FOXBOROUGH - When you talk about exacting revenge, how exacting can one team possibly get?
Naturally, the Patriots will downplay any revenge motive now that the home field is safe and secure and that the road to Houston runs down the Boston Post Road. Who cares about some dumb aberration in September when you now can look forward to one and hopefully two home playoff games standing between them and another Super Bowl bid? Drew Bledsoe and Lawyer Milloy looked on with crestfallen faces and watched their former mates celebrate the culmination of the finest regular season in franchise history, while their teammates likely played the best "fire Gregg Williams" game that they possibly could.
The Patriots completed their journey into uncharted waters Saturday at Gillette Stadium. No Patriot team had ever won 14 games in a season. No Patriot team had ever been seeded first in the conference playoffs. No Patriot team had ever gone 8-0 at home. The Patriots finished off any remaining playoff questions from their standpoint, and put the finishing touches on a regular season for the ages.
We make sure and state "regular season" because it is blasphemous to call this the finest season in Patriot history when two years ago they were Super Bowl champions. All this has done is made their road to Houston a lot easier and shorter. But they still need to win three more games to bring home another Vince. The nice thing is that two of those games will be at Gillette Stadium, which is fast gaining a reputation for being a tough venue for a visiting team to score in.
For the third time this season, the Patriots recorded a home shutout. It was particularly sweet that the final score happened to be 31-0, the same score the Patriots lost to Buffalo by in the season opener. While the Patriots were sapped of their energy thanks to the sudden departure of Milloy earlier in that week, the Bills showed little or no energy or will to win this game. Instead of a tough defensive struggle they could have provided, the Bills instead made things a piece of cake for the Patriots, and in doing so made a strong statement as to how little they regard their head coach, who likely will be dismissed in the next few days.
To secure the shutout, the Patriot second defensive unit had to stop the Bills' second offensive unit. But backup quarterback Travis Brown came in and hit on 11 of 14 passes for 119 yards, and drove his team 97 yards on late in the fourth quarter to the Patriot 1. With 13 seconds left, Brown play faked to Sammy Morris and tried to hit Dave Moore in the left corner of the end zone. Special teams maven Larry Izzo stepped in front of Moore and made the pick, and Gillette Stadium, as well as the Patriot players, erupted in their biggest show of joy for the entire day.
Izzo's pick was only to preserve the shutout. The game was won ages ago, as Tom Brady overcame a potentially devastating knee injury to throw four touchdown passes in the first half. The Patriots scored touchdowns on their first two drives, and looked like they were in a practice session in doing so. Brady was 21 of 32 passing for 204 yards and a 122.9 rating, and was slicing and dicing the Bill defense like a butcher carves up a cow or a surgeon operates on a patient.
But all of Patriot Nation held its collective breath early in the second quarter. Facing third and 16 at their own 28, Brady tried to hit David Givens on a deep right sideline pattern, the pass falling incomplete. But Milloy came crashing in on Brady, and in a scene eerily reminiscent of the AFC Championship Game at Pittsburgh two years ago, Milloy fell on Brady in a way which appeared to hyperextend his left knee. Fortunately for Brady, the ground was soft enough to allow the left foot to slide and thus avoid a potential season-ending ligament tear. Brady limped off the field under his own power, and did play until midway through the final period.
The injury did not appear to hamper him in any way, as on the next offensive series, Brady led the Patriots on another touchdown scoring drive. The Patriots went 70 yards in nine plays, helped by a 27-yard pass from Brady to Givens and two foolish Buffalo penalties. Brady finished it off with a ten-yard slant pass to Givens, who blew by Milloy and into the end zone. The crowd was more enamored with Milloy missing the final tackle than the score.
With each touchdown pass thrown by Brady (Daniel Graham, Bethel Johnson and Troy Brown caught the others), and the HFA assured, the game came down to whether or not the Patriots could exact the sweetest revenge of all and shut out the Bills. Every serious scoring threat the Bills had, the Patriots had an answer for it.
In the first quarter, Takeo Spikes recovered a Brady fumble at the Patriot 29 after Jeff Posey swarmed in and clobbered the Patriot quarterback. They gained three yards on three plays, and had a fourth down at the Patriot 26. They lined up for a Rian Lindell field goal from 44 yards out. Lindell missed wide right, but there was no play because the play clock ran out. Backed up five yards, Williams opted to simply go for it, and Josh Reed dropped a pass in the right flat which Bledsoe threw behind him. The Bills got a fumble and wound up surrendering the ball on downs.
In the second quarter, a Nate Clements punt return of 30 yards put the Bills on the Patriot 45. The Bills drove to the Patriot 16, but on third and seven, Rodney Harrison came in and pulverized Bledsoe for a seven-yard loss. Lindell came in for a 40-yard field goal attempt, but this one was wide left.
The Bills opened up the second half with a 75-yard kickoff return by Antonio Brown. A team down 28-0 had to start their comeback somewhere, but Buffalo had no such ability to do so. A false start by two Bill offensive linemen and a sack of Bledsoe by Tully Banta-Cain pushed the Bills back to the Patriot 30. Williams again went for it on fourth down and 22, but Eugene Wilson defensed Reed perfectly and knocked the pass away.
The only other serious scoring threat for the Bills was their final drive which resulted in the Izzo end zone interception. Starting at their own 2, the Bills converted three third downs and one fourth down. The converted fourth down was a 19-yard pass from Brown to Clarence Coleman with Shawn Mayer defending. On the next play, Brown drilled one to Moore, again with Mayer defending, and he went 28 yards to the Patriot one. Izzo made his end zone interception on the next play.
So, the Patriots get their 14 wins, their home field, and the satisfaction of sticking it to the Bills in exactly the same way they got stuck in Week 1.
The fact that they blanked Buffalo will be forgotten by tomorrow, if it hasn't been already. The big thing right now is to rest up, to ready themselves for the playoffs, and to repeat their big feat from two years ago.
Call it the three "R"s. Rest. Ready. Repeat.
And not the four "R"s. Revenge had nothing to do with today.
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