Photo courtesy of the Boston Herald
The Buffalo Bills came into today’s game with the New England Patriots hoping to fill the roles of spoilers and rude visitors. The Patriots came into today’s game with hopes of fulfilling their roles as ungracious hosts and debby-downers. Either way, this game promised to be a good one. However, only one fanbase would go home happy while the other would suffer the pain of defeat.
LeGarette Blount set the tone for the game on the opening drive, taking the ball up the middle from the New England 32 yard-line for a gain of nine yards. From there, the combination of Blount and Shane Vereen carried the load (literally) for the New England offense. They did not have any huge gains on the drive, but their abilities to gain small amounts of yards in chunks provided a successful formula that worked well enough for kicker Stephen Gostkowski to nail a 43-yard field goal from the New England 25 yard-line giving the Patriots a 3-0 lead on the opening drive. The entirety of the drive lasted 13 plays, 44 yards, and 5:19, good enough for the home team to take charge early.
The Bills would quickly answer however with second-year quarterback Thad Lewis at center. It was not Lewis who would be the catalyst on this drive but rather the running back tandem of C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson. Using his cheetah-like quickness, Spiller accounted for 23 of Buffalo’s 37 yards on the drive. The biggest play of the drive yardage-wise was the former Clemson Tiger’s 24-yard run from the Buffalo 31 yard-line, more than making up for his first rush to open the drive which only amassed to one yard. On 3rd and 7 at the New England 42 yard-line, Lewis passed the ball to an open Marquise Goodwin for a gain of 22 yards. Following a few plays that resulted in negative yardage shortly thereafter, Dan Carpenter kicked the ball 51 yards through the uprights to tie the game at 3. The drive took the Bills nine plays, 37 yards, and saw 3:27 elapse off the clock.
The seesaw game would continue as the Patriots would answer on the next drive. This drive featured plays that went for little yardage but worked wonders overall. Among the highlights included a four-yard run by Stevan Ridley from the New England 33-yard line and a connection from Tom Brady to Julian Edelman that put him at the 1,000-yard receiving mark. The end of the drive was culminated with the help of Gostkowski who booted a 35-yard field goal from the Buffalo 17 yard-line, tying his own franchise record with his 36th field goal of the year. The record was set back in 2008. That would be all in the scoring department for both sides as the first quarter ended with a 6-3 score in favor of the Patriots.
Brady and Co. received the ball to open the second quarter, but once again the running game and not Brady ran the show on this drive. However, Brady and Edelman did connect to open things with a 12-yard reception that was Edelman’s 100th of the season. The Kent State product became the third player to accomplish the milestone joining pretty good company in Troy Brown and Wes Welker. With the no-huddle in full effect, Blount muscled his way for gains of 14 and nine yards while Ridley provided runs of nine and five yards to keep the offensive “wheels” of the Patriots “bus” moving. It was Blount who provided the resounding exclamation point on the drive as he ran through the left guard for 36 yards and a touchdown to extend the Patriots’ lead to 13-3 after the Gostkowski extra point.
Neither team would score for the next three drives with the Bills accounting for two of those. On the final drive of the quarter, the Patriots again broke through as balance would be the key. The biggest play of the drive came courtesy of Brady and Vereen connecting for a gain of 15 yards, putting the Patriots at the Buffalo 11 yard-line. Blount ran up the right tackle for no gain, but fumbled in the process. The pigskin was recovered by Matthew Mulligan but resulted in a four-yard loss, and the ball was spotted at the Buffalo 15 yard-line. Two incompletions from Brady led to another Gostkowski field goal this one from 29 yards and that gave the Patriots a 16-3 lead, in the process setting a new franchise record for the sure-footed kicker. That would be it for the quarter as the home team entered the confines of Gillette Stadium with a 16-3 lead.
In the third quarter, both teams would stall and it was not until the Bills took over at the 4:19 mark that points would be put on the board. The highlight of the drive was a Lewis pass to receiver T.J. Graham for a gain of 41 yards, and the drive itself culminated in a 12-yard strike from Lewis to Graham for a touchdown that cut the Patriots lead to 16-10 after the extra point, giving the Bills a fighting chance. On the kickoff, Blount took the ball to the Buffalo 20 yard-line for an 83-yard return and put the Patriots in excellent position heading into the fourth quarter.
Gostkowski and the Patriots began the fourth frame at the Buffalo 11 yard-line and looked to be in business lining up for a field goal to open the quarter and in the process extending the lead. However, a five-yard encroachment penalty on Buffalo’s Marcell Dareus gave New England a 1st & 5 from the Bills five yard-line. Brady made quick work of the short field, tossing a short pass to Vereen for five yards and a touchdown. After the two point conversion catch by Edelman was successful, the Patriot lead was extended to 24-10. The Bills however would not go away quietly.
The terrifying trio of Fred Jackson, C.J. Spiller and Thad Lewis combined to give the Bills a balanced drive that ended with Jackson powering his way up the middle for a five-yard touchdown cutting the Patriots lead to seven at 24-17. The ground game ruled once again for New England as the combination of Ridley and Blount paved the way for a 35-yard field goal with Gostkowski nailing it through the uprights giving the “good guys” a 27-17 lead.
The Bills would not go away lightly, as a Carpenter field goal would make the game a 27-20 affair, however one more touchdown run by Blount would put the game away for good, giving the Patriots a 34-20 lead and the win. Blount would finish the game with 24 carries and 189 yards (a career-high) and the win earned New England a first-round bye in the playoffs.
The weather was frightful however the powerful offensive fire that New England brought to the field today was oh so delightful.