Listening to the Patriots players following Sunday’s 34-31 debacle against the Bills, there was one recurring theme that stood out while they lick their wounds and start preparing for a trip out to Oakland this Sunday.
It was just one game.
One game out of 16. Now the only question is whether it will be remembered as a blip on the radar or a turning point in the season.
The latter can be looked at in one of two ways. They’ll either manage to put it behind them and use it as a stepping stone toward becoming the team they’re trying to be, or it will be a game that defines what could be a long season.
Obviously the first part seems far more likely, especially when you’ve got someone like Tom Brady slinging the football. Sunday’s showing against the Bills certainly wasn’t his best, but when you look back at the game the one thing that needs to be mentioned is the fact that it’s not many people are making it out to be.
He’s not making stupid throws. He’s not making bad decisions. He’s not making bad reads and forcing the ball into double and triple coverage. The first pick was a ball that he threw a little behind Danny Woodhead that went off Woodhead’s hand as he turned around for the ball, and Bills’ safety Brian Scott made a great grab to snatch it up before it hit the turf. The second, which came on their next offensive snap, was made after Leodis McKelvin stepped inside on Chad Ochocinco on an in route after Ochocinco didn’t run the route quite tight enough.
Two tough plays that weren’t what you’d call bad decisions, but just off enough to give the ball back to the Bills.
“It’s football, I mean, it’s a few plays here or there,” explained Brady after yesterday’s game. “Look, we’ve been on the other end of that before too, so you’ve got to play for 60 minutes. You’ve got to keep the foot on the gas pedal and play mistake free, and we certainly didn’t do that. Too many turnovers, too many penalties, too many scoring opportunties that we missed, and that’s why we lost the game.”
Brady’s only real egregious throw happened three drives later, when New England held Buffalo to a 3-and-out following a punt by the Patriots to start the fourth quarter. The Patriots defense had the Bills pinned inside their own 8 yard line, and it gave New England great field position after Brian Mooreman boomed a punt 46 yards, with the Patriots starting that drive at their own 46.
From there things started off great. Brady handed the ball off three times, with Wes Welker running an end around to the right and picking up 19, while Stevan Ridley made two nifty runs of 8 and 4 yards to give them 1st and 10 at the Buffalo 23. On the next play Rob Gronkowski went racing up the middle, and Brady had him dead to rights for what appeared to be a sure touchdown.
Instead, he underthrew it, and it was picked off.
Brady was disappointed with Sunday’s outcome, but plans on making sure there’s no repeat of what happened in the future. (FILE:Icon/SMI)
“Some days the ball gets batted up in the air and it goes your way, and some days it doesn’t, and that’s part of the game,” said Brady after the game. “[Bill’s safety] George Wilson made a hell of a play on that one interception so that’s the way the ball bounces, that’s football.”
Following his interception the Bills used two huge defensive penalties to get into the endzone, with a 15-yard penalty from a “roughing the passer” penalty by Kyle Love, followed by a pass interference call on Sergio Brown who got tangled up with a Bills receiver in the back of the endzone. Brown threw his hands up in the air, but the refs called it anyway. The worst part was that Josh Barrett made an easy pick on a bad throw from Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, and instead of a turnover Buffalo had the ball at the one yard line.
One play later Fred Jackson took it in, and suddenly the Bills had it all tied up at 24-24.
And just like that, the crowd was back into the game. It put them into a frezy thanks to the fact that a little over an hour earlier they were trailing by three touchdowns.
This was a key moment for Brady to march them back down the field and take the lead. You could have even gone as far as to say that it was potentially a defining moment in a game that they still could have found a way to overcome all the mistakes and close it out.
Well it ended up being a defining moment, and when it was over all signs pointed to the fact it appeared we were about to witness an upset.
It happened quick. On their first offensive play of that ensuing drive, Brady tried to hit Julian Edelman coming across the middle, and instead the ball hit off a leaping Bills defender, right into the arms of Drayton Florence, who ran it back 27 yards into the endzone to put them up 31-24 with 10:32 left in the game.
That’s when Ralph Wilson stadium just exploded. The Bills had the lead and the momentum, and with good reason. They had just pulled off a pick six on the best quarterback in football, and had a 3-0 record right there for the taking.
But Brady did what Brady does best, he recovered. After the kickoff, they had the ball at their own 29 yard line. Brady then handed the ball off three straight times to Ridley, gaining 8 yards, followed by 16 more and then another 6 yard pick up – which set up a 2nd and 4 at the Buffalo 31 yard line. Brady then tried to go to Welker, but had the ball tipped and knocked away for the incompletion. That brought up a critical 3rd down, and the play coming up could have changed the game, as well as been the first big play for a certain receiver.
As Brady took the snap and dropped back, he saw Ochocinco streaking up the sideline after getting behind his man, and Brady threw a perfect ball that dropped right into his hands.
And then right through them.
That play could have yielded them a touchdown, and it occurred with 8:18 left to go in the game. If they had gotten it they would have knotted the score and would potentially have had more than enough time to hopefully stop Buffalo and get the ball back.
Instead the drive continued, and fortunately Brady converted the ensuing fourth down play to the more sure-handed Welker and kept it going.
Nine plays later they finally reached the endzone, but the bad news was it took another five minutes. This time Buffalo was going to get the ball with 3:25 to go, and considering how shaky their defense had been to this point, it didn’t give them much time to recover if they gave up any big plays.
And that’s exactly what happened. Buffalo picked up 26 on a pass from Fitzpatrick to Donald Jones, followed by a screen to Jackson that allowed them to pick up 12 more. But the dagger came on the next play when Jackson caught a pass and took off 39 yards for what appeared to be a touchdown, which happened with 1:48 left in the game.
Unfortunately Devin McCourty managed to stop him short at the one yard line, which is what the referees called after reviewing the play. From there Buffalo ran down the clock, leaving Brady helpless to do anything about it.
“They got a good break,” said Brady. “I wish he’d have went in the endzone and gave us a chance to get the ball back, but he didn’t. The refs changed the call, and they had an opportunity to run the clock out and kick the field goal. It was smart football.”
Belichick said on Monday that McCourty made the right play by trying to tackle Jackson.
“I think the right play happened,” Belichick said. “I think Devin did what he would instinctively do. I wouldn’t second-guess him on that.”
The Bills just sat there, continually kneeling and letting the seconds tick away, making sure Brady wouldn’t get the football back in his hands.
With :03 left on the clock Buffalo booted it through, and it was just a fitting end to a frustrating afternoon.
How they bounce back now will obviously be critical. They’ll be heading out to Oakland next Sunday to face a tough Raiders team that’s also 2-1, and went down to the wire with this same Bills club.
Brady said they’ll be ready, and he and his team plan to come out swinging.
“We’re not going anywhere,” said Brady. “We’ll be back, we’ll be fighting next week. Hopefully we learn from it and move on and make a few less mistakes next week and try to go win a game in Oakland.”
It’s just one game, and hopefully it will be a distant bad memory after next Sunday.