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Patriots squeak out opener, 19-17

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After giving up 17 first half points (7 of them via a fumble return), the Patriots defense pitched a shutout in the second half while the New England running game showed off its new tandem of Corey Dillon and Laurence Maroney. Dillon finished with 73 yards on 16 carries while Maroney contributed another 86 yards on his 17 attempts. As a team, the Patriots finished with 183 rushing yards.

Tom Brady had an uneven start to the season with only 11 of 23 passing for 163 yards, 2 touchdown passes and an interception.

On defense, Junior Seau led all tacklers for New England with 8. As the game progressed, the defense increased its pressure on Bills quarterback J.P. Losman, finishing with three sacks.

The game certainly didn't start in traditional Patriots fashion.

The Bills Takeo Spikes returned to the playing field after missing last season with injury and made his first play an announcement that he's back to his old form.

New England opened the game first and 10 at its 21 with Brady dropping back to pass. Spikes shot through the line on a blitz and nailed Brady from behind. The ball popped loose and London Fletcher scooped it up into the end zone for the game's first score.

Unfortunately for Spikes and the Bills, he left the game with an apparent hamstring pull during the next series.

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Brady bounced right back. After Dillon took a screen for 16 yards, Brady gave the ball to Maroney and the rookie immediately showed why the Patriots took him in the first round this April with a 27-yard romp. Three plays later he was at it again on third and 5 with a 22-yard run down to the Bills 3. A 5-yard 12-men-in-the-huddle penalty on New England moved the ball back to the 8 followed by Dillon getting stuffed for a 1-yard loss. Brady next found Troy Brown over the middle for a 9-yard touchdown and a tie game.

Buffalo grabbed the lead back with a 53-yard Rian Lindell field goal on their next series. On the drive the Bills offense looked shaky, with a couple early fumbles but when they needed a conversion, it seemed Losman was able to find one of his receivers for just enough to get his team to the Patriots 34.

The Patriots protection was clearly having trouble with the speed of the Bills defense as evident on the next series for New England. Brady fumbled for the second time while being sacked by Chris Kelsay. Dan Koppen recovered for New England but the point was well taken: With Brady being hassled and the line having trouble protecting him unless a tight end was kept in to block, his options were limited.

The Bills took over and began an impressive drive that ended with an Anthony Thomas 18-yard run for 6 points.

The first half ended with the New England offense in a fog. Brady had been sacked twice with another two passes batted down at the line; his team down 17-7.

It looked like the defense was caught in the same cloud as the second half started and Buffalo marched down the field with ease. Losman was finding open receivers and McGahee was running strong. Before New England knew it, Buffalo was fourth and 1 from the 7. Sensing the kill, Bills head coach Dick Jauron went for it. That's when the defense snapped out of its daze and stopped McGahee short of the sticks.

Taking its cue from the defense, the Patriots offense suddenly woke up. It embarked on a 93 yard drive that culminated in a fantastic diving catch in the end zone by Faulk on a pass from Brady from 17 yards out. The drive extender was a huge 34-yard pass down the middle to Watson on third and 9 from New England's 20. Once in Bills territory, Dillon and Maroney pounded the ball effectively, loosening up the Bills defense.

When New England got the ball back after stopping Buffalo three and out, the running strategy continued to work. Maroney had back-to-back 7-yard runs followed by an 8-yarder after Brady hit Watson for 11 yards on third down. Later in the drive, New England was faced with its own fourth down decision. On fourth and 1 from the 43, Brady got 2 yards to convert and then hit Reche Caldwell for 24 yards on a skinny post. The drive stalled at the 14 where Stephen Gostkowski was good on a 32-yard field goal to knot the score at 17.

Ever since the Bills failed fourth down attempt, the momentum towards the Patriots was building. It peaked on the Bills next series when a swarming Patriots defense sacked Losman in the end zone on third and 11 for a safety. Ty Warren got the credit for the play that put New England up 19-17.

The wind stopped blowing at New England's back for a brief period when Brady got picked off by Donte Whitner on the next play from scrimmage but the Patriots defense kept its end of the bargain by sacking (Richard Seymour) Losman on third and 2 for a 6-yard loss. On the Whitner interception, only a bad call by the referee saying Whitner stepped out of bounds stopped the play from really hurting the home team.

Once the Patriots got the ball back and Dan Graham hauled in a 23-yard pass, the win was in sight. At the two minute warning, the Patriots elected to go for a fourth and 2 on the Buffalo 26 and Dillon picked up 6 yards around left end. All it took from there was Brady to take care of the ball as he knelt to the Patriots season opening win.

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