Buffalo Bills Come Up Just Short Against Patriots 37-31
The Buffalo Bills visited the New England Patriots on Sunday at Gillette Stadium, a venue where they had never won. In fact, Buffalo hadn't won in New England since 2000. That streak was in serious jeopardy when Buffalo had the ball at the New England 15-yard line with 33 seconds left in regulation, trailing only 37-31.
Ryan Fitzpatrick led Buffalo to 481 yards of total offense and four touchdowns. But for the Bills to win, he would need to lead them to a fifth touchdown. And that wasn't in the cards as Devin McCourty came up with a game-saving interception in the end zone to squash the Bills' final rally.
Buffalo played inspired but not very disciplined football. The Bills were hit with 10 penalties in just the first half alone, for 119 yards. Safe to say that at least three of the calls were questionable at best.
The Bills wound up with 14 penalties for 148 yards. The all-time franchise high was 159 yards, set back in 1970 against the Boston Patriots, per the CBS Sports broadcast.
New England had the No. 1 offense in the NFL, while the Bills defense was No. 31. New England averaged 76.6 plays per game, by far the most in the NFL. The defense held them to only 68 plays. The Bills outgained the Patriots by 134 yards, held the ball for seven more minutes and still lost. The difference was three turnovers for Buffalo compared to none for New England.
When you consider all the penalties, the turnovers and the poor history in Foxboro, it is amazing that the Bills still had a chance to win in the waning moments. Buffalo outplayed New England, but that doesn't mean anything in the standings. Only wins and losses matters.
Bills and Patriots Inactives
The Buffalo defense was playing without two starters. Both CB Aaron Williams and DE Chris Kelsay were declared out due to injuries. Buffalo was forced to start Leodis McKelvin at corner against Tom Brady and the No. 1 overall offense in the NFL. That is a scary proposition.
The Bills opted not to dress QB Tarvaris Jackson and LB Kirk Morrison as they had done all season. They did dress WR Marcus Easley.
The Patriots had three injured stars on offense, but they all played. They were Wes Welker (ankle), Brandon Lloyd (knee) and Rob Gronkowski (hip). Tight end Aaron Hernandez wasn't as fortunate. He was declared inactive.
Safety Patrick Chung also missed the game.
First Quarter Review
The Bills had three penalties called on the offensive line on their opening drive. Lee Smith jumped offsides on third down and one-half yard to go. Cordy Glenn negated a nice pass to Fred Jackson by holding Chandler Jones. Kraig Urbik was called for illegal procedure. Faced with third down and more than 20 yards to go, Buffalo went conservative and punted.
On the second drive, Fitzpatrick wanted to throw to C.J. Spiller on a screen pass, but when that was covered, Fitz didn't throw the ball away immediately. Vince Wilfork sacked Fitzpatrick and stripped him of the ball. New England recovered at the Buffalo 13, setting them up for an easy touchdown drive.
On defense, the Bills took turns dropping potential interceptions and getting called for pass interference. Bryan Scott and Leodis McKelvin each had an opportunity to intercept Tom Brady on the first drive. Brady came into the game with 19 touchdowns and only two interceptions. But both opportunities for an interception were dropped. The Bills never got that close to a turnover again.
The Patriots' second drive started at the Bills' 13-yard line due to the Fitzpatrick fumble. There was a very questionable pass interference call on George Wilson on a pass that wasn't even close to Rob Gronkowski. A second pass interference call in the end zone, this time on Stephon Gilmore, gave New England a first down at the Bills 1-yard line. Stevan Ridley punched it in from there.
New England was up 10-0 at the end of the first quarter.
Second Quarter Review
The Bills started their third drive in an inauspicious manner as Eric Wood was called for holding. The Bills converted on a third-and-15 thanks to a great effort by Fred Jackson on a short pass completion. Another holding penalty at the New England 10-yard line, this time on Chris Hairston, prevented the Bills from going in for a touchdown. They settled for a 41-yard field goal from Rian Lindell. The Bills trailed 10-3.
New England quickly drove down the field on an eight-play drive that covered 83 yards. Danny Woodhead ran in from 15 yards out by splitting the gap between Marcell Dareus and Shawne Merriman. During that drive, at least defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt mixed things up by ordering a safety blitz. Da'Norris Searcy dropped Shane Vereen for a four-yard loss on the play.
Buffalo came back with its own touchdown drive that took just six plays and went 80 yards. Fitzpatrick found Scott Chandler on some passes and Fred Jackson ran it in from 14 yards out on a great second-effort play. The Bills were only down a touchdown at 17-10.
Brady once again led the Patriots on a scoring drive, thanks to two more pass interference calls on Jairus Byrd and Stephon Gilmore. The call on Gilmore was shaky since the pass went well out of the end zone and was clearly uncatchable. Brady hit Rob Gronkowski, who was covered by DE Kyle Moore, on a two-yard scoring play.
