Fans need to settle down after Monday night
September, 15, 2009
By Tim Graham | ESPN.com
|Buffalo's Aaron Schobel takes down New England quarterback Tom Brady on Monday. Bills fans have reason to be optimistic despite the loss.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- In Gillette Stadium on Monday night, the only absolute was on the scoreboard.
New England Patriots 25, Buffalo Bills 24.
The Patriots pulled off an astonishing victory, even by their standards. The Bills suffered an eviscerating defeat, even by their standards.
Yet there was more to this game than the way it ended, with Tom Brady throwing two touchdown passes in the final 126 seconds to extend the Patriots' winning streak to a dozen games over the hapless Bills.
It's what the Patriots do. They call upon their experience to coolly pick apart an opponent when the game is on the line.
It's what the Bills do. They make the universal hand gesture for "Hey, I need the Heimlich maneuver over here!"
Before fans for either team jump to any conclusions, however, let us stop for a few moments to pull the excitement and the despair a little back toward middling mellowness.
Patriots fans might want to hold off on asking their bosses for vacation time in February and booking those airline reservations for Miami.
Bills fans should refrain from giving their season tickets a Viking funeral on Lake Erie.
"It would have been huge," Bills linebacker Kawika Mitchell said of a win. "This is a team that's been successful against us since 2003. We didn't win a division game last year. We would have liked to start off winning one, especially here on Monday night.
"But it's not as big [for the Patriots]. It's not as bad as it looks for us. It's terrible right now, but we're 0-1. We've got move on from it. We've got 15 more games. The faster we can move on, the better we are."
With that, here are five reasons not to get too depressed if you're a fan of the star-crossed Bills and five reasons not get carried away if you follow the blessed Patriots.
Cheer up, Bills fans.
New offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt put together a game plan that was good enough to win.
The Bills on Monday night were everything they couldn't be in the preseason. Van Pelt put together a game plan in 10 days that looked like it was taken from a secret book on how to beat the Patriots.
Edwards completed 15 of 25 passes for 212 yards and two touchdowns despite connecting with Terrell Owens only twice for 46 yards. Edwards was in command. The offense committed zero turnovers and converted several critical third downs.
Some defensive lapses and Leodis McKelvin fumbling a kickoff inside the two-minute warning -- not the maligned offense -- doomed them.
"There is still a lot to gain from this game, still a lot of positives," Edwards said. "I'm not one of those moral victory guys after a tough loss, but we need to do a good job of regrouping. We need to do a good job of taking the positives away from this game.
"Unfortunately, you're up 11 and don't win the game with five minutes left. I've been in that position before. The feeling stinks, but we have another game Sunday."
The young offensive line played better than anyone expected.
Buffalo's front five went into the game with three players who'd never played an NFL game and a total of 56 career starts. They didn't embarrass themselves.
Left tackle Demetrius Bell had an awful game from a penalty standpoint. He was whistled four times, twice for an illegal formation, once for holding and once for a false start. But he and rookie guards Eric Wood and Andy Levitre kept Edwards upright for most of the evening.
"I really think we need to focus on how well the offensive line played tonight," Edwards said. "There were times I was standing in the pocket, taking two, three, four hitches and still no one was touching me.
"That's a lot of the reason we're converting on third downs. We're seeing their pressures, seeing their defense. We're prepared for their defense."
Aaron Schobel's presence changes Buffalo's defensive demeanor.
Schobel missed the last 11 games last year because of a foot injury. The two-time Pro Bowler reminded everybody what he could do when he bulled past Patriots left tackle Matt Light for a 10-yard sack and made a fabulous play to intercept a Brady screen pass and return it 26 yards for a touchdown. Schobel had two quarterback hits and two pass defenses.
Bills linebacker Paul Posluszny might have avoided serious injury.
Posluszny missed his rookie season because of a broken forearm. He left Monday night's game in the first half and didn't return. We later learned from Bills coach Dick Jauron -- hold your applause, Bills fans -- that Posluszny has a broken bone in his arm.
"It's not as bad as it was the first time," Jauron said. Posluszny could miss a few weeks, but his injury doesn't appear to be a season-ender.
Jauron didn't have a postgame update on defensive end Chris Kelsay, who left the game late in the second quarter with a knee injury and wasn't seen again.
Check your enthusiasm, Pats fans.
Inside linebacker Jerod Mayo went down with a knee injury in the first quarter and didn't play again.
The Patriots went into Monday night with a defense that had been gutted. Gone were defensive lineman Richard Seymour, linebackers Tedy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel and safety Rodney Harrison. That's a lot of hardware there.
The defense was being turned over to emerging leaders like Mayo, last year's defensive rookie of the year. If the Patriots lose him for any significant amount of time, their defense will be spread even thinner.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick said after the game there was no update on Mayo's status.
"You just have to step up," Patriots linebacker Pierre Woods said of Mayo's injury. "Everyone has to play. No mistakes. Correct your mistakes."
The Patriots defense couldn't get off the field.
Mayo's absence didn't help, but the Bills offense controlled the second half -- when they had the ball. On the Bills' last drive of the third quarter and first drive of the fourth, they combined for 21 plays and 99 yards, held the ball for 9 minutes, 36 seconds.
The long possessions ended with a field goal and a touchdown to give the Bills an 11-point lead with 5:32 to play.
On the touchdown drive, the Bills converted third downs of 15, 3 and 8 yards that should have sealed the game if not for a crazy play.
"I was just thinking 'When is this team going to actually start playing, play like we do going against each other every day, play like we do in practice?' " said Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather, who made the initial hit on McKelvin to begin the chain reaction on the game-changing fumble.
The Patriots' stable of backs rushed for only 64 yards.
The Patriots couldn't get much going on the ground. Laurence Maroney ran 10 times for 32 yards, both team-highs. Fred Taylor ran nine times for 25 yards. Take away Brady's 9-yard scramble, and the Patriots averaged 2.9 yards a carry.
Where was Joey Galloway?
The Patriots failed to get their new receiver involved in the offense. Sure, Randy Moss went off for 12 catches and 141 yards. But the Patriots will need to find a way to get the ball to Galloway. Brady threw at Galloway twice, but they couldn't connect.
Quite simply, the Patriots can't get down by two scores at home to a team like the Bills.
"We came back and made the plays we had to make to win," Belichick said. We certainly don't want to put ourselves in that position very often. That's not what we're trying to do.
"But whatever it was they dealt with it and made some smart plays at the end. I wish we would have played like that earlier in the game."