In a season that has surprisingly seen more downs than ups thus far, the New England Patriots came into Buffalo on Sunday with a 1-2 record and hoped to avoid their first three-game losing streak in almost 10 years (September 29-October 27, 2002). They avoided it with a convincing 52-28 win, but it was a tale of two halves.
Having missed a potential game winner against Arizona two weeks ago, usually reliable field goal kicker Stephen Gostkowski continued his rather shocking struggles by missing not one but two field goal tries in the second quarter (a 49-yard and 42-yard attempt). Tight end Rob Gronkowski has struggled to hold onto QB Tom Brady’s passes during crucial points so far this season—and been called for a few costly penalties—and today he and star WR Wes Welker fumbled the football to the Bills. With all those mistakes, eventually Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick made the Pats pay with two TD passes that put the Bills up 14-7, a lead they stretched to 21-7 early in the third quarter.
Then Brady and company came to life halfway through the third and with a TD pass to Danny Woodhead at the 8:10 mark. That began a string of six straight TD drives for the Pats, including a bold TD run by the franchise QB himself near the end of the quarter to tie the score at 21-21. The first play of the fourth quarter was a long 28-yard TD pass to Gronk to give the Pats a (28-21) lead they would not relinquish. In fact, the Pats amassed 35 points in about 14 minutes during one stretch in the second half (jumping their score from 7 points to 42) before eventually tacking on 10 more to finish at 52 for the day.
What turned the game around was two-fold: great pass protection for Brady—which was a big concern going into the game, as star left guard Logan Mankins was out with a hip injury—and a historic running game. Brady put up his usual big numbers (340 yards passing and three TDs), but two young RBs (rookie Brandon Bolden and second-year pro Stevan Ridley) each gained over 100 yards rushing. The team had four rushing touchdowns and 247 rushing yards in all. With two wide receivers also finishing with over 100 yards (Gronk and Welker), that marked just the second time in NFL history a team had both two 100-yard rushers and receivers in the same game—only Green Bay did it beforehand in 2008.
The Patriots finished with 580 total yards and forced six total Bills turnovers (which was another huge factor in the win), four of them by Fitzpatrick, who threw four interceptions, two of them to CB Devin McCourty, to go with four TDs. With the win, the Pats’ dominance of Buffalo continued, as they are now 17-1 in its last 18 games against it. Next weekend sees Brady continue his rivalry with Peyton Manning, this time with his new team, the Denver Broncos. Their respective teams will meet Sunday, October 7 with 2-2 records at Gillette Stadium at 4:25 pm EST in Foxborough, MA.