A Hit Show: One Play Helps Tom Brady's Bunch in New England Win Season Opener

T.J. DoneganCorrespondent ISeptember 15, 2009

FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 14:  Kicker Stephen Gostkowski #3 of the New England Patriots celebrates with teammates after he recovered a fumble against the Buffalo Bills in the fourth quarter at Gillette Stadium on September 14, 2009 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

There are many things that separate a Super Bowl team from an also-ran.

Injuries. Great coaching. The schedule. Talent. Pure, dumb luck.

Sometimes, it just comes down to taking advantage of the few opportunities afforded you.

The Patriots did that Monday night, when Pierre Woods and Brandon Meriweather stripped away the ball and Buffalo's hopes of a week one upset.

Staring down the line at Buffalo's "hands" team, Stephen Gostkowski looked as though he wanted to put the ball into the parking lot in order to keep the clock above the two-minute mark. 

With the kick knuckling to the goal line, the Bills return man, Leodis McKelvin, perhaps questionably, took the ball from inside his own endzone, and looked to give his team great field position with a strong return.

But, especially in the final few minutes, that funny-shaped ball gets ideas of its own (Just ask Denver).

After travelling 70 yards downfield, and 30 yards the other way, the ball found its way out of McKelvin's hands, and back into those of Gostkowski—with a little help from the heads-up duo of Meriweather and Woods.

After a weekend where several teams found new and interesting ways to lose games, Buffalo added their own to the book.

If you were to only look at the stat sheet, you'd think the Bills would call themselves lucky to have had the lead late. But Buffalo made plays when they needed to on both offense and defense, following the lead of the very, very efficient Trent Edwards.

New England was able to penetrate with some regularity—sacking Edwards four times, including twice on the final drive—but it was Brady and the Patriots who seemed unable to keep their backfield clear.

Aaron Schobel, in particular, had a phenomenal game.

While not usually considered among the top pass rushers in the league, Schobel was constantly in the Patriots backfield, finishing with two passes defensed, a couple tackles, and a one-handed interception he returned for a touchdown.

While he managed just a single sack, he found himself in the backfield much of the night.

Working with a small lead, Trent Edwards and Buffalo's maligned "Pop Warner" offense just kept things simple and smart throughout the game.

While it seems their no huddle hasn't quite come alive as the Bills envisioned when they instituted it this offseason, their rookie offensive linemen acquitted themselves well against a veteran Patriot defensive line.

But, while the Bills can certainly hold their head high after leading nearly the entire game, it was Brady who ultimately wound up with the ball, and the chance to win it late.

After spending nearly the entire first half looking tentative, and unsure of his surgically-repaired left knee, Brady slowly worked himself into a rhythm.

Facing the Bills' cover-two shell that seemed willing to sacrifice the short pass to prevent the long gamebreaking play, Brady and New England bided their time.

On two nearly identical seam routes splitting the Buffalo safeties, Brady found tight end Ben Watson—who lost his starting job this offseason to Chris Baker—twice in the final 2:06 to extend New England's winning streak over Buffalo to 12 games.

It was a classic coaching gambit by New England, having Moss and Welker run primarily shorter routes, rather than attempt to stretch the field deep.

With Buffalo keying in on Moss and Welker underneath, Ben Watson was able to sneak between the safeties for eighteen yards and the first of two scores.

Not four snaps later, Buffalo identified the same route, but Ben Watson made a very athletic catch—just the kind of catch the Patriots drafted him for in the first round in 2003—to give New England their only lead of the game.

But, while Ben Watson has surely put some distance between himself and the summer days when his role on this club was up for debate, the day really belongs to Meriweather and Woods.

Whether on a single play or over the course of the whole game, there are a dozen moments in every football game on which the outcome can rest.

Gostkowski not hitting the ball clean enough to put it out.

Buffalo putting their hands team on the field in case of an offside's kick.

McKelvin taking the ball out of the endzone and not going to ground on contact.

But the well-coached teams recognize the moment as it happens, and know how to take advantage of it.

Standing up McKelvin, Meriwether presented the opportunity for Woods to come in and finish the job.

And the man who inadvertently started it all, Stephen Gostkowski, found himself at the bottom with the ball.

It wasn't the outcome Buffalo deserved, but it was the one they got.

The Patriots now find themselves owning a rather fortunate 1-0 record and ,one year after missing out on the playoffs by the slimmest of margins, thats an opportunity they can't afford to waste.


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