the AFC East, something they haven't achieved since 2007. Of course, they have to get past their arch nemesis, the Patriots, in order to do it. New England has never lost to Buffalo at Gillette Stadium, it has lost to the Bills only once in the past 20 meetings and quarterback Tom Brady is now 23-2 in his career against his favorite opponent.
"We can start with being the only team in our division to have a winning record," coach Doug Marrone said, laying out the achievements his team seeks this week. "That would be important for what we want to be able to build on. Winning three games in a row, being a Buffalo team that's gone out there in the new stadium that can win and have the opportunity to win up there which would be a great challenge for us. Really just trying to change things.
"We have been making them, but this is an important one. It's our last time out and we understand that. It's the last time the 2013 Buffalo Bills football team is going to play together as a team. We're in a league that is constantly changing, there is change everywhere and we're together and we want to go out and win a game."
Safety Jairus Byrd said winning the last game of the season is always a positive, but because the opponent is the mighty Patriots, this one has a little added luster attached.
"It would be really, really good," said Byrd. "Like we were talking about building for the future, that is a big step in the right direction. I think that's what we need to do. It shows them that we're heading in the right direction and that we're putting things together. A lot of our games, you look back and we would kick ourselves over some of the losses we've had (to New England)."
Such as the season opener back in September when the Bills led the whole way until Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski hit a game-winning field goal with five seconds left. The Bills twice let Brady convert critical third downs on the winning drive and were, as usual, unable to make the key play when it mattered most.
That was Marrone's first game as head coach, and now, as he closes in on the end of his first season, he believes his team has made huge strides, even though the 6-9 record is obviously unsatisfactory and will result in a 14th straight year out of the playoffs.
One stride that hasn't been huge, though, is quarterback play. The Bills have been mediocre all year, which is not a surprise given that two rookies (EJ Manuel and Jeff Tuel) and a former practice squad player who had one career start before this season (Thad Lewis) played the position.
Manuel sat out the Miami game with another knee injury and watched Lewis direct his second victory of the year over the Dolphins. Manuel practiced Tuesday, and Marrone said he would be re-evaluated Thursday before he determines whether the rookie will be able to play against the Patriots. If he can't, it would be a supremely disappointing end to Manuel's season.
He has started 10 games and finished nine, a sample size that leaves his first-year grade at incomplete. Playing against the Patriots would have been important because it's one more opportunity to evaluate the player whom the Bills are hoping is their quarterback of the future.
If he can't go, Lewis will play. He's nothing more than a backup, and for most Bills fans, he's a player the team should take a serious look at replacing in favor of a more accomplished veteran at the position given Manuel's apparent injury-prone nature.
"I'm going to take a look again," Marrone said Tuesday of Manuel's workout. "We've got a day's rest. He went out there and threw well. We're just going to rest him a little bit and come back Thursday and see how his mobility is going."
-- It looks as if wide receiver Stevie Johnson's season is over. His mother passed away suddenly at the age of 48 on Dec. 14, and following the next day's game at Jacksonville he flew to Northern California. However, her funeral is not taking place until Friday, and Johnson has remained at home, so Marrone isn't counting on him again this week against New England.
"I've had correspondence with Stevie and obviously again I'm going to reiterate that our thoughts and prayers are with him," said Marrone. "His mom's funeral is the 27th. With that being said, I think it's very difficult as far as the availability issue of him being available for Sunday."
-- WR Marquise Goodwin practiced after hurting his knee against Miami, and it seems as if he'll be able to play.
-- SS Aaron Williams remains sidelined with bruised ribs.
-- RB Fred Jackson was given a rest day due to his sore ribs.