In a game the Bills trailed from the start, Buffalo did their best to keep pace with the highest scoring team in the league. Trailing by six with two minutes left the Bills marched into New England's red zone with under a minute left and no timeouts.
On a 2nd-and-10 from the Patriots 15-yard line and a chance to win, Ryan Fitzpatrick committed his first and only interception of the game as Devin McCourty picked off the Bills quarterback in the end zone that was intended for T.J. Graham with 23 seconds remaining.
"They were playing cover two, he was deep half safety and I thought I'd be able to get T.J. and I wasn't able to get him," said Fitzpatrick. "We would've had a better chance at it, but that's something that ultimately falls on me just in terms of getting things communicated and being on the same page all that. It was unfortunate that the game ended like that."
It appeared as though Graham pressed his route too deep into the end zone and did not break underneath the safety where Fitzpatrick threw the ball on an anticipation pass.
"That was a rookie mistake," said Graham. "I was supposed to cross his face in the front. It was a good pass. If I went across his face, I probably would have made a play, so I take the blame for that one. That was my mistake. It might be why I don't get on the field much. I can't make those mistakes."
New England's offense kneeled out the remaining time on the clock to escape with a 37-31 victory dropping the Bills to 3-6 on the season.
"After all the talk that I gave about finishing we couldn't finish," said head coach Chan Gailey. "We had the opportunity and could not finish. There are a lot of ups and downs and good and bad in that ball game and that's the bottom line. We had a chance to finish and we didn't."
With nine minutes left the Bills were down 10 with a drive start on New England's 45-yard line. They had just been in the red zone on their previous possession, but a fumble by Fred Jackson on the one-yard line gave it back to the Patriots. Buffalo's defense stepped up and got the stop they needed forcing a three-and-out.
"We needed to make a big stop," said Nick Barnett. "We know that they wanted it bad to get out of there as soon as possible. We needed to have that and we did a good job of getting off there."
After a 14-yard run by C.J. Spiller was followed by a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty, Buffalo had a 1st-and-10 at the New England 16. Spiller again bobbed and weaved his way for an 11-yard pickup to the Patriots five. After a couple of unsuccessful attempts Fitzpatrick rifled a two-yard strike to Donald Jones on 3rd-and-goal from two for a touchdown. The extra point made it a field goal game, the closest deficit for Buffalo since the first quarter (34-31).
On the ensuing possession the Patriots offense methodically moved the ball down the field on a clock-killing 14-play drive. On 3rd-and-goal from the nine, Buffalo's defensive line forced Brady out of the pocket and his pass intended for Danny Woodhead was underthrown incomplete. The Patriots settled for a 27-yard field goal to push their lead to six with 2:06 left (37-31).
"Definitely felt good about our chances holding them to a field goal and our offense was moving the ball well the whole second half. We could've got off the field sooner on that drive as well. We got into some ideal situations for our defense and we just didn't finish," said Barnett. "But held them to a field goal and still had an opportunity to win."
Buffalo tried to engineer a final touchdown drive to win the game, but the interception ended the Bills chance for an unlikely victory. Fitzpatrick finished with his fourth straight 300-yard passing game against New England throwing for 337 on 27-40 passing with two touchdowns and the costly INT.
"The only thing you could ask for as a quarterback is a chance at the end to win the game. And we had that, we did," said Fitzpatrick. "We held them to a field goal at the end there and we were able to drive down and have a couple of shots at the end zone, but weren't able to get it done and I thought we fought up there.
"Offensively that's the kind of team and the kind of game plan and the stuff that we want to do. We got our guys the touches. We got some play action throws with the way they were playing downfield a little bit. Got Scott involved, Stevie involved, Donald did some good stuff. We've just got to find a way to pull it out at the end."
The start to the game was not encouraging as Buffalo's offense committed three consecutive penalties to stall the Bills opening drive.
On New England's opening drive Buffalo had a pair of opportunities to make interceptions. Bryan Scott couldn't come up with one early on 2nd-and-6 at the Patriots 31 when a tipped Tom Brady pass floated up in the air. Later on the same drive, Leodis McKelvin had an interception on a pass intended for Deion Branch, but it was ripped out of his hands by Branch allowing New England to attempt and hit a 43-yard field goal (3-0) early in the first quarter.
