The Bills offensive woes of the preseason melted away in a single regular season game as the Bills looked like they had put an end to New England's 11-game winning streak. Up 24-13 with 5:32 to play the Bills had the game in hand, but the Patriots responded with a pair of touchdown drives thanks in part to a kick return turnover by Buffalo to take their first lead of the game with under a minute to play and escaped with a 25-24 victory in the Monday night opener.
"That group of guys got out there and fought for sixty minutes," said head coach Dick Jauron. "It tears my heart out that that's the way the game ends. You've got to finish. You've got to finish games in this league particularly against teams as talented as this team is with the experience they have. You've got to tip your hat to them, but just an awful feeling in that locker room."
"We had 10 days to prepare for these guys and we put all our eggs in the basket and to come up one point short is pretty disappointing right now especially for me in this position that I'm in," said Trent Edwards. " Unfortunately you're up 11 and you don't win the game with five minutes left. I've been in that position before and the feeling stinks."
Buffalo's offense, which could not score a touchdown in a five-game preseason scored two Monday night. After the Patriots cut the Bills 17-10 lead to four (17-13)with a Stephen Gostkowski field goal at the 11:43 mark of the fourth quarter, Buffalo's offense responded with a 14-play drive of their own. Fred Jackson, who had 140 all-purpose yards, accounted for 49 of the 62 yards on the drive including the final 10 on his touchdown reception to put the Bills up by 11.
But a Patriots touchdown drive capped by an 18-yard touchdown catch by Ben Watson pulled New England to within five after a two-point conversion failed.
On the ensuing kickoff Leodis McKelvin was stripped of the football trying to gain extra yardage and New England recovered.
"I'm very disappointed," said McKelvin. "Just turnovers. We don't need to have turnovers at the end of that game. So you know just cover up and don't make no mistakes, get the ball back to the offense and everything would be good."
McKelvin chose to bring the ball out despite the fact that the kickoff carried him back into his own end zone, but Jauron did not question McKelvin's decision to return it.
"I have no problem with Leodis coming out with that ball," said Jauron. "He's a dynamic runner. He was trying to win a football game or ice a football game and we've seen him do it. He almost did it there. From the sideline it looked like he was making an effort to cover the ball and have it covered with his hands and somehow it came out of there. It's one of those things that happens, but I have no problem with Leodis. He plays the game hard and he's a guy that can take it the distance."
Three plays after New England's fumble recovery Brady hooked up for a second time with Watson for a 16-yard touchdown pass and the lead (25-24) with 50 seconds left on the clock.
Bills safety Donte Whitner was emotionally crushed after the loss openly weeping as he addressed the media.
"It's tough man," said a sobbing Whitner. "We played really, really hard. We came up short. I want to shut everybody up that thinks we're not a good football team and we had opportunities and we let it go."
Buffalo's offense tried to move the ball into field goal range with two timeouts at their disposal in the waning seconds, but Edwards was sacked twice on the final series to bring an end to a gut-wrenching defeat.
It was yet another bitter pill for the Bills to swallow as they remained winless at Gillette Stadium and New England extended its unbeaten streak against Buffalo to 12.
Buffalo's offense under the direction of Alex Van Pelt was efficient and moved the ball effectively even though they did not try to stretch the field with Lee Evans or Terrell Owens.
"I think Alex did a terrific job," said Jauron. "The whole staff did a terrific job really in preparation for this game with a lot of things going on. They really came together."
The first quarter for the Bills was a good one to start the 2009 campaign. Buffalo's defense got a 4th-and-1 stop to force a turnover on downs, New England missed a 42-yard field goal attempt and the Bills offense made them pay.
Trent Edwards led Buffalo on a six-play 68-yard drive with Fred Jackson providing 41 of those yards, which was capped by an 11-yard Edwards to Shawn Nelson touchdown pass for an early 7-0 lead. Edwards finished the day 15-25 for 212 yards and two touchdowns.
Buffalo's defense charged up by the offense's touchdown drive responded with a three-and-out. Aaron Schobel ultimately forced the Patriots to punt when he swooped in from the right side on a 3rd-and-6 for a sack on Tom Brady leading to a 10-yard loss.
New England's offense didn't find its rhythm until the middle of the second quarter when they put together a 14-play 72-yard drive which Fred Taylor finished with a one-yard touchdown run. Brady appeared to find a groove on the drive as the Patriots tied the score 7-7.
But Buffalo's defense would come up big after the Bills offense was forced to punt. On a 1st-and-10 from the Patriots 35-yard line Kyle Williams got pressure on Brady, who tried to dump the ball off to Sammy Morris, but Aaron Schobel leaped into the air to snare the pass with one hand for an interception.
Schobel then tucked the ball away and carried Morris into the end zone for a 26-yard return for a touchdown to re-establish Buffalo's seven-point lead (14-7).But it ultimately rang hollow for Schobel and his teammates on a day where the lead they fought so hard for could not stand up.
"It (stinks)," said Schobel. "I don't know how many times he's done that to us. You're beating him for most of the game and he comes back, and their team comes back. In the end their defense made a play and ours didn't. That's what it comes down to."
It was Schobel's third interception of his career, and the first INT return for a score by a Bills defensive lineman since Chris Kelsay did it against the Dallas Cowboys on Oct. 8, 2007, also on a Monday night, and also in a difficult defeat.
"We've got to figure out a way to start finishing these games out," said Schobel. "We've got the talent. We've just got to finish them."
The Patriots were able to cut back into Buffalo's first-half lead with a nine-play 68-yard drive, but the Bills defense was able to hold New England to a field goal to make it 14-10 Bills at the break.
The third quarter was a bit of a stalemate with the Bills defense again stepping up and forcing another turnover on downs when Brady threw incomplete on a 4th-and-2 at the Buffalo 36-yard line.
On the following drive the Bills offense put together another methodical drive, overcame a few negative plays and penalties to get into New England territory.
On a 3rd-and-20 at the Patriots 38, Edwards hit Schouman for a big 16-yard gain over the middle to put Buffalo back in field goal range. Rian Lindell put a 40-yard attempt through with 2:32 left in the third for a 17-10 Bills edge.
A long time-consuming drive by the Patriots followed, but the Bills defense again held inside their red zone as New England was forced to settle for a 28-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski (17-13) at the 11:43 mark.
Buffalo (0-1) heads back home where they will host Tampa Bay in their home opener on Sunday.
Head coach Dick Jauron confirmed after the game that Paul Posluszny broke a bone in his arm in the first half.
"I know that Paul has a broken bone in his arm," said Jauron. "I'm not certain how long it will keep him out, but it's not as bad as the first one was."
Posluszny shattered his forearm in his rookie season at Gillette Stadium two years ago.
Defensive end Chris Kelsay also suffered an injury in the first half and did not return. Jauron labeled it a knee injury, but Kelsay was able to walk to the locker room under his own power.
Both will be re-evaluated on Tuesday.