FOXBOROUGH — Yes, Virginia, the Buffalo Bills are this bad.
Bill Belichick went out of his way to say that the Bills are not as bad as their record suggests. The Patriot head coach was unfortunately more correct in his assessment of bad coaching than he was in paying respect to the 1-7 Bills.
As always, Bill Parcells has the correct take on this. “You are what your record says you are!”
The Patriots did everything in their power to let the Bills hang around in this game. Between penalties, turnovers, careless execution, and head scratching play calling, the Bills were right there at the end of the game with a solid chance to win despite being outclassed the entire game.
And over here you have the “victors”, who despite having the Bills by a mile on paper in personnel, could not dominate the Bills despite doing worse to Rob Johnson what they did to Chris Chandler last week in Atlanta. What should have been an easy win for the Patriots instead nearly turned into…
A trap game. We all saw it coming, you might say.
Credit the Patriots for actually winning despite all evidence to the contrary. The scoreboard did say 21-11 Patriots at game’s end. The margin is deceptive, and the Patriots looked like the kooky bunch we saw most of the time in 2000 instead of the ultra-sleek, ultra-efficient machine they have been most of the time this year P.D. (post-Drew).
You can sit there and praise the Buffalo defense for great coverage, and for confusing Tom Brady with different defensive looks. You can sit there and commend the Buffalo defense with six sacks. You can sit there and commend the Buffalo team for fighting all the way to the bitter end, when you knew that they simply didn’t have the raw talent to beat the bumbling Patriots today.
Neither offense shown brightly today. Brady had a worse game today than he did against Denver. He managed only 107 yards passing today, and neither David Patten nor Troy Brown were ever major factors in today’s game.
But Brady’s defining moment came in the final quarter. With 3:04 left in the game, the Patriots had the ball at their own 41, facing a third down and five situation. Buffalo was out of time outs. The Patriots were trying to gain the five yards and then ice the game.
But in a situation where even a sack is okay, Brady drops back to pass, and is hit by Kendrick Office. The ball pops out of his hand, and rolls all the way to the Patriot 17 before linebacker Jay Foreman falls on it. Thanks to what should have been a running play turned into a botched pass, the Bills went from gonzo to first down at the Patriot 17 and new life.
And sure enough, two plays later, reserve quarterback Alex Van Pelt hit Peerless Price for a 17-yard score. Eric Moulds beat Ty Law on a quick slant in for a two-point try, and it suddenly was 14-11 Patriots.
Belichick takes the blame for the call, saying that “if I had known that Brady would fumble the ball, I probably call a quarterback sneak”. We’re sure that’s what Giants’ head coach John McVea said in 1978 after Herman Edwards’ famous improbable fumble return. It was a bonehead call that nearly cost the Patriots a win. Credit Belichick for taking a well deserved rap here.
But lots of Patriots did a lot of “rappin'” today.
The real weak link on the Patriots today was left tackle Grant Williams. Williams allowed at least three of the sacks of Brady, two of them to Aaron Schobel. Williams got hurt in the third quarter, and was replaced by Matt Light, which left one wondering why Light wasn’t starting in the first place.
Williams was overmatched all day, and one has to wonder how much this contributed to Brady’s day. Brady had been enjoying stellar protection in the last several weeks. But take away Light and put in Williams, and you had major disruption in the Patriot backfield. If Light was unable to start, one has to wonder about the whereabouts of one Kenyatta Jones, who was a possible starter for Greg Robinson-Randall.
The Bills got hit for nine penalties for 75 yards. But the Patriots also got 75 yards in penalties on two fewer calls. Both Willie McGinest and Richard Seymour were called for roughing the passer in the fourth quarter, with Seymour’s on third down and Johnson tossing an incompletion to Jay Riemersma. Terrence Shaw and Lawyer Milloy were flagged for defensive holding on the same drive in the second quarter.
Brady threw his fifth pick of the season, when he tried to hit Terrell Buckley deep down the right sideline but instead hit Antoine Winfield perfectly. The Bills took over at their 22 and drove towards a 24-yard field goal by Jake Arians.
The Patriots had severe fumbleitis today. In addition to the Brady blunder, Kevin Faulk coughed one up in the second quarter while the Patriots were on an 11-play, 52-yard drive. The Bills gave it right back on the next play, as Otis Smith picked off Johnson at the Bills’ 24-yard line.
All in all, it was a lot of the sloppy and careless play that marked the 2000 season. The difference this year was that the Patriots had just enough to win, and the Bills had just enough to lose. That is why the Bills are 1-7 and the Patriots are 5-4.
And that is why Belichick was being gracious to Buffalo instead of being honest. The Patriots do have to play the Bills again later this year, and Belichick doesn’t want to give up any bulletin board material to the Bills. But the Bills are too bad a team to win a game like this, and the Patriots got away with one today.
If anything positive can be gleaned from this game, it was that the Patriot defense looked pretty much as vicious as they did last week. For the second straight game, the Patriots knocked out the starting quarterback, as a crunching sack by Buckley forced Johnson out of the game, and perhaps longer. Postgame reports said that Johnson’s clavicle was broken in four places, and that Van Pelt might be the starting quarterback when these two teams meet later on this year.
Windy conditions today at Foxborough Stadium may have also had an effect on Brady. Actually, neither quarterback could develop a rhythm, but Johnson couldn’t because he was on the run all game long. Brady, being his typical political self, blamed himself for poor reads and vowed to go back to the game film tomorrow and see what he did wrong.
Antowain Smith’s 42-yard touchdown run late in the contest, which sealed the win for the Patriots, put him at exactly 100 yards rushing. This marked the second straight week that Smith has hit the century mark. Smith also scored the second Patriot touchdown, a one-yard run behind no blocking whatsoever from Williams, where he was nailed at the one but managed to stretch his paw over the goal line with the ball before his knee hit.
Overall, the Patriots won ugly today. They will certainly take it.
Now, they get what they want. A win, and the Rams next on their plate.
And they may wish they had Johnson back to beat up on.
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