Patriots survive shootout with Bills
FOXBOROUGH -- Through three games, it's been obvious that the Patriots' best defense is their offense. At times today against the Buffalo Bills, it looked like the offense was the Patriots' only defense.
The Patriots (2-1) still own the Buffalo Bills, winning their 14th game in a row against the downtrodden AFC East foil by virtue of an 38-30 victory at Gillette Stadium. But unless Nee England finds a way to be more formidable on defense, it could be a long season for those who work inside Fort Foxborough.
"It wasn't perfect. We still got a lot of work to do," said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. "We had our moments where I thought we did things real well and other times where we didn't and they did. I'm still looking for a little more consistency."
The Patriots were locked in an unlikely shootout with arguably the NFL's worst team. In the end they were saved by the Bills' ineptitude (two ignominious fourth-quarter interceptions by Havard alumnus Ryan Fitzpatrick) and their own offensive excellence. The Bills had the ball at their own 35 with 3:04 remaining, trailing 38-30, when Fitzpatrick found Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather and finally allowed the Patriots to breathe a sigh of relief.
Fitzpatrick took over at quarterback for the benched Trent Edwards. The QB change-up was the fifth in-season switch for the Bills in the last six seasons. First-year Bills head coach Chan Gailey is Buffalo's fifth coach in the last eight seasons.
For much of the day, the Patriots defense made them look like Drew Brees and Sean Payton. The Patriots forced the Bills to punt just once all day. The Bills scored four straight times they had the football in a stretch of the second and third quarters, including a 95-yard kickoff return. Fitzpatrick was 20 of 28 for 247 yards and two touchdown passes, and the Bills had 374 yards of offense.
To put things in perspective, the Bills had a combined 352 yards of offense and had scored 17 total points in their first two games of the season against Miami and Green Bay.
Thankfully for the Patriots they have an actual franchise quarterback in Tom Brady (21 of 27 for 252 and three touchdowns) to bail them out, as well as rags-to-riches running backs Danny Woodhead (three carries for 42 yards and a score) and BenJarvus Green-Ellis (16 rushes for 98 yards and a touchdown).
After the Patriots took their largest lead of the game -- 38-23 with 8:19 remaining -- on a 7-yard touchdown run by BenJarvus Green-Ellis, the Bills came right back and scored on a 37-yard touchdown reception by Steve Johnson with 4:08 left.
The Patriots took a 31-23 lead after Ryan Lindell missed a 51-yard field goal, Brady tossing his third TD pass, a 5-yarder to rookie tight end Rob Gronkowski with 1:21 left in the third quarter. The Bills were driving, again, until Fitzpatrick airmailed a throw into the end zone that was picked off by Patrick Chung on the first play of the fourth quarter.
"The throw to Roscoe [Parrish] I could throw a hundred times," Fitzpatrick said of his errant pass to Chung. "I could throw it in my sleep, and I'm just disgusted that that one sailed high."
The first 29 minutes and 36 seconds of the game were not what Patriots coach Bill Belichick was looking for as a response after a disheartening loss to the Jets last week. The Patriots actually trailed the Bad News Bills, 16-14, with 24 seconds left in the half after a third field goal (34 yards) from Lindell.
Stephen Gostkowski's 42-yard field goal, his first make after three consecutive misses over the previous two games, to end the first half spared the Patriots the indignity of trailing the Bills at the half.
It only took 1:49 in the second half for the Patriots to extend their lead. Brady and Randy Moss connected for their second touchdown hook-up of the game, as TB12 found Moss in a crowd for a 35-yard strike.
After the score, Moss (two catches for 42 yards and two touchdowns) high-fived defenders as they waited on the sideline and elicited crowd noise by doing his trademark separation hand gesture followed by a double thumbs-up. The Patriots' separation lasted about as long as Moss's hand motion. Running back C.J. Spiller returned the ensuing kickoff 95 yards, his second touchdown of the day, cutting New England's lead to 24-23.
Spiller's first touchdown, a 5-yard reception, gave the Bills a brief 13-7 lead in the second quarter.
The Patriots answered back. Subbing for Kevin Faulk, Woodhead, a Rudy-esque running back signed by the team eight days ago, scored his first career touchdown on a 22-yard slash and dash.
"He did great," Brady said of Woodhead. "What an impressive performance for a guy who had been here for like 10 minutes. He did a great job."
To start the game, Belichick benched right cornerback Darius Butler for Kyle Arrington and outside linebacker Tully Banta-Cain, who had five sacks last year against the Bills, for rookie Jermaine Cunningham.
Different personnel, same lack of resistance. The Bills took the opening drive and marched down the field for a 39-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead.
Like one of their head coaches or starting quarterbacks, the Bills lead didn't last long. Brady hit Moss, who did an excellent job of selling Bills cornerback Drayton Florence on the run, with a play-action pass for a 7-yard touchdown on the Patriots' first drive. It was the 150th touchdown reception of Moss's career, a plateau that had only been reached by Jerry Rice.
In the first home game since Brady critiqued and tweaked the home crowd for leaving early and not being hostile, the Patriots didn't give the Foxborough Faithful much to get excited about. The crowd came to get rowdy for a rout and instead saw the Patriots locked in a back-and-forth battle with Buffalo for four quarters.
Unlike the season-opener, Patriots fans couldn't leave this one early.
"I thought they were great," Brady said of the fans. "I really did. I thought they were loud. It's a great advantage for us when the crowd's loud. They were really into it."