The Patriots jumped out to a 17-0 first quarter lead and held on to beat the Bills 27-17 at Gillette Stadium to improve to 8-5 on the season.
Drew Bledsoe returned to Foxboro for his first start in a Bills uniform, but the story of the game ended up being a New England defense that pressured Bledsoe into four interceptions and forced five Buffalo turnovers. The Patriots transformed the turnovers into 17 points en route to the key AFC East victory.
New England opened the game in dramatic fashion by moving the ball 41 yards on the first play from scrimmage on a Tom Brady to Deion Branch completion to the Bills 22-yard line. Four plays later it appeared the two connected again on 15-yard touchdown, but the score was nullified by holding penalty. The drive stalled and the Patriots were forced to settle for an Adam Vinatieri 39-yard field goal and the 3-0 lead.
After a short-lived Bills drive and punt, the Patriots took over and marched 86 yards in eight plays to take the 10-0 lead on a Brady to David Patten 10-yard catch and run. The big play of the drive came when Brady avoided the Buffalo pass rush and found a wide-open Christian Fauria for a 33-yard gain. On the next play Troy Brown went 21 yards on an end around as New England went from its own 25 to the Bills 21 in just two plays.
No sooner had the Patriots offense made it to the bench, than were they right back on the field as Richard Seymour intercepted Bledsoe on the Bills first play and returned 6 yards to the Buffalo 9-yard line. One play later Brady found Donald Hayes for the 9-yard score and the 17-0 lead with 3:14 to play in the first quarter. In just 21 seconds New England turned a three-point lead into much more substantial deficit.
The score was Hayes' first catch since Oct. 13 against the Packers and his first score since the season opener against the Steelers. Following the score he turned and threw the ball approximately 35 rows into the crowd, a move he said just felt like the thing to do at the time.
"I just turned around and threw it," Hayes said. "I really don't know how far it went. It just kind of happened. The next thing you know the ball was in the stands."
Following two penalties that negated a nice return by kick returner Charlie Rogers, the Bills took over at their own 9-yard line. The Bills marched 90 yards on a drive that covered more than eight minutes using short passes and runs and was highlighted by a 41-yard connection from Bledsoe to Peerless Price to the Patriots 1-yard line. Here though the opportunistic Patriots defense took over again as Bledsoe was pressured out of the pocket and threw an interception to Tebucky Jones in the end zone.
Taking over at the 20, the Patriots marched 12 plays and 52 yards in a time-consuming drive that culminated in a Vinatieri 46-yard field goal. Rookie receiver David Givens had a key 30-yard diving catch in the middle of the field that kept the drive alive on third-and-12. The biggest play of the drive though was one that will go down in the books as never happening. On third-and-five at the Bills 23 the Patriots used a direct snap to Kevin Faulk who then rolled to his right and threw back across the field for what appeared to be a touchdown to Brady. But Brady was called for an illegal shift on the play and the Patriots subsequently settle for three points.
Buffalo did little on its final drive of the half and New England kneeled on the ball twice as the teams went into halftime with the Patriots leading 20-0.
The Bills broke into the scoring on the opening drive of the second half by moving 72 yards in 13 plays, but settled for a Mike Hollis 26-yard field goal and just three points for its efforts. The long drive again utilized a mix of short passes and runs, with the biggest play of the drive being a Bledsoe to Price 17-yard gain. Price led the Bills in receiving on the afternoon with nine receptions for 105 yards.
The Bills got the ball back in good field position after a Patriots three-and-out and a poor 28-yard Ken Walter punt. Buffalo took advantage of the position and wasted no time moving 59-yards in just six plays and 1:53, culminating in a Bledsoe to Eric Moulds 12-yard score. With 4:15 left in the third, the Bills were back in the game at 20-10.
After two Patriots punts and one of their own, the Bills got the ball back again early in the fourth quarter at their own 22 when the turnover bug struck again. On the first play Bledsoe hit Price for a 6-yard gain, but Otis Smith hit Price knocking the ball free. Smith recovered the fumble and New England took over at the Buffalo 28-yard line. After the game Smith said the turnover had its roots in another meeting between he and Price earlier in the game.
"The first tackle I made on [Price] today, on the sideline, I kind of got the ball away from him," Smith said. "I figured if he got on it again, if I was in position to tackle him, to try it again. And I tried it and pulled it out."
The Bills then got a heavy dose of Antowain Smith as he rushed on six of seven plays and scored on a 4-yard run to extend the lead to 27-10. Smith carried for all 28 yards on the drive and finished the day with 17 carries for 68 yards.
The Patriots could not capitalize on two fourth quarter interceptions, one by Ty Law and one by Terrell Buckley. The Bills used an 18-play, 88-yard drive to add a late Bledsoe to Moulds 4-yard score to pull within ten at 27-17. But it was too little too late as the Patriots recovered the ensuing onside kick and ran out the final 1:05 on the ten-point win.
The Patriots were outscored 17-7 in the second half, had three touchdowns called back because of penalty and were called for 10 penalties on the day, but were happy to hold on for the relatively easy win.
The Patriots currently lead the AFC East sitting at 8-5, with Miami playing on Monday night and looking to keep pace atop the division. New England faces the Titans a week from Monday in Tennessee. The Bills fell to 6-7, likely ending any remaining playoff hopes for the team.
Bledsoe completed 32-of-51 passes for 328 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions in his return to New England. … Brady completed passes to 10 different receivers on the afternoon. He finished the game completing 15-of-27 passes for 183 yards and two touchdowns. … Ted Johnson led the Patriots with nine tackles and added a sack. … London Fletcher led the Bills with 13 tackles. … Rohan Davey, J.R. Redmond, Tedy Bruschi, Greg Randall, Tom Ashworth, Russ Hochstein, Rick Lyle and Bernard Holsey were all inactive for the Patriots. … Joe Andruzzi and Deion Branch were a bit banged up for the Patriots. Branch pulled up a bit limp after a first quarter catch, but returned to play. Andruzzi left the game in the second half with a knee injury and did not return