You may have asked yourself, “What the … Are they showing this again? What is this, MTV? Do they show the same program 1700 times a day? God, it’s annoying.”
But then you would have been totally mistaken. Like so totally mistaken.
Because the game you were watching was really a fresh, new annoying game from the Bills: a five-turnover, no-takeaway humdinger in which New England, like last time, rushed out to a two touchdown-plus lead and coasted from there.
And that left Gregg Williams surprised – surprised that his team failed to start faster during its most pressing game of the year, one it needed to have, like how someone with heartburn needs Peptol-Bismo.
“Yeah, sure (I was surprised),” he said. “They did a good job of starting the ball game. We didn’t.”
The loss dropped Buffalo to 6-7 and severely crimped its playoff chances.
Now the Bills’ only real hope of uncrimping those chances is to win the AFC East. They must win their last three games and the Patriots must lose their last three games. Miami must split their last four games (it hosted Chicago on Monday night Dec. 9). The Jets must go 1-2 the last three games, with their win coming over New England on Dec. 22. That would put Buffalo at 9-7, tied with Miami (whom it has the head-to-head tiebreaker over), and ahead of New England and New York, who’d be 8-8.
Stranger things … well, stranger things like that probably have never happened before. But then again, people win lotteries all the time and that doesn’t seem very likely either.
“The big thing was we just shot ourselves in the foot,” Williams said, his foot probably pretty sore. “We didn’t overcome our mistakes early. We came out with some spirit and fire in the second half, but we weren’t able to overcome our own mistakes.”
Buffalo’s mistakes gave New England a 20-0 halftime lead.
Drew Bledsoe, 32 of 51 for 328 yards and two touchdowns, threw four interceptions, including one at the Patriots’ one with Buffalo trailing 17-0 in the second quarter. That unfortunately took away a possible seven points, while two of the other interceptions led to 10 points. There’s the 17 points right there.
“I’m a little surprised,” said fullback Larry Centers of Bledsoe’s uneven performance. “But he’s our quarterback and he’s done some great things for us this year. He wasn’t as sharp as we’re used to seeing him be, but, you know, that’s just the way it goes.”
“He’s just trying to make a play,” said Eric Moulds, who caught eight passes for 63 yards and two touchdowns. “He’s done that all year – trying to make plays. Drew is one of those quarterbacks who takes chances at times, but he’s trying to get his team in position to win. We, as an offensive unit, got to help him out and make plays.”
Bledsoe wasn’t ducking accountability afterward.
“This one even more than most, with the turnovers that we had and that I had, it falls heavily on my shoulders,” he said. “That’s the way I approach it. I have to and our offense has to be more precise. We got enough players to win these games, but we got to stop making the mistakes that are causing us to lose the games.”
Buffalo, nonetheless, deserves credit for using a great third quarter – maybe its finest of the year – to claw back into the game. The defense forced three straight three-and-outs and Mike Hollis’ 26-yard field goal made and Moulds’ 12-yard touchdown reception made it 20-10.
The plays were so positivistic, it seemed like a comeback really was possible.
But then early in the fourth quarter, Peerless Price fumbled at the Buffalo 29 and the Patriots recovered (see the Big Play). Antowain Smith scored seven plays later, giving New England a 27-10 lead, and really smooshing the Bills’ comeback chances.
“Any time you’re playing the world champions,” Moulds said, “you can’t come in their home town, in their home den and try to come back in the second half and try to catch up because they have (Bill) Belichick and they have one of the best defenses in the league.”
In addition, Buffalo has a defense that’s so bad at takeaways, it rarely makes the kind of momentum-swinging plays that pumps confidence in players’ veins, making comebacks doubly difficult.
The defense didn’t get a takeaway for the eighth time this season – absolutely pathetic for what’s supposed to be an aggressive defense.
“You can’t withstand five turnovers offensively,” Williams said. “You got to come up with something like that to counter (the turnovers, either) on special teams or on defense – not just on defense, but special teams too.”
Of course, the game could have been different altogether had Buffalo been a little more precise in its execution at the beginning.
Price was flagged for illegal motion on Buffalo’s first drive, which wiped out Jay Riemersma’s 27-yard catch and run to the New England 15 – a third down conversion too. Buffalo was down 3-0 at the time. Momentum was shifting Buffalo’s way, but that penalty stopped it. On the next play, Bledsoe threw incomplete and the Bills had to punt.
Then Tom Brady drove the Patriots 86 yards for a score, throwing a 10-yard touchdown to David Patten and giving New England a 10-0 lead. On the ensuing possession, Richard Seymour intercepted a tipped pass and returned it to the Buffalo nine, where two plays later Brady threw to Donald Hayes for another touchdown. It was 17-0, just like that.
“We didn’t play good enough as a team,” said Trey Teague. “It’s a shame. It’s disappointing. One thing we can say is that we were out there fighting for the last series. It’s nice to see the guys beside me fighting and giving everything they got to try to win. Unfortunately, we didn’t get it done …
“You like to keep a game close to them so we can keep pounding at them a little bit [because] that’s not their strong suit,” Teague added. “But unfortunately, like last time we got down and we were forced to go to a different game. And we kind of play into what they wanted.”
So now what does Buffalo do?
“We can’t worry about (the playoffs),” said Price, the game’s leading receiver with nine catches for 105 yards. “We still got to come and go to work and get ready to play the next three ball games. We go out and win the games, then, we don’t go to the playoffs, we don’t go to the playoffs. But we’re still trying to go 3-0 the last three games.”