September 25, 2011
Defense, Mistakes End Win Streak In Buffalo
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Red Sox are making 1978 look like a simple September swoon, and now this.
Tom Brady last threw four interceptions in a game in 2006 against the Colts. He matched that mark on Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium, against a rejuvenated Buffalo Bills team which had the same 2-0 record going into the game that the Patriots had. Coming back from 18 down last week to win at home against Oakland, the Bills came from 21 down on Sunday and won, 34-31 on a walkoff 28-yard field goal by Rian Lindell. The Bills are now the hot new up and coming team in the NFL, while the Patriots are a defensive sieve and extremely vulnerable when Brady has a bad day.
The last time the Bills beat the Patriots was the Lawyer Milloy game to lead off the 2003 season. Bill Belichick released Milloy a week before the season began, Buffalo picked him up almost immediately, and he started the game that Sunday and watched with glee as his new team blanked his old team, 31-0. Belichick and the Patriots looked forlorn that day, but returned the favor by blanking Buffalo at Foxborough on the final day of that season by the same score. That win gave the Patriots the one seed in the playoffs, and they would go on to win Super Bowl XXXVIII that season.
The Bills' starting quarterback that day was Drew Bledsoe. How strange it is that on the tenth anniversary of the Mo Lewis hit, Bledsoe is now no longer the last Buffalo quarterback to beat the Patriots. That honor now belongs to Harvard's Ryan Fitzpatrick, who is going a long way to prove that Harvard produces more than just lawyers and CEOs. Harvard football fans love to chant "We may be losing, but we're going to have a better job than you!" Fitzpatrick carries that chant to a new level now that he is 3-0 and fresh off a watershed win over an old Buffalo nemesis.
The Patriot defense is simply terrible. Brady could throw for 6,000 yards this season and the Patriots could probably still go only 8-8 if the defense continues to be this porous, especially against the pass. They entered the game 31st in the league in total defense and 31st against the pass, and Fitzpatrick shredded the Patriots to the tune of 369 yards and two touchdowns. Fitzpatrick did throw two interceptions of his own (both to Kyle Arrington and both in the first quarter) which kept his passer rating down to 92.6, but in the end he had everything clicking and put away the Patriots when it needed to be done.
Mistakes killed the Patriots all game long, such that it was really about the Patriots beating themselves rather than Buffalo beating them. This is not meant as being dismissive of the Bills, as they played the better game and more than deserved to win. But the Patriots will gnash their teeth over the four Brady picks, a dropped touchdown pass by Chad Ochocinco, some damaging penalties and a controversial timeout called late in the game against the Patriots while Belichick was arguing an official's decision with just under two minutes to go.
Brady was sailing along, leading 21-0 with six minutes to go in the first half and the Patriots completely dominating the Bills in much the same way the Raiders were last weekend. The Bills woke up and went on a 96-yard, 7-play drive which got the crowd back into the game and pretty much changed the complexion of the game. A 21-yard run by Fred Jackson up the gut got the Bills out of the shadow of their goal line. Two plays later, with the Bills facing a first and 20 from their own 26, Fitzpatrick hit David Nelson for 15 yards, and got another 15 yards when Rob Ninkovich was called for roughing the passer. Two plays later, Nelson snuck behind Arrington and broke off a 26-yard pass play to get the Bills to the Patriot 15, and two plays later Fitzpatrick hit Steve Johnson on a fade toss from 11 yards out to get the Bills on the board.
Brady would wind up throwing picks on consecutive plays. After stopping the Bills on three-and-out to begin the second half, Brady tried to hit Ochocinco on a deep slant right pattern. Leodis McKelvin stepped in front of Ochocinco and picked it off, returning it 21 yards to the Patriot 39. A Jackson 18-yard run set up Fitzpatrick at the Patriot 6, and on third down and goal he found a wide open Scott Chandler to make it 21-17 Patriots.
More bad tidings would follow for the Patriots. Their next drive went 81 yards but stalled at the five-yard line. Rather than go for it on fourth and two, Stephen Gostkowski was brought in to kick a 23-yard field goal and put the Patriot lead back up to a touchdown. The Patriots would hold the Bills to three-and-outs on the next two drives, but a holding penalty on Logan Mankins killed the first drive, and the third Brady pick killed the second. He tried to hit Rob Gronkowski in the end zone from 23 yards out, but George Wilson stepped in front of the Patriot tight and snatched the ball.
A penalty on Buffalo during Wilson's return set the ball at the Bills' 5. The lousy Patriot defense began to kick in, as Buffalo covered the 95 yards on two plays and two penalties to tie the game at 24. Kyle Love was called for roughing the passer, then Fitzpatrick hit Donald Jones for 48 yards to the Patriot 32, running right by Leigh Bodden. Fitzpatrick then tried to hit Nelson in the end zone and was picked off by Josh Barrett, but Sergio Brown was called for interfering with Nelson in the end zone. Jackson pounded it in from one yard out and the game was tied.
One play later, Buffalo had the lead. Brady's first play on the next series was a dump pass intended for Julian Edelman but was tipped in the air by Marcell Dareus. Drayton Florence caught the floating ball and rambled 27 yards for the pick-six and Buffalo led for the first time, 31-24.
Brady was able to right himself and lead the Patriots back into a tie, driving the team 71 yards on 15 plays. On fourth and goal at the six, Brady hit Welker for the touchdown to tie the game with 3:25 left in the game. Welker had career highs in catches (16) and yards (217), and it seemed that he would be the linchpin in an eventual Patriot win.
The problem was that the defense was needed to make a stop and give Brady back the ball, and Brady spent the rest of the game on the bench watching helplessly. The Bills got the ball at the 20, but Fitzpatrick hit Jones for 29 yards with Devin McCourty unable to defend, then he hit Jackson for 12 yards, and then hit Jackson on a dump pass over the middle which nearly went to the house. Jackson was ruled down at the one after replays overturned a touchdown call. Belichick spent most of the replay time screaming at the officials, and they would up charging the Patriots with a precious timeout which would eventually prove fatal. It was not known at press time exactly what Belichick was complaining about.
With 1:43 left, the Patriots would have preferred to simply let Buffalo score and get the ball back for Brady. But Chan Gailey smartly called for a bunch of Fitzpatrick kneeldowns, and after a hail of penalties on both sides, the Bills got the clock down to three seconds, and Lindell nailed the game-winner from 28 yards out as time expired.
The Bills whooped it up, while the Patriots shuffled off to Buffalo airport losers to the Bills for the first time in nine years. Brady won't throw four picks in a game perhaps ever again, but the defense is a major concern. Despite the Patriots gaining 495 yards of offense, they gave up 448 and the penalties and turnovers cost the Patriots the game.
The Red Sox pitching is in shambles, and the Patriot defense isn't far behind. It may be a very cold autumn in these parts.
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