In the NFL standings, there is no column heading labeled “M.”
There are Ws for wins, Ls for losses, and Ts for the rare tie. There are no Ms for moral victories, as Bills linebacker London Fletcher well knows.
“Last time I checked we’re in the business of winning football games,” Fletcher said Sunday afternoon following Buffalo’s narrow 19-17 season-opening loss to the New England Patriots in front of a sellout crowd of 68,756 at Gillette Stadium.
“It doesn’t matter how many moral victories you have. At the end of the year they’re going to judge you on how many games you won and how many you lost.”
But the Bills were the heaviest underdog of any team in the NFL in Week 1, playing in a stadium where they had never won, against a team that may not quite be as dynastic as it once was but nonetheless has a sure-fire Hall of Fame coach, a sure-fire Hall of Fame quarterback, and three Super Bowl victories in this millennium.
To have outplayed the Patriots of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady for much of the day, only to lose on a safety with 8:33 left to play, has to be considered a positive step for a team that most NFL experts expect to reside in the NFL’s basement this year.
“It’s very disappointing, but that’s the way this game goes,” said Bills quarterback J.P. Losman, who was sacked for a game-deciding safety by New England’s Ty Warren, completing Buffalo’s collapse after it had opened a 17-7 halftime lead.
“We have a long road ahead of us, but our goal all week was to beat this team and get over the hump and we came up a little short.”
There was plenty to like about what happened in Game 1 of the Dick Jauron Era. There were also enough of the same miscues that have killed the Bills of recent vintage.
On the first play from scrimmage Takeo Spikes announced his return to the team by blitzing through a gaping hole in New England’s offensive line and sacking Brady. The ball flew out of Brady’s grasp, rolled toward the New England end zone and Fletcher scooped it up and scored his first career touchdown. Twelve seconds into the season, Buffalo had a 7-0 lead.
“It was a great start to score on defense,” said Jauron. “It’s never too early to get excited when you score.”
After New England responded with an impressive 80-yard march that ended with Brady’s 9-yard touchdown pass to Troy Brown, the Bills dominated the rest of the first half.
Despite losing Spikes and free safety Troy Vincent to hamstring injuries on that drive, the Buffalo defense sacked Brady three times and held him to a meager three yards net passing in the first 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, Rian Lindell kicked a 53-yard field goal and Losman directed a crisp 73-yard march that was keyed by the play of backup running back Anthony Thomas. In the game because Willis McGahee had tweaked an ankle, Thomas caught one pass for 14 yards and rushed three times for 29 yards, the last an 18-yard up-the-middle touchdown romp.
When the Bills cut through the Patriots on their first possession of the third quarter, it looked as if they were going to pull off the upset of the day.
However, on a fourth-and-1 play from the 7-yard-line, McGahee was stuffed for no gain, and the Bills never recovered from that disappointment.
New England went 93 yards for a score, Brady lofting a perfect 17-yard TD pass to running back Kevin Faulk who beat linebacker Angelo Crowell’s man coverage on a third-and-9 play. Along the way, Brady also converted a third-and-9 with a 34-yard pass to tight end Ben Watson.
“That was pretty much like a red zone turnover because we didn’t get points,” Fletcher said of the McGahee stuff. “But then we were able to get them in a third-and-long situation and they made the first down. We didn’t play good third-down defense on that drive.”
After a three-and-out that wasted great field position following a 44-yard kickoff return by Terrence McGee, the Bills allowed New England the tying field goal.
And then a minute later, the first in a series of huge down-the-stretch mistakes sealed Buffalo’s fate. After a penalty on the kickoff pushed the Bills inside the 10-yard-line, Losman was sacked by Warren and the Patriots had their first lead.
“I’d like to get rid of the ball in that situation, but the game was on the line and I was trying to make a play,” Losman said. “I felt there was only one rusher I had to get away from, which I did, and then obviously I didn’t see the other guy.”
On first down after the free kick, rookie Donte Whitner picked off a Brady pass and took it back for an apparent go-ahead touchdown, but the return was negated by an illegal block by Nate Clements.
The Bills were then forced to punt after a first down reception by Peerless Price was wiped out by an illegal block call on Robert Royal, and New England pounded the ball on the ground with Corey Dillon and rookie Laurence Maroney and ran out the final 6:15 of the game.
“They gave us a chance to go down there and win the game and we had two penalties that killed us,” Losman said. “We can’t make those mistakes at those critical times.”
McGahee, who never seems too upset when the Bills lose, surmised that, “It’s something you can build on; it was only 19-17.”
Sounds like Fletcher needs to have a talk with McGahee. There are no moral victories in the NFL.
In the NFL standings, there is no column heading labeled “M.”
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Visitation on Thursday, June 17, 2021, from 4-7 PM at the RHONEY FUNERAL HOME, 5893 Hoover Road, Sanborn, with Funeral Services at 7:00 PM. Flowers gratefully declined. Memorials to Pets Alive WNY, 7007 Campbell Blvd., North Tonawanda 14120. Visit rhoneyfuneralhome.com.
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