The game was won. So many times. Yet somehow, someway, the Buffalo Bills found a way to lose Monday night. Instead of wrapping up an upset for the ages, Buffalo suffered one of its most heartbreaking losses in recent memory.
The exclamation point seemed to come with five minutes left. Fred Jackson took a 10-yard screen pass to the house, giving Buffalo a cozy 24-13 lead. Then suddenly, rising from the dead, Tom Brady rekindled his 2007 form. The Patriots quickly moved the ball downfield against the Bills' prevent defense, capping an 81-yard drive in only 3:26 with a Brady touchdown strike to Ben Watson.
Moments later, Leodis McKelvin fumbled the game away.
With two minutes left — nothing but a few first downs and high fives from victory — McKelvin lost the ball while being brought to the ground. Brady hit Watson again for a touchdown three plays later. The Bills' frantic rebuttal failed and the season officially started with a bitter, bitter thud.
"I wanted to shut everybody up who doesn't think we're a good football team," Whitner told reporters after the game. "We had our opportunity. We wanted to win, we needed a win, we had a win. We let it go and it's tough. It's only the first game but we can't lose like this, we can't lose these games. Eleven point lead, four minutes to go in the game and we lost it. ... We did exactly what we expected to do in the first three-and-a-half quarters. We didn't care who their quarterback was."
Whitner, who had 10 tackles, was right. Buffalo got after Brady with vengeance Monday night. But Brady cranked it up when it mattered most.
After playing erratic most of the game, Brady picked the Bills apart in the fourth quarter. Looking fully healed from last year's torn ACL, Brady completed 39-of-53 passes for 378 yards and the two touchdowns. He hit Randy Moss and Wes Welker for 12 receptions apiece. Working on underneath routes, Brady dissected Buffalo's defense with ease as the game dripped into crunch time.
For Buffalo, this loss easily ranks as the most gut-wrenching, tear-jerking in recent memory. The Bills lost in similar last-second, give-it-away fashion the past two seasons on Monday Night Football against the Dallas Cowboys and Cleveland Browns. This one hurt more considering the daunting circumstances. Reports say a tear dripped down Whitner's cheek when he spoke after the game. Easy to see why. Everybody counted Buffalo out heading into this one.
In the weeks leading up to the game, the Bills fired their offensive coordinator, cut their left tackle and its first-team offense scored zero touchdowns in 15 possessions during the preseason. Hope was fleeting. Yet all game, Buffalo dominated. Jackson (140 total yards) was the basis of an effective offensive attack. Trent Edwards (15-25, 212 yards, 2 touchdowns) played mistake-free football. And the defense, for the first time in years, was rattling Brady in the pocket.
Aaron Schobel pressured Brady throughout the first half and picked him off on a screen attempt for a 26-yard touchdown.
The no-huddle offense was working, if not sustaining possessions. The defense was somehow bottling up New England's embarrassment of weapons. And an upset for the ages was in reach. A win here would have instantly revived a team that had been in complete disarray. With Dick Jauron's seat boiling, this would have a marquee win to start the season on the highest of notes.
But just when the confetti was about to pour all over Buffalo, McKelvin coughed up the ball...coughed away the game. Maybe this isn't Scott Norwood yanking a kick wide right, but the loss will certainly sting for a long time.
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