ORCHARD PARK — As much as the Patriots entered Sunday’s game at Ralph Wilson Stadium with visions of using a relentless ground game to wear down their opponent, the Bills also started with an impressive drive that relied heavily on the run.
Buffalo marched down the field with six straight runs to open things up, using four carries from Fred Jackson and a pair from rookie C.J. Spiller to move from their own 28-yard line to the New England 13. After missing on a pair of passes, however, the hosts were forced to settle for a field goal.
After that, however, the running game slowed dramatically. In fact, after getting 65 rushing yards on their opening drive, the Bills amassed just 60 more the rest of the way.
On the team’s next possession, Buffalo opened with a penalty, then employed a shotgun package that failed to net a single first down.
After the contest, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and head coach Chan Gailey both said the team didn’t abandon the running game, but insisted they were forced into the play-calling change by the Patriots’ scheme.
“The first series we were out there they played nickel defense against our nickel offense and then when we went out there the second series with the same offense they put all their big people out there,” Gailey said. “They basically were saying we’re going to stop the run by putting those seven guys up in there — you’ve got to throw it to move the football. We couldn’t throw it well enough, consistently to move the football.”
Meanwhile, the Patriots nearly broke a big play on their first snap from scrimmage as quarterback Tom Brady had tight end Rob Gronkowski alone deep in the middle of the field, but underthrew him.
From there, the running game opened up, as BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead combined for 197 yards on 32 carries.
“One thing (Buffalo) has been struggling with has been against the run. We knew coming in that we had to establish it, get things going on the ground, possess the ball and we sure did,” Brady said. “I think that takes a lot of pressure off the pass game when you can hand it off all the times that we did and gain those yards.”
Although he had by far his worst day of the season statistically, Fitzpatrick still eclipsed 3,000 yards for the season, making him the first Bill to do so since J.P. Losman surpassed that milestone in 2006. Fitzpatrick had his TD streak end at 15 games, three short of the franchise record set by Jim Kelly.
Still, after throwing three interceptions and finishing with a quarterback rating of just 37.1, Fitzpatrick was quick to point the blame on himself.
“It is very disappointing. It is obviously not the way we thought things would go. Not the way we hoped or expected this would go. For me it is especially tough because we had guys out there fighting, making plays and like I said too many turnovers to give us a chance today,” he said. “It’s going to be a tough one for me to swallow but I know everybody in there has my back just like I have theirs. We have one more week to prove we are a good football team. We still think we are but today was not our day.”
Naaman Roosevelt continued to take full advantage of the opportunity penned by injuries, leading the Bills with 74 receiving yards on four catches.
He came into the game with just a pair of grabs in four previous contests.
“I just want to do anything to help the team out,” Roosevelt said. “Making plays at wide receiver or on special teams, anything to help the team out. You have to stay confident, especially in this league.
“If you’re not confident, you’re not going to make plays.”
The St. Joe’s and UB product did, however, cross wires with Fitzpatrick on a play that proved to be the quarterback’s first of three interceptions.
“That is on me as a quarterback to get that right and to know what he’s doing and to communicate with him wheat I want him to do,” Fitzpatrick said. “Those things are going to happen and from there, I need to rebound better and play better.”
Roosevelt finished the contest as one of just three Buffalo receivers after David Nelson went down with a rib injury. Gailey said after the contest that he is not expecting Jones to return for Sunday’s finale against the New York Jets.
Another local product, Gronkowski, had a big day in his homecoming, finishing with four catches and a pair of touchdowns in his return to Western New York.
“Being home, kind of like a homecoming in front of the family, it’s just great going home and scoring twice in front of them. It’s a dream come true,” Gronkowski said. “I would’ve never thought this was going to happen, when I was back in high school and college — this is amazing.”
Gronkowski was thrust into a bigger share of the Pats offense with Aaron Hernandez inactive, but when Belichick was asked if Gronkowski was give an expanded role, he insisted otherwise.
“I don’t think so,” the coach said. “That’s the way we practice all week.”