An offensively challenged team like the Buffalo Bills can't afford to squander scoring opportunities against the New England Patriots.
That's exactly how Sunday's game began, and the Bills essentially were playing from behind during the entire 23-3 loss.
Tyrod Taylor's first-and-goal interception from the New England 6-yard line started the Bills' slide and was the first of 10 plays that shaped the game:
1. Too late: The pickoff was a case of less-than-elite pocket presence by the Bills' QB. Taylor, so often criticized for not pulling the trigger, should have either eaten the ball or slid in the pocket.
Taylor was looking at Zay Jones, stacked to the right with Charles Clay. But Jones never got into his route due to a strong jam at the line of scrimmage from Stephon Gilmore.
"For sure, we know he likes to throw in-cut routes in the red zone," Gilmore said. "I was able to get a good jam on him. I had help on the inside a little bit. He came off of him and Eric Lee made a great play."
Taylor instead waited to throw for LeSean McCoy, in-breaking from wide to the right. But the throw was way late, and Taylor got bumped as he released it. Alan Branch bull-rushed Eric Wood back into the QB's left side. Lee made a gift interception at the 1.
If Taylor had slid right in the pocket, he could have hit Clay, who broke open in the middle of the end zone.
2. Wide-open Gronk. A 19-yard pass to Rob Gronkowski keyed the New England TD drive to open the third quarter that broke open the game. It was a rare coverage mix-up by the Bills.
Buffalo blitzed eight men on the third-and-11 play. Jerry Hughes and Preston Brown backed off and into coverage late – too late to get into the big void that the uncovered tight end found up the left seam.
"It was one of those plays that I think the whole defenses wishes they could have it back," said safety Jordan Poyer. "Everybody was aligned wrong. ... It was a critical play in the game and we weren't aligned right. We'll watch the tape and fix our mistakes."
3. Sandwiched Gronk. Four plays later, Brady hit Gronkowski on a 15-yard pass to the Buffalo 16. Brown and Poyer had the tight end bracketed in zone coverage. Brown was a yard underneath and Poyer a yard over the top, but Brady fit the pass into the tiny window.
"That's Tom Brady, that's why he is who he is," Poyer said. "We had great coverage, and he just throws his receivers open."
"I thought I was right there," Brown said. "It was just a perfect pass, perfect catch. They've been doing it for a long time. ... I've got to find a way to get the ball out. It's as simple as that."
4. In Gronk's grill. Brady and Gronkowski beat a six-man Bills blitz for a 30-yard gain on the second TD drive in the third quarter.
It was a common Pats formation, with three receivers to one side and Gronkowski alone on the other. Tre'Davious White played perfect man coverage, but the 6-foot-6 Gronkowski reached over the 5-11 defender and ripped the ball out of his hands.
"That's a Pro Bowl player," Poyer said. "Tre couldn't have been in better position. I know Tre looks back and wishes he made that play. But at the end of the day they get paid to make plays, too."
5. Almost TD. Joe Webb's Wildcat formation pass down the right seam for Travaris Cadet in the second quarter was a great call. The Patriots were fooled. It would have been a touchdown but it was a yard overthrown at the Pats' 10-yard line.
6. Red-zone sack. Kyle Williams sacked Brady for an 8-yard loss with 7:00 left in the second quarter to force a field goal. Jerry Hughes beat Cameron Fleming wide around left tackle to force Brady to step up into Williams' arms.
7. Red-zone sack. Adolphus Washington sacked Brady for a 6-yard loss with 25 seconds left in the half to help force a field goal. Washington shoved guard Joe Thuney, who lost his balance and fell onto his back.
8. Gash run. Ramon Humber missed a tackle and Micah Hyde over-pursued on Dion Lewis' 44-yard run, which set up the second field goal.
9. Fade away. Nathan Peterman threw incomplete on a fade for Zay Jones on fourth and 1. The coaches opted to have the rookie make a safe, lower-percentage throw.
10. White's INT. There was contact on both sides between Gronkowski and White on the fourth-quarter interception play. Gronkowski was mad about the contact, which precipitated his personal foul on White.