Patriots Squeak By Bills In Season Opener

Julian Edelman spikes the ball after the first of his two touchdown catches in Sunday's two-point season-opening win against the Bills.

Julian Edelman spikes the ball after the first of his two touchdown catches in Sunday’s two-point season-opening win against the Bills.

In an opening game that looked like just that for both the Patriots and Bills, New England was able to come out on top with a late field goal from Stephen Gostkowski. Trailing 21-20 with under five minutes remaining, Tom Brady drove the Pats down the field to set up the eighth-year kicker in the middle and he went right down the middle with five seconds to go to give the Patriots the come-from-behind victory, 23-21.

Despite three turnovers that led to 14 Buffalo points, the Pats won their 10th straight Opening Day game. It was the home team, with two turnovers of their own, that gave the game away. The Bills were unable to take advantage of the New England turnovers and committed some costly ones of their own, but it was their 10 penalties for 75 yards, including four for 35 in the first quarter when New England got out to a 10-0 lead, that did them in.

“Obviously, it wasn’t perfect. And there’s a lot of things we can do better. But they played the last few minutes of the game the way we needed to play it,” said Bill Belichick after the game. The coach also said he was proud of his team for pulling out the victory, particularly for how they fought to take it in the final minutes.

The Bills got the miscues started as Kyle Arrington stripped C.J. Spiller deep in the Buffalo end and Tommy Kelly pounced on the loose ball at the 16-yard line. Two plays later, on third and three, Brady found Julian Edelman in the back of the endzone with an absolute laser. Edelman got both of his feet down and the Pats had their first points of the 2013 season with 10:46 remaining in the opening quarter.

Buffalo was forced to punt on their ensuing drive and a facemask penalty from Arthur Moats on the play set New England up at midfield. Gostkowski hit his first attempt of the season from 48 yards out nine plays later to give the Pats a 10-0 lead. The first quarter ended with Buffalo trying to get out of its own way and them trailing New England in time of possession, 9:51-5:09. Also, the Brady and Danny Amendola connection began taking flight.

Buffalo’s D kept them in it in the first, but their offense could not get anything started. When they seemed to have momentum, they would be forced to punt again as their offense struggled early on with rookie quarterback, E.J. Manuel at the helm. More work for punter, Shawn Powell, gave the Pats a real chance to put the dagger in the Bills early in the game, but they failed to do so and Buffalo’s defense got them on the board.

Stevan Ridley put the ball on the ground for the second time in the game. Kiko Alonso came right through the middle and hit the back in the backfield, knocking the ball out. Da’Norris Searcy scooped it up and took it 74 yards, untouched, to the endzone to get the Bills within three. There was a review, but the play was upheld. Needless to say, Ridley did not touch the ball for the rest of the game. It was the second-longest fumble return in Bills’ history.

Brady came right back, however, and found Edelman for another touchdown to give the Pats a 17-7 lead with just under two minutes remaining in the half. Amendola had appeared to aggravate his groin injury on the previous drive, but did return to the field a few series later. Manuel then attempted a two-minute drill, but went three and out. Then, Brady tried the same, but was picked off at his own 37 by Justin Rogers. Manuel found Scott Chandler down the middle for a big gain and then on the next play, hit Robert Woods for the 18-yard touchdown as a result of what can only be described as blown coverage.

Brady took a knee and the Bills, who won the toss and deferred, got the ball to begin the second. Again, Manuel briskly drove his team down the field using the no-huddle. He hit the slightly outspoken Steve Johnson from 18 yards out to give the Bills their first lead of the season at 21-17. The momentum that had begun with the Ridley fumble had carried over from the first half and resulted in the Patriots falling behind quickly.

Luckily for the Patriots, Buffalo kept hurting itself with penalties and Arrington, who was also solid in coverage on the day, came up with another big strip to stop another threat in the third. Rookie punter, Ryan Allen, had backed Buffalo up deep in its own end before the second Arrington strip.

The Bills offense hit the wall in the fourth and the Patriots took advantage with two big field goals – one early and one late. After a 28-second drive that netted negative two yards for Buffalo, Gostkowski connected from 33 yards out to cut the deficit to one.

Following an exchange of punts, Brady got the ball at the 34-yard line with 4:31 remaining. Managing the clock well, making Buffalo spend its timeouts and picking up the necessary yards, he effectively led another late-game drive that put the Pats in position to win. On third and eight with just over a minute left, Brady hit his new favorite target, Amendola, with a rope that may have been tipped at the line. After juggling it and having to deal with the traffic all around him, Amendola came to the ground with the ball pressed against his chest and a huge first down on the board. Brady ccompleted all six of his attempts on the drive.

“We showed some good mental toughness,” said Rob Ninkovich in reference to the comeback.

Buffalo was forced to spend all of its timeouts and Brady set Gostkowski up in the middle of the field. With nine seconds left, Gostkowski connected on his third of the day from 35 yards out to give the Pats the lead. Buffalo attempted a lateral on their final chance, but the ball was covered by New England after the clock had hit zero.

Brady said after the game that he didn’t have “a lot of doubt” on the final drive. He’s been there before and so has his kicker. It was a good team win, with contributions from guys like Arrington, Edelman and Shane Vereen, who ended up with 101 yards rushing after taking over for Ridley. Edelman caught two touchdown passes for the first time in his career and Amendola finished with 10 receptions for 104 yards and nine first downs.

“An ugly win is better than a pretty loss,” said Edelman after the game.

Not overly excited, Tom Brady walks off the field following Sunday's win.

Not overly excited, Tom Brady walks off the field following Sunday’s win.

Brady finished 29-of-52 for 288 yards and the two touchdowns, while Manuel went for 150 on 18-of-27 in his NFL debut. Each had two touchdown passes and Brady had the one interception, though he did record at least one touchdown pass in his 49th consecutive game – five away from matching the all-time record of 54 held by Drew Brees. The Pats dominated time of possession, 37:43-22:17.

The Patriots have a short week as they prepare to host the undefeated Jets on Thursday night while the Bills look to get to .500 next Sunday against the Panthers.


Follow me on Twitter @RealAndyLarmand.

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