By: Bob George/BosSports.net
September 07, 2003

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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- You want a positive spin on this game? Well, we just happen to have one for you. Seriously.

The last time the Patriots lost a season opener against an inferior team on paper which featured Takeo Spikes on defense, the Patriots went on to win the Super Bowl that year. Granted, it's not much, but the 2001 Patriots at one time were an abysmal 1-3. At least it's something to take from a putrid game which gave you the Patriot fan nothing but an upset stomach.

In the game in question, Spikes had three tackles, three assists and a sack in the 2001 season opener at Cincinnati. The Bengals looked like they had the best up-and-coming defense in the league, and shut down Drew Bledsoe and the Patriots, 23-16. Of course, the Bengals went on to 6-10 record and the forlorn Patriots made it all the way to the top.

It still can happen this year. Just treat this game as if it never happened, and things will be okay.

You want to talk about cutting a stinker, this one is right up there with the most nasty septic tanks in your neighborhood. It is wet dog hair, skunk spray and Meat Loaf's brow all in one. It is as if the Patriots had Boston Baked Beans for breakfast chased with three jumbo hot dogs each. Then, just five minutes before kickoff, on cue, the team broke wind with the world's biggest mass flatulation.

The Patriots then proceeded to crack one off on the field as well. The emotional Buffalo Bills, who did all the right things in making their pregame theater all it had to be (introducing their new strong safety last), took the smelly Patriots and completely flummoxed them, 31-0. It was the first shutout against the Patriots since a 6-0 loss to the Jets on November 28, 1993 in a horrendous downpour at Foxborough Stadium.

The only rain today at Ralph Wilson Stadium, resplendent in its new grass carpet, was in the form of hits, sticks and high-speed defenders flying at the Patriots. The Patriots were left wondering what hit them, except that they really did know.

Let there be no doubt about the real fallout from this game: Regardless of the emotional high Lawyer Milloy imparted on his new team, the Patriots were simply not ready to play football today. They could do nothing with a team which, not only they could have done something with, but which seemed to let up in the second half and give the Patriots a foot in the door before the Patriots pulled their foot away.

You can write this game off as "Yeah, they were in a funk over seeing Milloy on the other team, they can be forgiven just this once." Not from this corner of the Nation. While Milloy and his mates did play very well, the Patriots ought to be ashamed of their output today and need to search their souls for their old swagger before they square off against a real tough team next Sunday at Philadelphia.

The biggest quandary facing the Patriots from this game must center around the lack of a pass rush. Why was Bledsoe allowed to have a great day (17 of 28, 230 yards)? Richard Seymour and Rosevelt Colvin, despite one sack each, were largely invisible all game long. Bledsoe continually had time to throw. One can only assume that this comes from the Patriots being sapped of their spirit with the loss of Milloy this week, but it is a lame excuse which needs to go away immediately.

Milloy did see a surprising amount of field time, and did take part in an interception and a sack. But he wasn't the star of the game, far from it. Spikes and Sam Adams stole the show for the Bills, causing disruptions and taking Tom Brady completely out of his game. Spikes is a definite top-tier NFL linebacker, but he is someone who should have been accounted for, and Adams' interception return for a touchdown was the result of a pass that never should have been thrown.

On the only drive the Patriots had in the first quarter, Spikes got into the Patriot backfield and nailed Larry Centers for a four-yard loss. If Centers is in there, that means that Fred McCrary is not. The Patriots had no one to account for Spikes, which suggests that Brady had better be on top of his hot reads in formations where Centers is the lone back.

In addition to many other stellar plays, Spikes had two interceptions, both on ill-advised passes by Brady. In the third quarter, the Patriots set up the worst screen right pass in NFL history, but Brady threw that way anyway. Spikes easily snatched the off-balance throw. Then in the fourth quarter, Brady tried to hit Centers with a quick-out sideline pass. Spikes stepped right in front of Centers and made the pick, the last pass Brady would throw. In all, Brady had four picks and a 20.4 rating.

Then there was Adams. On second and ten at their own 39 midway through the second quarter, Brady tried to hit Kevin Faulk on a quick slant over the middle coming out of the backfield. Brady threw the ball too high and right into the teeth of coverage. Adams took the ball face-high and ambled (a la Keith Traylor last year) 37 yards for a score to make it 21-0 Bills. Three picks, all on bad Brady throws. One of those days?

The one pick which really wasn't Brady's fault was the culmination of an exasperating drive in the second quarter. Down 21-0, the Patriots were mounting their first real serious drive of the game. They had driven 41 yards to the Buffalo 39. Brady let fly with a deep route over the middle towards David Patten, double-covered in the end zone by Milloy and Nate Clements. Milloy clearly hit Patten before the ball arrived and deflected the ball up in the air. Clements caught the ball and the Bills got a touchback instead of an interference call against Milloy.

It was the second straight bad break in the passing game which went against the Patriots. In the first quarter, the first touchdown for the Bills was set up by an interference call against Ty Law in the end zone on Eric Moulds. This was called despite clear evidence that the ball was uncatchable (Bledsoe overthrew Moulds by a bit).

But the Patriots did themselves in by sulking over losing Milloy, and two very boneheaded plays at crucial times which, if they had either not happened or had been executed properly, might have allowed the Patriots to get back into the game and avert a shutout blowout.

In the second offensive drive of the game for Buffalo, the defense rose up and shut down Bledsoe for the first time. An errant snap from center Trey Teague resulted in a 15-yard loss, and the Bills were faced with a fourth-and-31 at the Patriot 41. Brian Moorman came in to punt, and Troy Brown made a fair catch at the 7. But Fred Baxter was called for a holding penalty pre-possession (instead of post-possession), resulting in a Bills first down. A stopped drive instead became an eventual touchdown for Buffalo (a seven yard toss to Dave Moore early in the second quarter). This play was the definitive bonehead play, and it single-handedly led the Patriots down the path of defeat.

Of lesser consequence, but nearly as damnable, was in the third quarter. The Patriots drove to the Bills' six-yard-line after Willie McGinest recovered a Travis Henry fumble at the Bills' 22. Bill Belichick decided to go for it on fourth and goal at the six down 21-0. Good gamble, good play call. Deion Branch does a square-in in the back of the end zone. Brady lays it right in there. Branch drops a sure touchdown. That was the best chance to score, unless you count the pitiful last two plays of the game.

The Bills played inspired, the Patriots played stodgy and stupid. They had no wherewithal to counter the emotion that Milloy gave the Bills.

But that's all this game was about. When these teams meet in the season finale in Foxborough, if the Patriots cut another 31-0 stinker, then heads will roll. Until then, this game was a major aberration by which the whole season should not be judged.

Okay, coach. Here's job one. Talk to your players. Milloy is gone. Deal with it. And soon, because Donovan McNabb is on deck, and this time things actually count.


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