Another Bills game in Foxboro – I see it every year. Living in the Boston area I see the confidence of the local fans and their patronizing attitude towards the Bills. It used to rile me up, but at this point I understand – when you’ve dominated another team the way New England has dominated the Bills, this is how things end up – I’m pretty sure that’s exactly where we would be if the Bills had dominated the Patriots for the last 15 years.
This year I missed all the pre-game hype as I was called to the West coast on business for the week. I didn’t have to put up with the office Pats fans or the local news treating the game as little more than a bye week.
As, I got on my JetBlue flight home on Sunday morning – plenty of folks at the gate were wearing Brady jerseys (and one Blount jersey – really?) – I had the smugness of knowing these folks were not going to see the game during the flight. JetBlue has live satellite TV, but the feed is from New York and with the Jets playing on Fox at 1pm there would be no early CBS game in the NYC market. Luckily the flight had Wi-Fi which enabled me to watch the game on my phone via the Sunday Ticket app (or Sling Box app – always have a backup). While it certainly wasn’t a 55” flat screen, I was able to catch the whole game with minimal signal breakup.
And so the game began. Typical game at Gillette Stadium – the stats tell it all. Offensively, just an absolute inability to move the ball – first 5 possessions yielding 2 first downs and zero points. Of 10 total possessions, only three had more than four plays. 1 for 12 on third down conversions. 90 yards rushing and 187 passing. Nine penalties for 74 yards. Five fumbles but only one turnover. Missed field goal from 48 yards out – wide right.
Defense wasn’t much better. The first three possessions gave up extended drives that produced points. Let the offense get into a rhythm and just kept moving the chains. Missed tackles everywhere. Allowed 134 yards on the ground and 244 through the air. Fans booed, then left early to beat the traffic when it became clear that the game wasn’t going to turn around.
But this wasn’t the typical game in Foxboro – far from it. In the eight shutout NFL games played at Gillette Stadium, New England was the victor in seven, but on Sunday the tables were turned. Instead of the Bills being shutout in an afternoon of futility and statistical mediocrity it was the Patriots playing the role of the futile losers.
I have no idea what happened to cause the roles of Buffalo and New England to cross so dramatically on Sunday. If it had been a movie it would have been Freaky Friday or Like Father Like Son or All of Me – which is not to say a formulaic kitschy comedy, but an experience where a pair completely switches identities and roles.
Buffalo has only beaten New England twice at Gillette Stadium, the previous occurrence was a meaningless week 17 game in 2014. But Sunday was different. The Bills played the more seasoned and in sync team able to do largely what they wanted on both sides of the ball. New England never seemed to get it in gear on offense or defense – they looked outmatched throughout the game.
Despite the loss of Sammy Watkins, Tyrod Taylor played quarterback and played well – distributing the ball, throwing the ball over the middle, making plays with his feet but really moving the ball with his arm. The running game was solid and LeSean McCoy showed the elusiveness and cutting ability that has made him one of the top running backs in recent years. The offense really seems to be clicking even missing a playmaker and downfield threat like Watkins.
Defensively the Bills played with confidence – something they have not always displayed in Foxboro. Sure, they were facing a third string rookie quarterback, but the road to the Bills’ current playoff drought is littered with games where nobody quarterbacks were made to look like they should be measured for their yellow jackets. The front seven did a good job of keeping pressure on the quarterback while not allowing Blount to run wild over them. The secondary, which let up every long ball that came their way against the Jets, actually looked good in shutting down the long pass (there was a big gainer to Martellus Bennett, but much of that was after the catch – that guy is a beast to bring down).
OK – before I get too carried away I do realize that this was not the Patriots team the Bills normally face – Tom Brady is such a big part of that team that you can’t say you’re getting the real McCoy. If Brady played that game on Sunday I would have put money on the Pats and probably would have won that bet, but damn it felt good to get the win. When the season started I envisioned the Bills being 2-2 at this point, although I would have thought with wins against Baltimore and the Jets and losses to Arizona and New England, but 2-2 is 2-2 and I’ll take it in any form.
With every score I wanted to jump out of my seat on the plane and yell out the score – Buffalo 7-0! Buffalo 10-0! Buffalo 13-0! Buffalo 16-0! to let the Pats fans around me know that although they couldn’t see it, their team was getting pushed around by my team. That may seem petty, but if you lived amongst these folks you’d probably feel the same way. By way of example, in the years since the Bills last made the playoffs, the Patriots have been to the playoffs 14 times, been to the Super Bowl six times and won the Super Bowl four times and on Sunday, behind a struggling third string rookie quarterback they actually booed their team because they weren’t moving the ball better and playing pretty conservatively. Let that amount of spoiled set in for a minute, won’t you? As I sat down in my seat before we took off a Pats fan on the aisle said he’d like to see the Denver vs. Tampa game because he wanted to root against the Broncos so they didn’t get home field advantage in the playoffs. Week four of the NFL season and this guy is already thinking about the Patriots getting home field advantage throughout the playoffs which start 14 weeks from now – unbelievable.
Instead of jumping up from my seat and inviting every Pats fan to kiss my ass, I sat quietly and reveled in what I had just seen – what others had missed but should have seen (suddenly jumping up from your seat on an airplane is good way to get gang tackled and/or shot by an air marshal and/or a starring role on every newscast across America as the guy hog-tied with zip ties being carried off the plane by authorities). No, instead I would let my inner Grinch take over – go home, turn on the news and watch from afar as all the Whos in Whoville gathered to lament their loss. In typical New England fashion, there was barely a mention of the beat down on local TV – instead the focus was on the team going 3-1 without Brady and how he was just hours away from returning – it’s almost if they had all gathered on Boston Common to hold hands and sing “Dahoo Dory”.
Like many things around the Patriots, Sunday’s win comes with an asterisk – it wasn’t against a Brady-lead squad in a meaningful game. It still counts as a W and it was fun to watch Bill Belichick throw his tablet and Ben Affleck swearing in disbelief on his press tour. If nothing else it provided me with an enjoyable 6 hour flight and a high point for the season to date. I am encouraged with two weeks of solid offensive and defensive play and hope that the team can keep it up, although history tells me when the excitement around this team starts to build it quickly crashes on the rocks of mediocrity – celebrants beware. Now if you’ll excuse me it’s time to catch the evening news – I hear the top story has footage of Tom Brady clipping his toenails back in the locker room in Foxboro and fan on the street reaction – yippee!
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