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No excuses, a big win, and the Bills are alive and well

FOXBOROUGH -- Rex Ryan said the Bills didn't expect anyone to feel sorry for them. They weren't using the Sammy Watkins injury as an excuse.

They didn't need any excuses here Sunday. The Bills played like a team that believed in itself and was determined to prove it to a skeptical world. Playing an inspired game on both sides of the ball, they humiliated the unbeaten Patriots, 16-0, and lifted themselves back into the AFC playoff race.

It would be easy to minimize the win, which came against a New England team that was without Tom Brady and playing with a raw rookie quarterback, Jacoby Brissett. You could suggest that the Pats were overestimated at 3-0 and bound to suffer a letdown in their final game with Brady on DeflateGate detention.

But that wouldn't do justice to a Buffalo team that desperately needed a victory and soundly outplayed the Pats, becoming the first AFC opponent to win a meaningful game at Gillette Stadium since 2008 and the first to ever shut out the Pats here.

The Pats had plenty to play for Sunday. They were looking to remain unbeaten without Brady and keep alive the possibility of going through the season without a loss. But the Bills were the better team, the one with a more evident sense of urgency and purpose.

I considered this the most important game of Ryan's head coaching career. He was up against his bitter rival, Bill Belichick, with his team on the brink of going 0-3 in the conference and with his long-term job prospects in apparent jeopardy.

Ryan's team responded with its second straight upset of a Super Bowl contender, and its most complete game since becoming Bills coach. This was why the Bills hired him. It was the Ryan coaching blueprint in its fullest expression: Play stifling defense, run the ball well and be crisp, opportunistic and mistake-free in the passing game.

It was a big day for all the most embattled members of the organization. It was a coaching triumph for Ryan; a shining moment for general manager Doug Whaley, whose defensive additions have made a big difference this season; and for Taylor, who won on the road for the first time Tennessee last year and played his best road game since the win at Miami over a year ago.

Granted, this was not the finest hour for Belichick, whose team was slovely and dumb from the opening kickoff, which a confused rookie named Cyrus Jones returned to the 9-yard line after hesitating at his own 3. The Pats were the more penalized team, the less physical squad, and the far inferior team on third downs.

"Which of these teams is coached by Rex Ryan?" one Boston-area writer cackled after a roughing the passer call against New England.

Rex is an easy guy to make fun of, and his team often reflects his worse qualities. But he's a fine defensive coach, and proved it again here. Keep in mind, in his previous four trips to Gillette (three with the Jets), Ryan's teams had lost by seven, three, one and three points, the latter in overtime.

His defenses had frustrated Brady in all of those games. So it was no surprise when Brissett, a third-string rookie, was unable to generate much of an attack against an aggressive and inspired Bills' defense.

At halftime, the Pats had two first downs and 98 net yards. LeGarrette Blount, the NFL's leading rusher, had nine carries for 25 yards at half. One week after forcing three-and-outs on Arizona's first five possessions at New Era Field, they made the Pats punt after their first two possessions.

The Pats' offensive woes weren't a shock. But I did not expect Taylor to play his finest game against a Pats defense that had been terrific in the first three games. Taylor was 27-for-39 for 246 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions. He made several dazzling plays with his legs.

So for the first time, Taylor won a game in which he attempted at least 30 passes. Opposing defenders have talked about "making him be a quarterback," and the Pats kept him in the pocket and dared him to make throws. He did more than enough, consistently making quick, decisive short throws to keep drives alive.

Anthony Lynn, the new offensive coordinator, had another strong showing. Winning a game at Gillette is a huge accomplishment. Doing it in your first road game as coordinator is especially impressive.

There's no excuse for what they did to Greg Roman, but there's also no disputing that it woke up the offense. Whether the Bills sustain it is another question. We've overreacted to big wins too many times over the last 16 years.

But the Bills and their head coach are upright and very much alive, two weeks after seemingly hitting rock bottom. No excuses, and we have a season again.

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