FOXBOROUGH — Buffalo kept moving in the wrong direction.
The Bills had third and 1 on their 40-yard-line on their first possession of the first quarter. Then the Bills had third and 6 on their 35. Then the Bills had third and 16 on their 25. Then, finally, the Bills had third and 21 on their 20.
Penalty, penalty, penalty. And, one short rush by Fred Jackson later, the possession was over, the Bills having pushed themselves backward into a punt. It didn’t stop there.
As quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said, “The penalties were unbelievable.”
“They hurt,” coach Chan Gailey said. “Hard to give those guys a short field and expect to hold them out.”
It was an appropriate start for a game in which the Bills would amass 14 penalties for 148 yards, dooming them on a day when they set a franchise record with 35 first downs, and gained 481 total yards.
“It killed us,” said running back C.J. Spiller. “Third and 20, third and 15, chances of completing that are very slim to none. We inflicted ourselves with that stuff, and it’s something that we’ve got to straighten up.”
For all the good the Bills did against the Patriots, they did just as much wrong — to themselves. They made the mistakes, and paid for them, losing a game they had a chance to win, after being blown out in the teams’ first meeting.
“We can’t turn it over,” Gailey said. “We are not good enough yet to not play extremely well and win. We’ve got to play extremely well to win. We’re not there yet. There are some other teams that can do that. We’re not. We’re not one of those teams.”
It seemed, at times, as though all the officials were doing was throwing flags in the direction of the Bills, especially in the first half. Ten of their 14 penalties came before halftime.
“We just can’t have it,” Fitzpatrick said. “We had some critical holding penalties that you just can’t have and we were able to overcome some of them, but there were just too many yellow flags out there for us today.”
Four of Buffalo’s penalties were for pass inference, three for false starts, three for offensive holding, one for a face mask, one for delay of game, one for unnecessary roughness, and one for a block above the waist.
“I’ve never seen that many penalties in a game,” defensive end Mario Williams said. “If we hadn’t shot ourselves in the foot, it definitely could have been a different outcome. The first half might have been 100 yards in penalties, something like that. That’s crazy. We’ve got to play better.”
Or at least not make quite so many mistakes.
“It comes down to, we can’t have as many penalties as we had today,” wide receiver Donald Jones said. “That was terrible and it is undisciplined. We have to get back to basics and just handle that first.”
But the penalties weren’t the only way in which the Bills hurt themselves. Buffalo fumbled three times, losing two, and Fitzpatrick was picked off by Devin McCourty in the end zone to finish the game.
So, though the Bills were able to move the ball, they weren’t able to finish all of their drives.
There was one especially demoralizing possession in the fourth quarter, in which the Bills started on their 6-yard line and made it all the way to the Patriots’ 1 before Jackson fumbled, which was recovered by McCourty.
Buffalo gained 93 yards, but got zero points.
And still, the Bills had the opportunity to win the game with less than 30 seconds left.
Perhaps, with fewer penalties and fewer mistakes, Buffalo could have stolen one, could have put its season back on track, could have kept hope alive. But instead the Bills were left lamenting their errors after it was over.
“We lost,” Williams said. “We’ve got to play better. You could say we let them off the hook. You could say we did this and hurt ourselves, but at the end of the day it’s an L.”
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @amaliebenjamin.