Fitzpatrick once again led the Bills back, as they ran the two-minute drill to perfection. Fitzpatrick found Scott Chandler in the end zone for a three-yard touchdown pass. Chandler caught four passes for 57 yards in the first half. The Bills trailed 24-17 at the half.
At the half, Buffalo had controlled the ball for 18:25 compared to just 11:35 for New England. Buffalo had gained 229 yards to 153 for New England. But when you figure in the 119 penalty yards against the Bills, that leveled the playing field.
Ryan Fitzpatrick started out on fire. He completed 16 of his first 20 passes for 204 yards. Completing 80 percent of his passes gave the Buffalo offense lots of confidence and momentum.
Buffalo was able to convert two out of their four opportunities on third down, while New England converted three of four. Each team had 16 first downs, but five of New England's came on penalty calls.
The only turnover of the half was the Fitzpatrick fumble.
Third Quarter Review
New England had the ball to start the second half. On its first drive, New England had a third-and-five situation at the Bills' 31-yard line. Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus combined to sack Brady and force them out of field goal range. The Patriots pinned the Bills back and Buffalo had its first three-and-out drive of the day.
New England used the great field position (started at Bills' 39 thanks to Ron Brooks running out of bounds on the punt) to score a touchdown. Brady hit Danny Woodhead on a 18-yard pass to put them up 31-17.
Buffalo came back and converted a key fourth-and-four by hitting Steve Johnson with a pass. The Bills overcame a false start penalty by Cordy Glenn in the red zone and scored on a one-yard run by Fred Jackson. The Bills were back in it at 31-24 when the third quarter ended.
Fourth Quarter Review
The fourth quarter hasn't been too kind to Buffalo this year, as the team has been outscored 90-28, courtesy of the CBS Sports broadcast.
New England had the ball to start the fourth quarter. No sooner had the Bills cut the lead to seven points than the Patriots mounted another scoring drive. Brady led a drive that stalled at the Bills' 30. A 48-yard field goal increased New England's lead to 34-24.
Buffalo began the next drive at their 7-yard line, thanks to another penalty. It was the Patriots' turn to start taking some dumb penalties. They roughed up Fitzpatrick and got called for unnecessary roughness. Fitzpatrick got up and got in the face of the Patriots defender. C.J. Spiller was slammed out of bounds for another roughing penalty. The Bills drove into the red zone. But Fred Jackson had the ball punched from his grasp as he struggled to reach the New England end zone and the Patriots recovered.
New England tried three passes from the 1-yard line and all three were incomplete. After the punt, Buffalo put together a 45-yard scoring drive. The touchdown came on a three-yard pass from Fitzpatrick to Donald Jones. The Bills now trailed 34-31 with 7:47 to play.
The Patriots then mounted another scoring drive, driving to the Bills' 10-yard line, only to stall there. Another field goal put New England up 37-31 with just 2:06 to play. A touchdown by the Bills could have given them an improbable win.
The table was set for Buffalo to have its moment. The Bills could end their long losing streak in New England. They could avoid dropping to 0-3 in the AFC East and another game behind New England. They could spoil Tom Brady's 10-0 record against the Bills in Foxboro. All of that could be accomplished with one final touchdown drive.
Buffalo started at its 20-yard line with 2:06 to play. The Bills had two timeouts left, plus the two-minute warning. They had plenty of time to drive 80 yards. The Bills only gained one yard on the first two plays. On third and nine, Fitzpatrick hit Steve Johnson for 21 yards.
Fitzpatrick then tried to hit Donald Jones on a long pass. Jones initially made the catch, only to lose the ball when he was hit on the way to the ground. Jones didn't return to the game and the Bills needed to use a timeout for the injury that occurred in the final two minutes.
A short pass to Fred Jackson allowed the Bills to get close to a first down, but Jackson fumbled on a hard hit. Eric Wood and Corey McIntyre recovered the ball in the pile. But Jackson was hurt on the play, so the Bills had to burn their final timeout, which was a factor in how everything played out.
Short passes to Scott Chandler and C.J. Spiller got the ball down to the New England 15-yard line with 39 seconds to play. Without no timeouts remaining, the Bills decided to try to throw the ball into the end zone. Fitzpatrick tried to hit Chandler in the back of the end zone, but the ball went off his hand.
On second down, Fitzpatrick looked to his left but couldn't find anyone open. He looked to his right and saw rookie T.J. Graham breaking into the end zone. We don't know if Fitzpatrick thought Graham was going to cut in front of the defender or not. But Graham ran the route going behind the defender (McCourty). All that was left was for McCourty to catch the ball, and the game was over.
Buffalo Pass Rush Comes Up Lacking
Buffalo DE Mark Anderson was out this week due to his recent knee surgery. Anderson and Mario Williams were signed in free agency specifically to put pressure on Tom Brady. Buffalo has to beat New England if it is ever going to catch them in the AFC East.
