Bills snap 15-game losing streak vs. Patriots, 34-31

84343.jpg

Bills snap 15-game losing streak vs. Patriots, 34-31

By Art Martone
CSNNE.com

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 amartone@comcastsportsnet.com.

Bell's style, and unique talents, present challenges to Patriots defense

steelers-patriots-leveon-bell-011817x.jpg

Bell's style, and unique talents, present challenges to Patriots defense

FOXBORO -- There are plenty of damn good running backs in the NFL but there is only one Le’Veon Bell. The Steelers star shuffles, darts and then dashes, often with bodies crashing all around him, many of them intent on doing serious bodily harm . . . but often failing.

“He’s very unique,” said linebacker Shea McClellin. “I don’t think anyone else runs quite like he does, but it’s efficient and it works.”

Defensive end Chris Long concurred: “His style is so unique, his patience, what he’s able to do with his vision. And as far as breaking tackles, being a complete player, catching the ball, he can do all that stuff.”

Now don’t get it twisted. The Pats respect the hell out of Bell, but they’d prefer they weren’t in charge of corralling him Sunday because everyone has failed during Pittsburgh’s nine-game winning streak. Bell, who played in eight of those games, has piled up over 1,500 yards from the line of scrimmage during that stretch -- 1,172 yards rushing, 336 yards receiving -- while scoring 9 touchdowns. 

“He’s really fun to watch unless you’re getting ready to play him,” said Long.

The respect Bell commands in Foxboro is evident when talking to the Pats running backs, who spoke glowingly about the former first-rounder and in LeGarrette Blount’s case, former teammate.

“No one can do what he does,” Blount told me. “They can try, but it won’t work.”

“That’s his style,” added Dion Lewis, himself a shifty fella. “You can’t try to do that. I’m pretty sure he’s the only guy that can do that.”

So how do the Pats accomplish something no one has been able to do over the last two-plus months? How do they slow Bell down, as they did back in Week 7, limiting him to 81 yards rushing (only 3.9 yards per carry)? 

“I think defensively he really forces you to be disciplined,” said Pats coach Bill Belichick. “You jump out of there too quickly then you open up gaps and open up space. Le’Veon has a great burst through the hole. He doesn’t really need long to get through there, runs with good pad level. He’s hard to tackle so if you don’t get a full body on him then he’ll run right through those arm tackles. [He] really forces everybody to be sound in their gaps.”

“If there’s space or if there’s a gap in the defense or if there’s an edge in the defense, he’s quick to take advantage of that,” defensive coordinator Matt Patricia told us during a conference call earlier this week. “He’s going to be able to get into that open space pretty quickly so you can’t really -- I don’t think you want to sit there and guess.”

If the Pats defenders, especially at the linebacker level, do that -- guess and attack a gap aggressively in attempt to make a splash play -- they may fill one gap but open two others. And that’s where a four-yard gain can turn into 40.

“Everyone on the field, it’s their job to get to him, gang tackle and be aggressive,” said Rob Ninkovich. “It can’t be just one time but every time you’re on the field.”

“There’s no one guy that can stop him,” added Belichick. “You’re going to have to have everybody doing a good job in a number of different areas all the way across the front and then do a good job of tackling.”

The Pats are a terrific tackling team, and haven’t allowed a 100-yard rusher this season (actually, not since November of 2015), but the red-hot Bell will put recent history to the test. 
 

Report: Bennett playing with cracked bone, bone chips in ankle

Report: Bennett playing with cracked bone, bone chips in ankle

FOXBORO -- Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett admitted last week that he has been dealing with a variety of physical ailments throughout the course of his first season with the Patriots. "I've been fighting through [expletive] the whole year," he said, "and I'm not gonna stop now."

PATRIOTS-STEELERS PREGAME

Bennett suffered a knee injury against the Texans last week that limited him in practices leading up to the AFC title game, but he's also had to cope with ankle and shoulder issues for much of the season.

On Sunday, NFL Media's Ian Rapoport tweeted: "Patriots love Martellus Bennett's toughness. Example: He plays with a cracked bone [and] bone chips in his ankle. Surgery likely this spring."

Bennett initially showed up on the Patriots injury report with an ankle issue after having his leg twisted awkwardly during a win over the Browns in Week 5. It hampered him for much of the regular season, and he seemed to aggravate it further while being tackled during a Week 12 victory at Met Life Stadium over the Jets. The following week, a win against the Rams, Bennett admitted he had what was probably his worst game of the season.

Bennett has continually played as the top tight end on the Patriots roster since Rob Gronkowski landed on injured reserve. He played in 64 of a possible 69 offensive snaps against the Texans in the Divisional Round, and he has played at least 43 snaps each week since the Patriots' bye in Week 9. For the season, he has played in 78 percent of New England's offensive snaps.

Bennett is due to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season. He'll turn 30 years old in March.