The Buffalo Bills committed a penalty on the first play of their season opener.
The Bills committed a penalty on their sixth offensive snap.
The Bills committed seven penalties before the New England Patriots were charged with one.
Subtract all those yellow flags and the Bills might have pulled out an improbable victory Sunday in Ralph Wilson Stadium. Instead, the Patriots stayed close enough to win, 23-21, on a field goal with five seconds to play.
“There’s some self-inflicted things we did today that you can’t do against a team like that,” Bills running back Fred Jackson said.
The Bills were zapped with 13 penalties. Ten of them were accepted for losses of 75 yards.
But the Bills sacrificed more than that. Three of their penalties wiped out 42 yards of first-down plays: a 19-yard Robert Woods reception, an 8-yard C.J. Spiller pass play and a 15-yard Jackson catch-and-run.
“That was frustrating,” Bills quarterback EJ Manuel said. “When you have a first down or a big play and then you get it called back, you want to continue to fight those battles, but you shoot yourself in the foot.”
All the disruptions prevented the Bills’ no-huddle offense from getting into a rhythm most of the game.
On the Bills’ only drive that lasted longer than six plays, they went 80 yards on 11 plays for a touchdown to start the third quarter. They didn’t commit any penalties on that drive.
“The strength of our offense is going to be once we get rolling because we don’t let people get off the field,” Bills center Eric Wood said. “We tire them out and then we can really run the ball. Pass protection will look better.
“When you get a penalty, and you think you’re hurrying up on the ball, and then you got to walk 15 yards back and kind of reset and you’re in obvious down and distance, the best O-lines and offenses in the league don’t do well with first-and-20, second-and-15.”
One might assume penalties are a natural byproduct of a young roster. Yet none of the Bills’ penalties was committed by a rookie.
“Those penalties are inexcusable, and they called a pretty tight game on us up front,” Wood said. “We got two hands-to-the-face penalties. I’d have to see them again, and in the past those have not been called, but that’s an emphasis this year, and we’ve got to adapt.”
Seventh-year tight end Scott Chandler had two penalties in the first half. Eighth-year defensive tackle Kyle Williams had a neutral-zone infraction on a third-and-4 play to give the Patriots a free first down. Fourth-year defensive end Jerry Hughes had a pair of offsides penalties that were declined.
Eight of the Bills’ fouls happened before the snap. They were called for 12 men on the field twice and an illegal punt formation. They had four defensive alignment penalties and a false start.
“Penalties of aggression are going to happen sometimes,” Williams said. “You get a facemask when you didn’t mean to, you hold a guy and hit him late.
“The thing that’s hard is the pre-snap penalties, the offsides, false starts, missed alignments. Those types of things are killers.”
Bills receiver Stevie Johnson departed the Bills’ locker room before reporters were allowed inside and left the stadium without taking questions.
At first glance, Johnson had a nice day. He caught three passes for 39 yards and a touchdown to give the Bills a 21-17 lead early in the third quarter.
He became only the third player in Bills history to score a touchdown in three straight season openers. The others were Hall of Famers O.J. Simpson and Thurman Thomas.
But Johnson, who before the game declared himself uncoverable by Patriots defenders, had a critical third-down drop in the fourth quarter.
On a third-and-1 play from the Bills’ 49-yard line, Johnson was wide open in the left flat. Manuel’s pass was slightly off target, but it was well within Johnson’s reach. The ball bounced off Johnson’s hands, forcing the Bills to punt.
Bills rookie receiver Marquise Goodwin had a cast on his right hand after the game. He left right before halftime and did not return.
Goodwin caught one pass for no yards and fumbled it. He didn’t have any kickoff returns, with Stephen Gostkowski recording five touchbacks for the Patriots.
Bills coach Doug Marrone said after the game cornerback Ron Brooks injured a foot and safety Da’Norris Searcy missed much of the fourth quarter because of cramps.