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Final: Patriots 38, Bills 30

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  September 26, 2010 02:48 PM

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Tom Brady and the Patriots' offense were so unstoppable Sunday afternoon that the struggles of the defense didn't much matter.

Brady completed 21 of 27 passes for 252 yards and three touchdowns -- two to Randy Moss -- as the Patriots fended off the pesky Buffalo Bills, 38-30. The victory was the Patriots' 14th in a row against the Bills dating to 2003.

The Patriots (2-1) had their way with the Buffalo defense, piling up 445 total yards and compiling 25 first downs while receiving significant contributions from virtually every player they used on offense.

Five receivers had a reception of at least 21 yards. Rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez had six catches for 65 yards, while Rob Gronkowski had the other receiving touchdown, a 5-yard grab in the fourth quarter.

The Patriots ran the ball much more effectively than they did in last Sunday's disheartening loss to the Jets, when they averaged 2 yards per carry. Against the Bills, the Patriots ran 38 times for 200 yards, with BenJarvus Green-Ellis picking up 98 yards on 16 carries.

Danny Woodhead, making his New England debut after the former Jet was signed a week ago, carried three times for 42 yards, including a 22-yard touchdown run.

The Patriots converted on 7 of 12 third downs, minimizing the absence of Kevin Faulk, the versatile veteran running back who was lost for the season after tearing the ACL in his right knee in the Jets game.

The Patriots came in emphasizing playing a full 60-minute game after struggling in the second half against the Jets as well as against the Bengals in their opening 38-24 victory.

The offense lived up to its end of the bargain, but the Patriots' pass defense again struggled often today, allowing former Harvard quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to complete 20 of 28 passes for 247 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Fitzpatrick, making his first start of the season after the Bills (0-3) scored just 17 total points in their first two games with Trent Edwards at the helm, led the Bills to 374 yards of offense.

But he did make a pair of deadly mistakes, throwing second-half interceptions to Patrick Chung (in the end zone) and Brandon Meriweather (on the first play of their final possession with three minutes remaining) to stifle the Bills' chances.

Rookie first-round pick C.J. Spiller scored his first two NFL touchdowns on a 5-yard reception and a 95-yard kickoff return.

Game updates:
Final: Patriots 38, Bills 30: Brady takes a knee three times -- that's not going to help his rushing average -- and the Patriots hang on for the victory over the Bills. The Patriots improve to 2-1, while the Bills drop to 0-3. We'll be back with a recap momentarily.

2:00 The Patriots are putting it in the hands of Green-Ellis, who has 15 carries for 92 yards. Twice he has stopped running while nearing the sideline to stay in bounds and keep the clock moving. Smart football.

2:41: . . . and the possession lasts exactly one play. Meriweather, who has played a solid game, picks off Fitzpatrick's overthrown pass intended for David Nelson at the Patriots 44.

3:12: After Brady's pass on third and 26 is batted down, the Gillette crowd responds with a smattering of boos. After Zoltan Mesko's 36-yard punt and a six-yard return by Drayton Florence, the Bills take over at their own 35.

3:23: After a sack and a penalty on Aaron Hernandez, the Patriots face second and 32 at their own 26. The Bills might just get a chance to try to tie this thing.

4:05: Quick statistical note: The Patriots have converted 6 of 9 third downs today, so Kevin Faulk's absence in that regard hasn't been particularly notable.

4:08 fourth quarter, Patriots 38, Bills 30: The Bills aren't going quietly. Fitzpatrick completes an efficient seven-play, 80-yard drive with a 37-yard TD pass to Steve Johnson down the right sideline. As impressive as Johnson's TD was, his celebration -- imitating the Patriots' minutemen and firing off an imaginary musket before falling to the ground -- might have been better, after he was hit with a 15-yard excessive celebration penalty.

8:09: Shawn Crable catches Marshawn Lynch after a 5-yard gain for his first NFL tackle. Unfortunately, the PA announcer here at Gillette credits the tackle to Dwan Edwards, who wears the same number as Crable, 98, for the Bills.

8:19 fourth quarter, Patriots 38, Bills 23: Now that's a textbook, clock-eating drive. Thirteen plays, 75 yards, taking 6 minutes 26 seconds off the clock. Green-Ellis does the honors with a 7-yard scoring run immediately following a nifty 15-yard run by Woodhead -- he has three carries for 42 yards -- out of the shotgun. Anything and everything the Patriots have tried today offensively has worked.

