ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. Resiliency has been a hallmark of the Patriots.
Whether withstanding injuries, controversy, or their own roster mediocrity, when this team has had plausible excuses to fold or check out, it hasnt. With precious few exceptions.
Even in two crushing Super Bowl losses, they were still inches from being in position to win those games.
Even when their Hall of Fame quarterback went down in 2008, they won 11 games.
With a roster of no-names and an offense remade on the fly in 2010, they went 14-2.
Those teams dont matter now, even if there are a few holdovers left.
Each Patriots team has to reveal who it is for itself. The jersey and the helmet with the Flying Elvis decal dont cut it alone. Weve heard it time and again. Weve seen it in the symbolic removal of wall-hangings that commemorated departed Super Bowl-winning players.
Prove it or lose it.
Sunday against the Bills, the 2012 Patriots proved a little something, said Brady
We lost two in a row, we go on the road, our fifth and sixth on the road including the preseason, Brady stated. We had two really tough losses, games that we expected to win. Then you come and play against a team that we lost to last year up 21 points, and we showed a lot of heart. Thats a lot of adversity we faced and I thought we did a really good job of responding to that in the second half.
Down 21-7 early in the third, the Patriots rolled off 35 straight points. It was an astounding turnaround. You figured the Patriots might reel the Bills in a little bit and the game would come down to the last five minutes. You didnt figure 52 points and a 24-point win.
The vanquished quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick, was as articulate as the victorious one in that he put his finger on the issue in a roundabout way.
We beat them last year, Fitzpatrick said when asked about struggles against New England. We were up three touchdowns last year in the other game. We were up two touchdowns in the second half this game. That is the most frustrating thing, I think, is for some reason these games especially versus these guys when they start rolling unfortunately we have not had an answer. We have to figure out why. We have to try to put a stop to that, but we did not have an answer today.
The answer may not be the Bills ineptitude as much as it is the Patriots inevitability of excellence.
Even when they lose as they did the past two weeks the lose narrowly and in crushing fashion. They do not roll over. Ever. And when they lose, they can often say with a straight face that they didnt actually lose, they just ran out of time.
Negative emotion and frustration becomes fuel for the Patriots resolve.
I think we realized we had to execute a lot better than we were executing, said Brady, who started 5-for-5, went into a 5-for-13 funk before closing the game 12-for-18 for 200 yards in the second half. We talked on the sideline, we talked about it at halftime, in order to score points we cant keep stubbing our toe. I thought we did a better job in the second half. Obviously the turnovers were huge. To get those the defense was really getting after them. The fumble before halftime was huge. We were down whatever it was, 21-7 on the road, our backs were against the wall, and I thought we showed a lot of heart. Thats what this team is made of, were going to battle until the end, I know that.
After their game-opening score, the Patriots went punt, punt, missed field goal, fumble, missed field goal, fumble, punt. Then? Touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, field goal.
Levers were pulled until the right ones caused the power to go on. One of the levers was undrafted rookie Brandon Bolden who ran for 137 yards. Another lever was Wes Welker, who caught nine passes for 129 yards. The Patriots, by dint of their confidence that they will figure things out, are emboldened to try guys like Bolden when trailing 21-7 .
If the coaching staff is confident enough to pull out every stop, why wouldnt the players be? The running game was an emphasis this week and while Josh McDaniels eventually let Brady do his thing and stayed out of his lab kit of astounding plays, he made sure to be persistent with what worked. Running it.
Our line, our tight ends, our backs; they all did a good job, said Belichick. We were a little disappointed in our running production the last couple games, and we really made a big emphasis this game. We worked hard on it in practice and we were able to have some good results today. You cant say enough about the offensive line, though. These guys have a good front and we were able to block them.
We all came together as one today so we just need more of these, more consistency and moving onto next week, said Vince Wilfork.
The Bills were left to ruminate on their humiliation.
Asked if he was embarrassed by the outcome, Bills head coach Chan Gailey said, Yeah, I am. I do not like to play like that. I do not think that is who we are, but that is who we were today. You cannot sugar coat it anyway, but we are 2-2. That is who we are today. We are 2-2. The media kicked dirt on us almost after the first game, everybody was getting high after two and everybody will kick dirt on us after this week. That is just the way it is. I understand that. We have a tough road ahead of us. We understand that. Nobody understands that more than me.
The inevitability of excellence and the process of becoming a resilient team is under way in New England. Again.