After the introductions were made and the teams took the field, the optimism was taken from the air immediately after a four and out sequence by the Patriots. Worse still, about four minutes into the first quarter, young defensive sensation, Jerod Mayo suffered a knee injury (and did not return).
The Patriots' offensive unit looked flat in the passing game in the first half and almost became predictable in short passes to Randy Moss and Wes Welker. At the same time, Lawrence Maroney and Fred Taylor were getting huge bursts across the line of scrimmage and looked hungry.
The team looked out-of-sync and their execution was lackluster. The misfires continued when the always reliable, Stephen Gostkowski missed a 41 yard field goal attempt that sailed wide right.
At the end of the first quarter, the Bills led the Patriots 7-0 after Buffalo tight end, Shawn Nelson caught an 11 yard touchdown pass from quarterback Trent Edwards. This was a momentum builder for the Bills, who had not beaten the Patriots in over six years and were looking to make a statement in Gillette stadium.
The Patriots looked to execute better in the second quarter. Tom Brady connected on a 14 play, 76-yard drive to tie the game up at 7-7. The drive was capped off when newly acquired running back Fred Taylor punched it in. The momentum swung back toward the New England Patriots favor but the Bills and Aaron Schobel had another thing in mind.
The Bills next drive stalled out at their own 37 yard line and they punted, setting up the Patriots at their own 35. When Brady stepped back to try to lob a screen pass which had developed well, Schobel made his play. He leapt high into the air to intercept the ball with one hand and rumbled 26 yards into the end zone for the Bills' second touchdown. The Bills led 14-7 and the Patriots looked stunned.
Throughout the night, the Patriots appeared to have lost the ability to deliver in the clutch when it mattered most. When they needed short yardage on fourth downs, the Patriots were not able to deliver.
After Gotskowski made up for the previous miss by nailing a 20-yard attempt, the Patriots pulled within four points at 14-10 at the half.
Halftime was a trip down memory lane where former Patriots were celebrated as a part of the AFL's history. Old schoolers were introduced to the crowd with some of the more famous Patriots hearing their names called; Tippett, Grogan, Nance and Cappeletti.
After the half the Patriots slowly got into a rhythm. Through the first three quarters of this game the defensive front three turned in a sub-par performance matching the "slower looking" linebacker corps. It took until the final period for the team to begin to gel. What happened in the 4th quarter was nothing short of amazing and exciting.
Down by the score of 24-11 and looking like it was going to be smooth sailing for the Buffalo Bills, the Patriots seemed to remember that they have a force called Tom Brady behind center. Whenever the team puts the outcome on his shoulders; he has a proven history of coming through in the clutch. It was Brady's turn to server notice to the NFL that he was back.
Brady hit tight end Benjamin Watson in the end zone to close the gap to within five, 24-19, but with just two minutes left, they still needed a miracle. The ensuing kickoff was the beginning of that miracle. Brandon Meriweather and Pierre Woods stripped Bills kick returner Leodis McKelvin and the patriots recovered.
Another bullet over the middle and Brady gave the Patriots a one-point lead over the Bills 25-24. A final bid by the Bills fell short resulting in the wildest one-point victories between these AFL rivals.
Again, we saw Tom Brady take the weight of the football world on and master it almost seamlessly. He became more certain of himself as the game wore on adjusting to the pace of regular season action. In retrospect, Brady almost seemed like he was sizing up how his surgically repaired knee would perform in the first half. Feeling comfortable with the result, he relied on that knee to pull off a crucial comeback to give the Patriots a very important AFC East victory.
Here is where I rate the goods and "not so goods" from this game:
Game Ball: Goes to Benjamin Watson. Watson redeemed himself after dropping a crucial pass in the 3rd quarter by holding onto and catching the two bullets thrown by Brady and making a comeback of epic proportions.
Game Stall: Goes to the New England Patriots defense. Yes, they were able to deliver when it counted but, they were also outrun, out-muscled and outplayed during the first three quarters of this game All-in-all though, they did stop both the Bills' high-powered receivers Terrell Owens and Lee Evans. The concern is that the Patriots were very suspect in the running defensive game.
Play of the Game: Has to go to both of the catches by Watson. His ability to catch, pull in and land on the ball without it coming out was amazing. This is the Benjamin Watson fans have been waiting to see for years now. Hopefully he can keep this momentum.
A great, gritty football game and I hope the rest are just as fun in the future. Let's just hope they're a little easier on the heart.
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