With just 5:32 remaining in the game, Fred Jackson took Trent Edwards’ swing pass and scampered 10 yards into the end zone, giving the Bills a 24-13 lead in front of a stunned national audience and a suddenly-quiet Gillette Stadium sellout crowd. How could this be happening with a team starting three offensive linemen who had never played a down in the NFL, and a coordinator who had just inherited the job 10 days before the game? Could this really be the night the Bills put all their ignominious records against the Patriots to rest? Were the football gods finally smiling on Buffalo for a change?
We should have known better. Instead, after spending the entire preseason working toward shocking the rest of the league, the Bills merely managed to find yet another creative – and heartbreaking – way to let victory slip from their grasp. (Literally, in this case, when Leodis McKelvin’s fumbled kickoff return ended up in the arms of Stephen Gostkowski at the Buffalo 31, giving Tom Brady a short field for the eventual game-winning score.)
Not that Brady needed much help. After a shaky start that included a pick-six to Aaron Schobel, the Patriots’ career passing leader settled into rhythm in the second half, completing 11 of 13 passes on New England’s two fourth-quarter touchdown drives and finishing the game 39-for-53 for 378 yards. A dozen each of those passes went to wideouts Randy Moss and Wes Welker, but when the game was on the line, Ben Watson was the player the Buffalo defense couldn’t cover. Twice in the final 2:06, Brady found the big tight end open over the middle for a touchdown – the latter one giving his team its only lead of the game – and so it was that Watson added his name to the lengthy list of Bills-killers on the Patriots’ roster.
At 8:25 that morning, as I sat in Lot 1 outside Ralph Wilson Stadium and watched a 75-mph wind gust peel back a corner of the fieldhouse roof, I debated whether my usual foul-weather mantra of “This is FOOTBALL weather!” had finally met its match. Choosing safety over tailgating fellowship, I decided to wander over to Danny’s to visit the WGR broadcast for a while instead of dodging airborne debris in the parking lot. (Wise decision, as I discovered when I returned to find out that a flying canopy had taken a chunk out of the windshield of the car parked next to mine.) Howard Simon was just about to begin his 10 a.m. airshift when ESPN showed a live shot from inside the stadium, and we stared in amazement at the sight of both goalposts twisted off-kilter by the wind. This should be fun.
Oh yeah, the game ... With the wind continuing to howl at a sustained 30-40 mph clip, making any semblance of a downfield passing game all but impossible, both teams opted to rely on their running games. New England used just two short dumpoffs to fullback Heath Evans on their first field goal drive, and didn’t throw a single pass in their 11-play, 43-yard drive to LaMont Jordan’s game-sealing touchdown. Fred Jackson ran well for the Bills, but just three of his 27 carries took place inside the Patriots 30. And when Gostkowski’s second field goal made the score 13-0 early in the fourth quarter, forcing Trent Edwards to throw into the wind to attempt a comeback, the game was as good as over.
(This recap originally appeared in the preview for the September 14, 2009 game.)