It was the Patriots against the Bills so naturally, the unexpected was expected -- if that makes any sense. In this edition, a Bills offense that had scored only 20 points in two games had the best team in football all wrapped up at 17 at the half.
In the end, however, it was the Patriots that overcame their mistakes and made the plays when it most counted as they advanced their winning streak to 18 games with a 31-17 wild win.
Tom Brady finished 17 of 30 passing for 298 yards and 2 touchdowns while his counterpart, Drew Bledsoe was 18 of 29 for 247 yards, a touchdown and an interception. His main target was Eric Moulds who finished with 10 catches for 126 yards and a score. For New England, David Patten had 5 catches for 113 yards.
On the ground, Corey Dillon had 79 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. Travis Henry ran hard for the Bills with 98 yards on 24 tries.
After being tied at 17 after 30 minutes, the Patriots were able to hold the Bills scoreless in the second half and that proved to be the difference.
The Patriots opened the game by scoring immediately but it wasn't until both teams had the refs throwing flags all over the field. First it was the Bills with 20 yards worth of mistakes and then the Patriots with three penalties of their own. Finally, with New England facing a first and 35 from its own 24, Charlie Weis said enough and had Brady let one loose to David Givens. Givens hauled in the pass 44 yards downfield. After Bethel Johnson caught a 17-yarder, Corey Dillon ran straight up middle of the Buffalo defense from 15 yards out for the touchdown.
Bledsoe and the Bills looked like they would answer right back with seven of their own after a huge 55-yard reception by Lee Evans on the first Buffalo play. That moved the line of scrimmage to the Patriots 26 but despite an 11-yard pick-up on a pass to Eric Moulds, the Bills had to settle for three, a 33-yard field goal by Rian Lindell.
Still in the first quarter, New England added to its lead when a roughing the passer call on London Fletcher on a third and three incomplete kept the Patriots drive alive. Brady then hit Christian Fauria for gains of 7 and 17. On second and one from the Bills 21, however, Brady looked to the end zone but underthrew David Patten and Terrence McGee stepped in front, seemingly coming up with the interception. The Patriots challenged the ruling on the field and won as the replay clearly showed the ball on the field and not in McGee's possession.
New England took advantage of the break with a 42-yard Adam Vinatieri field goal to regain its 7-point lead at 10-3.
That's when the unthinkable happened for the Patriots special teams. On the ensuing kickoff, the very same man who dropped the interception, McGee, took the return 98 yards to tie the game.
In one quarter, the Bills had equaled the points they produced in each of its first two games.
And after holding the Patriots to three and out to start the second quarter, it looked like the Bills were ready for more with some strong running by Travis Henry and key completions to Evans. Two consecutive plays, a pressure by Mike Vrabel that forced Bledsoe to throw one away on second down and then Bledsoe getting tripped by his own lineman on third down for a loss of 12, put an end to a promising drive.
At this point the momentum was on Buffalo's side with the game tied at 10. When the ensuing punt was downed at the 1 by Kevin Thomas, the tough Bills defense followed up with another three and out stand.
Buffalo had the ball again, on the New England 46, and subsequently gave it and the momentum right back to New England as Bledsoe looked to pass on first down and Tyrone Poole seemed to be the only player in the vicinity.
Poole's pick set up New England at midfield and Brady went right for the jugular, a 43-yard completion to Patten. The play went for naught as Dillon coughed up the ball two plays later and the Bills recovered. In the end, all the excitement merely turned into a negative change of field position for the Bills.
There was more craziness to come. With the Bills then forced to punt, punter Brian Moorman dropped the snap and was forced to run. The mishap caught everyone off guard, especially the Patriots return unit. Moorman gained 34 yards for the first down.
Taking his cue from Brady, Bledsoe went for it all on the next play. He found Eric Moulds 41 yards downfield in the end zone and when the dust settled, the Patriots found themselves trailing, 17-10 with 2:43 left in the first half.
Brady went to work and hit Patten for 18 yards after a short kickoff and return had the Patriots at their own 39. An 11-yard pick-up to Givens put New England in field goal range but Brady wanted more. He found Patten wide open on the left side of the field. The catch and run was good for 20 yards and a score to tie the game once again.
The wild first half ended at 17-17 with over 450 yards of offense. Perhaps even more amazing was that for the Bills, only two players, Evans and Moulds, had caught passes.
Neither team posted any points in the third quarter but as the fourth began, the Patriots were driving first and 10 at the Bills 33. Brady had connected with David Givens on passes of 14 and 18 while Dillon ran around right end for 11 yards to get them there.
Two more Dillon runs along with a couple by Patrick Pass had the ball at the 13 and it looked like New England would have to settle for a 31-yard field goal which Vinatieri made. But on the play, the Bills were hit with a critical offsides call on safety Rashad Baker too eager to blitz and the Patriots had new life.
Dillon carried down to the 2. Despite fumbling again, the play was ruled down and Buffalo could not challenge the play. With yet another break, the Patriots made it worth seven points with Brady finding Graham in the end zone on the next play.
It looked like the Patriots could take a bit of control when they stopped the Bills three and out on Buffalo's next series. But after taking over on the 20-yard line, the madness continued.
Brady hit Givens on third and seven but Givens fumbled the ball. London Fletcher picked it up and rumbled down to the 1-yard line before Bethel Johnson and Stephen Neal made the stop. Not so fast, though. During the tackle, Fletcher fumbled the ball and it spurted through the end zone. By rule, that would have meant Patriots ball first and 10 on their own 20. The Bills challenged the catch and it was ruled Givens never had possession. The end result was New England having to punt. (Johnson was hurt on the play and helped off the field.)
The gritty Bills' goal was to tie the game at 24 as the fourth quarter hit dusk. It looked like they were well on their way to achieving that goal as the running of Henry and a 21-yard catch by Moulds had the Bills at the Patriots 16. But on third and 2, Henry stumbled for no gain. With around three minutes to play, Bills coach Mike Mularky was faced with whether to go for the three points and hope for a quick defensive stop or go for the first down. He went with the latter only to see disaster strike when Bledsoe was blitzed by at least three Patriots, most notably Tedy Bruschi, who forced Bledsoe to fumble.
Richard Seymour picked up the ball and he and his Patriots escort went 68 yards to seal the game.
Notes: Benjamin Watson (IR) and Deion Branch (knee) did not play for the Patriots. ... Troy Brown hurt his arm early in the game and did not return. ...Head referee Johnny Grier left the game in the first quarter with a muscle tear in his leg. ... Bills cornerback Troy Vincent left the game in the first half and did not return.