ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – Buffalo has appeared in and lost four Super Bowls in franchise history. So, it seemed odd that they would treat Week 2's matchup with New England like a fifth, given how all the others turned out.
The Bills gave this game special treatment throughout the lead-up, bringing back alumni from Canton, having superstar Vanessa Williams perform the national anthem, and having skydivers land on the field with Bills and American flags just before kickoff. The organization was even trying to set a new Guinness World Record for loudest NFL stadium.
The pre-game hype spilled over into the game's opening drive, which saw QB Tyrod Taylor guide Buffalo to a 7-0 lead.
However, New England wound up having to overcome more than the Bills and their crowd. By halftime, they'd been flagged for seven penalties. That number soared to 11 by the end of the third quarter.
Despite all that sloppiness, the Patriots still managed to put up impressive offensive numbers and limited the Bills' offensive playmakers for most of the afternoon.
Buffalo was committing its fair share of penalties as well, but the Patriots found ways to bounce back from them more often than not.
New England's front did a nice job of filling Buffalo's running lanes in the first half.
Bills RB LeSean McCoy wasn't at full strength (hamstring) and was in a rotation with Karlos Williams, none of whom could find much room against the Patriots' front seven. And when QB Tyrod Taylor dropped back to pass, New England's secondary was doing a nice job of covering Bills receivers, which gave the front seven time to pressure Taylor.
On offense, the young interior offensive line acquitted itself well for the second straight week, even while rotating rookies Shaq Mason and Tre' Jackson with veteran Josh Kline. Rookie center David Andrews started once again, and this quarter, plus veteran tackles Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer, gave Brady good protection against Buffalo's strength on defense, their massive d-line.
This gave Brady time to survey the field and spread the ball around to nine different receivers.
In the second half, the Patriots had their boots on the Bills' throats, holding a commanding 37-13 lead, but gave Buffalo hope when they threw a deep pass on 4th-and-inches near midfield. Brady's deep pass to Edelman went to long and incomplete. Taylor led another touchdown drive to close the lead to 12 (the two-point attempt failed). A strip-sack of Brady by the Bills D gave Taylor the ball back late in the fourth and he rallied Buffalo to within five points, 37-32.
When the Patriots got the ball back, they mounted a drive from their own 20. Aided by a timely PI call against the Bills and a tremendous catch by Danny Amendola, New England managed to build the lead back up to eight and close it out 40-32.
Amendola's catch was reminiscent of one he made in similar circumstances two years ago, in this very stadium, going in the same direction to help preserve a 23-21 victory for the Patriots in his first game with New England.
This was an emotional game for Buffalo, but clearly for the Patriots as well. After several scores, New England players celebrated by gesturing to the crowd to be quiet. It was evident that they'd heard all week how the Bills were treating this game, and that fueled the Patriots to come out and play at an even higher level.
Sadly, what should have been a thrilling contest between two rival clubs turned into an ugly display of rollercoaster emotions that, at times, got the better of players on both sides. The officiating crew threw somewhere in the neighborhood of three dozen penalty flags. In the end, New England, clearly the more talented team, won because of that, their experience, and their preparation.