Forget about rain, snow, cold or heat. Ask any player or coach and they'll tell you the one thing that affects play more than any other is wind. It was on full display this afternoon at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y.
Steady 30 mph winds and 65 mph gusts wreaked havoc for both teams but the Patriots fought through it for 13 points en route to a 13-0 win over the Buffalo Bills. The victory kept the Patriots playoff hopes alive at 11-5 while they were left to hope for either a Baltimore or Miami loss during the 4 p.m. slate of games.
To get an idea of how rough things were wind-wise, Matt Cassel was only 6 of 8 passing for 78 yards – and he had a great game. Both teams were left to grind it out on the ground and it was New England that did enough to come home with the win.
]()Sammy Morris finished with 85 yards and Lamont Jordan chipped in with 64. As a team, the Patriots gained 168 yards on the ground. For Buffalo, Fred Jackson had 136 yards but he was a one man show. His team never got quite close enough for him to run it in for six points.
New England won the opening coin toss and elected to defend the south end zone and the wind at their back during the first quarter. The idea was get the early lead and the strategy was successful but only for a three points on a 33-yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal with just over three minutes left in the quarter.
Coming out of the first quarter down only three must have been a lift for the Bills team that had the ball second and 15 at midfield to start the second quarter. During the first 15 minutes, Edwards didn't even attempt to pass the ball once. With the wind now in his favor, Edwards dropped back on his first play and hit Lee Evans for 13 yards to the 38. But despite the promising start, a false start penalty on tight end Derek Schouman hurt the drive and Rian Lindell's line drive 47-yard field goal attempt was pushed wide right by the wind.
Now it was the Patriots turn to see what they could do against the gusts. Starting on their 37, they served up a steady diet of Lamont Jordan who managed to pick his creases well with seven carries down to the Bills 10. In between, Cassel converted a key fourth and 5 from the Bills 35 with a 7-yard run during which he spun off Reggie Corner's tackle before falling forward for the first down.
At the 10 on third down, Morris ran for 2 yards and with a fourth and 3, New England elected to try the still tricky 26-yard field goal. It never had a chance. From the moment it left Gostkowski's foot, the ball made a hard right like a ping pong ball with big-time spin.
Buffalo took over at its 26 after the miss and with the help of a 32-yard Fred Jackson run, got down to the Patriots 17, first and 10 with just over 30 seconds left. After a 1-yard run by Jackson, the Bills called their last time out. They came back with 28 seconds left and threw a 3-yard pass to Schouman who went out of bounds with 22 seconds on the clock. Next it was Jackson up the middle for 3 yards but in the scramble to get the ball set and players off the field for the field goal attempt, Buffalo amazingly ran out of time due mostly to some pushing and shoving by both teams. Thinking the refs should have stopped the clock to set the ball, the entire Buffalo team corralled head referee Gene Steratore to get an explanation. Whatever that explanation was, the teams headed to the locker rooms with New England holding on to its three point lead.
The Patriots got a huge break at the 10:39 mark of the third quarter when Jarvis Green broke into the Bills backfield on second and 9 at midfield and strip-sacked Edwards. Mike Vrabel recovered and the Patriots offense had the ball at the Buffalo 43, first and 10.
Against the wind, the Patriots had no choice but to keep the ball on the ground. Jordan continued to run well with two carries of 8 yards each but on third and 1 from the Bills 24, he was stuffed for a 1-yard loss bringing up fourth and 2. A field goal attempt was out of the question so it was up to Cassel who faked a handoff into the line and kept around right tackle for 6 yards.
After three more Jordan runs, once again New England faced a fourth down, this time needing 5 yards. For the first time in the game for either team, the Patriots attempted a pass against the wind and somehow, Cassel was able to rifle a completion to Wes Welker for 12 yards to the Bills 2. On the next play, Jordan went into the end zone untouched.
]()The extra point attempt was anything but certain but Gostkowski's kick started left and made its way through the uprights for a 10-0 Patriots lead.
The 11-play drive was huge for New England. Down by two scores, Buffalo took over but with only 4:32 left in the third quarter. If they didn't score within that time frame, they would be left trying to make up the margin against the horrific winds.
New England's defense compounded Buffalo's dilemma by stopping them three and out after the ensuing kickoff. Then, when Cassel hit Kevin Faulk for 8 yards on third and 7 after taking over on offense, it guaranteed Buffalo would not get the ball back until the fourth quarter.
New England would go on to add three points to its lead on a 23-yard field goal in a 15-play drive spanning 80 yards. During the drive, Randy Moss caught his first pass of the game, a 13-yarder, putting him over 1,000 yards receiving for the season.
Desperate, Edwards was forced to pass when his team got the ball back and he was good on three out of five attempts for a total of 48 yards. But on his sixth attempt, fourth and 1 from the Patriots 39, he was off target, giving the ball back to New England and effectively extinguishing any hope his team had with less than seven minutes left to play.
While the competition portion of the game ended there, the highlights for New England did not. On third and 7 from his own 42, fans saw Cassel attempt the first punt of his career, and it was a dandy. From shotgun, Cassel pooched the ball downfield. It hit the ground around the 20 and the wind did the rest, rolling the ball to the 2-yard line.