FOXBOROUGH - The Patriots gave the Bills plenty of respect before, during, and after their 21-11 win yesterday, which put New England over the .500 mark (5-4) for the first time since December of 1999.
The postgame news conferences were filled with praise for their 1-7 opponent, which had every opportunity to spoil the Patriots’ party but couldn’t come up with a big play when needed.
“We got lucky today,” said Patriots receiver Troy Brown. “That’s a pretty good football team.”
Brown’s comments may be a stretch, because the Bills are far from good. And the Patriots weren’t “lucky” all the time, at times they were good.
New England running back Antowain Smith, who gained 100 yards on 20 carries with two touchdowns, got 42 of those yards with a scoring run with 1:52 remaining to eliminate any chance of the Bills pulling the game out. An Alex Van Pelt touchdown pass and conversion throw got Buffalo within 14-11. Van Pelt had entered for the Bills after the Patriots knocked out a quarterback (Rob Johnson, shoulder) for the second time in an as many weeks (Atlanta’s Chris Chandler, ribs, last week).
But then Smith shook off a missed tackle at the line of scrimmage and broke into daylight, finishing off his former teammates in a bit of poetic justice.
“Guys were asking me, `How did you get out of there?’ “ said Smith. “I said, `I don’t know. I broke a couple of tackles and all I could see was the end zone.’ “
Young quarterback Tom Brady wasn’t terrific, but he wasn’t terrible, either. He got the job done, even with the Bills blitzing him often.
“You’d like to play great every week,” said Brady. “But that’s not the case in this league, as I’m finding out.”
The Bills sacked Brady seven times, and he threw one interception and fumbled twice. All of that should have led to a Bills’ win, but the Bills are 1-7 for a reason.
“I thought defensively we played extremely well all day,” said Buffalo coach Gregg Williams. “Offensively we have to do a better job on third down. We have to keep the chains moving.” The Bills were 2 for 12 on third-down conversions.
Despite that, the Bills pulled within 3 shortly after Terrell Buckley sacked Johnson on a blitz on second and 16 from the New England 25. In came Van Pelt, who threw two consecutive incompletions.
But on the Patriots’ next series, Kendrick Office forced Brady to cough up the ball with a good hit as Brady was backtracking. The ball was kicked backward and recovered by Jay Foreman at the Patriots 17.
Van Pelt’s first pass was thrown poorly toward Peerless Price, but on his second attempt he found Price in the end zone.
“It was a route we designed to get either Jay [Riemersma] or Peerless open,” said Van Pelt. “They covered Jay with a safety and a linebacker, leaving the middle of the field open for Peerless, who did a nice job on the route and was pretty much wide open.” Van Pelt’s conversion pass to Eric Moulds, over Ty Law, made it 14-11 with 2:43 to play.
But soon would come Smith’s run, and the Patriots had their W.
The Patriots had taken a 7-0 lead with 3:09 left in the first quarter when Brady tossed a 6-yard pass to Kevin Faulk. They were put in excellent position - the Buffalo 35 - by Brown’s 29-yard punt return following a 28-yard kick by Brian Moorman, who watched as the ball got caught in the swirling wind.
“It was a low kick, and I knew I had a chance to make a play on it,” said Brown, who was held to two receptions. “I saw a hole on the left side and went through it. I thought I could break it all the way, but I didn’t make it.”
Johnson’s best drive was toward the end of the first quarter and into the second. A Lawyer Milloy facemask penalty tacked on to a 7-yard run by Travis Henry brought the Bills from their 25 to the 47. Johnson soon connected on a 36-yard pass with Riemersma, who was wide open, to the Patriots 9. But the Bills had to settle for Jake Arians’s 24-yard field goal, making it 7-3 with 11:38 remaining in the second.
The Patriots had problems with turnovers throughout the afternoon, which prevented them from adding to their lead. Faulk, who has battled fumble-itis, coughed it up at the Bills 15 with 5:43 left in the second after Brady had directed the Patriots on a long drive that began at the 32.
Faulk was bailed out a bit on the next play when Otis Smith picked off Johnson. That led to the first of two missed field goals by Adam Vinatieri, who was hurt by the wind all day.
Arians bounced one off the left upright from 49 yards on the next series, after Johnson was penalized for an illegal forward pass (throwing it from beyond the line of scrimmage).
With 7:27 remaining in the third, the Bills’ talented cornerback, Antoine Winfield, was called for interference on David Patten in the end zone, a 25-yard penalty. Smith ran it in from the 1, and following the extra point by Vinatieri, the Patriots had a 14-3 lead.