The Bills came painfully close to a season opening victory over the Patriots, but inconsistency early and late in the game ultimately cost them in a 23-21 loss to New England. Buffalo got off to an inauspicious start under new head coach Doug Marrone in their season opener. Penalties, poor field position and turnovers put them in a 10-0 hole in the opening quarter. Buffalo rallied and held onto to a slim lead for most of the second half after scoring a pair of touchdowns right before and after halftime. But Tom Brady passed the Patriots to victory and engineered a 12-play 49-yard scoring drive in the dying seconds to give Stephen Gostkowski a 35-yard chip shot for the game-winning points in a two-point victory.
"Obviously I think early we battled some adversity and I'm proud of the way the players held on and kept that game where it didn't get out of control on us early on in the first half," said Marrone. "I thought we came out in the second half offensively and went down the field. I felt good about it. Then we had some opportunities at the end. We didn't convert or makes the plays that we needed to to win the game."
Buffalo appeared to seize momentum late in the first half and that continued with the opening possession in the second half. The Bills went on their longest drive of the game marching 80 yards on 11 plays. Fred Jackson was instrumental on the drive rushing 17 yards on four carries along with a key 11-yard reception on 3rd-and-5 at the Patriots' 31 to set up 1st-and-10 at the 21-yard line. After a three-yard carry by Spiller, Manuel found Stevie Johnson behind his defender and threw a perfect touch pass over Johnson's shoulder for an 18-yard touchdown (21-17).
"You want to lead the offense and get guys in position, move the ball down the field and not have three-and-outs or anything like that. Overall, for the first game I thought it was pretty good, but we've got to win at the end of the day."
Johnson's touchdown made him just the third Bills player in team history to score in an opener in three consecutive seasons, joining Thurman Thomas (1990-92) and O.J. Simpson (1969-71).
Buffalo's defense, which was forced to defend short fields for most of the first half was effective until late in the game. Two of the bigger plays in the second half were turned in by Kiko Alonso and Kyle Williams. Alonso pounced on a fumbled exchange by Tom Brady on 4th-and-1 at the Bills one-yard line for a key takeaway to keep points off the board with Buffalo up four. Kyle Williams delivered a critical sack on 3rd-and-goal at the Bills five-yard line to force New England to settle for a 33-yard field goal, which only pulled the Patriots to within a point with 10:48 left (21-20).
But when it counted most the Bills could not get off the field on third down. The Patriots were 6-10 on third downs in the second half, with New England back Shane Vereen and receiver Danny Amendola turning in some exceptional plays to keep drives alive. Tom Brady finished 29-52 passing for 288 yards a pair of touchdowns and an interception.
"I feel like we gave Brady a lot of stuff," said Aaron Williams. "But of course, Brady being a Hall of Famer, he picked it up real good. We've just got to keep playing and try to figure out what else we can do to confuse him or give him a different look. We've got to get off on third downs. That's basically what our issue was this game."
Although Buffalo's top two rushers were effective at times, they had trouble breaking any big plays as C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson combined for 108 yards on 30 carries.
"Their run defense was one of the best run defenses in the league last year," said Marrone of the Patriots ninth-ranked run front of a season ago. "Those guys are stout and they can play. I think there were times we were able to take advantage of some things strategically. We were 4.0 average running the ball."
EJ Manuel in his regular season debut was a respectable 18-27 for 150 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
The Bills biggest stumbling block in the first half were penalties and turnovers. It led to short fields for New England's offense and stalled drives on Buffalo possessions. A problem in the preseason, Buffalo's penalty total Sunday at game's end was 10 for 75 yards.
"A lot of the things that happened to us were kind of self-inflicted," said Jackson. "Not to take anything away from them. They made plays when they had the opportunity, but we left a lot out there."
"Penalties on both sides of the ball put us behind the eight ball a lot," said Kyle Williams. "If you keep giving an experienced quarterback like that and a team that's won a lot of football games opportunities with penalties it comes back to bite you."
C.J. Spiller fumbled on the second offensive play from scrimmage for Buffalo at his own 16-yard line in the first quarter. Three plays later Tom Brady found Julian Edelman for a nine-yard touchdown reception and a 7-0 lead.
"Turnovers killed us," said Spiller. "I can't put the ball on the ground because if I do I minimize our chance of sustaining drives. I went to make my cut and it just came away from me. I just have to clean that up and that's stuff I can control."
Following a field goal drive by New England (10-0), the Bills defense got a takeaway of their own when Stevan Ridley fumbled at the Buffalo 26. Da'Norris Searcy scooped up the loose ball and ran 74 yards for a score to close Buffalo to within a field goal (10-7) midway through the second quarter.
Buffalo's second turnover occurred inside the Bills 35 when Marquise Goodwin was stripped shortly after a reception over the middle by Kyle Arrington. New England recovered and again made quick work of the opportunity. Brady again found Edelman in the end zone for an eight-yard scoring play to again put the Patriots ahead by 10 (17-7) with just under two minutes remaining.
Good fortune shined on the Bills a short time later. Following a three-and-out possession Buffalo's defense got the ball back on an unusual play. Brady hit TE Zach Sudfield for a completion, but he was met face-to-face with Justin Rogers, who pulled the ball from his hands for an interception.
Buffalo's offense needed just two plays as EJ Manuel found a wide open Robert Woods in the back right corner of the end zone for an 18-yard score (17-14) with 34 seconds left in the half.
The Bills take their 0-1 mark into Week 2 when they host the Carolina Panthers at Ralph Wilson Stadium.