18 And Counting

<p>Early indications looked as if the Patriots might have a struggle on their hands in front of a rambunctious Ralph Wilson Stadium, yet as the case has been in the last 17 games the Patriots persevered and found a way to win. </p> <p>Game recap by Chris Timoney</p>

18 And Counting
Bills Do Themselves In, Pats Win
Game recap by Chris Timoney

PHOTO: New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady sets to throw against the Buffalo Bills during the third quarter in Orchard Park, N.Y., in this Sept. 7, 2003. (AP Photo/Kevin Rivoli)

Early indications looked as if the Patriots might have a struggle on their hands in front of a rambunctious Ralph Wilson Stadium, yet as the case has been in the last 17 games the Patriots persevered and found a way to win.

Throughout the first quarter Buffalo had answers to New England's early aggressive attack. Bills QB, Drew Bledsoe matched New England QB Tom Brady pass for pass at the outset of the game. After an opening drive marred by penalties on both sides of the ball, Brady launched a pass to David Givens for 44 yards to the Buffalo 32 which helped set up an opening drive Corey Dillon touchdown run. After a 17-yard pass to Bethel Johnson to the 15-yard line, Dillon took a 1st and 10 hand-off from Brady and galloped through a gaping hole up the middle for the 15-yard touchdown to give New England the early 7-0 lead.

On the first play of the ensuing drive Bledsoe fired to Bills WR Lee Evans for 55 yards to the New England 26. A few Travis Henry runs and an Eric Moulds pass brought Buffalo to the Patriots 9 yard line. That's as close as the Bills got, as the Patriots defense stiffened and forced the Bills to settle for a 33 yard Ryan Lindell field goal.

Up 7-3 the Patriots drove again, starting out at their own 20, Dillon took the ball on 1st and 10 for 13 yards, but two incomplete passes to David Patten left the Pats shy of the first down marker. Yet, much like they did during the Patriots initial drive, the official's flags helped New England again. London Fletcher was called for his second roughing the passer call of the game and gave the Pats a first down after what would have been a Brady incomplete pass to David Patten. A few plays later, with the ball on the Bills 21 yard line, Brady scrambled out to the right and fired to the end zone but was picked-off by Bills DB Terrence McGee. With the Rich Stadium crowd in a frenzy, Bill Belichik threw the red flag and put the turnover in the hands of the officials. Upon further review the play was overturned, New England kept possession as the ball was ruled to have hit the ground in the end zone and Bill Belichik was credited with his umpteenth good game decision. New England couldn't get much more after that, but trotted out Adam Vinatieri for the 42-yard field goal, giving the Patriots a 10-3 1st quarter lead.

The Patriots seemed to be building a level of momentum, partially due to Buffalo's propensity for penalties. On the ensuing kickoff, Terrence McGee returned the ball 98 yards for the tying score. McGee's return was the longest for the Bills since September of 2002. At the 1:26 mark of the 1st quarter the game was tied, 10-10.

The teams exchanged a few punts before the real action resumed. On 1st and 10 from the New England 46 Bledsoe threw an interception to Patriots DB Tyrone Poole.
On the play, Bledsoe threw to the outside while WR Eric Moulds ran a pattern to the inside. This type of miscommunication between quarterback and wide receiver continued to be a constant theme throughout the game.

Brady, taking command of the Patriots offense, didn't hesitate to throw down field as he completed a 43-yard pass to David Patten down to the Buffalo 6. Poised to take a 17-10 lead, on second and goal from the 2-yard line Corey Dillon fumbled and Buffalo recovered on the 4-yard line. Not only did the play end the Patriots sure-score drive, but also visibly bothered Dillon as he sat dejected on the sideline discouraged by his goal-line fumble.