11:44: Sammy Morris and BenJarvus Green-Ellis getting some work now as the Patriots bleed the clock. Green-Ellis picks up the first down on third and 1 at the Bills 38.

12:58: Sebastian Vollmer is out for the Patriots with a leg injury. His return in questionable. Mark Levoir is in at right tackle. For what it's worth, the Bills have put little pressure on Brady today -- it's probably fair to assume the Patriots don't miss having to deal with Aaron Schobel.

14:45 fourth quarter: Patrick Chung makes the biggest play of the day for the Patriots defense, picking off an overthrown Fitzpatrick pass (intended for Roscoe Parrish) and returning it to the Buffalo 25. Terrible throw by the former Harvard quarterback, and obviously just what the Patriots needed. In an unrelated note, Fred Taylor is sidelined with a toe injury and his return is questionable.

1:15 third quarter: The Patriots contain Spiller on the return, but the defense subsequently shows its usual flaws against the Buffalo offense. With Patrick Chung cheating over to help on coverage of Lee Evans, Fitzpatrick spots Arrington -- who is apparently paying homage to Darius Butler's performance last week -- isolated on Parrish, and hits him for a 31-yard gain. This team dearly misses Leigh Bodden.

1:21 third quarter, Patriots 31, Bills 23: Brady caps a 13-play, 59-yard drive -- during which the Patriots converted three third downs -- with a 5-yard scoring pass to Official Red Zone Weapon Rob Gronkowski. It's the rookie tight end's second scoring catch of the season.

2:29: Green-Ellis for 7, then Green-Ellis for 6, and the Patriots are at the Buffalo 10.

4:24: Third and 6 from the Buffalo 31, Brady finds Welker for eight over the middle. I think we're almost at the point where we're starting to forget there was ever concern about No. 83's knee.

7:17: Brady picks up nine on a scramble on third and 6, then shows some emotion and fires up the crowd with a fist-pump as they advance into Buffalo territory.

8:57: A strong tackle by Patrick Chung limits Roscoe Parrish to eight yards on a third-down catch, and Lindell comes up short on a 51-yard field goal attempt. Patriots take over on their own 41. After the miss, Lindell has a chat with Patriots defensive lineman Gerard Warren. I think we know who the underdog is in that battle.

9:47: Bills are doing an effective job spreading out the Patriots defense in the running game. Lynch now has 69 yards on just 10 carries. Strangely, the only back the Patriots have held in check is pesky Fred Jackson (four carries, eight yards).

11:43: Patriots go three-and-out, bringing on Zoltan Mesko to punt for just the second time today. He boots it 44 yards, and the Bills start at their own 29.

12:58 third quarter, Patriots 24, Bills 23: And the Bills counter punch again. Spiller, who has some serious lightning in his legs, takes the kickoff back 95 yards down the right sideline, outrunning Kyle Arrington, the last Patriot with any hope of catching him. The Patriots offense has been spectacular, but right now you have to start wondering if the Bills plan on going away.

13:11 third quarter, Patriots 24, Bills 16: Well, that was fast. It takes Brady and Co. just five plays and a minute 49 seconds to march 75 yards, with Randy Moss doing the honors with a 35-yard catch between a pair of Bills defensive backs for his second TD of the game. As is the case seemingly every time Moss and Brady connect for a TD these days, a couple of milestones were achieved.

  • Moss moved into 14th place on the all-time receiving yardage list with 14,604 yards
  • His two-TD game is the 36th of his career, second-most all-time among receivers to Jerry Rice (44).
  • With two TD passes, Brady now has 232 in his career, tying Steve Young for 19th all-time.

14:10, third quarter: Patriots start the first drive of the second half in the no-huddle and march right down the field with consecutive completions to Julian Edelman, Welker (for 27 yards), and Hernandez to take them to the Buffalo 35.

Halftime, Patriots 17, Bills 16: Gostkowski bangs it through, and the Patriots head into the break with a one-point lead. The fifth-year kicker had hit just 1 of his previous four field goal attempts this season, and he was on the field for a considerable amount of time before the game working with holder Zoltan Mesko and long snapper Jake Ingram. Consider the benefits reaped.