With the Williams boys (Kyle and Mario) and Marcell Dareus, the Bills only managed one sack and four QB hits on the day. Dareus had one QB hit and Kyle Williams had the other three. The defensive tackles combined for the sack. Mario Williams came up empty, as did the other defensive ends, Kyle Moore and Shawne Merriman.
The secondary had too many inexcusable pass interference calls. The defensive backs have to be more disciplined. The run defense gave up 98 yards to Stevan Ridley, but did a surprisingly good job in limiting Rob Gronkowski to just three catches for 31 yards.
The guy that hurt the Bills was RB Danny Woodhead, who came up with two touchdowns, one rushing and one receiving.
Tom Brady only threw for 230 yards, which considering all of the hurt members of the Bills' secondary is a surprisingly low total.
Fitzpatrick Hits a Milestone
Ryan Fitzpatrick became the fifth Bills quarterback in team history to pass for more than 10,000 yards.
The five Bills quarterbacks in history to top the 10,000 mark are:
1) Jim Kelly, 35,467 yards.
2) Joe Ferguson, 27,570 yards.
3) Jack Kemp, 15,134 yards.
4) Drew Bledsoe, 10,151 yards
5) Ryan Fitzpatrick 10,060 yards and counting.
Fitzpatrick topped the 10,000-yard mark in the first half. Congratulations to Fitzpatrick for the milestone, but you know full well that he would only be happy with the record if it had been set in a victory.
For the game, Fitzpatrick hit 27-of-40 passes for 319 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He had a passer rating of 99.7.
Bills Pass to T.J. Graham with Game on the Line?
As we mentioned earlier, the loss of the final two timeouts due to the injuries to Donald Jones and Fred Jackson were a key development in the game.
With the game on the line, the Bills didn't have a chance to regroup and call a timeout to set up the final 30 seconds. With options like Steve Johnson, C.J. Spiller and Scott Chandler on the final drive, Fitzpatrick instead decides in a split-second decision to go to rookie T.J. Graham. Based on how few snaps Graham has received, that was a surprising choice.
Let's put it another way. Fitzpatrick completed 27 passes in the game, but just one of those went to Graham. For him to suddenly look at the rookie with the game on the line was a head-scratcher.
The Bills have limited Graham's snaps due to his development, or lack of it. The injury to Jones meant that somebody else had to step up. With 33 seconds left, the Bills still had the ability to throw the ball in the middle of the field and then spike the ball to stop the clock. There was plenty of time to run three plays, but Fitzpatrick seemed to insist on throwing the ball into the end zone.
This will go down as another painful loss in the long history of Bills versus Patriots.
Bills Running Game Is Looking Strong
The Bills' explosive running back duo of Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller had a productive day. Spiller ran the ball nine times for 70 yards, averaging an outstanding 7.8 yards per carry. Spiller also caught four passes for 61 yards. Spiller came close to a number of touchdowns, but never reached the end zone.
Spiller demonstrated decisive reads and accelerated once he decided where he wanted to run. His quick burst and ability to break tackles helped him gain 131 yards of offensive production.
Fred Jackson gained 80 yards on 16 carries, averaging 5.0 yards per rush. Jackson ran the ball hard all day, but sometimes Jackson's extra effort gets him in trouble. He fumbled the ball twice, both times when he was struggling to gain an extra yard or two.
Jackson also caught four passes for 35 yards. Jackson scored two touchdowns. His fumble at the 1-yard line was costly. Buffalo eventually scored a touchdown based on the field position they gained after forcing the Patriots to have a three-and-out after the fumble. But those were valuable minutes that were winding down on the scoreboard.
Miami Comes in for Thursday Night Football
Buffalo now has to regroup and prepare for the Miami Dolphins coming to Buffalo for the Thursday Night Football game on the NFL Network this week. Injured players like Donald Jones and Fred Jackson have four short days to get better in time for the only nationally televised game for the Bills this year.
To qualify for the playoffs in the AFC, wild-card teams normally have to be 10-6. This year has been anything but normal, so perhaps a 9-7 team can sneak in. The Bills are now going into the easier portion of their schedule.
Their next seven games are Miami at home, at Indianapolis, home against Jacksonville, home against St. Louis, against Seattle in Toronto, at Miami and then they finish up against the Jets at home. Buffalo would have to go 7-0 to finish 10-6, or 6-1 to finish 9-7.
Is that even remotely possible? The Bills would have to get on a roll the way they did to start the 2011 season.
Let's hope that Fitzpatrick has enough weapons to throw to on Thursday night. The Dolphins came up with a weak showing against Tennessee on Sunday, losing 37-3.
One win would hopefully start some momentum, but the Bills have to get better in the fourth quarter. Until that happens, Buffalo fans will continue to be frustrated as the Bills come up short time and time again.
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