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Bills miss out on golden opportunity to upset Patriots

I mentioned in yesterday's post-game recap that the Buffalo Bills' 17-10 home loss to the New England Patriots was very typical of a Bills loss. Playing a Patriots team that is a far, far cry from their glory year teams, Buffalo could only manage a sloppy 10 points in finding a way to fall just short, squandering one of their best chances yet of ending a six-year losing streak to this team.

On Saturday, I filled in for Kurupt in penning this week's "Keys to Victory" column. As such, you get to listen to me prattle on about how Buffalo lost because they didn't satisfy all of the criteria outlined in that particular post. Yes, K doesn't subject you to this type of post, which probably makes him a better person than me, but for one day, you'll have to deal with it. I don't vent very often.

Key 1: Find a way to get off the field defensively. The Bills fared well in this department for much of the game. Tom Brady and the Patriots converted just 5 of 12 third down opportunities on the day, limiting the Patriots' offensive exploits and holding Brady to a Fitzpatrick-esque stat line (11 of 23, 115 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT). In fact, the Bills did particularly well in this department in the fourth quarter, allowing only one Patriots first down in the final stanza.

Unfortunately, that first down came with two minutes remaining, on an eight-yard Brady-to-Wes Welker connection that put the game on ice for New England. Of course it happened then.

Key 2: Limit the big play. If I had to choose one game in the pre-season in which I would have guessed the Bills would not allow an opponent to gain 20 yards on a single play in said game, I certainly would not have chosen Week 15 against New England. That's exactly what happened on Sunday, however - the Bills did not allow their opponent to gain more than 20 yards on a single offensive play in the entire game. That's the first time that's happened this year, folks. New England's offense looked quite dysfunctional, obviously, but Buffalo deserves credit for at least giving themselves a chance to win at the end of the game by not allowing the Patriots any big plays offensively.

Key 3: Play mistake-free football offensively. After a thoroughly dominant opening drive in which the Bills did just about whatever they wanted offensively - how often have we said that in recent years? - a false start on the part of Andre Ramsey negated a Fred Jackson touchdown. Suddenly, that thoroughly dominant drive was a mere 3-0 lead, and all of Buffalo's momentum was gone.

Ryan Fitzpatrick can't go a full game without throwing a hideous interception directly to a defender; Jonathan Wilhite was the beneficiary of Fitzpatrick's terrible play this week. I also understand that not all of the Bills' 11 penalties (that yielded 124 yards) were not on offense, but the idea of "mistake-free football" was not present offensively or defensively on Sunday. Add in six sacks and two quarterbacks with ankle injuries, and yeah - Buffalo whiffed badly on this key, and it, more than any other factor, cost them the game.

Key 4: Get Lee Evans involved. Evans entered Sunday with 28 receptions for 397 yards in 11 career games against the Patriots. Although he did end up scoring his first career touchdown against the Patriots late in the fourth quarter in a last-ditch comeback attempt, Evans caught just three passes for 35 yards on the day. He did fare better than Terrell Owens, who caught just 2 passes for 20 yards in yet another awful showing from Buffalo's passing game.

Key 5: Give these Pats your best shot. Well, not so much. As mentioned, Buffalo got off to a really quick and dominant start in this game, running the ball down the Patriots' throats to the tune of an early field goal and netting a Paul Posluszny interception off of Brady on New England's first drive of the day. From that point on, however, it was the Buffalo Bills we've all come to know and love be completely apathetic towards. Jackson and Marshawn Lynch carried nine times on that opening drive; they'd only log 14 more carries in the remainder of the game. The penalties piled up, and so did New England's early lead (the Pats led 14-3 at halftime). When bad teams get down, they rarely find a way to reclaim a lead, and Buffalo's performance was par for the course. Effort? Sure. Urgency to win? I didn't see it.