Eight first half penalties, including a pair of pass interference calls that handed New England's offense 1st-and-goal at the Bills one-yard line twice, gave the Patriots all the points they needed in a 17-10 win over Buffalo at Ralph Wilson Stadium Sunday.
New England quickly overcame an early 3-0 Buffalo lead when they were helped greatly by a 43-yard pass interference penalty charged to Donte Whitner while he and Terrence McGee were trying to cover Randy Moss. The penalty, which was committed at the one-yard line, handed the Patriots a 1st-and-goal situation. After a first down penalty backed up the Patriots, Brady hit Randy Moss for a 13-yard touchdown reception for a 7-3 lead early in the second quarter.
"It was a good scheme by them and we had a penalty on it," said Whitner. "They scored after that play and they scored after the other pass interference also. That's called beating yourself when you get a lot of penalties."
Penalties also hurt Buffalo's offense. Holding penalties on two successive second quarter drives stalled the Bills attack, which was made worse when Fitzpatrick's off balance throw intended for Josh Reed was intercepted by Jonathan Wilhite at the New England 36 late in the first half on a 3rd-and-8 play from midfield.
The Patriots were able to capitalize on their takeaway with Tom Brady engineering an eight-play 64-yard drive culminating in a one-yard touchdown run by Laurence Maroney to make it 14-3 New England. Another pass interference penalty against Buffalo handed the Patriots 21 yards on the drive and set them up for a second time with a 1st-and-goal situation at the one-yard line.
"They said it was interference then its interference," said Reggie Corner who was flagged on the throw intended for Wes Welker. "I felt I got my head around the same time he did, and I even dove for the ball so there's no way. I'm not knocking his call and I hope no one takes it the wrong way, but I feel I got my head around when he was looking for the ball. He made the call and I've got to live with the call. That's all I can do."
The Bills defense played valiantly holding Patriots quarterback Tom Brady to just 115 yards passing and giving up just 109 yards on the ground was an effective day for Buffalo. In the end there was just not enough support from the other side of the ball to stage an upset.
Aside from an efficient opening drive the Bills offense could not consistently move the football with the passing game especially anemic. Pass protection was a consistent problem and it made execution difficult in a game where they were forced to throw. But penalties proved to be a big killer with the Bills committing 11 for a season high 124 yards.
"We got ourselves into some trouble, the holding calls, the false starts," said Ryan Fitzpatrick. "When you're going to play a game like that where you want to wear the opponent out, you want to wear that clock out, keep the ball in your hands you have to play mistake free football."
"We had a lot of confidence coming in and the offense moved the ball good on the first possession," said Fewell. "I give (the Patriots) credit, they made the right adjustments. We just didn't sustain the blocks that we needed to sustain. We didn't throw the ball effectively to keep the drive going, and we just kind of lost focus in my opinion in order to keep those drives going."
After the Bills opening possession, which led to a field goal, Buffalo had a stretch of seven possessions over three quarters that included four three-and-outs and a four-and-out. Ryan Fitzpatrick struggled to find time to throw as he was sacked five times. Third down was again a major problem with the Bills converting just two of their 12 opportunities.
"It was a struggle, but we did some good things up front with the run game, we just couldn't stay ahead of the chains," said offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt. "We were in situations where it forced us to throw the ball. Our plan coming in was to run it and pound it."
The Bills averaged 4.6 yards per carry as Fred Jackson (80) and Marshawn Lynch (25) combined for 105 yards on the ground, but down and distance along with being down 14 points forced Buffalo to the air.
"We continued to try and run the football," said Fewell. "We just weren't holding up. We got off schedule basically. We got ourselves in second and long situations because of penalties. Penalties really hurt us both offensive and defensively."
Looking for a jumpstart interim head coach Perry Fewell inserted Trent Edwards into the game in the fourth quarter, but he completed just one pass on two attempts for minus one yard before suffering an ankle injury forcing him from the game.
"We were not converting on the third downs," said Fewell. "We needed something to give us some momentum so I made the decision. I thought Trent could come in and maybe give us a little spark."
Fitzpatrick tried to rally the team upon his return, but a 12-play drive midway through the fourth quarter finished with a turnover on downs at the Patriots' 11-yard line when a fourth down pass to Josh Reed fell incomplete with 4:24 to play.
Buffalo's defense did get a late stop to get the ball back, and with the Patriots committed to keeping everything in front of them it gave Fitzpatrick an opportunity to make some plays as he capped a quick drive with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Lee Evans to pull the Bills to within a touchdown (17-10) with 3:02 left in the game. But it was far from enough.
"Late in football games we didn't make enough plays," said Lee Evans. "We had a number of things go wrong to combat that. It's been tough."
The special teams unit for Buffalo successfully recovered an onsides kick attempt, but a handful of Bills players were flagged for offsides on the kick negating the play. After gaining possession on the re-kick New England was able to run out the three minutes remaining on the clock.
The Bills offense got off to a promising start marching 69 yards on their opening possession, behind a strong rushing effort from Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch as they combined for 61 yards rushing on the drive. But a false start penalty on 3rd-and-goal from the Patriots two-yard line pushed Buffalo back to the seven. Ryan Fitzpatrick's pass intended for Josh Reed over the middle fell incomplete forcing them to settle for a 25-yard Rian Lindell field goal for a 3-0 lead.
Buffalo's defense then stopped New England on their opening possession as Paul Posluszny stepped in front of a 2nd-and-10 pass intended for Wes Welker for his second interception in as many weeks. The Bills however, could not capitalize on the takeaway as the offense was stymied with the drive ending on back-to-back sacks of Fitzpatrick.
With the loss the Bills fell to 5-9 on the season as they have now dropped 13 straight to New England. To say the losing streak collectively sticks in the craw of the players and coaches would be an understatement.
"We believed we could beat this football team," said interim head coach Perry Fewell. "Any loss is disappointing. It's a division loss so it makes it even more disappointing for us and it makes it even more difficult for us."
"I'm very sick of it," said Whitner. "They have a little swagger about themselves after they've beaten us so many times. We just have to go out there and beat them to take the smiles off their faces."
Buffalo travels to Atlanta this week to face the Falcons at the Georgia Dome for a 1 pm kickoff the Sunday after Christmas.