And then there were two. Entering Week 10, the AFC East was completely up for grabs, with three teams tied for first place and the fourth-place Dolphins only one game back. This game, although not a must-win for either team, had huge implications for both clubs.
The Pats were coming off a close loss to the Colts (a game which could have gone either way), and the Bills had lost three of their last four (including back-to-back losses to division foes Miami and New York) after starting the season at 4-0. The end-result was set ahead of time: win and stay in first place.
The game started in New England's favor. The Bills started with ball, and proceeded to give it to Marshawn Lynch for a seven yard gain. By some crazy twist of fortune, they decided to pass the ball on the next two downs. On second down, the pass rush got to QB Trent Edwards and he under-threw his target. And on the next down, Richard Seymour completely bested the Bills' LG to get to Edwards for a sack.
After forcing Buffalo to go 3-and-out on their first possession, Matt Cassel led the Pats downfield quickly. On first down, the Bills committed an unnecessary roughness penalty, giving New England 15 yards for free. Then a couple plays later, the Bills failed to challenge a deep pass to Wes Welker where he stepped out of bounds, giving the Patriots more free yardage.
Two plays later, Cassel scrambled up the middle for a touchdown. Bills LB Kawika Mitchell seemed to run away from the QB, expecting him to dump it off before he reached the line of scrimmage—this opened up a gigantic hole for Cassel to exploit.
Two possessions later, on the Bills' first play of their 3rd drive, Edwards tossed an ill-advised deep pass to Lee Evans who couldn't reach the ball. Luckily it fell right in to Ellis Hobbs' hands. With the ball and good field position, the Pats were able to add three more points with a Gostkowski field goal.
The game continued like this for most of the remainder, with the Pats getting the ball back on their own eight yard line with 11:05 left in the 4th quarter, up 13-3. Clearly there was enough time for the Bills to tie the game if they could stop the Pats on this drive. Unfortunately for Buffalo, the Patriots conducted one of the most spectacular drives I have ever seen. In fact, the drive set a franchise record. It was perfect.
The drive started slow with Kevin Faulk rushing for one yard to the right. Then Cassel failed to connect with Moss. A pass to former-Bills WR Sam Aiken gave them the first, and the cycle continued: short rush on first down, little or no gain on second, and a first down on third. Repeat.
Nineteen plays and over nine minutes later, the Pats handed the ball to surprising rookie RB BenJarvis Green-Ellis for a touchdown. The TD capped off a record-setting drive, matching their franchise record of a 19 play drive against the Jets in 2002. Let me re-iterate: the drive was perfect, eating up a ridiculous amount of clock, and ending with a touchdown.
Even though the Bills reached the endzone quickly on their next possession and followed up with a very close/genius on-side kick, the game was out of reach. At the end of the day, the Pats walked off with a 20-10 win and a spot at the top of the AFC East. This marked the 10th straight time the Patriots have beaten the Bills.
Every team in the East, other than the Bills, ended up walking away a victor, with the Jets knocking off the Rams and the Dolphins squeaking by the Seahawks. This leaves the Pats and Jets tied for first (and going head-to-head on Thursday), with the Bills and Dolphins tied for 3rd.
On to the player stock market:
- BenJarvis Green-Ellis: Remember, this guy is only on the roster because of how many injuries we've had at the RB position. You may have forgotten that little detail because he's tearing it up. In fact, many of my peers agree with me when I say I like Green-Ellis more than I like Maroney. Go figure, an undrafted rookie free agent being better than a first-round pick. "My goal is to get a touchdown on every play," said the RB after the game. He finished with 105 yards on 26 carries and one touchdown. The kid looks good.
- Wes Welker: Brady and Moss got all the records and limelight last year. This year is Wes' turn. By catching a pass in the 3rd quarter, Welker set an NFL record for being the first player in history to catch at least six passes in the first nine games of the season. I still can't understand how Miami got rid of this guy—he is the ultimate slot receiver, and serves as a great security blanket for Cassel.
- Randy Moss: Moved up to No.17 on the NFL's overall receptions list. He seems to be doing whatever the Pats want him to do (slants, reverses, etc.), even if it means he gets a bit hurt (which he did during the game, only to return a few plays later). Great team player.
- Jerod Mayo: Clearly the defensive rookie of the year to this point, Mayo remained solid in run stopping, pass rushing, and even in pass coverage. The kid can play ball, and Belichick knows it: Mayo was yet again on the field for nearly every play. Expect to hear his name for a long time on this team.
- Secondary: Two interceptions, but they owe most of their success to…
- Defensive Front-Seven: A great showing from the defensive line and the linebackers (especially Mike Vrabel, Richard Seymour, and Ty Warren). Their strong pass rush caused Edwards to miss his mark on several throws, allowing our questionable secondary to succeed.
- Offensive Line: I don't remember seeing the Bills pressure Cassel or consistently stop the run. That means only one thing: great job by the OL.
- Special Teams: Gostkowski missed a field goal, but most likely due to the wind. The coverage was terrible, allowing a huge return in the 4th quarter which set up the Bills' only touchdown. Otherwise, this was a decent showing from the group.
Nobody. The team performed well overall and nobody deserves to be in this category.