ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — As long as Tom Brady is head and shoulders above the rest of the quarterbacks in the AFC East, teams like the Buffalo Bills aren't going to be able to close the gap on the Patriots, no matter how much they open their mouths to express confidence in their team or utter contempt for New England.
New to coach Rex Ryan's game, the Bills learned what the New York Jets did. Talk is cheap, unless you have the quarterback to back it up.
Sunday's 40-32 Patriots victory at Ralph Wilson Stadium was yet another Brady-provided pigskin public service announcement that the AFC East is the Patriots and the Pretenders, until another team gets a worthy QB. The Patriots have won the division every year Brady has remained healthy since 2001, save for 2002, which was Brady's first full season as a starter. That's not a coincidence.
Last Sunday, Bills fans chanted "We want Brady" as they stomped the Indianapolis Colts and puffed out their chests. They got Brady at his best on Sunday — and yet another dispiriting loss. Buffalo is to Brady what Cleveland was to Michael Jordan, an unfortunate foil tormented by one man's athletic brilliance.
Is there a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for shared despair or collective disappointment? That record was set Sunday at the Ralph, instead of the planned noise record.
Brady and the Patriots provided a psychological beatdown to an entire region. This was to be the day they rose up against their AFC East oppressors. Instead, they found themselves firmly under the Patriots' cleats — again.
Remade in Ryan's boisterous and brash image, the Bills have a new attitude and a new quarterback in Tyrod Taylor, but endured the same old misery against "the hated Patriots" in a showdown-turned-meltdown for Buffalo, which had 14 accepted penalties and missed an extra point.
TB12 backed up his pledge to silence the Buffalo crowd and torched Buffalo for 466 yards through the air, the most by an opposing passer in Bills history and the second-highest total of Brady's career. He completed 38 of 59 passes for three touchdowns and no interceptions against Ryan's vaunted defense.
Brady didn't just take to the air. It looked like he was playing against it, as the Patriots built a 37-13 lead after three quarters.
"You get Brady on a day when he's hot, it's ugly," said Ryan, who is now 4-10 against Brady. "I got to do a better job. We turned some guys loose. He doesn't need any help. That's for [darn] sure."
The juxtaposition of the QBs was obvious on one second-quarter sequence.
Taylor threw an ill-advised pass to double-covered tight end Charles Clay. It was deflected and snagged for an interception by Malcolm Butler, who returned it to the Buffalo 30. Brady hit Rob Gronkowski for a 2-yard touchdown to put the Patriots ahead, 21-7, with 13:14 left in the second quarter.
The Patriots led, 24-13, at the half.
Brady ran the Patriots' offense with the precision of a Swiss time piece. He hit nine different receivers and stymied the Bills by delivering the football before Buffalo's rushers could even get out of the starting blocks.
The command with which Brady operated the Patriots' no-huddle offense limited Ryan's ability to present exotic fronts and disguise coverage.
The Patriots' death by a thousand paper cuts passing attack bled Buffalo dry.
"It's kind of tough sometimes. You can't disguise," said Bills linebacker Nigel Bradham. "You have to pretty much go right to your man. Tom will snap it at any time, and you got to be ready."
Eight of the nine snaps, including the last seven on the Patriots' 83-yard third-quarter touchdown drive, were out of the no-huddle. Brady capped the microwave march with a perfectly-executed play-action pass to Julian Edelman, who streaked across the field for a 22-yard score.
Rex Ryan’s postgame comments
Bills coach Rex Ryan discussed his team’s loss to the Patriots on Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015. (Video courtesy of Buffalo News)
That touchdown, the 399th of Brady's gilded career, put the Patriots ahead, 34-13, with 3:24 left in the third. At that point, Brady had 340 yards passing and three TDs and Taylor had only 94 yards passing.
The Patriots exposed the latest signal-calling savior for the Bills.
Taylor (23 of 30 for 242 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions) squirmed in the pocket like a kid strapped into a car seat most of the game. He struggled to decipher Bill Belichick's defenses as if he was being asked to translate an ancient text. Despite his mobility, he took eight sacks.
Taylor showed admirable resilience in the fourth quarter, throwing two touchdowns and running for another to lead an unlikely Bills comeback — a rally fueled in part by the Patriots' curious decision to keep on passing, instead of running clock. That paved the way for a Brady strip-sack with 4:31 left.
But Taylor iced the victory for the Patriots with a hopelessly late and high throw that was intercepted by Logan Ryan with 1:07 left.
It wasn't fair for the Bills to ask Taylor, making only his second NFL start, to outduel Brady.
"I'm not sure I would want anybody to get in that duel with him," said Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams. "We let our team down today. We got to get better."
Many a Buffalo defender has said that after losing to Brady.
He has his most career touchdown passes (61), passing yards (6,724), and wins (24) against Buffalo. Brady is 24-3 all-time against the Bills. That record is a bit deceiving considering the third "loss" was in last year's season finale. Brady only played a half in that game.
If you can't beat him, just say he cheated. That seemed to be the approach of Buffalo fans to Brady.
That just provided more post-Deflategate motivation for Brady.
Opponents and their fans can keep talking. As long as The Quarterback Gap remains, the Patriots always will have the final say in the AFC East.