When does a win not feel like a win?
(a) When your offense scores 37 points and you still almost lose;
(b) When your opponent commits 14 penalties for a total of 148 negative yards, and still almost wins;
(c) When your opponent turns the ball over three times in your Red Zone, and still almost wins;
(d) All of the above
There is no wrong answer – The New England Patriots may have come away on top of a 37-31 final score, but the Buffalo Bills didn’t lose to New England – they beat themselves…and still almost won despite themselves.
Bills’ quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and Running back Fred Jackson had their way with the Patriots’ defense all day long, but each lost fumbles that doomed Buffalo to losing their 12th straight game in Foxborough by a score that seems improbable given the statistical and physical domination by the Bills.
Buffalo rushed for a combined 160 yards and Fitzpatrick passed for 337 yards and two touchdowns, but it was Fitzpatrick’s curious throw into the end zone that was easily picked off by Patriots’ safety Devin McCourty with 30 seconds left that finally sealed the win for New England, who takes a two game lead over the pack in the AFC East with the win.
Beaten down badly in their first meeting of the season, the Bills came out jumpy in this one, flinching at any sign of aggression from the Patriots’ defense – committing two false start infractions and a holding penalty on their first possession of the game. Not to be outdone, the Bills’ defense was called for phantom pass interference penalties twice on the Patriots’ second possession, helping New England to a quick 10-0 lead.
After the rough start, Buffalo started using the Patriots’ attacking scheme against them.
To counter New England’s early success at sealing off the ends, the Bills took to the sudden and cat-quick C.J. Spiller to cut back against the grain and into the creases caused by the Patriots’ linebackers over pursuit, gaining huge chunks of yardage and, even more important, causing New England to play more conservatively by forcing them to dial back on the attacking scheme.
And with a lack of aggression came Matador tackling – Patriots’ defenders routinely whiffing in the open field, though the elusiveness and suddenness of Spiller had something to do with that as well. The Patriots’ pass rush also suffered with the adjustment as they couldn’t get to Fitzpatrick at all and he had all the time he needed to find his 2nd and third options.
Spiller came into the game averaging an absurd 7.2 yards per carry, and by the time he was finished slicing through the Patriots defense, he had actually improved upon that average, going for nearly eight yards a carry while Jackson found his groove late to gain 80 yards on 16 carries.
It wasn’t all bad for the Patriots’ defense, though you really have to be grasping at straws to say it was anything more than an inconsistent effort overall.
Devin McCourty proved that he is potentially a top shelf Safety, while Steve Gregory, coming off injury that sidelined him for the past month, proved once again that he is not. McCourty hits well, knocking the ball loose from Fred Jackson on the Patriots’ 1 yard line to save a sure touchdown early in the game in addition to having the game saving interception with just seconds remaining.
The entire defensive line had early success, with Wilfork, Ninkovich and Cunningham recording sacks, with Wilfork causing a fumble on his. Chandler Jones was a presence as well, drawing a few holding calls and providing constant pressure.
Gregory was pedestrian, literally, as he took out his own players many times by taking bad angles to the ball and was inconsistent at best in pass coverage…but his performance was just one of many that were not up to New England’s standards – and that includes the coaching staff, who seemed collectively befuddled for the final three quarters, especially when it came to trying to cover Buffalo tight end Scott Chandler.
It was no banner day for the Bills’ defense either, as the Patriots scored at will in the game, methodically moving the ball down the field like they were out for a Sunday stroll. But they stiffened in the red zone in the 4th quarter, twice holding the Patriots to field goals when touchdowns would have iced the game.
With a tough road ahead including games against Indianapolis, San Francisco and Houston – not to mention the rest of the division slate, the Patriots had better figure out how to consistently put their opponents away when they build a lead.
If they can’t, this team that appeared to be contenders to play in yet another Super Bowl as the season began could find themselves having to buy tickets for the game instead.