Orchard Park, NY (WGR 550) -- The NFL regular season came to Orchard Park with head of steam, swept fans into a frenzied state and then left them dumbfounded as to how it got away. It's two teams that have had the same results for quite some time now, but each time it has a way of finding a new way to agitate the fans of the Buffalo Bills.
In the home opener, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots escaped Ralph Wilson Stadium with a 23 to 21 victory.
The Bills came out and shocked the Patriots, even holding the lead deep into the fourth quarter. In the end though, the better and more polished team came away with the victory Sunday.
Close score, but Bills were simply outplayed
- By the end of the first half, the Bills had all the momentum on their side and came out flying to start the third quarter. EJ Manuel hit his best two passes of the day, and the Bills took the lead before the Patriots pulled the rug out from underneath them with seconds to play. It was a valiant effort, but the Bills were outplayed for much of the afternoon. The statistics that are key to any offensive attack were all in favor of the Patriots during this bout. New England ran 28 more plays than the Bills, they had the ball for over 14 minutes longer than Buffalo, and they almost tripled the Bills on third-down conversions. What ultimately matters is the final score, and New England did have some key turnovers that put the Bills in great position. However, when the game was on the line and the Patriots needed a big play -- they got one. The Bills allowed key drops to happen and couldn't convert on offense with the game on the line. That's the winning mentality head coach Doug Marrone is trying to instill in his team. They just didn't have it through the whole game on Sunday.
- The debut met with as much anticipation as any in recent memory with the Bills, EJ Manuel had the crowd in the palm of his hand following his pair of touchdown tosses. He found Robert Woods on a busted play in the secondary for a wide open touchdown at the end of the first half. Then in the second half, he made the best throw of his afternoon perfectly splitting the cornerback and safety to hit a diving Stevie Johnson for a touchdown. Manuel had both his good and bad, sometimes throwing behind or low of his targets. By and large though, his first regular season performance was somewhat of a success. Over time, he'll need to not settle for the underneath stuff and perform more of the types of throws that he made to Johnson for a touchdown. That, the Bills are hoping, will come with time. He kept the Bills in the game and they were in a position to win down the stretch, ultimately coming up short. It likely stings because the Bills came up short, but ahead of the game fans would have signed up for that type of game with a rookie quarterback in a heartbeat.
What's up with Spiller?
- The inaugural game into C.J. Spiller's bust-out season, the usually exciting runner just lacked the burst out of his cuts that made him such a dynamic runner. It's really unusual as to how average Spiller looked in his carries and catches against the Patriots. Spiller was asked if he was 100-percent heading into the game, to which he responded, "Yeah, I'm fine." If he was fine, Fred Jackson wouldn't have gotten nearly as much time on the field as Spiller. It was quite telling at the end of the game when the Bills needed 80 yards in one play, that Jackson was on the field and Spiller was on the sidelines. Maybe Spiller just had an off day, but it is some cause for concern considering the way the offensive coaching staff built up Spiller's potential output during the summer.
In five games under Doug Marrone, the Bills have committed 49 penalties. That puts them at an abysmal average of 9.8 yellow-linens per game for 70.6 yards per game. Against the Patriots, the Bills were flagged 10 times for 75 yards. New England had a few boneheaded mistakes too, but nothing will infuriate Marrone more than not being mentally prepared for the game. Were a couple questionable? Sure, but those calls go both ways through the regular season. Not even that, but two key drops shot the Bills in the foot. The first was a perfect touch throw from Manuel to tight end Scott Chandler that provided at least 10 yards of running room ahead of him. A catch he normally makes, Chandler lost his concentration and it fell to the turf. Later on, Stevie Johnson had the drop that likely infuriated his head coach. On a third-and-short deep in the fourth quarter, Manuel threw it to a wide open Johnson that didn't have a defender within seven yards of him. The wideout was stumbling a bit, but the ball hit both hands right where the finger meets the palm. When you're that wide open it doesn't matter how much you stumble, you're supposed to be one of the best receivers in the entire world. That needs to be a catch in that situation. It was plays like that that ultimately cost the Bills the game.
