Down 21 Points, Bills Circle the Wagons & Exorcise Their New England Demons

The clock read all zeroes.  The party began and hysteria ruled the area.  It lasted long after the Bills shocked the NFL world and stunned the New England Patriots overcoming a 21-0 deficit and winning a shootout 34-31.  The fans remained in Ralph Wilson Stadium, jumping up and down.  Hugs and high fives were all over the place.  They cheered.  They chanted.  Players celebrated with fans.  It was an unreal scene, something that hasn’t been witnessed in Buffalo in quite some time.

Losing has been a fixture for Buffalo that almost coincides with the arrival of Tom Brady in New England.  The Bills haven’t had a winning season since 2004 when they went 9-7.  They haven’t been to the playoffs since 1999.  Haven’t won the AFC East since 1995, which is also the last time they won a playoff game.  They’ve been haunted by losing 15 striaght and 20 of their last 21 games against New England.  But on Sunday afternoon, the Bills made a proclamation:  the losing stops now.

Suddenly, the Bills have brought suspense and excitment back.  Football is fun again.  There’s something to look forward to on Sunday.  With each comeback drive engineered by Ryan Fitzpatrick, with each game-changing run or catch by Fred Jackson, with each deficit they overcome the Bills are beginning to erase a losing culture that has ruled the roost for more than a decade. 

They’re not easily recognizable, national figures.  There’s no Peyton Manning.  They’re not armed with a Tom Brady or Drew Brees.  They’re not in commercials like Darrelle Revis or Adrian Peteson, no boisterous sideline figure like Rex Ryan or Jerry Jones.  What they are, however, is a collection of cast offs, seventh-rounders, and undrafted free agents.  Most of all, they’re believers.  They play with heart and determination, a band of brothers who believe in those in the locker room and turn a deaf ear to those outsiders who say it couldn’t be done or can’t be done.

Two straight weeks, the Bills have overcome double digit halftime deficits only to storm back with huge second half efforts and claim victories.  There were plenty of firsts on Sunday.  It was the first time since 1950 that an NFL team overcame two deficits of 18 points to win in consecutive games accordin to STATS LLC.  This was the first time during the Tom Brady era that the Patriots have lost a game in which they led by 21 points.  It was the first time since 2003 Brady has thrown four interceptions against the Bills.  It was also the first time we’ve seen Brady and Bill Belichick flustered and flummoxed since that ’03 opener.

Coming back from 18 points down against Oakland is one thing.  Erasing a 21-0 lead against New England is a totally different animal.  It looked less than hopeful early when the Patriots raced out to an early 14-0 lead in the first quarter.  New England scored on their first possession of the game, marching 84 yards on nine plays in 5:15 finished off by Wes Welker’s first touchdown of the game from 14 yards out.  On Buffalo’s ensuing possession, Ryan Fitzpatrick’s second pass of the game was intercepted by Kyle Arrington.  The ball went back to Brady and, well he knows what to do when you turn the ball over.  He made short work of the Bills’ defense, going 30 yards in under three minutes that resulted in Brady’s second touchdown pass of the game, this time finding tight end Rob Gronkowski for a 1-yard score.

Buffalo’s second possession ended just like their first drive.  The Bills got to the New England 35 and elected to go for it on fourth-and-15 but Fitzpatrick’s pass was intercepted again by Arrington.  With 6:01 before halftime, it appeared New England salted this one away when Gronkowski hauled in his second touchdown reception of the half  from Brady and the rout was on 21-0.  It looked as though this would be just another notch on the Patriots’ blowout belt. 

Once more, aided by a big run from Fred Jackson, an 81-yard answer-back drive led by Fitzpatrick and an 11-yard touchdown fade down the right sideline reeled in by Steve Johnson the Bills dug deep, picked themselves up off the turf and got back in it.  In typical fashion, Brady had the Patriots knocking on the door, ready to answer Buffalo’s score.  But Danny Woodhead couldn’t hang on to a pass near the Buffalo 13 and Bryan Scott intercepted Brady’s pass.  In retrospect, Scott’s interception probably saved the game.  The Bills did something that winning football teams do: close out the first half by putting points on the board.  Fitzpatrick led a 10-play, 66-yard drive in just over a minute and Rian Lindell’s 38-yard field goal made it 21-10 at the half.

