Sunday, September 25, 2011

For Brady and the Patriots, Bills Are A Broken Record

With six minutes remaining in the second quarter, the New England Patriots were cruising toward another victory, set to start the season with three consecutive victories. It appeared to be the same old story for the Buffalo Bills, a team that hadn’t beaten New England in eight years and fifteen head-to-head matchups. Then it all went wrong.

Rian Lindell hit a 28-yard field goal as time ran out to give the Buffalo Bills a 34-31 victory over the New England Patriots. The Bills outscored the Pats two-to-one in the last three quarters of the game, including a 17-point unanswered run.

Brady threw for four interceptions in Buffalo, a career-worst, and the most in a single game for Brady since a 2006 game against the Indianapolis Colts. Brady threw four picks against the Bills once before—in 2003, the last time the Bills beat New England.

Brady finished 30 for 45 for 386 yards and four touchdowns, along with the aforementioned picks. Before Buffalo’s 17-point streak, the main talking point of the game was Brady’s pursuit of a third straight 400-yard passing game, something that has never been done before in the NFL. Instead, this game will be remembered for a different statistic: that Brady threw as many picks in the game as he did in the entirety of last season.

The Bills executed a similar rally in the week before, coming back from 21-3 down against Oakland to win, and Patriots coach Bill Belichick said afterwards that they had anticipated a battle.

“We obviously didn’t play well enough to win, so we’re disappointed in that,” Belichick said. “[But] I don’t think anybody thought it was going to be easy.”

Brady made no excuse for his own wasteful play, ruing missed chances in the post-game press conference.

“We had our opportunities,” Brady said. “We didn’t really take advantage like I wish we would have. Too many turnovers, too many penalties,

The penalties mostly came from the other side of the ball, including a costly pass interference call on Sergio Brown in the end zone during the fourth quarter. Ryan Fitzpatrick was forced out of the pocket and threw a hopefully pass up to a well-covered David Nelson, which was picked off by Josh Barrett in the end zone. But the flags came flying, and the play was overturned because Brown clearly grabbed Nelson in the end zone as the pass came in.

The result was a first and goal on the one-yard line, which the Bills converted for a touchdown on the very next play—a one-yard run up the gut from Fred Jackson. Jackson had a solid day, rushing for 74 yards and a touchdown and adding another 87 yards receiving. His quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick, threw for 369 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.

Both interceptions came from Kyle Arrington in the first quarter. The Pats defense looked uncharacteristically sound in the early stages, with Arrington’s interceptions ending the Bills’ first two drives, and punts on the next two.

After Fitzpatrick settled down, though, it was a different story. The secondary was shredded throughout the last three quarters of the game—four different Bills receivers racked up more than 80 yards.

Devin McCourty continued to struggle, covering Bills receiver Stevie Johnson for most of the game. Johnson finished with 94 yards and a touchdown. The pass rush was utterly nonexistent, with very little pressure on Fitzpatrick throughout and no sacks recorded. Interestingly, the Bills also registered zero sacks, which is a reflection on the positive start the Patriots offensive line has had. Dan Connolly filled in well for the injured Dan Koppen, while on the other side of the ball, new Patriots defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth sat out with a back injury.

Despite the interceptions, Tom Brady and the New England offense continued to break NFL and franchise records. Brady has now thrown for the most passing yards in the first three games of a season in NFL history, and the record for most passing yards in any three-game stretch with 1327 yards, surpassing Drew Brees’ 1257 three-game performance in 2006.

Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski also broke records. Welker broke his personal record for receptions in a game (16) while also breaking the franchise record for receiving yards (217), previously held by Terry Glenn. Tight end Gronkowski excelled while Aaron Hernandez was out injured, finishing with his career-high yards receiving (109) and two touchdowns.

All the offensive records will mean nothing to Belichick, though, who only cares about one record—the Patriots now stand at two-and-one.

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