A full Nelson
Youth was served on the Buffalo Bills' offense Monday night.
Not only did the Bills start three offensive linemen who never had taken a snap in an NFL game, they also gave extensive playing time to 6-foot-5 rookie tight end Shawn Nelson.
It was Nelson who scored the first touchdown of the season, on a pretty 11-yard play 12:02 into the first quarter. Nelson, a fourth-round pick out of Southern Mississippi, is the tallest speed tight end the Bills ever have drafted. He showed his running skills by taking a bootleg pass from Trent Edwards and running the last 7 yards into the end zone to cap a 68-yard scoring drive.
By starting Eric Wood, Andy Levitre and Demetrius Bell, the Bills became the first non-expansion team since the 1981 Redskins to start three offensive linemen who never had taken a snap.
First-quarter trend: Here's a potential good sign. The Bills reversed last season's trend, when they were outscored, 108-46, in the first quarter. The defense consistently had trouble getting out of the gate. In 16 games, the Bills' defense allowed seven touchdowns and two field goals on the opening drive of the game. The defense had a good start Monday.
>The Schobel show
Welcome back, Aaron Schobel. The Bills' ninth-year veteran, who missed 11 games last season, showed the textbook way for a defensive end to play a screen pass then showed off his athletic ability in making the big defensive play of the first half.
Schobel whipped Pats left tackle Matt Light with a quick outside move. But then Schobel stopped in his tracks, recognizing a screen pass play. Schobel leaped and picked TomBrady's pass out of the air with one hand. Then he rumbled 26 yards up the middle for a touchdown to give the Bills a 14-7 lead. It was the first touchdown by a Bills defensive lineman since Chris Kelsay scored against Dallas in 2007.
Key plays: The Bills had the Pats in a third-and-12 hole at their own 43 midway through the quarter. Brady dumped off to running back Kevin Faulk, but Bills cornerback Leodis McKelvin missed the tackle, and Faulk went for 16 yards to get the first down. The Pats drove to a tying touchdown.
Key stat: Schobel's sack of Brady early in the quarter was the 12th of his career against the Patriots. That's Schobel's most against any team.
Second guess: The Pats did not blitz the Bills' young line much in the first half.
A T.O. sighting
Terrell Owens lives.
It took 40 minutes before the Bills' new marquee weapon finally got his first catch.
Owens faced constant double coverage from the New England Patriots all game, with a safety playing behind the cornerback covering him virtually every play. Finally, on a third-and-1 play from the Buffalo 45, Owens caught a short pass over the middle and ran 27 yards to set up the Bills at the Patriots' 28-yard line.
After a sack, Trent Edwards made a nice throw to Derek Schouman for a 16-yard gain to get Buffalo in field-goal position. Rian Lindell then kicked a 40-yard field goal for the only score of the quarter. It put the Bills ahead, 17-10, with 2:32 left in the period.
Key plays: Bills cornerback Reggie Corner had tight coverage on Wes Welker on a fourth-and-2 play from the Buffalo 36 to force an incompletion and a turnover on downs.
Scheme change: The Patriots stuck with a four-man line virtually the entire game. New England has been primarily a 3-4 team all decade. But the Pats played mostly 4-3 all preseason. So even though the Bills have struggled against 3-4 teams, the Pats stuck with what they worked on all summer. Once linebacker Jerod Mayo went out with a knee injury in the first half, the Pats likely gave no thought to playing a three-man line.
Gift-wrapped for Brady
Few leads feel safe when TomBrady is on the opposing sideline.
The New England Patriots' quarterback engineered his 29th game-winning drive in the fourth quarter, thanks to a very large gift from the Bills.
Down 24-13 with 5:25 remaining, Brady needed just 3:19 to take his offense 81 yards into the end zone to pull the Pats within 24-19.
The Bills' Leodis McKelvin fumbled the ensuing kickoff and the Pats recovered at the Buffalo 31. It took Brady just 1:06 to get the go-ahead touchdown, a 16-yard strike to tight end Benjamin Watson.
Brady has brought his team from behind or tied in the fourth quarter to victory 23 times in the regular season and six times in the playoffs.
Key target: With the Bills protecting the outside with their safeties much of the game, the middle of the field was vulnerable. Watson took advantage with two fourth-quarter scores.
Second guess: Maybe McKelvin should have stayed in the end zone with the Pats' kickoff, which went 2 yards deep. Maybe he should have gone down to the ground when he took an initial hit on the return. Whatever, he should not have fumbled.