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Dan Shaughnessy

Distressing day, that’s for sure

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / September 26, 2011

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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. - We are reeling. Our world no longer makes sense. The Patriots can’t even beat the Buffalo Bills anymore.

In a skittish September of cataclysmic Red Sox freefall, we still had the Patriots over the Bills. It was right there with death, taxes, and the first penalty in Montreal. Just as Rick and Ilsa always had Paris, we always had the Patriots over the Bills. It was a sure thing.

But now it’s all gone. On a day when Tom Brady was intercepted four times, the Patriots blew a 21-0 lead and lost to the Bills, 34-31, in front of 68,174 long-suffering witnesses at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The Patriots had beaten the Bills 15 consecutive times since 2003.

Making matters worse, the giddy locals rubbed it in by playing “Livin’ On a Prayer,’’ and “Sweet Caroline’’ over the loudspeaker system.

Yeesh. You know it’s bad when they are mocking you in Buffalo.

The Patriots collapsed in the same moment that the Sox were choking away another game in New York. As the footballers packed for their flight home, fans back in New England faced the hard truth that the only man standing in the way of a region’s abject humiliation was . . . John Lackey.

Wow. Have there been worse days in the history of New England sports? Maybe the night Buddy LeRoux staged a Fenway coup when the Sox were supposed to be honoring Tony Conigliaro? Maybe the day John Y. Brown bought the Celtics? Maybe the day Harry Frazee thought it would be a swell idea to sell Babe Ruth?

This was a shocker. On a day when Brady threw for another four touchdowns and 387 yards . . . on a day when Wes Welker caught 16 passes for a franchise-record 217 yards . . . on a day when Rob Gronkowski caught another pair of touchdowns . . . the Patriots blew a 21-0 lead to the Buffalo Bills.

It was a day when the “bend-but-don’t-break’’ defense finally broke. Big-time. In the spirit of his old school fight song (“Fight fiercely Harvard - demonstrate to them our skill’’), Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick burned the lightweight New England secondary for 27 completions and 369 yards. The clunky finish was particularly galling as a series of New England blunders resulted in Fitzpatrick taking a bunch of knees, bleeding the clock as Patriots coach Bill Belichick came apart on the sideline.

It looked like the Patriots would have one last crack with 1:48 remaining when Fred Jackson appeared to stretch across the goal line on a 38-yard pass play. Had the touchdown been allowed, the Patriots would have trailed by 7 but would have had ample time to tie the game and win in overtime. Unfortunately for New England, the play was reviewed. The Bills lost the TD, but gained valuable clock time. First-and-goal from a half-yard away.

When Belichick learned of the reversal, he frantically called his second timeout. It looked chaotic, but referee Carl Cheffers explained, “The clock was going to start.’’

It was an unusually frantic scene and folks watching wondered if the Patriots had unnecessarily burned one of their precious timeouts.

Asked if there was any miscommunication in that moment, Belichick said, “I took it . . . I took a timeout. I went down to call a timeout. What don’t you understand about that?’’

Even by his stoic standard, Hoodie’s postgame news conference was brief. Ten questions. Ten terse answers, the most expansive of which was, “We’ve got to do a better job.’’

Brady was ever diplomatic, not easy for a guy who matched his entire 2010 interception total in one game.

“It’s tough to overcome as many mistakes as we had,’’ said the quarterback, now 17-2 lifetime against the Bills. “They made some good plays on the ball. Some days the ball bounces in the air and goes away. Some days it doesn’t. We had our opportunities.’’

The interceptions were not all his fault. One bounced out of Danny Woodhead’s hands. The second one was intended for Chad Ochocinco, who apparently failed to stick to his route (maybe he was in awe). The third one was slightly underthrown to Gronkowski. The last one, a pick-6, was tipped at the line by Marcell Dareus and run back by Drayton Florence.

Not a great day for New England’s high-profile pickups of 2011. Albert Haynesworth was invisible for a second consecutive week (this time Haynesworth was officially inactive with a back injury). Ochocinco dropped a sure touchdown pass in the fourth quarter.

“Sometimes they catch ’em, sometimes they drop ’em,’’ said Brady. “Hopefully we learn from this and move on. We’ve gotta play for 60 minutes. Today we had too many turnovers and too many penalties.’’

They had four turnovers. They had eight penalties. On the second day of autumn, they ruined our summer.

And a Nation turned its lonely eyes to John Lackey.

Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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