The Bills would have been a lot better off if Stephen Gostkowski had made that 42-yard field goal nine days ago ... or if Justin Tucker had missed his 27-yarder on Sunday night, which Bill Belichick is still convinced he did.
If Gostkowski had hit that kick against Arizona as time expired at Gillette Stadium, or if officials had ruled that Tucker’s effort was a shade wide rather than over the top of the upright, New England wouldn’t be coming into “The Ralph” on Sunday riding a two-game losing streak.
Oh, the Pats have lost back-to-back games as recently as last season when they fell at Pittsburgh and home to the Giants en route to a 13-3 regular-season record that Belichick’s crew rode to the Super Bowl.
But New England is 1-2 as it prepares for the Bills, the first time the Patriots have been under .500 since the 2003 season opener when Buffalo hung a 31-0 loss on them in Orchard Park.
That’s a streak of 164 games in which the Pats had won at least half their games. And, for the record, after being blanked by the Bills in the season inaugural nine years ago, New England went 16-1 the rest of the way en route to a Super Bowl victory.
OF COURSE, there’s also some thought Belichick might not be coaching on Sunday.
Already fuming at the 20-18 loss to the now-3-0 Cardinals thanks to Gostkowski’s miss, the Pats’ boss had a post-game meltdown and grabbed a substitute official by the arm after it was ruled Tucker’s kick was good, sealing Baltimore’s 31-30 victory as time expired Sunday night.
A fine is virtually guaranteed, but some NFL insiders have suggested a one-game suspension isn’t out of the question, especially for a coach who has made a career of antagonizing the league’s administration.
THAT SAID, the Bills don’t have to look as far as Sunday’s opponent to be concerned.
Buffalo’s 24-14 victory at Cleveland two days ago came at an expense.
Running back C.J. Spiller, seemingly embarked on a breakout season, injured his shoulder in the first quarter shortly after scoring an impressive touchdown on a screen pass.
The reason he was in the line-up was because starter Fred Jackson had sprained his knee in the season opener at New York. Supposedly sidelined four to eight weeks, he has hinted at the possibility of returning on Sunday ... though the team has offered no such timetable.
Still, coach Chan Gailey gets points for having a credible No. 3 tailback available.
There was wisdom in keeping Tashard Choice, especially after Fred went down and when C.J. got hurt, as Tashard became the Choice ... and responded.
Against the Browns he went for 91 yards on 20 carries and had 99 yards total offense in a game Buffalo could easily have lost ... especially given the letdown after Spiller’s injury.
And Gailey even had another reserve available as he brought back second-year pro Johnny White after Jackson was hurt.
Now, don’t be surprised if Gailey adds yet another running back until either Freddie, C.J. or both return.
MEANWHILE, defensive end Mario Williams, the Bills’ off-season $100 million free-agent acquisition, sees the two injuries as a message to his own unit.
“Obviously (Spiller) is a big part of our offense ... he’s vital to us,” he said after the Browns’ game. “But at the point (he went down) we knew we had to step up and assume it was going to be a close game. We had to use the points we already had (up 14-0), keep that (lead) and regardless of what happened we had to win the game on defense.”
He added, “You’ve got to be able to come back from the ups and downs. This is what’s in front of us ... we’ve got to go out and play with adversity striking. You still have to be able to put your foot down when it really counts.”
And it “really counts” starting Sunday when, on consecutive weeks, the Bills host the Pats, then visit San Francisco and Arizona, two early members of the NFC elite ... especially it it’s without Spiller or Jackson or both.
(Chuck Pollock, the Times Herald sports editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)