ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – The Buffalo Bills had their moments to close the door on Tom Brady and the Patriots Sunday, with more than one opportunity to end New England’s nine-game season-opening win streak.
But rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel couldn’t move the offense when Buffalo needed it most, leaving Brady the one thing he needs: a chance.
And Brady, as he’s done time and again, made the most of it, moving an otherwise shaky defense 49 yards in 12 plays, enough for Stephen Gostkowski to make a 35-yard field goal with just five seconds left in the game.
It gave New England the winning points for a 23-21 victory, the 10th consecutive season-opening win for the Patriots.
During the final drive, new receiver Danny Amendola, who left the game in the second quarter after re-aggravating the groin injury that has slowed him in recent weeks, had two tough third-down catches to keep the drive going for the Patriots.
Amendola finished the day with 10 catches for 104 yards.
Buffalo’s best chance to increase its 1-point lead was lost with just under nine minutes to play, when a third-and-1 pass for Stevie Johnson went off the receiver’s hands.
The Bills went three-and-out on what became their final possession of the game.
The Patriots showed that Brady wasn’t just being modest throughout training camp and in recent days when he said the offense was still a work in progress.
With Julian Edelman the only pass-catcher Brady had worked with before this season available for the game, there were issues in terms of receivers lining up in the wrong spots, and even running into one another at times.
Not surprisingly, Edelman and Shane Vereen, another familiar face, were at times the only bright spots for New England on that side of the ball.
Edelman was on the receiving end of both of Brady’s touchdown passes, in the first and second quarter, and finished with seven catches for 79 yards in addition to the scores. He also had a couple of solid punt returns to help the Patriots’ cause.
Vereen was effective as a runner and a receiver, just as it was expected he would be heading into this season, as the Patriots let Danny Woodhead, last year’s third-down back, leave for San Diego in free agency.
The 2011 second-round pick had 101 rushing yards plus 58 receiving yards.
Defensively, New England got off to a good start, with Kyle Arrington forcing a fumble on the Bills’ first play of the game. Arrington drilled running back C.J. Spiller, and Tommy Kelly pounced on the loose ball, well inside Buffalo territory.
On third down, Brady fired a laser to Edelman in the back of the end zone for the first score of the day.
New England took a 10-0 lead on its next possession, with Gostkowski hitting from 48 yards. It didn’t appear to be a clean snap, but rookie Ryan Allen got the ball down in time for Gostkowski to make the kick.
Allen’s inexperience as a holder – this was the first game he’s ever had the job – had been a topic of conversation over the last week. It wasn’t a perfect operation by any means, but the Patriots got the points.
The Patriots were their own worst enemy at times in the game, as Stevan Ridley, who appeared to lose the ball on his first carry of the game, did lose it in the second quarter.
Getting the ball on first down from the New England 24, Ridley slipped as he tried to cut the ball back inside, and fell to the turf untouched. He lost the ball as he went down, and safety Da’Norris Searcy was there to scoop up the loose ball.
Searcy was able to run all the way to the end zone, giving Buffalo its first points of the game.
Ridley did not touch the field again for the rest of the game.
Arrington forced another fumble inside Buffalo territory in the second quarter, this one recovered by Rob Ninkovich and leading to another New England touchdown.
But the Bills were able to gets points off a turnover before the half was out, as a Brady pass intended for Zach Sudfeld was a bit high and in front of the rookie tight end. Sudfeld did touch the ball, but cornerback Justin Rogers was able to snatch the ball out of the air for the interception.
E.J. Manuel had the Bills in the end zone in two plays. Rookie Robert Woods had the honor of scoring the touchdown, on what looked like broken coverage by Aqib Talib.