The Buffalo Bills intercepted four Tom Brady passes today and have finally ended their 15-game losing streak to the New England Patriots, by defeating the Patriots in an exciting come-from-behind victory 34-31 at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The Bills were down by 21-0 in the first half to New England, but outscored them the rest of the way, 34-10, to move to 3-0 on the 2011 season.
The sold-out crowd started to get vocal after the Bills began their comeback, and they were at a fever pitch in the fourth quarter when it looked like the Bills might actually hand the Patriots a defeat.
If you happened to catch the live blog I did during the contest, you would have seen a number of detailed areas of the game that we covered during the contest. If you did not see it, here is the link to the live blog.
The Bills need to continue to win and can't let up next Sunday when they travel to play the Cincinnati Bengals. But for now, let's take a look and see what were the top five things we learned today about the Bills.
From the 21-3 halftime deficit they had last weekend against the Oakland Raiders, the Bills knew that they had the ability to bounce back. But today, the Patriots were up 21-0 with six minutes still left in the half. But the Bills were able to score 10 straight points to close out the half, so the 21-10 margin didn't feel as big coming in to the half.
In fact, the Bills scored 17 unanswered points, and that momentum helped bring them back into the game—that, and the fact that the ball was finally bouncing the Bills' way. Four interceptions by Tom Brady in one game is very rare, but you have to be able to take advantage of that when it happens. Thankfully, for the Bills they did.
The Bills stayed composed in the fourth quarter when the game was on the line. Instead it was the Patriots that started making dumb penalties that really hurt their team. For the game, New England had 8/93 yards, while the Bills had 9/77 yards. For either team, those penalty totals are too much, and sooner or later you will pay for the lack of discipline with a loss. Today was the Patriots turn to pay.
Speaking of composure, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick lost his completely in the fourth quarter. While in a conversation with the referee, Belichick started screaming at the referee, and then he was dinged for a second time-out call, that he clearly did not want to use. That call basically sealed the Patriots fate and prevented Brady from having any time left on the clock to attempt a comeback.
Of course, the Bills could have easily ran it in from the half-yard line, but they preferred to kill the clock. The Patriots had a hard time containing Fred Jackson, so he would have been able to score easily had they opted to go for the touchdown.
Once again, there were not any sacks in this game, but this time it went for both teams. The Bills defense never sacked Brady, and the Patriots defensive line never sacked Fitzpatrick. The fact that the Bills defense was able to create four turnovers today was huge, as they would not have won the contest if they didn't come up with that many picks.
The ball was deflecting off of linemen's hands and helmets, and off of receivers hands. That is what you need to win sometimes in the NFL, to have the ball bounce your way. I figure that there was a ton of karma that was stored up in favor of the Bills, due to some of the heart-breaking losses in the past. Bills fans will recall the McKelvin fumble when we had a lead and little time left on the clock. Things happen. You have to play four quarters and play hard.
But, for the Bills to continue to play hard and expect to win without generating sacks or constant pressure, does not go hand in hand. They need to find ways to get to the quarterback more often, and if Shawne Merriman can't do it, then bring in Danny Batten or Arthur Moats off of the bench, because they can.
As far as the Bills versus Patriots series, in the those previous heart-breaking losses, the Bills would still come over and congratulate the Patriots for their win. But today, when the game ended, there was Brady making a bee line for the locker room. He didn't even have the class to congratulate Ryan Fitzpatrick for his solid game.
After going 17-1 against the Bills in his career, it appears that he couldn't take the humiliation of the loss to Buffalo, so Brady put his tail between his legs and hurried off of the field. No class by Brady whatsoever at the end of this game. End of rant.
In Week 1, nobody knew for sure what to expect of the Bills offense. Fred Jackson, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Steve Johnson had a solid game. Tight end Scott Chandler emerged on the scene. In Week 2, David Nelson and C.J. Spiller stepped up with big games to help lead the win against the Raiders. Now in Week 3, the new star on offense was Donald Jones.
Jones, the Bills other non-drafted wide receiver, caught five passes for 101 yards. The Bills looked to exploit Jones because he had an advantage on whoever the Patriots tried to cover him with. In the game winning drive, it was Jones that Fitzpatrick threw to on the first play of the drive. The pass moved the ball from the Bills 20 to midfield, where they had plenty of room to operate.
As long as the Bills continue to mix it up like this, it will be very difficult for enemy defenses to game plan against the Bills. Once again Fred Jackson stepped up with a big game. In terms of total offense, Jackson had 161 yards, 74 rushing and 87 receiving. That is a highly productive day, and I would have to think that if Jackson can keep up this kind of production, he could be in line for some MVP voting at the end of the year.
The Bills will gradually keep working Brad Smith into the offense, and no doubt there will be games where he makes a larger contribution than he did today. Naaman Roosevelt will also emerge and become a major player as well. Don't forget about Johnny White, who didn't have a role today, but the Bills are still coaching him along to prepare him for a larger role in the offense.
If the Bills can't improve their pass rush, we saw how quick little receivers (Wes Welker) and big tight ends (Rob Gronkowski) can really have a field day with the Bills' secondary. The coverage was tight on some plays, but they seemed to be out to lunch on others, with blown assignments or giving too large of a cushion.
The guys that were getting burned today were across the board. I didn't see any one player not being burned at some point during the game. But we also have to point out that the Bills secondary came up with some huge turnovers today, and they shared in the glory, as four different secondary members came up with a pick today. They were Drayton Florence, Leodis McKelvin, George Wilson and Bryan Scott. The fact that Florence was able to return his interception for a touchdown was a huge turning point in the game.
The Bills won the turnover battle four to two today, and that very well could have been the deciding factor. The Patriots outgained the Bills 495-448. The Patriots ran off 11 more plays—71 to 60. The Patriots had 30 first downs to 24 for the Bills. The Patriots converted 3-of-9 third down plays, while the Bills converted 4-of-11 of their chances. The Patriots threw for more yards (387-369) and rushed for more yards (108-79).
Now the defense will have to go back to work. They will have to find out what the status is of rookie corner Aaron Williams, because if he is out, they will be short-handed without Terrence McGee. They might have to activate their other rookie corner next week, Justin Rogers.
The Bills started to win last year in the second half of the season, when they went 4-4 over the span of the final eight games. That is quite a difference from the 0-8 start that they carved out for themselves in the beginning under Chan Gailey.
With the game on the line and the clock winding down, the Bills have been able to come up with the right plays at the right time to seal the deal. There doesn't appear to be any end to the plays that Chan Gailey can turn to, and that is what is going to be giving Bills opponents fits for the rest of the year. But you have to execute, and the Bills have been executing very well.
Now sitting at 3-0, you have to get some breaks to be a winning team. I consider that the Bills cashed in some major chips or breaks if you prefer today, but can't continue to count on those going forward. For instance, the pass that Ryan Fitzpatrick threw up in the end zone that New England intercepted, only to see the play negated due to a penalty. The Bills instead were awarded the ball at the one-yard line and Fred Jackson punched it in on the next play. You can't count on plays like that happening on a regular basis.
So, what else did we learn. You can't continue to start as slowly as the Bills have the last two weeks and expect to always keep coming back. It is rare to happen once in a while, but in consecutive weeks, extremely rare. I would much rather see a game like we had in Kansas City, where the Bills came out and took an early lead and held it.
That means that all units, offense, defense and special teams, have to be ready from the opening whistle. I also expect the Bills to have a better handle on their personnel now. If Shawne Merriman can't turn it loose for every play or every series, have him rotate in with Batten or Carrington or Moats to get some high energy in there for more plays during the game.
The Bills will gain more national attention and respect with the win today. But, to keep it, they will have to continue to win. That will only happen if the players continue to work hard and attempt to shore up the many areas that were exposed early on today. But for now, we can celebrate that another long losing streak has mercifully come to an end.