The Buffalo Bills went head-to-head against the New England Patriots on Sunday, tête-à-tête between two headstrong coaches and were ultimately knocked out by a fierce fourth-quarter helmet-to-helmet hit.
Let’s get the crud out early. Josh Allen threw three interceptions, two of which were horrible ideas and passes, and one just horrendous pass. A special teams snafu combo of a poor alignment, low snap by reliable Reid Ferguson and slow technique by erratic punter Corey Bojorquez cost seven instant points in a 16-10 game. Sean McDermott had a great defensive game plan but poor game and time management, including tossing red flags for challenges. It’s a red flag for Bills fans every time McDermott calls for a challenge as he is almost always wrong. His lack of respect for timeouts is troubling.
But McDermott is an otherwise excellent head coach and motivator.
Tom Brady is constantly allowed to intentionally ground the ball right in face of the referees, who missed numerous calls, including placing the ball outside the 2-yard line after John Brown was clearly tackled at the 1 in the fourth quarter, and a blatantly illegal leapfrog on Stephen Hauschka’s missed field goal. The Bills' offensive line, especially all three tackles, was not Boston strong as both Allen and backup Matt Barkley were under constant assault and battery.
But many, if not most, Bills fans thought Allen, somehow, some way, would have gotten in the end zone had he had one last chance with three minutes left. Unfortunately, he was in the locker room and NFL concussion protocol from a cheap shot by Jonathan Jones, who was quite pleased with himself after the hit.
It’s the Patriot way.
And yet the Bills matched up well against their toughest rivals; gave Brady agita all day; outgained the Pats 375 to 224 (the fifth consecutive game of more than 370, tying the second best in team history); led 23-11 in first downs, and forced nine Patriot punts. The high-flying, high-scoring New England offense managed only seven meager points even getting four turnovers. And most of the yardage on the lone scoring drive came on a perfect third-down sideline lob and fantastic catch against textbook coverage.
The game was there for the taking, the Bills just couldn’t get their collective hands on it and head around it.
Ageless Frank Gore averaged 6.4 yards per bulldoze, gained 109 yards, and now has more than 8½ miles rushing in his career, the fourth most ever. T.J. Yeldon had four timely second-half catches without fumbling. Dawson Knox continued his wizardry, averaged 19.3 yards on three clutch receptions, and clearly should have been targeted more, especially when Lee Smith was yellow flagged four times by the refs.
The Buffalo defense flat-out dominated as Josh McDaniels’ cerebral offense was under enemy control. Levi Wallace, Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano were always around the ball and exasperating Patriots receivers, ball carriers and its Hall of Fame QB.
Micah Hyde goaded Brady into throwing an interception in the end zone and then bragged about it when asked by Bill Belichick after the game. Hyde and Poyer used to arguably be the best safety duo in the NFL. Now there is no dispute. Leslie Frazier and McDermott have the defense well-prepared and playing as a single 11-man gale force; equally strong on the land as in the air.
The Bills are patsies no more. Previous years, they crumbled after the botched punt, instant shock, and 13-0 deficit. But it was Brady who looked more and more rattled as the game wore on and the Bills bullied their way back into it.
Allen was 6-for-6 on the early third-quarter TD drive that he finished with a 6-foot-5 pole vault from 1 yard out. He was settling down in the second half despite a disputed sideline interception and untimely sack.
Belichick’s mind games became minefields as the Bills lulled Brady and his receivers into false confidence; then closed fast and knocked away ball after ball. Sony Michel had a few first-down scampers but was never a threat. Julian Edelman didn’t get enough catches to get under our skin. Josh Gordon’s lone game break was an illegal pick play that the Patriots have perfected over the years. But Hyde stole it right back with his own pick play; the officially authorized kind.
Granted the mental misfires of Buffalo’s young QB might have cost the Bills the game before he got concussed on a helmet-to-helmet slobber-knocker. But the surprising Bills played an otherwise heady, intoxicating game for the Bills Mafia on the national stage. They went to the mattresses with the league’s best and came away on a level playing field with their heads held high.
There are no moral victories in the NFL, and the record shows the Bills are 3-1. But they showed that they can go mano a mano with anyone.
Pete Rosen is a screenwriter in Los Angeles, lifetime Buffalo fan, and may be found blathering daily at twobillsdrive.com.