The ensuing Bills possession only added to the sting of Dillon's turnover. After a three carries for 21 yards by Bills RB Travis Henry, Buffalo brought the ball out of the shadow of their goal posts to the 25 yard line. A dropped pass by Josh Reed seemingly ended the Bills drive as it brought Buffalo to a 4th and 2. On the punt B. Moorman bobbled the snap, realizing the pressure coming from the Pats Moorman took off running and ended up at the New England 41-yard line for a 34-yard pickup.

With the crowd renewed after the Moorman play Buffalo's coaching staff figured it was a good as time as any to go for it. On first down Bledsoe threw deep to the left side in the end zone for Eric Moulds, who had beaten Patriots AFC defender of the month Eugene Wilson, for 41 yard touchdown pass. Buffalo then lead 17-10. Patriots running back Corey Dillon could still be seen visibly upset about the turn of events after the Bills strike.

The Buffalo score left New England with the ball and just under 3 minutes remaining on the clock before the half. In classic Brady style and with a sense of calm, he lined the team up at their own 39. Passes to Patten & Givens along with a Dillon run got New England to the Buffalo 30 with a minute 38 remaining. On third and 8, Brady threw down field to a wide open David Patten who, after dodging 2 goal line tacklers, ran it in for the tying score with 1:28 left in the half. The teams went into the locker room tied at 17.

The teams exchanged punts in third quarter until the Patriots took their second possession of the second half own 20 and mounted a long sustained drive. Completions to David Givens of 14 & 17 yards accompanied by runs from Dillon and FB Patrick Pass got the Pats down to the Buffalo 13. A 3rd and 1 incompletion to Christian Fauria set up a Vinatieri field goal from 31 yards out.

Yet, much like throughout most of the game, Buffalo committed another careless mistake by jumping offsides on the FG attempt. The penalty gave New England second chance. A run by Dillon behind the left guard for 7 yards brought the Patriots to the 2-yard line. Another moment of controversy ensued when replay showed that Dillon had fumbled before his knee hit the ground at the two. Bills coach Mike Mularkey was told by the referee that the play was not reviewable because the runner was already ruled down by contact. Immediately after the ruling Brady found tight end Daniel Graham for the TD pass and the Patriots led 24-17 with just over eleven minutes to play.

Two minutes later in the fourth quarter, Buffalo had a golden opportunity to get back in the game. On 3rd and 7 Brady completed to Givens, Givens fumbled and London Fletcher recovered and headed to the end zone. Fletcher, hit by offensive lineman Neal at the 1-yard line, fumbled to the back of the end zone and New England was awarded the ball on the touchback. The entire play was reversed via replay and New England ended up punting from their own 23.

Blesdoe and the Bills took over from their own 19 with just under 8 minutes left. A Ty Warren penalty combined with completions to Henry and Moulds kept Buffalo's hopes alive. Later in the drive, Buffalo was faced with a 4th and 3 from the New England 17. Coach Mularkey called for a time out to think over the 4th down attempt. After the time-out, Bledsoe lined up, called the play and dropped back to pass. Facing heavy pressure from Tedy Bruschi, the former New England quarterback was sacked and fumbled the ball. Richard Seymour picked up the loose ball and took it 68 yards for the deciding touchdown extending the Pats lead to 31-17.

Buffalo would mount a final drive down to the New England 27, but came up short on 4th and 5 as Bledsoe overthrew Lee Evans in the end zone sealing the Patriots 31-17 victory.

Game Notes:

Tom Brady finished 17/30, 298 yards passing with 2 TDs. Bledsoe finished 18/30, 247 yards, 1TD, 1 INT. Eric Moulds had 10 catches for 126 yards and a TD. New England sacked Bledsoe 7 times, the Bills never got to Brady. Both teams combined for 21 penalties for 171 yards. The Patriots have now won 18 consecutive games dating back to last season, tying a NFL Record.

New England shares the AFC East lead with the New York Jets (3-0). The Patriots next game is at home against the sinking (0-3) Miami Dolphins, where they try to break the consecutive win record. The Dolphins are one of the teams that hold the current record.

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