Rex Ryan was reminded on Sunday how lucky he was earlier this month.
When his 1-2 Bills came into Foxboro at the beginning of October, Ryan was on the verge of seemingly being eliminated from contention in the AFC East while also potentially having to start working on his resume after it seemed his tenure in Buffalo might be in jeopardy. A loss to New England likely would have assured that outcome, especially after Ryan had already lost two-straight conference games and a loss to the Patriots would have made it three.
But luckily for Ryan, that didn’t happen. Thanks to Tom Brady’s suspension, the beleaguered head coach found himself with the benefit of catching his division rival severely hampered, with Jimmy Garoppolo having suffered a shoulder injury two weeks earlier and his rookie back-up dealing with a thumb injury on his throwing hand.
With their hands essentially tied behind their backs on offense, the Patriots couldn’t do much of anything about the fact Ryan’s club managed 13 first half points, nor could they help support a defense that gave up just three second half points and the end result was a 16-0 defeat. After handing the Patriots their first home loss since 1993, Ryan walked out of Foxboro acting like he was on top of the world, and the hype was enough to give the Bills enough confidence to go out and win two straight games after that.
All of a sudden, Ryan’s job seemed secure and the Bills found themselves as the lone contenders behind the Patriots in an AFC East Division that was supposed to be more competitive. But Ryan crashed hard after his team melted down in Miami at the hands of the Dolphins last week, blowing a 17-6 third-quarter lead before losing 28-25. That defeat essentially erased what little confidence he might have had from the Bills’ fan base, with Buffalo’s chances at winning the Division taking a significant hit coming into their game against the Patriots.
And on Sunday, that hope went completely out the window after Ryan was reminded about the massive gap between his own team and the Patriots after a 41-25 beating. This time around there would be no rookie quarterback his team could try and bully before the game and this meeting held a completely different feel than the one that so far sits in the standings as New England’s lone loss of 2016.
Buffalo got on the board right away after scripting out an opening series that saw them march right down the field and take an early 3-0 lead on a field goal, but it didn’t take long for Brady to come out and set the Bills straight.
The Patriots went right down the field on their opening drive, going 70-yards on 14 plays which ended when Brady fired a 9-yard touchdown strike to Danny Amendola to put them up 7-3. From there, with their script of plays now exhausted, New England’s defense forced the Bills to go 3-and-out on their ensuing drive and the Patriots then took control, albeit it wasn’t easy. They shot themselves in the foot early in the drive thanks to an offensive pass interference on their first play by Amendola put them in a 1st-and-20, and Marcus Cannon committed an ineligible downfield player penalty on a 3rd-and-8 later in the series that nullified a 47-yard pass to Julian Edelman.
But thanks to Brady, the Patriots overcame it on the next play. Despite facing 3rd-and-13, Brady launched a bomb to Chris Hogan, which resulted in a 53-yard touchdown to the former Bills receiver to extend their lead to 14-3.
Mistakes like that with a rookie quarterback likely would have ended up with a conservative play call and the end of a drive. With a player like Brady, it’s a different story and that play was a big example of how easy Ryan and the Bills had it the first time.
“It was without question frustrating,” said a flustered Ryan after the game. “You get them backed way up on the third-and-long and we blow a coverage that—it’s just 10 guys playing one thing and somebody else playing something else.”
That wasn’t even the worst part. After the Bills caught a break late in the half thanks to a couple of miscues on defense by New England, Buffalo managed to take advantage of a 29-yard pass interference call on Eric Rowe that got them down to the Patriots 32. They then followed that up with a completion to Reggie Bush for 25-yards that put them at the Patriots’ 7-yard line.
There seemed to be some confusion after Buffalo caught New England with 12 players on the field, which moved the Bills 4-yards closer and from there Bills running back Mike Gillislee bowled over Jamie Collins for the touchdown, and just like that Buffalo seemed to be back in the game at 14-10.
