Veteran Experience Proves to be Key: New England 23, Buffalo 21

An all too familiar feeling washed over the 65,519 fans in attendance at Ralph Wilson Stadium as Tom Brady did what he does best; win.  “I’ll take it.  Opening day and we didn’t execute great but the boys made some clutch plays when they needed to and it was an all around team effort,” Brady said.

Brady marched New England 49 yards over 12 plays to set up the game winning field goal by Stephen Gostkowski.  The Bills had an opportunity to take some time off the clock when they started a drive with the lead and with 5:51 remaining in the game.  They went three and out, and subsequently handed New England the game without being able to stop Brady on the final drive.  The victory today marked the 36th time Brady led New England to victory after trailing or being tied in the fourth quarter.

Tom Brady Photo Credit: Ed Runyon

Brady finished 29-52 for 288 yards with two touchdowns and an interception in the win.

After two lost fumbles, a ton of penalties and a couple of poor decisions in the first half of the game, the Bills looked like a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in 13 seasons.  When a team starts a handful of rookies at some important positions, it can be understood if everything doesn’t run smoothly at the start of a season.  If a young team can bounce back and give the opposition a fight, then there is a foundation to build upon.  The Bills were able to compete and overcome deficits today which proves that the Bills have a chance at being successful this season.

However, a young team will not be able to succeed if they don’t allow themselves to.  With 10 penalties for 75 yards, the Bills continuously shot themselves in the foot on big plays.  The very first play of the 2013 season was a neutral zone infraction on Marcell Dareus and there were two other defensive penalties on third downs that handed New England first downs.

Just two plays into their first drive of the season, running back CJ Spiller fumbled on Buffalo’s 15 yard line.  The fumble turned into a quick touchdown by Tom Brady to Danny Amendola on a nine yard strike.  The next New England drive ended when Stevan Ridley fumbled without being touched by the defense, and the ball was scooped up by Da’Norris Searcy who returned the ball for a 74 yard touchdown.  This reduced the Patriot lead to just three points.

It didn’t take long for New England to respond.  Later in the second quarter rookie Marquise Goodwin hauled in his first NFL reception, but fumbled the ball as he was tackled by Kyle Arrington.  The turnover gave Tom Brady and co. the ball on Buffalo’s 32 yard line, which again resulted in a Julian Edelman touchdown reception.

Even though they found themselves down by 10 points again, the defense of the Buffalo Bills was able to respond positively.  Under two minutes remaining in the half, the Patriots had a chance to put even more points on the board until Justin Rogers pulled off an acrobatic interception on New England’s 37 yard line.  EJ Manuel only needed two plays to find rookie receiver Robert Woods for their first NFL touchdowns on the last drive of the first half.

EJ Manuel Photo Credit: Ed Runyon

Throughout the preseason, Buffalo Bills head coach Doug Marrone preached the significance of managing penalties.  The message was not received by his players, as the Bills tallied 10 penalties for 75 yards.  “It’s not acceptable.  We have officials at every practice, we have to get together as a staff and we’ve got to figure out way not to have that,” Marrone told reporters following the loss Sunday.

On the other hand, the Patriots had just four penalties for 36 yards.  Penalties crippled the Bills offense throughout the game, not allowing Manuel and the rest of the offense to get into a groove.  The two offensive touchdowns were able to happen because the Bills maintained discipline and refrained from penalties.

After starting his first NFL game, EJ Manuel said “Overall, for the first game I thought it was pretty good but we’ve got to win at the end of the day.”  Manuel looked calm throughout the game, he seemed to be without rookie jitters and it shows in his stat line.  Manuel went 18-27 for 150 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions.  When he was given the opportunity, Manuel made the right decision.

Bills fans should be able to take away one positive thing in Buffalo; their team will not quit, regardless of the situation.  This team did not play like they haven’t reached the playoffs in 13 seasons, they played like winners.  They are a young team and showed today that they have room to improve still, especially mentally.  They must play clean games with minimal penalties and zero turnovers if they want to win consistently in this league, and they will have time to work on that as the season progresses.

Ultimately, this is not the same Buffalo Bills team that lacked the talent and mental strength to compete in the past and will have to prove that they deserve to win.

Click here to see a slideshow of some of the pictures taken at the game by Pro Player Insiders photographer Ed Runyon


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