No laughs this time from Tom Brady’s bunch. Only sighs of relief.
Yes, the New England Patriots still own the Bills – having extended their dominance of Buffalo to 14 straight games with Sunday’s 38-30 shootout win in Foxboro – but no one on the Patriots had much energy left to mock their AFC East rivals the way they reportedly did last year, according to Donte Whitner. The Pats were too spent from battling for their second win against a double-digit underdog in Foxboro to be running off at the mouth.
The Bills dropped to 0-3 on the season, but at least they put up a good and entertaining fight on offense, where the switch to journeyman quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick provided much more than a spark. After totaling just 16 points and 352 yards in their first two games with Trentative Edwards at QB, the Fitz-led Bills were downright combustible, generating two touchdowns, three field goals and 374 yards. (Buffalo’s other TD came on a thrilling 95-yard kickoff return by C.J. Spiller, but more on that encouraging play several paragraphs later.)
In a refreshing development, Fitz guided the Bills to a field goal on their first possession, and set the tone for the day with his decisiveness. He managed to get the ball more to Lee Evans, who was shut out last week against Green Bay, and although the frustrated wide receiver didn’t have a huge day, he did catch five for 54 yards and open the door for Roscoe Parrish (5-for-80) and Steve Johnson (3-for-66, 1 TD) to keep the chains moving. Fitz wound up completing 20-of-28 for 247 yards and two touchdowns, temporarily reviving a comatose offense that had entered the game as the NFL’s worst.
But, as he is prone to do, the risk-taking Fitzpatrick also was victimized by costly interceptions in the second half when the game was still on the line. Both picks were his fault, the result of errant throws that sailed beyond the grasp of his receivers. The second interception occurred with 3:04 remaining and the ball on the Buffalo 35. The Bills defense, after yielding two 13-play touchdown drives, finally stopped the magnificent Brady, thanks to relentless nose tackle Kyle Williams, who recorded a sack and a batted-down pass on consecutive downs to force the Patriots to punt.
But on Buffalo’s first play following the exchange, Fitz fired one over David Nelson’s head and into the hands of Pats defensive back Brandon Meriweather. Ballgame.
To pin this one solely on Fitzpatrick would be unfair. The Bills defense only applied scant pressure on Brady, who had enough time in the pocket on most plays to do a modeling shoot. He took full advantage of his time, completing 21-of-27 passes for 252 yards and three touchdowns. And the Patriots ground game had its way with the Bills. Despite the presence of featured back Kevin Faulk, who’s out with an injury, the Patriots gashed Buffalo for nearly 200 yards and came up with few stops throughout the day.
But let’s try to be positive. Marshawn Lynch had his second straight strong game, with 79 yards on 13 carries, giving him 143 yards on 30 attempts the past two weeks.
Also encouraging was Spiller’s performance. Besides his first NFL kickoff return for score, he also caught a short TD pass from Fitzpatrick. His four carries produced 29 yards. So, it appears that he is shaking off the rookie jitters and will become an even bigger part of the offense as the season progresses. Look for him to get a bunch more touches next week against the Jets.
Of course, in a bottom-line business like the NFL, the bottom-line is that the Bills remain winless. But when you are this bad, you have to latch onto any small victories you can find.
If you’re going to lose, you might as well go down fighting. If nothing else, they showed a little moxie Sunday. And, for a change, they were entertaining.