- Chris Forsberg, Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The numbers were cringe-worthy, certainly not the type of box score New England defenders were in a rush to pin on their refrigerators. The Bills piled up 448 yards of total offense and rallied out of a three-touchdown hole as part of Sunday's 34-31 stunner at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
But some of the reaction from members of the Patriots' defense might surprise you.
"I don't think we played our worse game," said cornerback Kyle Arrington, who provided two of the few defensive highlights with a pair of first-half interceptions that aided in building a 21-0 cushion.
And here's the thing: He wasn't trying to sugarcoat it.
Battered by injuries that robbed them of two starters in the secondary (rookie cornerback Ras-I Dowling and safety Patrick Chung), the Patriots knew they were in for a stiff test in defending the passing game of the league's top scoring offense Sunday in Orchard Park. And after being gouged for 926 yards and seven touchdowns through the air over the first two weeks of the season, the fact Buffalo produced only 387 passing yards and two passing scores could actually be interpreted as a step in the right direction.
But here's what wasn't: The Patriots failed to produce the late-game stop that helped them overcome their defensive deficiencies the first two weeks of the season, and they endured their first loss of the season because of it.
"We didn't play as well as we are capable of, either," Arrington continued. "We had our spots, had our moments, but we have to put together a complete 60-minute complementary football game. That's what we're working on."
To be sure, the Patriots' defense has endured its lumps all season, giving up a jaw-dropping 1,406 total yards through three weeks. To put that in perspective, the 468.7 yards per game that New England has allowed is more than 100 yards in excess of what the team allowed per game last season (366.5 yards per game) as the 25th-ranked defense in the league.
Even as appalling as those numbers seem, members of the Patriots' defense know they had a chance to come up big in the final moments. After being picked up by their otherworldly offense over the first two weeks of the season, New England's defense had a chance to bail out an offense that handed the ball over four times Sunday, including an interception returned for a touchdown.
The defense couldn't do it. Buffalo took over with 3:25 remaining in a tie game and drove 80 yards on just three plays to set up Rian Lindell's winning 28-yard boot a few plays later.
"We go into each game, as a [defensive] unit, knowing we gotta take the field despite what the offense does," said cornerback Devin McCourty, a captain on this year's team. "I don't feel like we look at it like bailing each other out. When we get on the field, that's our opportunity, our chance to make plays to get off the field. Today we didn't get that done."
What's perhaps more frustrating is how that final drive played out. McCourty was caught chasing Donald Jones on a 29-yard grab on the first play of the drive. Fred Jackson caught a screen pass for 12 more yards on the next play. The play after that, he took a short pass over the middle for 38 yards and, fortuitously, video replay ruled him down a yard short of the goal line, allowing the Bills to eat up the rest of the clock before Lindell's chip shot ended it.
"They ran a little pick route, [Jackson] got open, and we didn't execute," said linebacker Jerod Mayo, another captain.
"We just have to get better. We have to go back to the drawing board. Tomorrow, we'll watch film. Tonight, we'll get home, lick our wounds, and get ready to go back to work."
The difficulty is that the problems don't have obvious answers.
"I wish I knew," McCourty said when asked why the secondary has struggled so mightily early on. "If I had all the answers, it'd be fixed. It's just about going back and watching film. But, week by week, we gotta get better."
Improved health will aid that cause and the Patriots emerged seemingly unscathed Sunday. But the Patriots know that -- as frustrating as Sunday's loss was -- there's little use in getting too worked up over it.
"I think the main thing is, mentally, just getting back to work," McCourty said. "We don't really have time to be frustrated or be disappointed. The first three games of the season are the first three games of the season. We have to keep playing, keep going at it, because it's a long season. If we kinda stick on what happened the first three games and we don't get better, we're going to be in trouble."
Chris Forsberg covers the Patriots and Celtics for ESPNBoston.com.
It's "back to the drawing board" for the Patriots' defense.