ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Bills fans chanted “We want Brady” toward the end of their Week 1 win over the Colts.
They got Brady on Sunday, all right. And then some.
Brady was historically good in the Patriots’ 40-32 win over the Bills. His 38 completions, 59 pass attempts, and 466 passing yards were all the second-most of his Hall of Fame career, currently at 16 years and counting.
Add in three touchdown passes and no interceptions, and Brady silenced a raucous Buffalo crowd that was trying to break the Guinness World Record for stadium crowd noise.
Instead, another record was set on Sunday — Brady’s 466 yards were the most ever allowed by the Bills since their inception in 1960. George Blanda threw for 464 in 1961.
“That’s what’s so great about playing with him,” tight end Rob Gronkowski said. “He did an unbelievable job out there today, especially with that noise. It’s hard to have the offense all on the same page.”
This was no pushover defense, either. The Bills have the most expensive front four in the NFL, with Mario Williams, Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus, and Jerry Hughes accounting for $40.4 million in salary cap money this year. The Bills led the NFL with 54 sacks last year, and embarrassed Andrew Luck and the Colts in Week 1 by forcing three turnovers and causing havoc with constant zone blitzing.
But the Patriots, yet again, had the perfect game plan for neutralizing the Bills’ pass rush. They spread out the Bills with four and five receivers all game — running back Dion Lewis had to line up as a slot receiver just as often as he did in the backfield — and Brady got the ball out of his hands before the Bills had a chance to say, “Two Mississippi.”
The Bills said after the game they were ready for it. It was the same tactic the Patriots used to minimize the Ravens’ and Seahawks’ pass rush in their postseason wins last year.
Bills linebacker Manny Lawson said “the plan was to see what we could make Tom Brady do.”
“Can we rattle him with our front four? How quickly is he going to get the ball off and how long is he going to hold it?”
Big mistake. Never put the game in Brady’s hands.
“It’s kind of the devil’s advocate,” Lawson said. “You blitz a QB that gets the ball off quick, you’re liable to leave somebody open. But then, you’re trying to get pressure and rattle him. So we tried to go in-between. We wanted to sit back and let our front four get after them.”
After blitzing Luck 25 times in Week 1, the Bills hung back against the Patriots and tried to cover the receivers. When told how many times Brady threw the ball, Bills coach Rex Ryan said, “You kind of hope that’s what happens.”
But the Bills didn’t have any more success than Baltimore or Seattle did last winter. Brady was a maestro before the snap, getting his teammates in the right position and knowing where to throw the football.
The Patriots had four receivers with 85-plus yards receiving — Gronkowski (113), Lewis (98), Julian Edelman (97), and Aaron Dobson (87).
“We got four guys that can get home each and every play if they want, and they’re going to,” Bills safety Bacarri Rambo said. “But it wasn’t even on them getting home. It’s Brady just knew where the ball was going as soon as he got the ball. One, two, the ball was gone.”
The Patriots also used a lot of no-huddle and up-tempo offense to prevent the Bills from doing a lot of the pre-snap shifting and moving around that they used against Indianapolis to cause confusion.
“Ah man, it was frustrating,” said Hughes, who finally sacked Brady and forced a fumble late in the fourth quarter. The no-huddle offense was “taking a second away from our pre-snap reads, things like that, that we kind of like to use to feel out the game better.”
Of all the big numbers Brady produced, the most impressive numbers were actually two and five.
He dropped back a whopping 61 times, yet was sacked just twice all game — and one of them was a self-sack in which Brady slid to the ground for no gain to avoid a hit. And despite dropping back 61 times, Brady was hit just five times all day.
Some of that had to do with the offensive line, which once again turned in an admirable performance while playing without Ryan Wendell or Bryan Stork and constantly rotating guys in and out of the game.
“If I remember correctly, I don’t think either sack had to do with the offensive line,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “Just poor execution.”
But a lot of it was Brady motioning his players across the formation, diagnosing the Bills’ defense and knowing exactly where to go with the ball once it was in his hands. Brady also wisely threw the ball into the turf on several plays, realizing that an incomplete pass was much better than a sack.
And Brady always seems to know where to move his players. On Danny Amendola’s incredible, game-clinching 29-yard catch, Brady had Edelman go in motion, but not to get open.
“He moved me over and I picked up a blitz,” Edelman said. “He puts us in the right situation. That’s why he’s good.”
Despite the 466 passing yards, 40 points, and 507 yards of total offense, Brady actually seemed a little frustrated with his performance after the game. He missed on a couple of fourth-and-1 throws and couldn’t quite put the game away until the very end.
“We had a lot of good plays, but I think we left a lot of plays out there,” Brady said.
When asked if Brady looked as sharp as ever, Belichick said, “No.”
“I think 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.”
It’s got to be a scary feeling for the rest of the NFL if Brady’s performance was only “good enough.”
“Brady was hot,” Ryan said, “and if you make a mistake on top of it, he kills you.”