By Art Martone
We'll understand if you were a little confused watching the Patriots and Bills Sunday afternoon.
Game summary, scoring and statistics
That team in white? The team that blew a 21-point lead? The team whose quarterback threw four interceptions? The team that committed eight penalties, including two that were the key plays in a game-tying, 95-yard drive?
Yeah, that was the Patriots.
And the team in blue? The team that scored 17 points in the final quarter? The team that made the key plays on defense, took advantage of its opportunities on offense, and worked the clock expertly in the final two minutes to set up Rian Lindell's game-winning, 28-yard field goal on the final play of the game?
Yeah, that was the Bills.
After eight years and 15 straight New England victories, the roles were reversed Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The Bills looked like the veteran championship contenders and the Patriots looked like the inexperienced, rattled befuddled pretenders in Buffalo's 34-31 victory.
"Obviously, that's not the way we want to play," said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. "We got to do better."
"It's tough to overcome as many mistakes as we made," said Tom Brady.
As bad as the game became for the Patriots after a sterling quarter-and-a-half -- New England scored touchdowns on three of its first five possessions in building its 21-point lead -- the fourth quarter had the Twitter universe comparing the Pats to the free-falling Red Sox:
The Pats had a 24-17 lead early in the quarter and seemed to be easily driving for an insurance touchdown when Brady tried to force a throw over the middle to Rob Gronkowski and was intercepted by George Wilson at the 2-yard line.
The Bills took over on their 5 and Ryan Fitzpatrick's first pass was incomplete. But Kyle Love was called for roughing the passer -- the first of two crucial New England penalties during the drive -- and the ball went out to the 20. A 48-yard pass to Donald Jones moved it to the New England 32, and then Fitzpatrick, going for it all, badly underthrew a pass into the end zone for Jones. It was easily intercepted by Josh Barrett . . . but Sergio Brown was (legitimately) nailed for an utterly inexcusable pass-interference penalty against Jones, who had no shot to catch the ball. Instead of giving up possession, Buffalo got the ball on New England 1 and Fred Jackson punched it in on the next play, tying the score at 24-24.
On the first play of the next series, a Brady pass for Julian Edelman caromed off the helmet of a Bills lineman and into the arms of Buffalo cornerback Drayton Florence. He returned it 27 yards for a touchdown, giving Buffalo a 31-24 lead.
The Patriots tied it with a 15-play, 71-yard drive that ended on a fourth-down, six-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Wes Welker, who set a single-game franchise record with 217 receiving yards on 16 receptions. But the Pats could have scored 11 plays earlier -- and left enough time on the clock to have gotten the ball back after Buffalo's next touchdown -- when Chad Ochocinco, who'd gotten behind his defender, had a perfectly thrown pass from Brady sail through his hands at the 1. Instead of a 41-yard touchdown, it was an incompletion.
Buffalo got the ball on its 20 with 3:25 to play, giving the Pats' defense the challenge of making a stop and giving the ball back to the offense. Instead, it was gashed for 79 yards in three plays -- a 29-yard pass from Fitzpatrick to Jones, a 12-yard pass from Fitzpatrick to Jackson, and a 38-yard pass from Fitzpatrick to Jackson -- and Buffalo had the ball on the Patriots' 1 with 1:43 left. Thanks to a baffling time out called by Belichick after Jackson's run and yet another New England penalty, which reset the down clock after a second-down play, Buffalo was able to instruct Fitzpatrick to take knees until there were three seconds left, at which point the Bills called time and brought in Lindell for the chip-shot field goal that won the game.
The Pats won the statistical battle -- they had 495 offensive yards to Buffalo's 448, 30 first downs to Buffalo's 24 -- but negated it with the types of mistakes we're not used to seeing New England teams makes.
"Too many turnovers, too many penalties, too many scoring opportunities that we missed," said Brady. "That's why we lost the game."
The turnovers, incidentally, were all the result of Brady interceptions. He threw four . . . which are as many as he threw in his entire 2010 MVP season.
"I think it's multiple things," Welker said of the picks. "I'm sure Tom will tell you, he made some bad throws. But the receivers also ran some wrong routes."
It started well enough, as a pair of Brady touchdown passes -- one of 14 yards to Wes Welker and the other of one yard to Gronkowski -- put the Pats up, 14-0, after one quarter. They made it 21-0 with six minutes to go in the second quarter when Brady hit Gronkowski for another TD, this one of 26 yards.
But the Bills showed signs of life with an efficient 7-play, 96-yard drive late in the second quarter and closed the gap to 21-7 on an 11-yard touchdown from Fitzpatrick to Stevie Johnson.
Then an interception by Bryan Scott on the Bills' 10-yard with a minute left in the half stopped a Patriots drive that seemed destined to produce yet another touchdown. And Buffalo sliced the Pats' defense with a near-perfect two-minute offense, going 66 yards in 10 plays and getting a 42-yard field goal from Lindell with three seconds left.
An interception by Leodis McKelvin -- the second interception thrown by Brady on consecutive pass attempts -- early in the third quarter sparked a seven-play, 39-yard drive that ended with a three-yard touchdown pass from Fitzpatrick to Scott Chandler and made the score 21-17 with 9:34 to play in the third quarter. The Pats answered with a 10-play, 81-yard drive of their own that stalled on the Buffalo 4, which brought on Gostkowski for a 23-yard field goal and a 24-17 Patriot lead.
Which set the stage for a wild -- and fatal, from the Pats' point of view -- fourth quarter.
"What should have been a great fun day of breaking records and all those things turned totally opposite," said Welker.
"It showed we have a long way to go."
Art Martone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.