Despite the fact that Buffalo's offense was dramatically better and scored points on four of their first five possessions, in the end, a pair of turnovers proved costly in a 38-30 loss to New England. In a game that saw five lead changes, the Bills hung with the Patriots for almost the entire game, but a pair of second half interceptions kept Buffalo from overtaking New England, giving the Patriots their 14th straight victory over Buffalo.
"Going into this game what we had talked about was getting into a rhythm and keeping the offense on the field and generating first downs and we did a good job of that," said Fitzpatrick. "Obviously the one play that kills me is that turnover in the red zone. Just a ball where Roscoe is open and they pick it off and they bring it back and score and that kind of changed the game."
Trailing 31-23, Ryan Fitzpatrick, making his first start of the season, had the offense on the march. He moved the Bills into New England territory, but on a 2nd-and-5 at the Patriots' 20, Fitzpatrick's pass over the middle that was intended for Parrish sailed high and Patrick Chung intercepted it to squash the Bills threat at the start of the fourth quarter.
"The throw to Roscoe I've hit 100 times," said Fitzpatrick. "I could throw that in my sleep and I'm just disgusted with the fact that that one sailed high."
New England then went to their ground game to kill clock and maintain possession pounding Sammy Morris and BenJarvus Green-Ellis. The 13-play 75-yard drive was capped by a seven-yard Green-Ellis touchdown run to put the Patriots up by 15 with 8:19 to play.
Fitzpatrick closed the gap to eight with a 37-yard touchdown strike to Steve Johnson with four minutes remaining (38-30), but their ensuing onsides kick did not work in Buffalo's favor. The Bills defense forced a three-and-out to get the ball back for the offense, but on 1st-and-10 at their own 35, Fitzpatrick threw his second interception to the far side of the field when his pass was high for intended receiver David Nelson.
"He's always trying to make a play," said head coach Chan Gailey. "You've got to give him credit for that, he's always trying to make a play. I don't want to temper him, but at the same time I want him to be smart in situations and he'll learn a great deal from that. Hopefully we'll be better and give ourselves a chance to go score a touchdown at the end there."
That second interception proved to be too much for Buffalo to overcome as New England killed the final three minutes on the clock to post the victory.
"All you can ask for is a chance to redeem yourself and we went out and scored a touchdown and got it to within eight and the defense got us the ball back with about three minutes left and that's the situation as a quarterback that you want to be in," Fitzpatrick said. "I thought that was great. We were playing as a team right there and feeding off each other and it just didn't turn out the way we wanted to."
For three and a half quarters Fitzpatrick was steady and consistent and made plays in the passing game. He kept drives alive with third down conversions and used his legs to get away from trouble. He finished the day 20-28 for 247 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
"I think he played well," said Lee Evans, who had five receptions and was targeted eight times. "He found guys in open spots and made some plays with his feet. So he was just out there playing. I think he was confident with what he was seeing, making checks on the sidelines. We were communicating and I think he played pretty good. Late in the game he threw a couple of picks, but he was challenging the defense every time."
The plan going in looked to be an effective one as the Bills mixed the run with the pass throughout.
"I thought our packages kept them off balance," said Gailey. "C.J. is in there with one package. We've got Marshawn and Fred in there with another package and we converted some third downs this week. If you can convert third downs and stay out of negative plays, I don't think we had as many negative plays as we had in the past. All that tended to build some confidence in our offense."
New England took a one-point lead at the half and quickly made it eight marching 74 yards in lightning quick fashion. Brady began the drive with three straight completions including a 27-yard shot to Wes Welker. After a short underneath throw to Aaron Hernandez set up a 2nd-and-4 at the Bills 36, Brady threw incomplete. On 3rd-and-4 however, Brady had Moss in the slot and hit him on a deep post between Buffalo's safeties for a 35-yard touchdown to put New England back ahead by eight (24-16).
Getting pressure on Brady proved difficult and as a result there were several big yardage plays surrendered by Buffalo's defense. In the end the Patriots rolled up over 450 yards of offense.
"They did a good job," said Kyle Williams. "They recognized some of the packages that we were in and they checked out of things and got into things that were good against dime or base. We didn't do enough all game on defense. We had a good little run after that first drive, but we just didn't do enough."
"I thought we probably gave up the edge for them running the ball," said Gailey. "We let them get around the corner a little bit more than (defensive coordinator) George (Edwards) and his staff would like. We've got to set the edge better in the running game. The passing game we're giving him too much time. He probably has a little too much time throwing the football. We've got to work on better pressure on the passer.
Buffalo's special teams won back the momentum as C.J. Spiller took a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown, quieting the New England crowd and pulling the Bills back to within one (24-23) with 13 minutes left in the third.
After the Patriots went three-and-out, the Bills offense had another chance to put points on the board as back-to-back plays by Jonathan Stupar and Marshawn Lynch got Buffalo over midfield. However, on 3rd-and-8 at the Patriots' 36, the Bills were flagged for a false start, which left Roscoe Parrish's eight-yard freception short of the marker on 3rd-and-13.
The Bills trotted Rian Lindell out for a 51-yard field goal attempt, but it was wide left, giving New England possession at their own 41. The Patriots ran on nine of the next 13 plays, before Brady hit rookie TE Rob Gronkowski for a five-yard touchdown. Once again New England was up by eight (31-23).
On the whole Buffalo's offense moved the ball with efficiency with Fitzpatrick at the controls. On their opening drive, which began at their own 20-yard line, the Bills mixed a short pass game with some timely runs to get deep into New England territory, with Marshawn Lynch's 16-yard run setting up a 1st-and-10 at the Patriots' 29.
"I thought that Chan did a great job mixing it up," said Fitzpatrick. "I felt like we had them off balance at times. Ran the ball effectively and we made some good adjustments too at halftime. We adjusted to some things they were doing as they adjusted to some of the stuff we were doing. I felt we had a good game plan and felt the execution was there for the most part."
But too often drives resulted in field goals instead of touchdowns as Buffalo went one-for-three on red zone trips in the game, including the opening drive when Buffalo settled for a 39-yard Rian Lindell field goal to give the Bills an early 3-0 lead.
The Bills defense did force their first takeaway of the season. Brandon Tate pulled in a Brady pass on a crossing route, but Drayton Florence punched the ball out from behind and Jairus Byrd recovered at the Patriots' 37-yard line.
Fitzpatrick and the offense got right to work and C.J. Spiller was instrumental. After a 19-yard run on a cutback to the weak side set up 1st-and-goal at the four-yard line, Spiller was split wide on a 3rd-and-goal from the Patriots' five. Fitzpatrick hit him on the far sideline and a block by Evans gave the rookie enough room to reach the end zone for a five-yard touchdown reception and a 13-7 Bills edge with 6:13 left in the half.
Before the half was over however, both teams would add to their totals with New England taking a 17-16 edge to the locker room.
With the loss Buffalo fell to 0-3, while the Patriots improved to 2-1. The Bills host another AFC East rival new week when the New York Jets travel to Ralph Wilson Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 pm.