Patriots Offense Takes Care Of Bills, Team Returns To .500

Rob Gronkowski and Wes Welker celebrate after a 2nd half touchdown – 6 of the 45 points that New England scored in the 2nd half of their 52-28 win over Buffalo.

The Patriots panic? Yeah, right. “Panic” is probably one of the words on the list that nobody in the New England locker room ever uses.

Even a Week 4 game at 1-2 in Buffalo, where they were stunned last year, is no cause for concern.

Why not?

Two words: Tom Brady.

Buffalo, the perennial 3rd place AFC East team, came into they day at 2-1, one game ahead of the Patriots for 2nd place in the division. After a 7-point 1st half, Brady and the offense erupted for 45 2nd half points and beat the Bills in Buffalo, 52-28 in their division opener.

There was no more time to mess around and the three-time champs made that very clear early on. Following a Buffalo punt on its opening drive, Brady went to work and drove the team 90 yards down the field in just over three minutes to jump out on top 7-0.

The drive was capped by a Stevan Rdley six-yard run and highlighted by a 41-yard completion to Rob Gronkowski, who almost doubled his receiving yards from last week (21) with the catch. Brady was 5-5 for 80 yards on the drive. Believe it or not, it was the first time this season that the team has scored on its opening drive. Everyone was on point the entire drive. Yes, even the offensive line.

After that methodical and seemingly easy drive and the inability to turn two Bills’ interceptions into points, however, the offense sputtered and the next drives ended in punts, a missed field goal and a Gronkowski fumble, which the Bills capitalized on as Ryan Fitzpatrick threw a 24-yard touchdown pass to tight end, Scott Chandler on the very next play to tie the score at seven.

The ensuing drive again yielded nothing as Stephen Gostkowski missed his second field goal attempt of the day and gave the ball back to the Bills. Fitzpatrick threw another touchdown pass, this time down the middle, to Chandler to give the Bills their first lead of the day at 14-7 with 3:30 remaining in the 1st half and had Patriots fans all over New England thinking this couldn’t be happening again.

As if those two drives weren’t bad enough, Wes Welker got in on the act on the next drive and coughed up the ball as well. Fitzpatrick again was in position to get the Bills into the endzone until running back, C.J. Spiller fumbled the ball inside the New England five. Brandon Spikes slammed Spiller and forced the fumble that Vince Wilfork recovered to end the half. Spiller would later leave the game after aggravating the shoulder injury he sustained last week.

It was a frustrating 1st half for both teams (and their fans), but the Bills led 14-7 after the first 30 minutes. The offense stalled on its first drive of the 2nd half and then the defense gave way, allowing a conversion on 3rd & 15 and then a 68-yard touchdown pass right down the middle of the field (again) to Donald Jones to fall behind 21-7.

Then, the Pats offense must have realized the urgency of the situation as they drove down the field with lots of help from Ridley and Brandon Bolden on the ground and Brady, who, after scrambling to buy enough time (yeah, seriously), threw a TD pass to Danny Woodhead to bring them back within seven.

With the pass, Brady has now thrown a touchdown pass in 36 consecutive games, tying Brett Favre for the third-longest such streak in NFL history. The record is 47.

Then came a Buffalo three-and-out followed by another New England scoring drive, capped off by Brady again using his legs and scrambling before taking it into the endzone himself to tie the score at 21. Brady now has more rushing touchdowns (1) than Chris Johnson on the season.

After going down by two touchdowns, the New England team we are all used to seeing returned to the field.

They kept it up on their next drive after a shanked punt gave them good starting field position. Brady hit Gronkowski right down the middle of the field for an easy pitch and catch on his way into the endzone. Just like that, New England had scored 21 unanswered points and reclaimed the lead.

The Pats forced a fourth Buffalo turnover on their next drive as Spikes again leveled the ball carrier – this time Fred Jackson, who fumbled and it was picked up by the New England.

Again, the Patriots backfield tandem got the ball inside the Buffalo five. Ridley then punched it in from two yards out and the Pats took their biggest lead of the game at 35-21 as both Ridley and Bolden went over 100 yards rushing on the day.

