Gordy Gronkowski had warned his son during the week about what to expect when he came home for the weekend. The region was going bonkers about the Bills after they opened the season with a convincing victory over the Colts. Rex Ryan had people believing they would beat the Patriots.
“It’s nuts,” he told his son. “They’re acting like it’s the Super Bowl.”
In recent years, beating the Patriots in a game that mattered was the closest thing around here to winning a championship. Why do you think the town was buzzing in the days leading into the game Sunday? The Patriots were the standard in the 15 consecutive seasons that the Bills missed the playoffs.
New England was the only team in the NFL that could generate that much excitement and hostility leading into Week Two. Ryan cranked up the energy and fueled the masses during his weekly news conference. He pushed the right buttons and gave people an unabashed voice that was mostly muted before he arrived.
See, in Buffalo, it was more than the second game of the season. Sunday’s matchup was the most anticipated game for the Bills since the season finale in 2004, when they needed a win over the Steelers to reach the playoffs. If you remember, Pittsburgh rested key starters and beat Buffalo with backups Tommy Maddox and Willie Parker.
The playoffs weren’t on the line Sunday, but it was a big game by Buffalo’s standards on many fronts. The Bills could validate their upset over the Colts and prove they had closed the gap on the Patriots and Tom Brady. They could win a game of consequence and shift the balance in the AFC East.
For the Patriots, it was a road game and nothing more.
New England’s 40-32 victory Sunday before 70,858 fans in Ralph Wilson Stadium was just another day at the office. Since 2004, the Pats have played 20 playoff games. They’ve been to the Super Bowl four times, winning two, since Buffalo’s memorable clunker against Pittsburgh.
Rob Gronkowski couldn’t help but laugh when he was told afterward that it was Buffalo’s biggest game in more than a decade. Eleven years ago, he was a 15-year-old kid growing up in Amherst. His life has changed dramatically since 2004, but one constant has been opposing teams gunning for the Patriots.
“It was as loud as it’s ever been,” Gronk said. “It was insane. I don’t know how it could be any louder.”
Granted, it was loud – but not record-breaking loud – after the Bills marched for a touchdown on their opening possession. Brady succumbed to the noise and took a timeout before the Pats’ third play. For a few minutes Sunday, you couldn’t help but believe the Bills really were ready to beat the Patriots.
But it was only a few minutes.
The Patriots gathered themselves and showed why they’re the defending champions, the way they often do. Brady’s response to his first road game since DeflateGate was passing for 466 yards, the most ever against the Bills, and three touchdowns. A week after the Bills’ defense dominated the Colts, the Pats dropped 40 on them.
New England rolled up 507 yards. Rest assured Ryan learned Dion Lewis’ name after seeing him get 138 total yards and scoring a touchdown. Julian Edelman had 11 catches for 97 yards and two TDs. The Pats terrorized the Bills for most of the afternoon and still weren’t satisfied afterward.
“We had a lot of good plays but I think we left a lot of plays out there,” Brady said. “It’s a good team, great defense, a tough place to play and it was a great win. It’s great to be 2-0.”
By the way, the notion that Ryan had Brady’s number was a myth. Brady has won 10 times in 14 games against Ryan-coached teams, including eight of the past nine. Brady improved to 24-3 against the Bills. At age 38, he has shown no signs of slowing down. If his first two games were any indication, he’s getting better with age.
Ryan said he needed King Kong covering Gronkowski but it looked more like Donkey Kong. Gronk caught seven passes for 113 yards and an easy touchdown that gave New England a 21-7 lead early in the second quarter. In seven career games against his hometown team, Gronk has 44 catches for 657 yards and 10 TDs.
Why wouldn’t he enjoy playing Buffalo?
“It’s great coming back home,” Gronkowski said. “It’s great going on the road and having a big atmosphere. Buffalo was 1-0. They were hot at the moment. It was great to come in and give them a little quiet out there. It’s always what you want to do on the road. You couldn’t ask for a better atmosphere for an NFL game.”
Buffalo had too many breakdowns, too many meltdowns and gave up too many touchdowns against the defending Super Bowl champs. The Bills took dumb penalties for unsportsmanlike conduct. They overreacted and threw tantrums like immature children who didn’t get their way.
The Patriots continued about their business. The Bills invited the crowd back into the game with three touchdowns in the fourth quarter while the Pats played soft coverages. Buffalo made it interesting, but let’s not kid ourselves. New England was in command after allowing the first touchdown.
Brady was Brady. Gronk was Gronk. The Patriots were the Patriots. And the Bills were the Bills no matter the players, the coach or the atmosphere.
Gronk met his family after the game in the middle of the end zone, where he caught the touchdown pass and reminded everyone that the Patriots were still the toughest kids in the schoolyard. The rest was just hype.
“Hopefully, my close friends and family were cheering for me,” Gronk said. “It’s great going up against the hometown team. It’s an unbelievable feeling going out there, just doing what we do, and getting the win. It’s a good feeling.”