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Patriots Beat Themselves in 34-31 Loss to Bills

If you were expecting me to offer some type of reasonable answer to how the Patriots lost to the Buffalo Bills this afternoon, you will be disappointed, because I have absolutely no idea what I just witnessed (although, I will attempt to give you a thorough explanation).

The Patriots offense, despite numerous injuries to starters, got off to a really hot start.  Tom Brady was in top form, completing his first eight passes.  The opening drive was capped off with a Brady to Welker touchdown, giving the Patriots a 7-0 lead.  Kyle Arrington then intercepted Ryan Fitzpatrick on the Bills' first drive, and Tom Brady used a combination of Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski to help the team take a quick 14-0 lead.

As the half continued, the Patriots extended their lead to 21-0 after Brady's second touchdown pass to Rob Gronkowski.  At this point, the Patriots were beating the Bills in the turnover battle 2 to 0, and were moving the ball at will.  But then everything unraveled.

After the Bills went down the field and put their first points on the board with just under two minutes to play, Tom Brady marched the Patriots offense straight down the field.  However, while in the red zone, Brady threw a pass to the flat to Danny Woodhead.  The pass was slightly high, and Woodhead tipped the ball in the air, allowing Bryan Scott of the Bills to make an acrobatic interception.  Ryan Fitzpatrick then led the Bills to a late field goal drive.  Instead of going into the half up 28-7 and in control, the Patriots were up just 11 with a 21-10 lead.

The Patriots continued to unravel as the second half began, on Brady's first pass, he thew another interception on a pass intended for Chad Ochocinco that was undercut by Leodis McKelvin.  The Bills offense took advantage of the great field position, and cut the lead to 21-17 with a three yard Fitzpatrick to Scott Chandler touchdown.

But once again, the Patriots showed they could move the ball at will.  Within six plays, Brady had the Pats at the Bills' 13 yardline.  But after two Danny Woodhead runs and a completion short of the first on third down, the Patriots had to settle for three points and a 24-17 lead.  Sensing a theme?  The Patriots left points on the board all day on Sunday.

As the Patriots marched into field goal range at the end of the third quarter, the team had a killer holding call on a BenJarvus Green-Ellis run that killed the drive.

On the team's next drive, a Wes Welker 19 yard end around put the Patriots deep in Bills territory.  Three plays later, however, Tom Brady forced a throw to Rob Gronkowski down the seam that was intercepted by the Bills' George Wilson.  Patriots points left on the board count: 24.

The Bills took back over - and the Patriots really started to kill themselves defensively.  After a questionable roughing the passer call on Kyle Love, Ryan Fitzpatrick completed a long bomb down the field to Donald Jones who had burned Leigh Bodden down the sideline.  But on the next play, Ryan Fitzpatrick made a bad decision and thew another bomb to the end zone in double coverage as pressure was applied.  Josh Barrett intercepted the pass, but a Sergio Brown pass interference not only negated the turnover, but gave the Bills the ball at the one yard line.  Fred Jackson punched the ball into the end zone on the next play to tie the game at 24.

Rest of the recap, and an explanation of what happened after the jump!

The Patriots first play of the next drive was just the ultimate example of how everything went wrong for New England this afternoon.  Tom Brady threw the ball on a routine crossing route to Julian Edelman.  However, the pass deflected off the helmet of an unaware Marcell Dareus.  It was intercepted by Drayton Florence and returned to the house to give the Bills a 31-24 lead.  There really isn't an explanation for these back to back plays, but I think it left every fan in Patriots nation in complete shock.

With their backs against the wall, Tom Brady then led the Patriots on a long, grinding drive that ultimately led to a touchdown, and possibly a few heart attacks as well.  The drive was sparked by three straight Stevan Ridley touches (1 reception for 8 yards, 2 carries for 22 yards).  Two plays later, Tom Brady threw a deep pass to Chad Ochocinco down the right sideline.  The ball was placed perfectly, but Ochocinco dropped the pass.  It hit him square in the hands.  In the game that was supposed to be Chad's "coming out" party, he was pretty much nowhere to be seen.  Thankfully for the Patriots, Tom Brady was able to rebound.  Rather, I should probably say Wes Welker.

Welker had what was arguably his greatest career game.  He came down with 16 catches for 216 yards.  On the Patriots' final touchdown drive, Welker came down with Tom Brady's final four completions.  On a fourth and goal from the six yard line, Brady found Welker in the end zone for the tying score.  Despite having left 24 points on the board and committing four turnovers in the final 32 minutes of the game, the Patriots offense punched the ball into the end zone in the crucial moment.

But at the crucial moment defensively, things fell apart.  In three plays, the Bills went all the way down the field.  I'm not sure what happened after a Fred Jackson would be touchdown was reversed (ball placed at the one).  I have no idea why the Patriots were charged a timeout.  I have no idea what happened on that final sequence of events.  But what I do know is that the Patriots deserved to lose this game - as they did when Ryan Lindell hit a 28 yard field goal as time expired to give the Bills the 34-31 victory.

I feel like my recap highlighted most of the main reasons why the Patriots imploded in this game, but I'll recap them here:

  • Team never established a running game
  • Patriots lost the turnover battle with Tom Brady's four interceptions
  • The Patriots were killed by penalties on both sides of the ball, a total of 8 for 93 yards.
  • The Patriots couldn't rush the passer - at all
  • Straight bad luck - sometimes, as they say, sh*t happens.

In the long-term, this loss isn't the end of the world.  99 times out of 100, the Patriots are going to win this game.  Tom Brady won't throw four interceptions again this season.  The odds that the Patriots have this many mental mistakes are very slim.  I doubt that the offense will leave that many points on the board again this year.  However, this game did highlight many of the Patriots inefficiencies.  For one, it showed that the team needs to establish some balance on the offensive side of the ball.  Second, it showed that there are some serious issues on the defensive side of the ball.  These are things that need to be fixed going forward.  The Patriots can't expect Tom Brady to throw for 400 yards and four touchdowns every game.

While the Patriots certainly "beat themselves" in today's game against the Bills, I'm not trying to discredit what the Bills did against the Patriots today (although my roommate, a Bills fan, running around like an idiot yelling "Fitzmagic! Fitzmagic! Fitzmagic!" has caused me to resent the Bills in some fashion), they were impressive.  The play calling in the second half was really fantastic.  Fred Jackson and Ryan Fitzpatrick are real pros.  The Bills look like they will be competitive late into this season.  Nonetheless, the atypical mistakes the Patriots made throughout the final 32 minutes of the game were simply frustrating.

This is definitely the type of game you want to move on from quickly.  The Patriots play the Raiders next week.