Remember that momentum thing? If it wasn’t completely on the Patriots’ side at that point, it sure was on the next drive when the Bills turned it over for the sixth time as Fitzpatrick threw his third interception on the day, this time to Devin McCourty.

Bolden quickly got into the endzone for the Pats’ sixth touchdown of the day and his second, making it 42-21 New England with 10:29 remaining. The touchdown run marked the fifth consecutive touchdown drive for the Patriots. They were not going to blow another lead in Buffalo like the 21-point cushion they gave up last season.

Keeping true to the trend of the game, Fitzpatrick came right back and threw yet another touchdown right down the middle of the field, this time to Brad Smith and the Bills were just 14 points behind again. It was Fitzpatrick’s fourth touchdown pass of the day.

Not to be outdone, instead of running out the clock, Brady again took the Patriots down the field and after an excellent display of good hands on 3rd and long by Welker, he threw his third touchdown of the day to Brandon Lloyd as the wide receiver dove into the endzone to catch the perfectly thrown ball from his quarterback.

Fitzpatrick then threw his fourth interception on the first play from scrimmage. Rookie, Tavon Wilson, caught the easy pick for his second of the year. R.P. did throw for 350 yards on the day in what was not the best showing from the New England defense.

The Pats would add a field goal, getting out of Buffalo with a pretty hard-fought 52-28 win and in so doing, avoiding another letdown in upstate New York. To finish out the game, New England scored on all seven of its final offensive possessions.

Brady finished 22-36 for 340 yards and three TD’s and also passed Kerry Collins for 11th all-time in passing yards on a 1st quarter 41-yard pass to Gronkowski.

It was the team’s ability to run through the Bills and the balance that resulted that helped them to put up those 52 points.

Fitzpatrick finished 22-39 for 350 yards and threw four touchdowns and four interceptions.

Bolden and Ridley combined for 243 yards on 38 total carries and were the first Patriots teammates to each rush for more than 100 yards in the same game since December 19, 1982 at Seattle.

It was also just the second time in NFL history that a team had a pair of 100-yard rushers, a pair of 100-yard receivers (Welker and Gronkowski) and a 300-yard passer in the same game.

It’s not like the Bills front four is weak. The have Mario Williams and Marcell Dareus. I think the Pats backs and particularly the offensive line, even without Logan Mankins, was about as good as it gets today.

Bolden may have earned himself a lot more playing time as the season goes on.

There were a total of eight turnovers committed in the game – six for Buffalo and two for the Pats.

The two teams combined for 1,018 total yards of offense – 580 for the Patriots and 438 for the Bills. The 580 yards for New England is their fourth highest total in team history.

The Patriots threw the ball 36 times and ran the ball 40 times. I’m not sure I remember the last time they called more runs than passes.

A 2nd quarter reception for Welker moved him past Troy Brown for second place on the team’s all-time receiving yards list behind Stanley Morgan.

The team’s four rushing touchdowns tied a franchise record that has been reached seven times, but not since October 16, 1983 against San Diego.

Yesterday was also just the second time in the Bills’ history that they gave up 50 or more points in a game. The only other time came at home in 2007 against these same Patriots.

If there’s one thing the defense needs to improve on (and there’s probably more than that), it is their deep coverage down the middle between the safeties. There’s no way around it – they got burned there on Sunday and if other teams begin to exploit them in the same way, it may be a long season for them. The offense is not going to put up 52 points every game.

Christian Fauria made a good point on Patriots 5th Quarter: “Think about how good this team will be once they get everybody back and on the same page.”

On the downside, Dont’a Hightower left the game in the 1st half with a hamstring injury and did not return. Logam Mankins and Julian Edelman did not play and of course, Aaron Hernandez was out for the second straight game.

The Pats also had multiple opportunities to step on the throat of the Bills, particularly after the first two Fitzpatrick interceptions, but could not convert the turnovers into points and let the Bills hang around until the 3rd quarter.

There would be no three-game losing streak though.

The Patriots will host the 2-2 Broncos next week while the Bills will travel across the country to take on the 49ers.

Follow me on Twitter @RealAndyLarmand.

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