Conservative approach on offense?
- When the Bills had the Patriots on their heels, they appeared to be pushing the tempo and forcing the issue against a defense that didn't have answers for those two touchdown drives. All the other times? It was somewhat surprising how conservative some of the play-calling was. The one that sticks out like a sore thumb should be obvious. On the Bills' final possession with the lead, the first play they elected to run was a delayed handoff to Spiller up the middle. There a couple of different problems with this. First, if you're trying to keep the Patriots guessing, there is no reason to run a delayed handoff up the middle of the offensive line when your opponent has eight defenders in the box. Secondly they ran it to Spiller who, for whatever reason, quite simply just didn't have that 'it' factor on Sunday. That set the tone for the drive and Manuel threw away the next two passes that just weren't close to his targets. All Tom Brady needed was another chance. The three-and-out was the key moment of the game.
Searcy's big day
- Although he's not much in the coverage game on defense, Da'Norris Searcy made his presence felt with a key sack of Tom Brady and the Bills' first touchdown of the afternoon. Inexcusably Patriots running back Stevan Ridley put the ball on the ground and Searcy smartly scooped it up and ran it back for a score. Following a poor preseason and with Jim Leonhard getting a ton of time on the field in just his first week with the team, it had to be a huge sigh of relief for Searcy that he had that game.
Amendola couldn't be stopped
- On the pre-game show, your fearless writer said New England wide receiver Danny Amendola was a budding superstar due to his situation and just how shifty of a player he is. Although he was playing through a groin injury, Amendola won the award for the most clutch player on the field. Down the stretch when the Patriots needed a key third down, Amendola made unbelievable receptions that the majority of players at his position throughout the league couldn't make. If he can stay healthy, he's in line to catch at least 130 passes this season.
Lawson a gem against the run
- A silent force for the Bills on defense throughout the game was free agent addition Manny Lawson. The strongside linebacker provided the edge contain against the run the Bills have been yearning for for years. True, Buffalo was gashed in the second half by Shane Vareen. However, that was less of Lawson's fault and more of the defensive linemen up front for getting bowled over a few times. Lawson won't have the statistics that will make people think he's worth the contract he signed, but his presence in the lineup so far has really come through.
Bills' MVP: Offensive Line
- The five men up front answered a lot of questions with their play against a stout New England front-four, offering up American football's version of a clean sheet. EJ Manuel was not sacked once. One of those times Manuel had to pull a Houdini-like escape where he spun out of trouble and rolled out left. The majority of the time though, the line held up well and gave the rookie quarterback time enough to throw.
Bills' LVP: The X-receivers
- The two men that lined up at 'X' left a ton to be desired. The starter, second-year player T.J. Graham, was a non-factor throughout the game and even bobbled a kickoff return out to the 1-yard line, resulting in the Bills having a poor starting point to one of their second half drives. The other was rookie Marquise Goodwin. He caught one pass and was stripped of the ball, allowing the Patriots to fall on it and get great field position. The Bills might have to deal with Graham exclusively for a while though. According to Jay Skurski of The Buffalo News, Goodwin was spotted with a cast on his hand. He left the game at the end of the first half with a hand injury.
Up Next: Sunday, September 15 vs. Carolina, 1 pm at Ralph Wilson Stadium
- The Bills greatly benefited from Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots from not knowing what to expect out of the team on both offense and defense. Buffalo put their rivals on the edge of their seats for much of the second half, but just couldn't come away with the victory at the end. That's not the important part this season. While it would have been quite the story had they pulled it off in a game no one expected them to win, now this young Bills roster knows what it is to have a heartbreaking loss in the NFL. How they battle back from the adversity will be telling as to the type of team Doug Marrone and company have on their hands.