FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The storylines for Monday night’s game between the Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots established themselves even before the first meeting between the teams this season ended.
Get to Tom Brady before he gets rid of the ball. Keep emotions under control and show considerably more discipline when it comes to avoiding penalties. Find a running game that could set the tempo and help take some pressure off of the defense. Don’t wait until the end of the game for Tyrod Taylor to do his best Brady imitation. Rex Ryan gets his revenge for the tremendous humiliation he felt after New England’s 40-32 victory on Sept. 20 at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
But some mountains simply aren’t meant to be scaled. For Ryan, it’s Mount Belichick.
“That’s an outstanding football team we played; they proved it again tonight,” Rex Ryan said of his team’s 20-13 loss against the 10-0 Patriots. “The difference is they made some big plays … We knew we’re a better football team” than the earlier meeting, “but we just weren’t good enough. We’re not quite there.”
The Bills, who fell to 5-5, had 10 hits on Brady and held him to one touchdown pass, but they fell woefully short offensively on the way to their 28th loss in their last 31 games against Bill Belichick’s Patriots.
“You can’t ask for a better defense,” wide receiver Sammy Watkins said. “We’ve got to score on offense.”
“I thought we were going to get it,” running back LeSean McCoy said.
The Patriots took a 10-3 lead just before halftime when Brady threw a pass to running back James White, who pulled out of a lame attempt at a tackle by safety Corey Graham to score the first of his two touchdowns of the game.
New England should have taken a 17-3 lead on the first drive of the second half when Tom Brady connected on a throw to Danny Amendola. But an inadvertent whistle by an official stopped the play that potentially could have gone for a touchdown. Instead, the series ended with Stephen Gostkowski missing his first field goal of the season, from 54 yards.
The Bills tied the score at 10-10 on a 27-yard touchdown reception by McCoy with 10:29 left in the third quarter. McCoy scored by making a tremendous effort to reach out with his hands to get the ball inside the pylon.
But the Patriots moved ahead, 17-10, after a long pass from Brady to Amendola set up a 6-yard touchdown run by White late in the third quarter. The Patriots called a quick snap on the play and caught the Bills offside as they tried rushing defensive players onto the field. After a lengthy conference by the officials, the touchdown was confirmed.
Amendola, who was playing in place of injured Julian Edelman, left the game in the second half with a knee injury. But not before he had the seventh 100-yard receiving game of his career.
The Patriots extended the lead to 20-10 when Gostkowski booted a 35-yard field goal with 47 seconds left in the third quarter. The score was set up after Leodis McKelvin had fumbled the ball on a punt return and the Patriots recovered deep in Buffalo territory.
However, the Bills cut the margin to 20-13 with a 33-yard field goal by Dan Carpenter with 3:30 left. Taylor completed a pair of long passes – one to Sammy Watkins, who caught the ball with one hand, and the other to Chris Hogan, despite Taylor playing with a sore right shoulder he injured earlier in the drive – to set up the score.
The Patriots struck first in the rematch by taking their first possession and marching to a 35-yard field goal by Gostkowski with 7:29 left in the first quarter.
In a stark contrast to the September game, the Bills’ defense harassed Brady throughout the game. Ryan unleashed an array of blitzes that, along with a strong effort by the defensive line (despite an early exit by end Mario Williams with a foot injury) applied a decent amount of pressure on Brady, causing him to hurry throws and misfire.
“Quite honestly, it was more true to playing Bills defense,” Ryan said. “To playing our defense, and I think we understand a little better than maybe Week Two.”
The Patriots, who were decimated by injuries on their offensive line, used different combinations of linemen through the first half. After two series, a furious and frustrated Brady could be seen yelling at his offensive linemen on the sidelines.
At the start of the second quarter, Taylor, on third-and-eight from the Buffalo 17, did a remarkable job of twice avoiding being sacked and completed an 18-yard pass to Woods. The drive ended with a 52-yard field goal by Carpenter to tie the game at 3-3 with 9:27 left in the second quarter.
But the Bills should have had more. Taylor sent a poorly thrown pass deep to Chris Hogan, who was being single-covered by safety Patrick Chung. Chung was trailing Hogan, the ball was underthrown and possibly could have been picked off had Chung turned around.
The Bills might not be able to overtake the Patriots for first place in the AFC East, but they do have a legitimate shot at capturing a wild-card playoff spot. And Monday night’s loss didn’t necessarily impact that, although the Bills have little room for error with back-to-back AFC games ahead at Kansas City Sunday and at home against Houston on Dec. 6.
“Obviously, we’ve got some huge challenges in front of us,” Ryan said. “We’ve got to play on another short week on the road, which is two out of three games. The NFL’s not doing us any favors, but it is the way it is. We’ve got a lot of guys banged up, it was tough to match with” the Patriots “personnel-wise, but that’s a good football team. They deserved to win.”