BOSTON (CBS) — Football is a funny game. You can break it down 100 different ways and you can try to forecast what will happen, but once that ball kicks off, some crazy things happen.
And for the Bills and the Patriots, those “crazy things” included an absolutely dominant opening drive by the Buffalo offense, which marched 80 yards down the field with incredible ease to take a 7-0 lead in front of a fired-up home crowd.
But the cheering ended there for the Bills for quite a long time, as Tom Brady’s offense responded with an utterly dominating performance that had thousands of Bills fans heading to the exits before the third quarter came to a close.
Those early-exiting fans missed the Bills make a game out of it in the fourth quarter, but the Patriots did enough to fend off the Bills.
It was hard to limit the ups to just four, and it was difficult to spot four downs, so things might be a little different this week. It’s more like six-ish ups and a pair of downs. That was a big road win in the division — no need to be too negative after that one.
The 38-year-old quarterback threw for 466 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions. It was the second-highest passing-yard total of Brady’s career, second only to the quarterback’s 517-yard performance in Miami in 2011.
Though Brady made a few bad passes (he was 38-for-59), there were also about a half-dozen drops by receivers that could have made those numbers even more impressive.
But beyond the numbers, Brady took complete control of a game in a rowdy, hostile environment and put the team on his back. (The Patriots called just 11 rushing plays all game.) There’s no way to overstate how significant an advantage it is for the Patriots to have Tom Brady under center, but game tape from Sunday’s game should do a fairly decent job of illustrating it.
Granted, Tyrod Taylor is not a future Hall of Famer. He may not even be a starting NFL quarterback for more than a few weeks. Still, credit is due to the Patriots’ pass rush for sacking the Bills’ quarterback eight times.
Chanlder Jones had three sacks, Jamie Collins recorded 2.5 sacks, Rob Ninkovich and Alan Branch had one apiece, and Dont’a Hightower joined the party with a half-sack.
As a result, the Bills struggled to move the ball at all from the end of that opening drive until the fourth quarter. The Bills went five possessions without picking up a first down, and the pass rushers played a big role in getting Tom Brady back onto the field.
The shifty running back fumbled away the football in the first half, but Bill Belichick did not give Lewis the Stevan Ridley Treatment. And Lewis made the coach look like a genius by making a number of huge plays throughout the game.
All told, Lewis carried the ball seven times for 40 yards and a touchdown, and he caught six passes for 98 yards. He also drew a crucial pass interference penalty on Buffalo linebacker Nigel Bradham to get the Patriots into field-goal range for their final scoring drive.
Two fumbles in two weeks is not ideal for Lewis, but so long as he makes plays like he did on Sunday, he will keep getting the ball.
Certainly, some other ball-catchers had bigger days than Aaron Dobson, such as Rob Gronkowski (seven receptions, 113 yards, TD) and Julian Edelman (11 receptions, 97 yards, 2 TDs), but Dobson had himself a nice day with seven receptions (on eight tragets) for 87 yards. Most importantly, Dobson was contributing, making catches that moved the chains and progressed the Patriots down the field.
Considering the Patriots dressed just three wide receivers (Dobson, Edelman, Danny Amendola), getting a contribution like that from Dobson is important for Brady’s offense.
He’s been drilling long field goals all summer long. He’s been drilling long field goals for years, actually. But on Sunday, he kicked a 50-yarder and absolutely crushed the thing, stretching the Patriots’ lead to 24-13 before halftime.
Gostkowski was 4-for-4 on field goals on the day, and unlike his counterpart, he was perfect on PATs.
Duron Harmon made the easiest interception of his life on a pass from Taylor before halftime that more resembled a punt than something thrown by an NFL quarterback. So he’s the honorable mention on this list.
Malcolm Butler, meanwhile, showed a tremendous nose for the football by making a diving interception on a pass that was tipped by tight end Charles Clay. That interception gave the Patriots the football at the Buffalo 30-yard line, and they’d score five plays later.
And in the game’s final moments, Logan Ryan capitalized on another tipped pass, this one a high-flyer to Sammy Watkins, and made a diving interception to seal the Patriots’ victory.
As soon as the Patriots signed Bradley Fletcher, analysts everywhere scratched their heads, because the cornerback was coming off a pretty terrible year with Philly. Yet the logic stated that Bill Belichick would better utilize Fletcher, so as not to leave him in 1-on-1 situations against receivers.
Yet, Fletcher twice got exposed in man coverage on Sunday. First, he committed pass interference on Percy Harvin, just two plays after the Bills seized some momentum by stopping the Patriots on a fourth down. That penalty gave 38 free yards to the Bills, who scored a touchdown on the next play.
Later, Fletcher drew man coverage on Sammy Watkins and got absolutely torched by the receiver, who hauled in a 24-yard touchdown pass to cut the Patriots’ lead to just five points in the fourth quarter.
It’s not often that the HC of the NEP makes calls that actively hurt his team’s chances, but one really has to question the Patriots’ decision to go for it on a fourth-and-1 near midfield midway through the second quarter.
Considering the Bills hadn’t picked up a first down in their previous five drives at that point, and considering the Patriots led comfortably at 21-7, the smart play was to punt, pin the Bills deep, and challenge them to gain one first down — let alone drive 80-plus yards for a score.
Instead, Belichick rolled the dice and ended up giving momentum to a team that didn’t deserve and didn’t appear capable of generating any on its own.
Later, after a failed onside kick by Buffalo, the Patriots had a chance to drain the clock and seal the win. Yet they remained in their shotgun, empty backfield, spread offense. Brady ended up getting strip-sacked, with Buffalo taking over near midfield. Buffalo scored two plays later, making it a one-possession game with more than four minutes left to play.
Belichick even admitted some regret after the game.
“Our players went out there and played. They made the plays to win the game. I’d say they probably overcame some not-so-great coaching on my part. So give the credit to our players,” Belichick said. “They did a good job. They deserve the credit. They’re the ones that made the plays.”