Buffalo’s momentum didn’t subside at the break.  Brady’s first pass attempt in the second half was intercepted by Leodis McKelvin and returned 21 yards to the New England 39.  How long do you think McKelvin has been waiting to seek redemption against New England after his famous kick off return fumble on Monday night in Foxborough in 2009?  The Bills made the Patriots pay.  Fitzpatrick found Scott Chandler for a 3-yard touchdown pass and the Bills suddenly were back in it 21-17.  Two straight Brady passes were intercepted and resulted in 10 points.  Talk about a scene out of the Twilight Zone. 

It would get weider.  Brady was picked off two more times in the second half, none bigger than his fourth and final interception that was deflected by Marcell Dareus and returned 27 yards for a touchdown by Drayton Florence that put Buffalo in front 31-24 for the first time in the game.  That Brady character still had a little of that comeback magic.  He led a methodical drive, guiding New England on a 15-play, 74-yard scoring drive that lasted 6:57. Converting the second fourth down of the drive, Brady hit Welker on a fourth-and-six for a six-yard touchdown to tie the game at 31.

He did it last week against Oakland.  He did it last year in Cincinnati.  Fitzpatrick is beginning to make it a habit of having a knack for dramatics.  Answering the bell and refusing the step aside, Fitzpatrick stepped up and did what very few quarterbacks in the NFL have done: steal the game away from Tom Brady.  Fitzpatrick kept Brady and New England’s offense on the sidelines.  Brady was forced to be a bystander.  Belichick was forced to watch his defense endure a late-game meltdown.

The Bills attacked, and all it took was three plays.  Fitzpatrick hit Donald Jones down the sidelines for 29 yards, beating New England’s top corner Devin McCourty cleanly.  Then, there was that Jackson guy again, who, all he seems to do is rescue the Bills with clutch runs and clutch catches when they need it most.  His 12-yard catch put the Bills in good position down to the New England 39.  His next catch sealed the Patriots’ fate. 

Jackson’s 39-yard catch and run appeared to go for a touchdown, but after further review it was ruled Jackson’s knee was down at the New England 1-yard line which turned out to be a blessing.  The Patriots were forced to use their final timeout and reduced to prayers they hoped would be answered by the football gods.  After a series of kneel downs, a personal foul penalty on New England and false start, Lindell trotted onto the field and The Ralph went wild with an ovation.  And this was before he even lined up to attempt the game winning kick with only a few seconds remaining on the clock.

He admitted afterwards that if he had missed the field goal, he would’ve ran straight into the tunnel and kept on running.  But Lindell’s 28-yard field goal completed another even more improbable comeback than the week before.  He booted Buffalo past New England 34-31.  There was bedlam in Buffalo.  The 15-game losing streak was over,  The Bills moved to 3-0 and finally conquered their demons.

It’s hard to deny something’s going on with the Bills.  After hitting rock bottom a year ago by starting the 2010 season 0-8, the Bills have gone 7-4 since.  Different than in previous years, the breaks are starting to go their way.  A fumble on the opening kickoff by Kansas City that leads to a touchdown.  Two fourth down conversions on the game-winning drive against Oakland.  Tom Brady throwing four interceptions (he threw just four interceptions total in 2010).  Chad Ochocinco dropping a would-be touchdown in the fourth quarter.  These are the types of things that have plagued the Bills for the better part of a decade.  Suddenly, they’re the recipients of good fortune and big breaks.

Maybe in previous years, New England would’ve found some way to overcome Brady’s miscues and steal a win in Buffalo, and the Bills would’ve found a new way to let this one slip through the cracks.  But the Patriots couldn’t compensate for Brady’s four picks.  Welker’s career day (16 catches, 216 yards, 2 TDs) and Gronkowski’s big showing (7 catches, 109 yards, 2 TDs) were memorable.  But the lasting image the Patriots will take with them is Jackson running loose in the Patriots’ secondary with plenty of green in front him, Lindell kicking the Bills to a win and kicking New England’s streak to the curb.

Enjoy this one.  Savor it.  This will make a great bedtime story someday.  Something special is going on in Buffalo right now.  The Bills are turning heads and gaining more believers.  Buffalo has arrived.  If you don’t believe me, just ask New England.  We still don’t know where this is headed.  Three wins in September doesn’t gurantee you’ll book reservations for the playoffs in January.  But for the first time in over a decade, the Bills and fun can be used together in the same breath.  They’ve given us something to cheer for, something we can all be proud of.

 


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