FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Since it’s opening in 2000, Gillette Stadium has been a place where the Bills (2-2) come to have their spirits crushed, but on this faithful afternoon, October 2, 2016, the hex these unfriendly confines long held over them, was lifted as the Bills scratched and clawed their way to .500 with a 16-0 win over the Patriots (3-1).
It was Buffalo’s first win over New England on the road since Week 17 in 2013, the first time New England was shutout at home since 1993, and the first time it’s ever happened in Gillette Stadium. Sure, the Patriots were without their field general Tom Brady – finishing out his four-game suspension – but the resilient Patriots were 3-0 regardless.
“It’s satisfying, but lets face it, they had a player out,” Bills head coach Rex Ryan said after the game. “Obviously this place is a tough place to play regardless of who’s not in there. Did I mention they had a player out and our team showed up?”
For Ryan this one tastes even sweeter after facing harsh criticisms from the national media all week for his antics ahead of a huge division matchup and dismal 3-11 record against Bill Belichick. In the end he got the last laugh and his team, a crucial win.
“Everyone knows my record. I thought we had a chance at about half those things, but they did a great job and always outcoached us,” Ryan remarked. “Today they had a player out guys, and we had our team here.”
Despite not officially knowing who the Patriots starting QB would be – although Ryan revealed afterwards a “source” told him it would be Jacoby Brissett – until a few hours before kickoff, the defense was more than prepared for the Brissett led offense, keeping the rookie QB off balance all day to the beat of three sacks and six quarterback hits. They also held the NFL’s leading rusher, LeGarrette Blount, to just 54 yards rushing, after the RB posted 100-yard rushing performances in back-to-back games.
Leading the charge was veteran linebacker Zach Brown, who made 18 tackles on the afternoon for his third consecutive game with double-digit tackle totals. One of his most memorable plays of the game was a vicious tackle he made on a scrambling Brissett in the second quarter, which forced a fumble and gave the ball back to the Bills. His effort left an offense that put up 27 points on Houston 10 days ago in shambles.
“He’s a third-string quarterback. So for us, we had to make him look like a third-string quarterback,” Brown said of the defense’s preparedness for Brissett.
As far as his individual performance; “I contribute [my success] to Corbin [Bryant], Kyle [Williams], Jerry [Hughes], Zo [Lorenzo Alexander], Adolphus [Washington], if I forgot anybody on the D-line, that’s who I contribute that to,” Brown said. “My performance is based upon them, cause if they do they job to keep the boys off of us, we can go make the tackle every time. To be a great linebacker you gotta have a great D-line.”
Buffalo held New England to under 100 yards rushing, and surrendered just 13 first downs on the day. Another telling stat; the Patriots converted on only one of their 12 third down opportunities. Total domination.
Opposite of Brissett, Tyrod Taylor was everything Bills fans could have hoped for and then some. After being used primarily as a runner in Week 3, it was his arm that got the job done against New England.
Even without his most versatile weapon Sammy Watkins, Taylor completed 27 of his 39 pass attempts for 246 yards and a touchdown. Not only that but he was efficient throwing over the middle of the field on numerous occasions and on the rare occasions, when the pocket broke down, kept his eyes downfield and found open receivers. It was the 27-year-old’s first win when he attempted 30 or more passes in a game.
“I definitely felt confident with our approach and out game plan going into this game,” Taylor said following the win. “We had the right plan as far as matchups and getting guys the football. I think guys did a good job winning their matchups and it made my job easier.”
After neglecting to get the ball in the hands of their athletic tight end Charles Clay last week, there was a clear emphasis on getting him the ball almost immediately. On the Bills first drive of the game he caught two passes and picked up a first down. He’d finish the day with five receptions for a season high 47 yards.
“Matchup wise, last year the two times we played them, I didn’t do as well of a job as I would like to give Clay the ball,” Taylor said. “He wins a lot against safeties and linebackers and the matchups that we head today with him on the field – we liked those going into the game.”
Watkins’ absence has also opened up the door for WR Robert Woods to take on a heavier work load, and boy did he carry his weight in Week 4, hauling in a team high seven receptions and 89 yards.
On the opening play of the game New England moved the ball from their own nine to the Bills one on a short flare pass to Julian Edelman, however it was whipped out by a hold from an a familiar friend, Chris Hogan. Three plays later they’d punt, coming up just a yard shy of the first down, and Buffalo had the ball for the first time.
They’d take advantage. Orchestrating a 12 play, 65-yard touchdown drive – the first, first quarter touchdown New England has surrendered this season – capped off by a seven-yard pitch and catch from Taylor to McCoy in the flat.
It was a beautifully executed drive with some creativity from OC Anthony Lynn, who mixed in some wildcat. On it they Bills picked up four first downs and went a perfect two-for-two on third downs.
On the ensuing drive New England’s offense would pick up seven yards on first down then tried to get cute by putting Julian Edelman at quarterback for a read option and gained just a yard. They’d punt two plays later.
The Bills continued to move the ball with ease on their next series, picking up four first downs before an unnecessary roughness penalty on Richie Incognito after a first down play from the New England 18 put them in too deep of a yardage hole to dig out of.
Facing third-and-21 a few plays later, New England lined up in the neutral zone, which could have given the Bills a second chance at a conversion, but Ryan declined it and opted for the 34-yard FG and a 10-0 lead.
After forcing a third straight Patriots punt the ball was quickly back with Buffalo with just 2:23 taken off the clock. A very costly unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the return pinned them back at their own five, but mixing in some no huddle quickly moved out to the 46, in just four plays. They’d reach as far as the New England 24 before the drive stalled, settling for a 43-yard Dan Carpenter field goal.
It took until their fourth drive for New England to cross the 50-yardline, thanks to a 58-yard pass to TE Martellus Bennett, who recorded his fourth-career 100-yard game by days end. Their most promising drive of the half though would end with a fumble.
The Bills could make nothing of the turnover and the teams would exchange punts to end the half.
At the intermission Buffalo had picked up 16 first downs to New England’s two, and outgained the Patriots 251 to 98.
After putting together that stellar touchdown drive to begin the game, Buffalo started the third quarter with an underwhelming three and out. Making matters worse was that the Patriots got into rhythm after forcing a punt, but thanks to a few errant passes from Brissett had to settle for a long field goal. Fortunately for the Bills, Stephen Gotkowski’s 48-yard attempted went wide right and the shutout was preserved.
Carpenter would clank a field goal attempt of his own off the left upright on the Bills next possession, but made amends by nailing a 44-yarder the next time around, pushing the lead to 16-0, with just 28 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
They wouldn’t score again, but the didn’t need to. 16 points was more than enough for the Bills to earn a much-needed win and get to .500 on the season.
Suddenly that Bills team that was synonymous with turmoil after the firing of offensive coordinator Greg Roman, feels like eons ago. And the season that was over after an 0-2 start to the season has been brought back from the dead.
It was after that miserable start that Ryan said Arizona and New England were the exact opponents his team needed to play. And lo-and-behold, he was right.
“Yeah, not one of my more brilliant statements, but you know, it’s typical, probably,” Ryan joked. “For us to prove it, you know you can’t feel sorry for yourself, you better go out and face the best.”
No one is feeling sorry for the Bills anymore.
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