There is no joy in Billsville today.
The Buffalo Bills had one of the biggest upsets in their history within their grasp Monday night. They let it slip away.
The New England Patriots rallied for two touchdowns in the final 5 1/2 minutes to defeat the Bills, 25-24.
Cornerback Leodis McKelvin made the critical mistake for the Bills. After the Patriots pulled within 24-19 with 2:06 left, McKelvin fumbled the ensuing kickoff return to open the door to another Buffalo heartbreak.
New England capitalized on the mistake, driving just 31 yards to the winning touchdown. It came on a 16-yard pass from Tom Brady to tight end Benjamin Watson with 50 seconds left.
So the beat goes on for the Bills. The loss was Buffalo's 12th straight and 17th in the last 18 games against the Patriots.
"It tears my heart out for them," Bills coach Dick Jauron said. "You've got to finish. You've got to finish games, particularly against a team as talented as New England. . . . It's just an awful feeling in that locker room."
Actually, Bills fans are all too familiar with this Monday night script. Last year, the Bills blew a lead and lost in the last two minutes, 29-27, to Cleveland on Monday night. Two years ago, the Bills lost on the final play, 25-24, to Dallas on a Monday.
"We have to play 60 minutes," defensive tackle Marcus Stroud said. "That's the game. We have to play from the beginning to the end. One play can beat you, and that's what happened tonight."
It looked like the Bills had put 10 tumultuous days behind them in dramatic fashion when running back Fred Jackson took a swing pass from quarterback Trent Edwards and ran 10 yards for a touchdown to put the Bills ahead, 24-13, with 5:32 left.
The Bills' no-huddle offense, running at a deliberate pace, was better than expected. New England had held the Bills to one offensive touchdown in each of the last five meetings. The Bills managed two.
New offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt, taking over for fired Turk Schonert, utilized Jackson effectively. Jackson had 57 rushing yards and 83 receiving yards.
The Bills got a big game from defensive end Aaron Schobel. He had a 26-yard interception return for a touchdown in the first half.
The Bills could not get the ball much to receiver Terrell Owens. He was blanketed by double coverage from New England almost every play. Owens was the target of only three passes. He caught two for 46 yards and dropped one.
Edwards hit 15 of 25 passes for 212 yards with two TDs and no interceptions.
But with victory at hand, the Bills could not overcome the McKelvin fumble.
McKelvin took a big hit from the Pats' Brandon Meriweather but kept fighting forward. That's when the ball was ripped from his hands by Pierre Woods. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski recovered it. McKelvin caught the kickoff 2 yards deep in the end zone and elected to take it out.
"I have no problem with Leodis coming out with that ball," Jauron said. "He's trying to win a football game. Somehow it came out of there. . . . It's one of those things that happens. . . . He plays the game hard, and he's a guy who can take it the distance."
Brady, coming back from a knee injury that forced him to miss virtually all of last season, produced in the clutch.
He drove the Pats 81 yards in 11 plays and 3:26 to their first fourth-quarter score. It came on an 18-yard touchdown pass to Watson.
Brady needed only three plays to get the Pats into the end zone after McKelvin's turnover.
Brady completed 39 of 53 passes for 378 yards with two TDs and one interception. Randy Moss caught 12 passes for 141 yards. Wes Welker caught 12 for 93 yards.
"We didn't come to lose, we didn't come to play a close game, we came to win the game," Jauron said. "So we're just disappointed."
"I thought it just came down to a few plays at the end of the game, and we made them," said Pats coach Bill Belichick.
The Patriots outgained the Bills, 441 to 276. New England controlled the time of possession, holding the ball for 37:08.
The Bills took a 14-10 lead into intermission.
Schobel made the big play of the first half. The ninth-year veteran smelled out a screen pass by Brady, caught the ball in the air with one hand and ran 26 yards up the middle of the field for a touchdown.
It gave the Bills a 14-7 lead with 3:29 left in the second quarter.
The Bills opened the scoring by marching 68 yards in six plays late in the first quarter. The march was capped by an 11-yard touchdown pass from Edwards to rookie tight end Shawn Nelson.
Edwards started the drive with a 16-yard scramble. Jackson ran for a 16-yard gain, and Jackson caught a 21-yard pass for the other key gain on the possession.
The touchdown came on a rollout to the left. Edwards did a fine job getting rid of the pass with a defensive end bearing down on him. Nelson, the fleet prospect from Southern Mississippi, ran it the last 7 yards into the end zone.
"It was emotional," Bills guard Eric Wood said. "We played our hearts out and it hurts pretty hard when you come up a little bit short."