ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – Death, taxes and Tom Brady scorching the Bills. Those things we most definitely know for certain.
Ahead of Week 8 the future Hall of Fame quarterback was 25-3 lifetime against the Bills and 13-1 in the stadium formerly known as Ralph Wilson Stadium. Now named “New Era Field,” there was nothing new about Brady’s performance; it was simply more of the same. He’d finish the day with an immaculate 137.0 quarterback rating, completing 22 of his 33 passes for 315 yards and four touchdowns, as New England demolished the Bills 41-17.
“This guy is probably the best who’s ever played or he’s right up there in the conversation,” Bills coach Rex Ryan said of Brady’s performance afterwards. “You know what you’re getting.”
In an instant that 16-0 win over the Jacoby Brissett quarterbacked Patriots in Week 4 is but a distant memory. With Brady they’re a much different beast.
That said, Buffalo outdid the Patriots in numerous major statistical categories including first downs, total yards, rushing yards and time of possession. But their severely undermanned offense, unsurprisingly floundered in attempting to keep up with a high powered New England unit.
The biggest absence came in the form of running back LeSean McCoy, who was listed as doubtful on the team’s injury report, Friday, then was downgraded to out just before kickoff. That made Mike Gillislee the Bills lead runner and he did a fine job, compiling 85 yards on 12 carries and a touchdown. Still, he doesn’t possess quite the athleticism Shady does.
The receiving corps was an even bigger disaster. Robert Woods suited up but was pretty much a non-factor, making only two catches. That left Justin Hunter, Brandon Tate and Walter Powell as the other Bills receivers, which was reduced Hunter and Powell when Tate left with a concussion in the third quarter.
At one point just before the half even Charles had to leave the game with a shoulder injury, but returned to action in the third quarter.
As frustrating as it losing so many weapons seems, quarterback Tyrod Taylor tries to block it out. “I’m confident in the guys we have out there,” he said of the scarce options at his disposal. “I gotta give them chances to make plays and we gotta go out there and make plays.”
Still, without much talent around him, Taylor’s outing was predictably underwhelming. He completed just 19 of his 33 passes for 183 yards. He did account for one touchdown – a beautiful 26-yard scramble in the third quarter – but it didn’t effect the end result.
Understandably, Ryan stood by his quarterback. “I think Tyrod [Taylor] is exactly what we need, we just have to catch the ball better, we have to protect a little bit better and I think he’s a great quarterback.
“I’m not saying he’s Tom Brady, there’s only one of those. But I’m saying he’s a great quarterback and he’s got a chance to be. It might be fair to judge him when you have everything out there.”
Playing the Patriots shorthanded is difficult enough, but when you fail in two key areas as the Bills did, it become a nearly impossible challenge. Of the 13 third downs Buffalo faced they picked up only four, while the Patriots were a much more respectable nine-for-13 against a Bills defense that entered Sunday allowing just a 34.8 conversion percentage on third downs.
“They outplayed us on third down,” LB Preston Brown admitted. “We were finding ways to get them behind the stick but third-and-long, third-and-short – they just kept converting and that’s the key to disaster.”
Penalties were another major concern, as a 12 penalty day had Bills fans flashing back to 2015.
“The better team won today without question,” Ryan said. “We made way too many mistakes – mistakes we haven’t made all season and against a guy like Brady, he makes you pay anytime you have a mistake and we knew that was going to be true to form.”
Offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn seemed to pull all the right strings on the Bills opening drive of the game. A 29-yard run by Gillislee on the second play from scrimmage got the Bills into New England territory. Four plays later, a nifty throw by Taylor, escaping a deteriorating pocket to the right and finding FB Jerome Felton on a dump pass, got them to the six. That’s where things stalled, as a third down pass to Reggie Bush sailed through his hands and the Bills had to settle for a 23-yard field goal.
Buffalo’s defense was equally as inspiring on their first series on the field, except for their inability to get off of it. On what ended up as a 14-play, 70-yard touchdown drive, New England faced third downs of six yards, 10 yards, 2 yards and nine yards, and picked up every single one of them. The last of those was a 9-yard TD pass from Brady-to-Danny Amendola to give the Patriots a lead they’d never relinquish.
After a Bills three-and-out, the defense would once again back New England backed up in third-and-long on their very next possession, and once again couldn’t get off the field. An old friend, turned enemy, Chris Hogan would blow by Stephon Gilmore on that third down play and Brady would hit him in stride for a 53-yard touchdown.
After back-to-back defensive stops, the Bills would finally score a touchdown of their own, with 6:26 left in the second quarter, on a drive aided by a Patriots defensive pass interference call. Gillislee did the honors of punching it in from three yards out and they trailed by just four.
That would be the closest they’d get the rest of the afternoon.
It took all of four plays for New England to push the lead back to 11 as Brady got Gronkowski in a mismatch with the severely undersized Nickell Robey-Coleman. Right down the middle of the field he went, leaving Robey-Coleman in the dust for a 53-yard touchdown – a franchise record 69th for his career.
An unfortunate sequence just before the half, where the Bills set up Dan Carpenter for a 49-yard field goal that he clanked off the right upright, then led to a 51-yard attempt for Stephen Gotskowski, which pushed the Patriots lead to 24-10.
It only got worse from there as a 70-yard kickoff return to start the third quarter set up New England at the Bills 35 and ultimately led to Brady’s fourth touchdown pass of the day, this time to Julian Edelman.
Of course the beat down wasn’t done yet, especially after the Bills answered with a touchdown of their own on the ensuing possession to make it a two score game 31-17. New England would add 10 more points on their next two possession to put the game more than out of reach.
Nickell Robey-Coleman was right earlier this week; Tom Brady is not a deity. He is however, a really, really, really good NFL quarterback. Arguably the best of all-time. And he’s owned the Bills 26 times in his career, which ties him with Brett Favre for the most wins against a single opponent for a QB. A cringe-worthy stat.
That’s the least of the Bills worries though, now 4-4 on the season and 1-4 against AFC opponents.
“I mean it’s the halfway point, but I think the division, I think it’s unrealistic to think you’re going to win your division,” Ryan remarked, adding that the loss doesn’t “ruin their season.”
A Week 9 trip to Seattle on Monday night though, won’t provide much reassurance.
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