Quick thoughts on the first half: The Patriots have had no trouble moving the ball on the Bills. Brady is 10 of 12 for 129 yards and a TD, and four ball carriers have run for 10 times for 84 yards, with Danny Woodhead and BenJarvus Green-Ellis both breaking runs of over 20 yards.

On the downside, Brandon Tate's fumble was a killer -- the Bills converted it into their only touchdown -- and the Patriots defense doesn't look a whole lot more effective than it did against the Jets a week ago. Ryan Fitzpatrick, who is strong-armed but erratic, has converted 11 of 16 passes, which Marshawn Lynch has 52 yards on the ground and C.J. Spiller, who always looks on the verge of breaking a big gainer, has 26 yards on three carries. The Patriots defense needs a better showing in the second half against a team that nearly matched its season point total entering the game (17) in the first half.

:05 Brady to Hernandez for 13 -- I believe that's his first catch since the first drive -- and Steven Gostkowski is on to attempt a 43-yarder. That's how you run the 18-second offense right there.

:18: Tate takes the kick back 32 yards to the New England 33. Time for a deep shot or two to Mr. Moss? Not yet. Brady hits Tate for 29 yards to the Buffalo 38. Nice two-handed catch by the second-year receiver.

:28, Bills 16, Patriots 14: Upon further review . . . Fitzpatrick was down a yard shy of the first-down marker, and after an attempt to draw the Patriots offsides, Lindell comes out to attempt a 34-yarder. It's good, and barring a huge kick return by Tate, the Bills will go into halftime with the lead. The field goal culminates a nine-play, 55-yard drive that took 2:34.

:28: Officials are checking a spot on a Fitzpatrick scramble to the 15-yard line. The ruling on the field was that he picked up the six yards required for a first down on the third-down play, but it appears his knee hit the ground on replay before he got to the marker.

1:14: Bills are in the hurry-up, with Fitzpatrick picking up 10 yards on a run, then finding Parrish for 15 yards on the next play to the Patriots 26.

2:58 second quarter, Patriots 14, Bills 13: Might want to start selling those Woodhead jerseys at the Pro Shop. The diminutive former Jet flashes some impressive speed, cutting back at the 17, ducking behind Dan Connolly, and outrunning the Bills defensive backfield to the corner of the end zone. It's his first NFL touchdown, and it culminates an extremely impressive drive for the Patriots, which also included a key 20-yard run by Green-Ellis. The Patriots are now averaging 8.4 yards per carry in this game.

5:34: BenJarvus Green-Ellis now in the game as the lone running back. He picks up seven yards and a first down at the Buffalo 36 on his first carry, and the Patriots follow that play up with a play-action pass that results in a 21-yard gain for Rob Gronkowski into Bills territory.

6:06: Patriots start at their 24 after Tate returns the kickoff for 25 yards. This is an important possession for the Patriots, who are on the verge of stagnating offensively again after a dazzling opening drive. Interesting that on the first play they put the ball right back into Tate's hands, who runs for five yards on an end-around.

6:13, Bills 13, Patriots 7: Fitzpatrick finds Spiller on a little bubble screen and he zips into the end zone past Meriweather to complete a seven-play, 37-yard drive that takes 3 minutes 23 seconds. Tate's turnover was a killer.

7:11: Spiller breaks a run outside for 19 yards to the New England 4. The rookie first-rounder's exceptional speed was evident there as he turned the corner.

8:34: Darius Butler starts this series at cornerback . . . and immediately gives up an 11-yard reception to Roscoe Parrish. We'll see if the Bills target him like the Jets did.

9:36: First turnover of the game. After a 14-yard catch by Brandon Tate, he's hit by Drayton Florence and Jairus Byrd recovers at the New England 37.

10:20: Danny Woodhead gets his first carry as a Patriot, picking up five yards to the Bills 25 on second down.

10:46, second quarter, Patriots 7, Bills 6: For those of you wonder why Jerod Mayo doesn't make more big plays . . . he just made a big play, sacking Fitzpatrick on third down to set up a third and 14 at the New England 22. One play and one C.J. Spiller yard later, the Bills settle for another Lindell field goal, this one from 39 yards.

14:35: Couple of quick stats from the first quarter:

  • Aaron Hernandez is the Patriots' leading rusher (13 yards) and receiver (two catches, 39 yards).
  • Brady was 6 for 6 for 52 yards and a touchdown.
  • Marshaun Lynch had 41 yards on six carries for the Bills.
  • Fitzpatrick completed 3 of 6 passes for 42 yards.

