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Pats-Bills Fight to the Finish in Opener

Sunday, September 08, 2013


22-2 since 2001 against the Buffalo Bills? Something has to give eventually, right?

It almost did Sunday in Buffalo for the Patriots' 2013 season opener. Instead, Tom Brady engineered another game-winning drive in the final minutes as New England came from behind to edge the Bills 23-21.

For posterity's sake, let the record show Tom Brady's first pass target and completion went to Danny Amendola for a first down, on the first offensive play of the season. Three WR's and one TE (Zach Sudfeld) got the start. Let the record also show that Stevan Ridley fumbled the football on his first carry of the season...even though new Bills' head coach Doug Marrone challenged a favorable ruling for the Pats, and lost. Still, the Buffalo defense managed to stop an early NE threat on the opening drive of the year. And the Bills also managed to show just why no one outside of upstate New York thinks much of them overall, with a fumble on their second play from scrimmage as C.J. Spiller put it on the ground for the Pats to recover at the Bills' 16 yard line.

It took Brady and the offense three plays to put it in the end zone, finding Julian Edelman with a bullet to the back line for an early 7-0 advantage, with 10:46 to play in the first quarter. Brady's TD streak now stands at 49 straight games with a scoring toss, within five of the NFL record of 54 set by New Orleans' Drew Brees. Following a forced punt, Stephen Gostkowski added a 48 yard field goal to make it 10-0, with 4:47 still to play in the period.

Four penalties for 35 yards in losses, plus the early fumble, kept Buffalo from sustaining much offensively as rookie QB E.J. Manuel started his first NFL game. Yet the Bills' defense pressured Brady and the offensive line up the middle, keeping the Pats' offense from its rhythm...and squelching a couple of second quarter drives. The Patriots managed to squelch their own drive with 8:25 to go before half, as Ridley appeared to be down after a slip at the Buffalo 25. But Da'Norris Searcy picked up the ball and ran 75 yards for the score, as Ridley lost possession before being touched by a Bills' defender. With the Patriots driving, the turnover provided a big swing in momentum, making it 10-7 NE instead of a potential 17-0.

Just before the half with 3:45 remaining, Kyle Arrington managed to strip the ball after a catch made by Bills' rookie WR Marquise Goodwin, with the fumble giving the Patriots possession at the Bills' 32. Following a 21 yard run up the middle by Shane Vereen (and Amendola leaving the game with an apparent leg injury), Brady found Edelman again in the middle of the end zone on 3rd and seven from the eight yard line...to make it 17-7 with 1:55 left. Again, a Buffalo mistake - coupled with tremendous time in the pocket provided by the Pats O-line - made the difference.

A quick three-and-out for the Pats' defense gave the offense another chance to score before the half, but a tipped ball intended for Zach Sudfeld was picked off by Justin Rogers, giving it right back to Buffalo at the Patriots' 37. Two plays later, Manuel found Robert Woods wide open for an 18-yard touchdown, pulling the Bills back within three at the break, at 17-14.

Two huge chances to pull away on the road...muffed by the Patriots thanks to their own mistakes.

On the opening drive of the second half, the Bills made New England pay for their first half problems. Manuel tossed an 18 yard TD pass to Stevie Johnson, capping an 11-play, 80-yard march to give Buffalo their first lead of the game. 21-17 Bills, with 11:03 to go in the 3rd quarter, scoring 14 points off of two NE turnovers. They gave up 43 all of last season.

Game on.

Brady led the Patriots on a monster, 15-play drive to inside the Bills' one-yard line to answer the Buffalo score, but the 3rd turnover of the day proved ultra-costly...as Brady did not get the snap cleanly from center Ryan Wendell. The Bills snuffed out another Patriots' threat, this time on a 4th-and-goal try. And only thanks to yet another Buffalo mistake (illegal hands to the face on 3rd down) were the Bills forced to punt their next possession away, with the NE defense reeling.

And the offense wasn't much better at this point, either. Pinned against their goal line after a Buffalo punt, the Patriots were forced to kick it away from deep in their own end. Rookie punter Ryan Allen, in his first official start since winning the job from Zoltan Mesko, didn't help his teams' cause by managing only a 35-yard kick...giving the Bills great position at the NE 42. The Patriots defense dug in for a stop, giving Brady and the offense another chance as the 4th quarter began...the first final quarter lead for Buffalo against New England since 2009.

They couldn't quite take full advantage. Brady hit Edelman for 35 yards to midfield, found rookie Kenbrell Thompkins for another 16 and Vereen ran for 19 to the Bills' 10, before another Buffalo penalty (10th of the game) put the ball at the five. Brady missed Thompkins in the end zone when it appeared he could have run it in, and then took a sack forcing Gostkowski to come on for a drive-salvaging 33 yard field goal. 21-20 Bills, with 10:48 to play.

With 37-game winning 4th period drives to his credit, Brady began a drive at his own 14 with less than nine minutes remaining. A 3rd down grab by Amendola kept the drive alive at the NE 27, and another target for Amendola put the ball at the 40. But another attempt to hit Thompkins, well covered by Leodis McKelvin, failed to connect...forcing a punt with 5:51 left. Another three-and-out from Buffalo's offense gave the Patriots the ball at their own 34, with 4:40 to play.

Chances, chances. Would they - could they - take advantage?

Brady found Amendola again on 3rd down, keeping the drive alive near midfield. After moving to the Bills' 39, on 3rd and nine Brady dialed Amendola's number one more time on a deflected pass for 10 yards to the 29, with 1:08 remaining. Vereen (101 rush yards on the day, with seven receptions) then hit left end, rolling to the Bills' 15 for a huge 14-yard pick up. After twice taking a knee to put the ball between the hash marks, forcing Buffalo to use their final time out, Gostkowski squared up from 35 yards away and knocked it through with :05 left...for the 23-21 edge.

Ol' ugly turns out to be better than ol' nuthin.' And the beat goes on over the Buffalo Bills...but just barely.

Post Game Notes

The win is New England's 10th straight season-opening win, joining Dallas, Miami and Detroit as the only franchises with 10 straight opening day wins, and four of those have been on the road...Brady is now 11-1 as a starting QB on opening day, the best mark of any starter in the Super Bowl era...even though the team finished with three turnovers (-1 in turnover ratio), the Patriots have forced a turnover now in 28 straight games...Edelman returned three punts for 32 yards, and now qualifies as the all-time team and NFL leader in punt return average at 13.0 per return. The game was also his first with two TD receptions...Brady is now the 9th player to reach 45,000 career passing yards in NFL history...the win over Buffalo is New England's 11th straight over AFC East division opponents. Last division loss was to Buffalo in 2011...Vereen's 101 yards on 14 carries is a career high, and Amendola's 10-catches for 104 yards is his 3rd career 100-yard game...in all, 19 players on the opening day roster were NOT on the 53-man roster in 2012...former Brown star James Develin got his first NFL start, at fullback. He was a DE for the Bears...


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