Brady reminded Rex Ryan who is still boss in the AFC East. (USA TODAY Images)
But Brady took care of that almost immediately. He hit Hogan for 19-yards on their second play from scrimmage and two plays later fired a strike down the field to Gronkowski, which the tight end caught and took off for what ended up being a 53-yard touchdown.
That’s how a veteran quarterback takes back the momentum, and it took the air out of a stadium that had just started to believe they were back in the game.
“He’s pretty dang good,” said Ryan on Gronkowski. “The problem is, you know, somebody has to have a tough down and win that tough down or whatever but yeah, that guy’s (a) phenomenal player and he’s been that way for a long time.”
The next series really proved to be the difference-maker. The Bills managed to put together a long drive, which put them in position for a 49-yard field goal with :32 to go in the half. But instead, kicker Dan Carpenter hit the upright and Buffalo came up empty, putting the ball in Brady’s hands with 0:27 still left on the clock.
Again, with Brissett, the Patriots would likely have opted to kneel on it. But with Brady, he took them down to the Bills 33-yard line, giving Stephen Gostkowski a chance to hit a 51-yard field goal that put them up 24-10 as the two teams went into the locker room.
“Obviously that was a big turn because Dan (Carpenter) hit it great. He did,” said Ryan on that sequence. “Three-quarters of the way up (it looks good), he hits the upright. Their kid hits the upright, it goes through, but that was kind of the day it was for us.”
To make matters worse for Buffalo, Brady also had his way with the Bills on third down. New England opened the game converting 5-of-5 and finished 9-of-13 overall (69%), with Brady hitting – and converting – all eight of his attempts for 149-yards and two touchdowns. That’s a far cry from the 1-of-12 (8%) by New England in their first meeting, but having a quarterback like Brady in the line-up tends to make a difference.
“It’s right up there. There’s no doubt,” said Ryan of where the third down issues fit into the loss. “And the penalties obviously, we had way too many penalties, embarrassing quite honestly, and then the third down efficiency on third down defense is something we’ve been – you have to do a great job on third down defense against Brady and company for sure and today we weren’t even close I mean they hit on 69-percent of their third downs and you’re not going to beat them if that percentage is that high.”
The end result was another win by Brady, who improved to 26-3 all-time against the Bills and matched the NFL record held by Brett Favre for most wins against a franchise as Favre went 26-9 against Detroit.
More importantly, it’s a win that dropped the Bills to 4-4 on the season and put the Patriots in full control at 7-1 of the AFC East while leaving Buffalo with a tough road as they’re on the verge of dropping below .500 with a trip to Seattle now up next in front of the entire country on Monday night football.
Needless to say, instead of being 5-3 and on back in the mix, Ryan’s club was brought back down to reality thanks to Brady’s near-flawless 22-of-33, 315-yard 4-touchdown performance. Thanks to this loss, it sounds like he knows any hope he has to reach the postseason will have to be as a Wild Card team because with Brady back, catching the Patriots now becomes a longshot.
“Well I would think that’s what you’re (playing for),” said Ryan about the Wild Card being his only chance. “That team’s three games up on us and I think at the halfway point they’ve lost one game. And No. 12 is back, so yeah, I don’t see that happening (winning the division). I hope I’m wrong.”
It’s funny how in less than a month things can change, with Ryan suddenly having come full circle. Instead of being on a road towards redemption, he’s essentially almost right back where he started. He’s now, once again, coaching for his life and will need an unprecedented run by his team for any hope of reaching the postseason because the player who beat him Sunday will likely continue to make sure the AFC East remains out of his grasp.
“I think you go in, you think you’re ready to roll but know who you’re up against,” said Ryan on Brady. “This guy is probably the best who’s ever played or he’s right up there in the conversation. So you know what you’re getting.”
And on Sunday, it was another butt-kicking.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: 2016 NFL Season 2016 Patriots season Bill Belichick Buffalo Bills Chris Hogan Danny Amendola Dont'a Hightower Jabaal Sheard New England Patriots NFL Patriots Patriots edge rushers Rex Ryan Rob Gronkowski Tom Brady Trey Flowers