14:47, second quarter: Nothing doing, however, as Florence bats away Brady's pass to Welker at the third. And Zoltan Mesko does no one any favors with his first punt of the day, a 33-yarder -- the Bills will start at the New England 40 after the ball deflects out of bounds.

End of the first quarter. Patriots 7, Bills 3: Not a bad start for the home team, which cruised down the field on its first possession. But now they face a third and 18 from their own 14. Tate, Moss, Gronkowski, Welker, and Sammy Morris are in the huddle, with Morris the single back.

2:31: The Bills convert a long third down when Roscoe Parrish picks up 20 yards after eluding a pair of Patriots defensive backs, including Jonathan Wilhite. Fortunately for the Patriots, the drive stalls on the next series of downs, with Gary Guyton belting Fitzpatrick to force an incompletion on third and 5 from the Patriots 44. After an ugly punt by Brian Moorman, the Patriots take over at their own 23.

4:42: Meriweather makes a great hustle play to run down Lynch from behind on a misdirection and hold him to a 3-yard gain. That's the kind of effort Belichick has been looking for.

5:14 first quarter, Patriots 7, Bills 3: Hey, there's Randy Moss. In case you thought he was going to be a decoy on this drive, he makes his presence felt when Brady finds him on an effortless 7-yard score in which Moss shook CB Drayton Florence with one quick in-cut, hauled in the pass, and breezed into the end zone. It was the 150th receiving touchdown of Moss's career, making him just the second receiver to reach the milestone. (Jerry Rice set the standard with 191 receiving TDs in his career.) The drive took eight plays and covered 75 yards.

7:15: With a five-receiver formation -- including three tight ends -- Brady hits Hernandez for 25 yards to get to the Buffalo 28. This kid is such a weapon. (And like that, Brady hits him for another 13 yards. Hernandez has contributed 51 yards on this drive so far on two catches and a run.)

9:16: Now this is interesting: Randy Moss isn't on the field for the Patriots' first two plays. With Danny Woodhead, wearing the No. 39 left behind by Laurence Maroney, starting in the backfield, Tom Brady hits Wes Welker for five yards, then Aaron Hernandez picks up 13 yards on an end around.

9:43: Patriots start their first drive at the 25 after an 18-yard return from Brandon Tate.

9:48, first quarter, Bills 3, Patriots 0: Buffalo gets on the board first, with Rian Lindell -- one of just four Bills who played for the last Buffalo team to beat New England seven years ago -- banging through a 39-yard field goal. The drive lasted 10 plays and covered 59 yards. The Bills had to settle for the field goal after a gunned third-and-3 pass from Fitzpatrick to Lee Evans bounced off the receiver's hands near the 15-yard line. This marks the first time this season the Patriots have trailed in the first half, for what it's worth.

12:09, first quarter: Well, in the very early going, the Bills look inspired by the change at quarterback from Trent Edwards to Ryan Fitzpatrick. Starting on their 20, the Bills have marched to the Patriots 29, with a third-down conversion from Fitzpatrick to receiver Steve Johnson keeping the drive going a moment ago. Marshawn Lynch has a 16-yard run on the drive, while C.J. Spiller has an 8-yarder and a 6-yarder. Not the start the Patriots wanted. Also, Kyle Arrington is starting at cornerback over Darius Butler, while Patrick Chung is again in the lineup ahead of Brandon Meriweather.

We're just a few minutes away from kickoff here at Gillette Stadium. The Bills have taken the field and the Patriots are sprinting out of the tunnel right now as Brandon Meriweather tries to fire up the fans via video board message. (He's no Kevin Garnett.)

There are two main story lines entering the game: 1) The Patriots' dominance of the Bills, having won their last 13 matchups dating to 2003. They should be able to make it 14, but it's imperative they play a complete game today whether or not the Bills give them a battle. 2) How the Patriots will attempt to replace Kevin Faulk in his various roles on offense, particularly as a receiver and pass blocker on third down.

The Bills win the toss and choose to receive. Be sure to continue to hit the refresh button as we will continue to update this post with news and observations as the game progresses.

News, analysis and commentary from Boston.com's staff writers and contributors, including Zuri Berry and Erik Frenz.

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