ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — The Buffalo Bills have energetic new owners, a refurbished Ralph Wilson Stadium, and a new long-term lease on life in western New York. But the rebranded Bills are the same old product in different packaging.
Read their label and they’re still lacking a key ingredient: a quarterback.
The franchise makeover wasn’t enough to cover up the difference between the Bills and the Patriots, overlords of the AFC East. The real owners of the Bills, your New England Patriots, claimed sole possession of first place in the division and spoiled the era of gridiron good feelings that had enveloped Buffalo with a 37-22 dispatching of their favorite foils on Sunday at The Ralph.
Bill Belichick and Tom Brady put the football down for Buffalo to kick and then pulled it away.
It’s been a pothole-filled ride, but the Patriots (4-2) are right where they belong, atop the division. Until Buffalo, which started retread Kyle Orton, or any of the other teams in the AFC East can close the Quarterback Gap, the division will remain property of the Patriots.
“Brady is a good guy. He is a great player, future Hall of Famer,” said Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus. “I don’t ever see them not being the Patriots that they are with him on the team. He is a good veteran. He knows how to mix things up. They’ll always be the Patriots as long as he is there.”
Brady and the Patriots’ offense built on their 43-point offensive rebirth against Cincinnati, scoring on four second-half possessions (excluding the game-ending genuflection) to post 24 points after the break.
Brady provided another rebuttal to the endless parade of talk-show Dan Duquettes pronouncing that he was in the twilight of his career. Tom Terrific was 15 of 17 for 274 yards and three touchdowns in the second half, including a soul-crushing 56-yarder to Brandon LaFell with 2:49 to go.
Try convincing the good people of Buffalo that Brady, who finished 27 of 37 for 361 yards and four touchdowns, has fallen from the elite quarterback pedestal and can’t get up.
The Patriots are now 25-2 against Buffalo since 2001 and Brady is 23-2 against the Bills. Brady has thrown more touchdown passes against the Bills than any other team (58) and has more 300-yard passing days (eight) against them than any other foe. He should give them a shout-out in his Hall of Fame speech.
The Patriots offensive line has taken almost as many metaphorical shots as the physical ones Brady has taken this year. But against a Buffalo team that came in tied for the NFL lead in sacks and fifth in points allowed, the much-maligned men up front held down the fort after losing starting left guard Dan Connolly to a head injury in the first half.
They allowed two sacks, none in the second half, when Brady, Belichick, and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels exploited a Ted Williams Tunnel-sized hole in the Bills’ defensive game plan, repeatedly hitting passes down the seams.
We can put away the panic button. This looked like vintage Patriots offense. Brady completed passes to 10 receivers. He even dusted off the deep ball, hitting training camp sensation Brian Tyms for a 43-yard touchdown on the first possession of the second half.
“That’s what good offenses are,” said Brady. “Whoever is out there has to produce, and guys are playing big roles. We are trying to find things that work.”
Of course none of the receivers who caught passes from TB12 was named Danny Amendola. Hey, Brady is just a quarterback. He can’t bring people back from the dead.
It was archetypal Buffalo football against the Patriots. The Bills came into the game tied for first in the NFL in turnover differential at plus-6. They had turned the ball over just four times in their first five games.
They surrendered it three times in the first half Sunday.
Orton threw an interception that looked like a pass intended for Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins. The Patriots cashed in with a Tim Wright 1-yard touchdown grab. Chandler Jones strip-sacked Orton and recovered the fumble at the Buffalo 24 with 2:09 left in the half. The Patriots settled for a 42-yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski that put them up 10-7.
With 14 seconds left in the first half, Buffalo played it safe, but Devin McCourty forced C.J. Spiller to fumble at the end of a 15-yard run. Zach Moore recovered at the Buffalo 42 with six seconds left. Brady zinged a quick pass to Julian Edelman for seven yards and Gostkowski drilled a 53-yard field goal as time expired in the half to make it 13-7.
New packaging, same Buffalo taste of defeat.
The Bills did battle back to make it a one-score game (30-22) with 5:58 to go. But Brady hit Rob Gronkowski for 17 yards on third and 16 from the Patriots’ 29. Two plays later he hit LaFell (four catches for 97 yards and two TDs) for the coup de grace.
The Bills bit the dust, per usual, but took a bite out of the Patriots roster, as both Jerod Mayo and Stevan Ridley suffered serious-looking right knee injuries. Those could haunt the Patriots come playoff time.
That’s a time of year Buffalo hasn’t had to worry about since 1999. Everyone believed it was the dawning of a new day for the Bills. New Buffalo owners Terry and Kim Pegula ran with their family onto the field before the game in blue No. 1 Buffalo jerseys.
Terry Pegula, Buffalo’s favorite benefactor, addressed an amped-up crowd. The Delaware North concessions were flowing, the good times were rolling, the Patriots were going down.
But the Bills ended up like the Pegula family dog, which was spooked by the loud noise that accompanied the family coming on the field and began running in circles chasing its tail in the end zone.