ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — The hiring of coach Rex Ryan might have added some sizzle to the Patriots-Bills rivalry — it definitely increased the pregame bluster coming out of Buffalo — but the initial get-together didn’t change how lopsided the series has been.
Say this for Rex and the Bills, though: Sunday’s game was wildly entertaining.
With less than 12 minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Patriots enjoyed a 24-point lead and had exactly what they wanted: A very quiet Ralph Wilson Stadium, and scores of Bills fans headed for the exits.
Those who left early missed an unexpectedly frantic finish. The Patriots kept passing, the Bills kept scoring, and what had been a rout quickly turned into a one-possession game. The Ralph was rocking.
Ultimately, it took the second-most pass attempts (59) and the second-most passing yards (446) of Tom Brady’s career for the Patriots to leave with a 40-32 victory. Brady threw for three touchdowns — two to Julian Edelman — Dion Lewis had 138 all-purpose yards, Rob Gronkowski logged a 100-yard receiving game, and the defense sacked Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor eight times in just his second NFL start. An interception of Taylor in the final minute finally sealed it.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever thrown it that much,” said Brady, who has only once, when he had 65 attempts against the 49ers in a 2012 loss. “It was a lot of throws. They have a lot of good players and a good coach, this is a tough place to play, but it’s great to be 2-0. Certainly to get a division win on the road is always huge.”
Brady’s passing yardage is the most ever by a Buffalo opponent, and is topped only by his 517 yards in the 2011 season opener at Miami. His three TD passes on Sunday give him 399 for his career.
It didn’t look like any late passing plays by Brady would be necessary. The Patriots built a 37-13 lead through three quarters before Buffalo made a game of it, scoring three touchdowns in a seven-minute span of the fourth quarter. With a lead and the clock on their side, the Patriots all but ignored the run; LeGarrette Blount, making his season debut after serving a one-game suspension, had just two carries. Lewis had seven of the team’s 15 rushing attempts, for 40 yards.
Taylor, who passed for 242 yards, hit Robert Woods for a 32-yard TD (37-19 after a failed 2-point conversion, 11:42 left). Then he scored on a 7-yard run (37-25 after another failed 2-point conversion, 5:27 left). After Brady was sacked and lost a fumble on the next drive, Taylor needed just two plays to go 50 yards, hitting Sammy Watkins for a 24-yard touchdown. Suddenly, with 4:16 left in the game, the Patriots’ 24-point lead had been cut to 5.
Leading, 37-32, Brady and the offense responded with a 72-yard drive that ended with a short Stephen Gostkowski field goal, his fourth of the game. A defensive pass interference penalty — the 14th called on the Bills, and the 25th accepted penalty of the game — put the Patriots in Buffalo territory, and Brady connected with Danny Amendola on a 29-yard completion on the next play to get inside the red zone. It was Amendola’s only reception, but it was a highlight-reel catch.
An interception by Logan Ryan on Buffalo’s ensuing play sealed the win, and improved Brady to 24-3 as a starting quarterback against the Bills.
“I thought a lot of our guys made a lot of great plays. Aaron Dobson stepped up, Dion is playing great, and obviously Gronk and Jules, Danny made a huge play, Steve kicking just clutch, clutch plays on defense with very timely plays, Chandler [Jones] had a bunch of sacks. It took everybody,” Brady said. “We knew that’s what it was going to take.”
Ryan, never shy to speak out, let it rip after the game.
“This loss is squarely on one man’s shoulders. It’s on my shoulders. I have to get better. [Bill] Belichick outcoached me. No question. We did a [expletive] job, and it’s my responsibility.”
Ryan was particularly upset with the Bills’ 14 penalties, five of which came in the first quarter on special teams. They came early in the game, and they came late: Buffalo was called for three separate penalties on one play, its attempt at an onsides kick after the touchdown that made it 37-25. The Patriots could accept only one.
“The way the game unfolded in the first half is literally the blueprint for how they beat you,” said Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams. “Your communication is poor, your composure is bad, and we let it get away from us.”
Williams and his much-discussed teammates on the defensive line couldn’t get to Brady often, another key element to the Patriots win. New England started two rookies on the offensive line (David Andrews at center, Shaq Mason at right guard) and rotated a third in frequently (left guard Tre’ Jackson).
“I just knew I had to go out and do my job. Everyone else would do theirs, and everything would work out,” Andrews said. “There’s still so much we’ve got to work on, especially us three. But it was a good game, good win.”
The Bills had two sacks on Brady, who went 38-for-59 passing with no interceptions.
For the second straight week, the Patriots defense gave up chunks of yards to start the game, but unlike the Steelers in Week 1, the Bills went the distance and scored an easy touchdown. Karlos Williams completed the 10-play, 80-yard drive with a 2-yard run, giving Buffalo the only lead it would hold, 7-0.
After an initial three-and-out, the Patriots scored the next three times they had the ball — 8-yard pass to Edelman, 6-yard run by Lewis, 2-yard pass to Gronkowski — and led, 24-13, at halftime. Another touchdown pass to Edelman, this one from 22 yards, and three Gostkowski field goals made it 37-13, setting up the wild finish.
Goaded in the week leading up to the game into matching the confident banter coming from Ryan and the Bills, the Patriots chose to abstain. Given an opportunity after the win to gloat, the Patriots again took a pass, perfectly content to board the plane for the flight home with yet another victory over Buffalo.
“For us, it’s nothing new. We feel like every week, I don’t care who we play, I’m betting that the whole league is rooting for them to beat us,” safety Devin McCourty said. “We knew what to expect.”
The Jaguars are coming next, and the Patriots already were looking ahead at what they’ll need to improve on before next Sunday’s game at Gillette.
“There’s a lot of things we can do better. Everybody can do better,” Belichick said. “I didn’t think it was all that spectacular by anyone, but it was good enough. We’ve got a lot of room to improve.”
As for Ryan? He was left with more questions about Belichick, Brady, and the Patriots, why his team was outplayed and how, in his opinion, he was outcoached.
“Hey, man,” Ryan said, “I just know his team won. Again.”