Buffalo faced two tough opponents on Sunday. The first was the offensive juggernaut that is the New England Patriots. The other opponent? Themselves.
Costly penalties throughout the game and a killer interception thrown at the end, denying Buffalo their chance of pulling off a one-point upset.
The Bills' defense looked stout in the early going, holding New England to just a Stephen Gostowski field goal at the end of a 13 play drive.
Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick fumbled the ball when he was sacked by New England's powerful defensive end, Vince Wilfork, deep in Bills territory. On to the field came a tired Buffalo defense.
Tired because a mere thirty seconds had elapsed since coming off the field from New England's previous, almost five minute, drive. Perhaps that is one thing that caused the secondary to commit not one, but two damaging pass interference penalties. The result was an all-too-easy one yard plunge by Patriots back Stevan Ridley.
After a long drive by the Bills put a field goal on the board, Tom Brady marched his team down the field with ease, putting New England up by two scores. A blowout seemed to be brewing.
Then Fitzpatrick summoned the spirit of the "early 2011" Bills, and led Buffalo to two touchdowns to close out the second quarter, one of which was matched by Tom Brady, and it was a one score game at the half.
New England called a fist-full of rushing plays on the first drive of the third quarter, ground off some clock, then punted to Buffalo. The Bills responded by moving the ball backwards five yards en route to a three-and-out, and a punt.
Buffalo was generous enough to give the Patriots 15 extra yards of field position due to an unnecessary roughness penalty. New England thanked them by scoring a touchdown just three passes and a run later.
Fitzpatrick then calmly, methodically guided the Bills on an 84 yard drive in eleven plays. Rookie tackle Cordy Glenn threw in a false start for good measure, because they nearly had an entire drive with no penalties.
Their lead back to one touchdown, New England seems a little edgy, and possibly even worried. Instead of using Stevan Ridley's speed and Danny Woodhead's power to run some time off the clock, the Patriots focused more on Brady's arm, which did not prove as effective as usual. Field goal for New England, very manageable ten point deficit for the Bills.
Buffalo nearly pulled within three with a touchdown, but Devin McCourty of the Patriots had other ideas, stripping the ball from Fred Jackson on the ONE YARD LINE, Kyle Arrington recovers and New England takes possession on their own one.
Originally, Jackson was ruled down by contact, by a challenge led to a reversal, giving the ball to New England, who promptly threw three straight incomplete passes and ended up punting right back to Buffalo.
Second chances rarely happen in the NFL, and Buffalo took full advantage of the opportunity, putting the ball into the hands of (finally) emerging halfback C.J. Spiller. Jerod Mayo was polite enough to give Buffalo 15 free yards through a personal foul.
Later in that same drive, Rob Ninkovich contributed to the progressing stomach ulcers of Patriots fans by encroaching on a second down play that went nowhere for Buffalo. Two plays later, Fitzpatrick tossed a short touchdown to receiver Donald Jones, and it's a three point game with just under eight minutes to go, fourth quarter.
A 14 play, 59-yard drive taking 5:41 off the clock gave the Patriots another field goal, placing Ryan Fitzpatrick right where the best, championship caliber quarterbacks dream of being.
One final drive with two minutes left, your team is down by six, a touchdown and you win! How many of us played that fantasy scenario in our heads while playing pick-up football games as kids? I can't be the only one.
Fitzpatrick leads the team down the field, losing two key players (Donald Jones, Fred Jackson) to injury along the way. In the end, however, "mighty Casey struck out".
An interception in the end zone by Devin McCourty followed by a Tom Brady kneel down ended what turned out to be a tense, but exciting game. New England 37 Buffalo 31.
Did Any Of Us Learn Anything Today? Here's My Five:
1) There seems to be TWO Wes Welkers.
One is the reliable, short-statured but sure handed receiver who, with a catch in this game, now has at least one catch in 103 straight games.
The other is the Welker that drops what seem to be the easiest catches a wide receiver in the NFL could ever make, just as he did early in the first quarter on a perfectly thrown post route that had nothing but green all the way to the end zone.
2) When he isn't committing false starts, Bills tackle Cordy Glenn is proving to be a second-round steal for Buffalo.
One play specifically comes to mind, and that is Fred Jackson's one-yard touchdown plunge, in which Glenn absolutely PLOWED through New England's defense like it was tissue paper. With some good coaching, this kid is a keeper.
3) Brandon Lloyd is finally playing up to his potential.
Five catches for 45 yards may not sound like much, but remember, he is a third, sometimes fourth receiver, so reliability is a big factor. He was targeted six times, the one he did not catch was defensed.
4) New England has quietly developed a dangerous one-two running back combo.
I'm referring to their halfbacks, Danny Woodhead and Stevan Ridley. Woodhead carried once for 15 yards, but oh, what a carry it was. He is the proverbial "Thunder", powering his way down the field. Ridley meanwhile has quickness, elusiveness and "downhill running" that New England has not seen in quite some time. Ridley, in this case, would be the "Lightning".
5) Buffalo needs to go with a new quarterback in 2013.
Ryan Fitzpatrick has shown flashes of brilliance during his Buffalo. The problem is that they've only been 'flashes' and not consistently good, even great, quarterback play. Look Bills, you poured a ton of money into one player, Mario Williams, this past off season. Next off season, the focus needs to be on upgrading at quarterback.