By: Bob George/
October 03, 2004

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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. â€" The Buffalo Bills may turn out to be one of the toughest 0-3 teams in NFL history.

They lost to Jacksonville on a freak final play of the game. They lost at Oakland because they scored a touchdown which didn't register thanks to blind officials. And now, despite a 14-point final spread, the Bills forced the Patriots into still another subpar effort but came up short in the end. Too many mistakes, combined with the Patriots simply knowing better how to win a game, sealed the doom for the Bills Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

For the third straight game in this series, the winning team scored 31 points. Unlike last year's catastrophe, the Patriots were the ones who got the 31 and had plenty of material to outlast the Bills, 31-17. The Patriots won despite the Bills' offensive line dominating the game until late in the fourth quarter, two special teams gaffes by the Patriots, and despite a whopping 11 penalties called on the Bills, the Patriots had 10 called on them for good measure.

The win gave the Patriots 18 straight regular and postseason wins. They haven't lost in over a year, and if they continue to prevail despite bringing out their "B” or "C” games, the streak may go on for quite a while longer. This was a case where the Patriots once again played a flawed game, but the Bills played an even more flawed game, which proved decisive in the end.

The Bills set the tone early with penalties called on the first two plays. London Fletcher crushed Corey Dillon long after the whistle blew, then Sam Adams lined up offside to give the Patriots 20 yards in two plays. The Patriots paid them back with three straight penalties later in the drive to give them a first and 35 at their own 24. But David Givens beat reserve safety Coy Wire deep downfield and hauled in a 44-yard pass on the next play. A 17-yard sideline toss to Bethel Johnson set up a 15-yard touchdown run up the gut by Dillon and a 7-0 Patriot lead. The two penalties and the inability to stop the Patriots on first and 35 pretty much defined the afternoon for the Bills.

The Bills and Patriots were tied at the half, 17-17, and the Bills got the ball first in the second half. The Bills had a third and one at the Patriot 37, but penalties on three successive plays scuttled this drive. Lawrence Smith was guilty of holding, then Josh Reed and Mark Campbell were called for false starts back-to-back. Two plays later, the Bills were forced to punt on fourth and 19 on their own 45.

Early in the fourth quarter, the Bills stopped the Patriots at the Bills' 13. On fourth and one, Adam Vinatieri booted one from 31 yards out, but Rashad Baker was called for offside. The Patriots took the points off the board, and two plays later Brady hit Daniel Graham for a 2-yard scoring toss which put the Patriots ahead to stay, 24-17.

Penalties weren't the only thing which did in the Bills. Eventually the defense did get to Drew Bledsoe, who was sacked a total of seven times. This is rather misleading, in that the former Patriot quarterback did enjoy a reasonably good game, and most of the sacks and pressure on the quarterback came in the fourth quarter. One of those sacks was a Tedy Bruschi rush in the final period, where Bruschi whacked Bledsoe on the arm and jarred the ball loose. Richard Seymour picked up the ball and ran 68 yards for a touchdown to end the scoring at 31-17.

One indicator of how well Bledsoe's day went was two passes that he threw which resembled two touchdowns the Patriots gave up in Super Bowl XXXVIII against the Panthers. On their first offensive play of the game, Lee Evans ran a go route down the left sideline and hauled in a 55-yard strike against Tyrone Poole, the exact same play where Steve Smith burned Poole for a 39-yard touchdown. Then later in the second quarter, Eric Moulds lined up on left side and ran by Ty Law, who let him go in zone coverage. Moulds beat free safety Eugene Wilson deep for a 42-yard score, the exact same play where Muhsin Muhammad hauled in an 85-yard scoring toss in the Super Bowl. The only difference here is that Wilson did not pull his groin on the play.

Bledsoe finished with a decent passer rating of 83.6 on 18 of 30 passing for 247 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Bledsoe was not hurried much at all until late in the game, and his one pick was an overthrow of Moulds which was snared by Poole and returned 21 yards.

In addition to the ten penalties, the Patriots had a Dillon lost fumble at the Bills' 2 and two special teams disasters which helped keep the Bills in this contest. Vinatieri had just put the Patriots up 10-3 in the first quarter with a 42-yard field goal, but his kickoff was run back 98 yards for a touchdown by Terrence McGee thanks largely to a missed tackle by Shawn Mayer. Then in the second quarter, facing fourth and two at the Bills' 25, Brian Moorman lined up in punt formation. He bobbled the snap, picked up the ball and took off running to the right side. Inexplicably, the Patriots had zero outside containment on that side, and Moorman took off untouched for 34 yards. On the next play, Bledsoe hit Moulds for his 42-yard touchdown bomb.

Dillon did lose a fumble inside the Bills' 2, and nearly lost a second in that same region. Just prior to the Graham touchdown in the fourth quarter, Dillon carried for seven yards to the Buffalo 2, but he was hit by Nate Clements and coughed up the ball as his knee landed on Clements and not the ground. But the officials blew the play dead, and because of that the play could not be reviewed, where replays clearly showed that Dillon fumbled before any part of his body touched the ground.

Brady once again showed that he is the far superior quarterback. He finished just shy of 300 yards passing, two touchdowns and a 112.9 passer rating. His other scoring toss was to David Patten, who was wide open on a left crossing pattern as McGee was unable to keep up with the veteran wideout. Patriot receivers averaged 17.5 yards per carry.

And in what many had hoped to be a harbinger of the day, Dillon scored his first touchdown as a Patriot in finishing off the opening drive of the game. It was a 15-yard run straight up the gut, a show of what a powerful runner he is. Dillon (19 carries for 79 yards) was outgained by Travis Henry (24 carries, 98 yards), but Dillon's average was a tenth of a point better (4.2) than Henry.

The Patriots continue to deal exactly with what is presented to them. The Bills seemed to come close to the emotional high they reached last year in the opener, but this time the Patriots were able to match the Bills in intensity, and were able to make the Bills pay dearly for all the mistakes they made. It was a classic case of giving the Patriots too many extra chances to win the game, and the Patriots made good on all the gifts that were given them.

Thankfully, the Patriots can put last year to rest. All the Bills have been paid in full, at last.