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— The Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots just played a game that challenged all wisdom gained from the last decade before relenting like Indian Summer. Ryan Fitzpatrick — even with his interceptions — picked apart a Patriots defense that looked pedestrian. An opportunistic Bills defense caused turnovers even after they were touched for completions. The Bills stared down so many potential turning points until those points decided to stay in line. The Buffalo Bills were a bonafide NFL playoff team today against a New England team that could’ve easily been 3-0.
But, of course, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick did not go quietly and you could feel the tension in Ralph Wilson Stadium as the Patriots marched back to make it 21-14… then 21-21. By the time Fitz overshot Stevie Johnson with 2:03 to go in the third quarter and rookie punter Shawn Powell frittered a punt to the Pats 36, Bills fans were in full-fledged panic pessimism. When Brady and Gronkowski flipped the script, burning Bryan Scott for a 28-yard touchdown to end the third quarter, well…
Fitz and the Bills had a chance to respond down 28-21. Would they just give the top spot in the AFC East away before a two-game road trip? Would they contend in the fourth quarter in order to restore some semblance of their early game dominance?
— What happened to the rush defense? In terms of big games, this was rough.
The worst part? In the locker room after the game, the Bills defenders could not explain what happened. They just got bossed around by a bunch of backs who don’t carry fancy names like Trent Richardson or Jamal Charles. It was one of those losses that aren’t fixed by just one win. Worse, whatever New England did with a substandard offensive line and an average stable of backs (unless the SEC really is the gold standard of American football) could be exploited by Frank Gore next week if there isn’t a simple answer.
— I need a stronger term than surprised (flummoxed? astonished?) to describe the fact that the Bills tight ends were rocking the Patriots defense and not New England’s tight ends throttling the Bills D. I may make one up: Chandled. I was chandled by Scott Chandler’s mastery of New England’s defense.
— Massssssssssive fumble by CJ Spiller at the goal line that was — regardless of outcome — at least a three-point swing. Rian Lindell doesn’t miss 20-yard field goals.
— The Patriots opening touchdown drive contained frightening efficiency. Of the 10 plays on the drive, the minimum gain was four yards. No incompletions, no moments of “maybe” for the Bills defense… just backpedaling.
— The first incompletion of the game came when Vince Wilfork tipped a Ryan Fitzpatrick pass into the arms of Jerod Mayo. Before that Tom Brady and Fitz combined 10-for-10 for 123 yards.
— Fitz’s second interception, however, was an egregious one. T.J. Graham, who was drafted to run Lee Evans routes, blasted off down the right sideline and had at least five yards of separation from Devin McCourty. Unfortunately, the ball was underthrown by a bunch and McCourty made the pick. Fitz’s third pick could be written off as Stevie Johnson numbing his brain, but his fourth was again missed communication.
— Fitz and Johnson were not on the same page, though Stevie wouldn’t admit as much. Frighteningly, Johnson said he thought the Patriots out-worked the Bills. He was not pleased when challenged as to how his team could’ve been out-worked in a game where the implications of a loss were as clear as the September day.
— The Bills received seemingly good news when Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller were able to play, but neither was able to do much in the running game after Jackson’s initial 12-yard carry to open the game.
— Not only did New England spend the first three quarters forcing the Bills to pass, but they also sacked Fitzpatrick thrice.
— Young secondary watch: a bunch of poor moments as expected, but Aaron Williams had a nice break-up of a 3rd-and-8 pass intended for Brandon Lloyd that forced a field goal that Stephen Gostkowski missed wide right. Stephon Gilmore later put an excellent lick on Gronkowski to break-up a touchdown catch. Justin Rogers was lit up by Wes Welker all afternoon. Twasn’t pretty.
— Jairus Byrd seems to be recovering nicely from his early-season slump — at least as diagnosed by me. He caused and recovered a fumble by Rob Gronkowski at the Patriots 24 that allowed the Bills to take a shot at the end zone with just under 10 minutes to play in the first half.
— Chan Gailey, as football coaches like to do, used the opportunity to take a shot at the corner of the end zone. The “bonus” possession was a jump ball for Scott Chandler. Unlike the third-down play during the previous series, Chandler won the jump ball for a score.
— The Patriots had their best success rushing the ball early when Marcel Dareus was out of the game. That isn’t much of a surprise, but it was clear Brady was ‘sight-adjusting’ whenever Spencer Johnson and Alex Carrington were on the field. I was very surprised to see Brady call a time-out before a 4th-and-1 play with 5:46 to go in the first half and Johnson and Carrington in the middle of the line across from him. Dareus looked a little dinged up but stayed in. He’s clearly the most important Bills defender.
— The Bills need linebackers. If you don’t think so, watch Patrick Willis next week.
— Chandler’s work as a lead blocker on wide receiver screens is to be commended. Match him up with a corner back and he’s going to win nearly every time.
Stat line I liked…
Scott Chandler, four receptions, 62 yars, 2 TD
Stat line I didn’t like…
Patriots, two rushers over 100 yards
– And it’s not like this was Thurman & Kenny… or even Ricky Watters and Charlie Garner.
— A trip to San Francisco to face a 49ers team that just throttled the Jets, 34-0. I don’t expect anything that bad, but look for the Bills to fall, 27-17.