The Patriots got the opportunity to add to their lead when their defense forced a turnover. On a 2nd-and-7 from their 22, Ryan Fitzpatrick was sacked by Vince Wilfork, who also forced a fumble. New England LB Jermaine Cunningham recovered at the Bills 13.
Three plays later Stevan Ridley went in from a yard out for a touchdown. It made New England's lead 10-0 after the extra point with than three minutes into the game.
"We can't turn it over," said Gailey. "We are not good enough yet to not play extremely well and win. We've got to play extremely well to win. We're not there yet. There are some other teams that can do that. We're not. We're not one of those teams. We are capable of getting there, but we have not gotten there and it's my job to get us there. We can't turn it over three times and win ball games most of the time."
Buffalo's offense put together a scoring drive late in the first quarter thanks to some effective rushing from Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller. The two combined for 22 yards on five carries and Donald Jones chipped in a 22-yard pass play. It helped to put the Bills in field goal range where Rian Lindell put a 41-yard attempt through the uprights early in the second quarter (10-3).
Tom Brady and the New England offense however, answered right back, getting yards in big chunks. Four of their eight plays on the drive went for 15 yards or more, including Danny Woodhead's 15-yard touchdown run for a 17-3 Patriots' advantage.
The Bills' would then put together their most effective drive of the half. C.J. Spiller picked up a pair of first downs on two carries of 12 yards each and Scott Chandler had back-to-back receptions of 23 and 17 yards to move deep into New England territory. On a 1st-and-10 from the 14, Fred Jackson spun away from a would-be tackler to reach the end zone for a 14-yard scoring run to pull the Bills to within a touchdown.
Spiller (131) and Jackson (115) combined for 246 of the team's 481 total net yards on offense in the game. Jackson had a pair of scores.
The back and forth scoring continued with New England benefiting from yellow flags. On their 82-yard scoring drive that was capped by a two-yard touchdown reception by Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots were awarded 69 yards in penalties (24-10).
Ryan Fitzpatrick and the offense would again respond this time going to their two-minute offense. Fitzpatrick went 5-7 passing for 58 yards on the 11-play 80-yard scoring drive, and finished it off with a three-yard touchdown pass to Chandler (24-17) before the half.
Though both clubs were unsuccessful on their first possessions of the second half New England had a field position edge, which proved critical after Buffalo punted following a three-and-out series.
With a drive start at the Bills 39, New England quickly moved into the Bills red zone with passes to Deion Branch and Wes Welker. On a 3rd-and-2 from the Buffalo 18, Brady hit Woodhead on a shallow crossing pattern and he eluded a couple of Bills defenders to lunge for the goal line and an 18-yard touchdown play (31-17).
Buffalo again closed the deficit to seven with a lengthy 11-play drive. Again Fitzpatrick was sharp going 6-8 passing for 82 yards. Fitzpatrick kept the drive alive with a 4th-and-3 completion to Stevie Johnson for a 13-yard gain, then hit Donald Jones to set up a 2nd-and-goal at the one. Fred Jackson waltzed into the end zone two plays later to make it a touchdown game (31-24).
The Bills defense then got a critical stop on a 3rd-and-8 at their own 36 holding the Patriots to a six-yard gain. It forced New England to settle for a 48-yard field goal by Gostkowski to again make it a two-possession game (34-24).
Buffalo closed to within a field goal, but the Patriots late field goal drive with two minutes left proved to be the final points.
Now at 3-6 the Bills are in a deep hole in the AFC race, especially still being winless in the division at 0-3. Buffalo will have a quick chance to change that when they host Miami in four days on Thursday night at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
"Still a chance. Still can get there," said Gailey. "The world champions were 7-7 last year. It makes our goal harder. If we had won this one it would've made our goal easier. But it makes our goal harder. But I think we'll get there. I know I'm in the minority, but thank goodness I've got a group of guys in that room there that think the same thing."