The Bills played their best game of the year for the first 50 minutes in New England. Unfortunately the problems of the first half of the season reared its ugly head in the final 10 minutes as the Bills lost a heartbreaker 21-16 to the Patriots.
Corey Dillon scored two touchdowns on identical one yard plunges within 1:34 of each other in the fourth quarter that erased an inspiring performance by the Bills up to that point.
How good were the Bills for 50 minutes? Kelly Holcomb threw for 263 yards, the first 200 yard passing game by a Bill in 12 weeks. Willis McGahee had 136 yards on 31 carries, usually a recipe for victory. The big play finally returned, as Eric Moulds caught a 55 yard touchdown pass and had 125 yards receiving. The stats were there including a dominating 2 to 1 advantage in time of possession. All this led to a 16-7 lead with 10 minutes to go.
So why did the Bills lose? The defense gave up two very quick scoring drives. The first one was on the opening possession of the second half and gave the Pats a 7-3 lead as Deion Branch caught a 33 yard touchdown pass. The Bills responded quickly with Moulds' long score to regain the lead 10-7. It was the first time all year the Bills came from behind to take a lead.
The Bills would add to the lead as Rian Lindell would hit field goals of 35 and 41 yards out in the fourth quarter. The first field goal came after a 12 play, 80 yard drive. The Bills had four drives in the game of 11 plays or more, including the first three. The Bills finally points came after a sack/forced fumble by Aaron Schobel who had a huge game.
The two quick field goals gave the Bills what would have been a commanding lead at home, or against a team that wasn't quarterbacked by Tom Brady. He answered the Bills two field goals with two touchdowns including the 2nd quick drive of the second half, a 6 play, 61 yard drive. That was followed by another quick scoring strike after Holcomb was sacked by Roosevelt Colvin and fumbled the ball back to the Patriots. Two plays later, Dillon was in the end zone again.
The Bills had a final chance but a penalty on Moulds wiped out a first down reception at the Patriots 29 and the Bills turned the ball over on downs.
The exciting second half was preceded by a boring, close to the vest first half that saw the Bills hold a 3-0 lead at halftime after both kickers missed field goals. The Bills used a nice ball control effort to dominate the first half statistically but not on the scoreboard. Those problems continued in the second half as the Bills dominated the stat sheet but couldn't put the ball in the end zone and were forced to settle for four field goal attempts in this game, while Brady was taking advantage of his limited opportunities to put the ball in the end zone.
The loss drops the Bills to 3-5 at the halfway point in the season, the same record they had last year. They are lucky enough to have a bye to decide their next move. A comeback like they did last year appears unlikely as the schedule is much tougher. So is it time to go back to J.P. Losman? Conventional wisdom was saying that would be the case if the Bills lost. Holcomb however had a big game (albeit he turned it over twice), he led the Bills well enough to put them in position to win and to make Mike Mularkey's decision harder. The bottom line is, the season is pretty much over at this point, there will be no miracle comeback this year. That means they need to see what Losman could do, even though Holcomb gave the team their best offensive effort of the season in a losing effort.
Here are our exclusive gameballs and goats from the Bills game against the Patriots: