ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – The Patriots needed to be like Rambo, and instead turned into Robin Hood.
The Patriots took an early series of jabs from the seemingly rejuvenated Buffalo Bills, armed with a new head coach in Rex Ryan and a hot new quarterback in former Baltimore backup Tyrod Taylor. The next thing you know, it was 21-7 Patriots and 37-13 Patriots early in the fourth quarter. The upstart Bills, fresh off a whipping of Indianapolis and their awful defense last week, looked like a team with their tails between their legs.
But the Patriots didn’t put the Bills away in the fourth quarter. Lacking the killer instinct of Rambo (your worst nightmare, remember), they instead resembled Robin Hood during the climactic final fight of the 1938 classic movie. In the movie, Sir Robin of Lochsley (Errol Flynn) has an easy kill against Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Basil Rathbone), as Flynn knocks Rathbone’s sword to the floor. Flynn kicks the sword back to Rathbone so he can continue the fight before Flynn kills him anyway a few seconds later. Flynn was more interested in the quality of the fight than winning the fight.
That’s pretty much how the fourth quarter went. Seemingly the easy conqueror against a Bills team which was shaken after a scary neck injury sustained by Aaron Williams in the third quarter, the Bills scored three touchdowns on three drives to make it 37-32 with less than two minutes left. But Buffalo, done in by penalties and turnovers, succumbed in the end, as the Patriots walked off of Ralph Wilson Stadium with a 40-32 win on Sunday that was not nearly as close as the final score indicates.
Ryan can talk, and can coach, we all know that. But his team showed a huge lack of discipline and poise at critical junctures of the game, which prevented his team from any chance of finally breaking through against an opponent they almost always lose to. Buffalo committed 14 total penalties for 140 yards, several of them of the unsportsmanlike conduct variety, and most of them very damaging.
Ryan himself had a lapse in the first quarter. Taylor rolled to his right and threw the ball just before he stepped out of bounds, but he was ruled out of bounds at the spot where he stepped out. Ryan threw the challenge flag on the next play too late. The play stood because one, the flag was late, and two, a play of that type is not reviewable anyway.
The Bills struck early. On their first possession they drove 80 yards in ten plays, going through the Patriot defense quite easily. Karlos Williams ran it in from two yards out to give the Bills a 7-0 lead. The Patriots were stuffed three and out, and the Buffalo fans were about the way they were in 1992 when they came back against Houston (now Tennessee) from down 32 in a playoff game.
Tom Brady threw for 466 yards and three touchdown passes in Sunday’s 40-32 win at Buffalo.
(USA TODAY Images)
But the game turned the Patriot way immediately after getting the ball back. Buffalo went three and out, including the first of eight sacks of Taylor. Tom Brady got the ball and marched the Patriots 67 yards in five plays, finishing it with an 8-yard scoring toss to Julian Edelman. Brady got touchdowns on the next two drives, getting a six-yard touchdown run by Dion (who’s he?) Lewis and a two-yard pass to Rob Gronkowski.
After the first scoring drive, the Bills’ next five series were four three-and-outs and an interception. Malcolm Butler got his first career regular season pick off a deflected ball off the fingertips of former Miami tight end Charles Clay. The game was a gross mismatch at this point, and all those Bills’ pregame comments seemed laughable.
The Bills did get a touchdown late in the second quarter thanks largely to a 43-yard pass interference call by Bradley Fletcher on Percy Harvin. But the Patriots got a late field goal and a late pick by Duron Harmon to go into the locker room up 24-13.
The Patriots seemingly put the game away in the third quarter. The first three offensive drives yielded two field goals and a touchdown. The touchdown was a 22-yard pass to Edelman, but the play resulted in Edelman’s legs hitting Williams in the back of the neck. The game was delayed for about 20 minutes as Williams was put on a wood plank, lifted onto a gurney and put in an ambulance as Ralph Wilson Stadium looked on in horror. Latest reports said that Williams did have movement in his extremities, but at the time the Bills held a prayer vigil on the sideline and everyone was taken aback.
But the Patriots failed to put the Bills away like they should have. A tired defense and questionable play calling were the main culprits. Under the heading of “questionable play calling”, one might want to put in “Bryan Stork didn’t play” and “Ryan Wendell didn’t play” as qualifiers, but the Patriots never went into a comfortable clock-kill mode and twice went for lob passes instead of Brady sneaks on fourth down (both unsuccessful).
Buffalo struck for three touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Taylor rolled right and found Robert Woods for 32 yards and a touchdown, with Butler having misplayed the play and making a futile leap at knocking the ball down at the last minute. After the second aforementioned fourth down failure by the Patriots near midfield, the Bills struck back with a 7-play, 59-yard drive that ended with Taylor running it in from seven yards out on a quarterback draw. It was now 37-25 Patriots, but instead of going into clock kill mode, Brady was strip-sacked on the second play by Jerry Hughes, and the ball was recovered by Preston Brown at midfield. It took the Bills two plays to cover the 50 yards, 26 on a pass Woods and 24 on another pass to Watkins with Fletcher in futile coverage. It was now 37-32 and very uncomfortable for the Super Bowl champs.
The Patriots did manage to close things out as Stephen Gostkowski hit his fourth field goal to make it 0-32 just inside two minutes to go. An interception by Logan Ryan on the next Buffalo offensive play ended things.
Brady was 38 of 59 passing for 466 yards, three touchdowns (leaving him one shy of 400 for his career) and a rating of 105.6. Edelman had eleven catches for 97 yards, while Gronkowski had seven catches for 113 yards. A pleasant surprise was Aaron Dobson with 87 yards on seven catches. Lewis had 138 all-purpose yards, including a nice 5.7 yards per carry average.
The Patriots get the Jacksonville Jaguars at home, a team still in rebuilding mode who prevailed at home in a death struggle with Miami. If the Patriots happen to be leading by three touchdowns late in the game, they should try and make it five or six. No more letting a beaten team back in a game.
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