If you were to have written a script before the Bills traveled to Foxboro on Sunday to face the Patriots, and based said script on past results, you would have gotten a lot of it right. A top rusher was largely shut down by an under-appreciated linebacker group. A young quarterback struggled beneath the weight of carrying his offense, without help from his top target. The losing side had a missed field goal, had a questionable 'roughing the passer' call go against them, and a 90 yard play called back on a hold. The one difference this time, though, came in the role reversal between the two sidelines.
Out of all the early drafts of this article that existed, none of them dealt with the Bills doing what they did - namely, shutting out the Patriots at home, 16-0. It still feels foreign to think that I watched that game in real life, and not some sort of euphoric trance in an alternate universe where we go into pods and traverse the world of our dreams so that the we can experience playoff football again. The Patriots haven't been shut out at home since 1993. Twenty-three years ago, Bill Belichick was coaching in Cleveland, and some young hotshot named Drew Bledsoe was a rookie quarterback. I was two years old at the time, and missed the game.
But, here we are. All the stress and conversation amongst friends, co-workers, and sports radio hosts that go into your traditional Patriots week feels worth it, for once. We're barely two weeks removed from people jumping on the tank bandwagon after the Greg Roman firing, and suddenly this team is 2-2 when every pundit who has a weekly picks column had us at 0-4.
The biggest shift from the Fitzmagic show in week two has been in the defense. I hadn't realized that Greg Roman was calling the plays on both sides of the ball, but I'm failing to find another reason why this group has all of the sudden become a black hole of first downs. It feels like a whole offseason of progress happened before Arizona rolled into town.
The Patriots went one for 12 on third downs yesterday. LeGarrette Blount was leading the league in rushing before the game, but was held to only 54 yards. I usually make it through a Bills v. Pats game challenging people to name the New England punter who hasn't made an appearance yet, so this felt like a welcome change.
After Reggie Ragland went down with a season ending injury, the linebacking core looked like a weak spot for the Bills. Apparently no one told Zach Brown. 18 tackles, a sack, and two forced fumbles? People have sold their dignity in the parking lot for jerseys of linebackers who had that level of success around here. Brown has silently become the biggest offseason addition to this team, and he's not surrounded by slouches either; Preston Brown has been a tackling machine in his own right, and Jerry Hughes seems to have reverted back to his 2014 “you can't stop my speed rush” form.
On the offensive side of the ball, it was a mixed bag. The best showing came from the offensive line, who managed to give Tyrod plenty of time on the majority of his dropbacks. Tyrod did a good job of avoiding the rush when it existed, and using his mobility to extend plays without forcing anything that led to a turnover. The distribution of the ball in the passing game also felt much more in line with the playmaking ability of the receivers. Robert Woods awoke from hibernation to have his best game of the season, McCoy had another 100-plus all purpose yards game, and even Charles Clay - who has been much maligned - looked like a contributing piece of the offense yesterday.
With that being said, there is still room to improve. After an opening drive in which the Bills employed a number of vaired looks and incorporated different playmakers on a march right down to the endzone, none of their other drives were able to net them six points. You can be as mad at Dan Carpenter as you want for missing another field goal, but he didn't go on the field for the third down that didn't convert. Tyrod made strides, bu he still lacked accuracy on some of his throws, with a number of them sailing high. In the end, 16 points was enough to win this game, but as far as scores go in the NFL (where the average winning score is 29), you see that number on the losing side more often than not.
A lot will be said in the post game reviews this week about who suited up under center for the Patriots in week four. Belichek and his staff were not handing the full playbook over to Brissett, and it became evident right around the time he attempted three passes in the first half. The most fire New England got out of their starting quarterback came in the pregame shoving match with Robert Blanton.
Does the absence of Tom Brady make this loss more palatable for Patriots fans? I would assume it does. Going 3-1 without him would have sounded really good before the season started. Should it likewise cheapen the win for Bills fans? Absolutely not.
The notion that Brady’s abscence means the Bills proved nothing is absurd at the core. Teams have to deal with injuries and suspensions all the time, and no matter how it came about or who it is, each team features the top players in the world up and down their rosters. If Brady plays yesterday, it might have been a different game, but “maybes” and “could haves” don't have a column in the standings. I doubt we'll see many apologists next week when the Patriots play the Browns because it's Cody Kessler in at quarterback instead of RG3 or Josh McCown.
I'm almost scared to feel the hope that is creeping up on me, because as Buffalo sports fans, we know that hope is followed by a crushing and inevitable cartoon piano on a rope-esque plummet back down to earth, but here it is. This is the football team we hoped we would see when the Rex Ryan era began. Does this team still have problems? Of course they do, but this is something that we can build on. This is something that the players can look back on proudly. This is something this fanbase needed to see. Now it's time to take this spirit and put it into next week's gameplan - to keep the momentum going.
Love or hate Rex Ryan, there's nothing the can be said or done that will ever convince him he can't do something. The entire Bills roster could be shrunk down with a ray gun and he'd go out to the media saying “If you can't see it you can't stop it.”
Up next is LA Rams, Spanish for “The Rams.” Let's go for three. Let's go crazy. Let's Billeve again.