The Buffalo Bills and their fans spent a week thinking their undefeated team, which had gone on the road to beat the Chiefs and came from behind to win at home against Oakland, had a legitimate shot to beat the Patriots.
The Bills had gone into 15 straight meetings with New England with similar optimism, but each time it had come out on the losing end.
Today, however, was different.
The new-attitude Bills spotted the Patriots 21 first-half points, but went on to post their first win over New England since the 2003 season opener, 34-31.
The win set off a frenzied celebration at sun-drenched Ralph Wilson Stadium, with running back Fred Jackson waving a giant Bills’ flag as the exhilarated fans sang “Sweet Caroline.”
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady threw four interceptions, which is the same number he threw all of last season. It was the first time Brady threw that many interceptions since Nov. 5, 2006 at home against the Colts. The Pats lost that game as well.
Brady also threw four interceptions in the 2003 season opener, a 31-0 loss.
After the Patriots tied the score at 31-31, Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick moved the Bills from their own 20 to the Patriots' 39, and appeared to have the go-ahead touchdown in hand on a 38-yard pass play to Fred Jackson. But a replay overturned the call on the field, and the Bills ran the clock down to 3 seconds before Rian Lindell kicked the winning field goal from 28 yards.
Fitzpatrick passed for 369 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Bills. Drayton Florence had a 27-yard interception return for a touchdown and Stevie Johnson had eight receptions for 94 yards and a touchdown.
Patriots receiver Wes Welker set team records for receptions with 16 and receiving yards with 216. Welker caught two touchdown passes. Tight end Rob Gronkowski also had a pair of touchdowns. he caught seven passes for 109 yards.
"The Bills came out there and played hard and kept fighting. They were definitely the tougher team than us," Welker said.
Brady connected on 30 of 45 pass attempts, and narrowly missed his third straight game of more than 400 passing yards. He had 386.
Early on, the game didn’t look at all like the shootout it was speculated it might be – the Bills won the coin toss and oddly opted to defer to the second half, putting the ball in Brady’s hands to start the game.
Brady took advantage of the opportunity and marched the Patriots down the field and into the end zone, covering 80 yards on nine plays. The opening drive was all about Brady and Welker, as he had four catches (Gronkowski had the other) of 11, 33, 9 and 14 yards, the final one his first career touchdown against the Bills.
When the Bills took over, they got off to a great start. Their first play from scrimmage was a pretty pass from Fitzpatrick to Johnson along the sideline, a 33-yard gain that fired up the crowd at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
The euphoria from that play lasted less than 60 seconds.
Fitzpatrick got his team lined up again and fired for Donald Jones (5 receptions, 101 yards). The pass was a little high, but Jones got his hands on it and batted it up. New England’s Kyle Arrington came down with it and returned the ball well into Buffalo territory.
Working with a short field, Brady needed less than three minutes to double the Pats’ lead. Another big gain by Welker, this one for 24 yards, put New England six yards from the goal line. On second down, seeing everyone covered, Brady tucked the ball and attempted to run for the touchdown, but was stopped short by rookie corner Aaron Williams. A holding call on Buffalo’s Nick Barnett on the play gave the Pats a fresh set of downs, and Brady looked to Gronkowski on second down for the score.
Arrington struck again on Buffalo’s second possession, though it was when the Bills went for it on fourth-and-14. Fitzpatrick looked to David Nelson, but Arrington jumped the route and got the interception.
New England wasn’t able to turn that play into points.
The Patriots increased their lead to 21-0 in the second quarter, with Brady leaning heavily on Gronkowski. On back-to-back plays, he hit Gronkowski, who was the only tight end the Pats dressed for the game due to Aaron Hernandez’s knee injury.
That’s when the tables turned.
Though they committed two early penalties to make things a bit tougher on themselves – the first during the kickoff and the other a holding penalty – the Bills got some help when Rob Ninkovich was called for roughing the passer. A 15-yard pass to Nelson became a 30-yard advance when Ninkovich was whistled for bringing his hands down in Fitzpatrick’s face during his follow-through.
Brady’s first interception of the day came on a tipped ball and head’s up play by safety Bryan Scott, which Buffalo turned into a field goal, cutting the deficit to 21-10 at halftime.
The Bills tied the score at 24-24 early in the fourth quarter when Jackson scored on a one-yard run. On the Patriots' next possession, Florence intercepted Brady and returned it 27 yards to put the Bills up 31-24.
Welker tied the score 31-31 with his second touchdown catch, on 4th-and-goal from the 6-yard line.
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