ORCHARD PARK - It wasn’t much of a game.
Oh, the score - New England 17, Buffalo 10 - says it was close, but few of the announced crowd of 70,000 at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday afternoon actually thought the Bills would win … or even had a chance.
Part of it, of course, was pedigree as the Patriots have now beaten Buffalo 13 straight games and 18 of the last 19.
And these are the Bills, now 5-9 and in their 10th straight season without making the playoffs.
Yesterday they were playing for “pride” … which sounds like the punchline to a cruel joke.
The Patriots, meanwhile, had plenty to play for.
With the victory, New England improved to 9-5 as both the Jets and Dolphins lost to fall to 7-7. In short, the Pats have a two-game lead with two to play.
Against Buffalo, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady had one of his worst passing days of the season - 11-of-23 for only 115 yards with an interception and a passer rating of 59.1.
But he hit Randy Moss with a 13-yard touchdown toss and Laurence Maroney scored on a 1-yard run, both drives kept alive by questionable pass interference calls against Buffalo, and that was enough.
Brady also made the game-deciding throw, an 8-yard connection with Wes Welker on 3rd-and-6 to ensure Buffalo wouldn’t get the ball back.
Afterward, he admitted, “It was great to win the game, come into the lockerroom and see Tennessee kick that field goal (to beat the Dolphins in overtime).
“Not too often has this team had to go into December to get a road win (the Pats’ other victory away from home was at in London). It wasn’t our best performance, but we won.”
He added, “We hit a critical third down at the end of the game, which we didn’t do a couple of times this year.
“It wasn’t all good, but certainly it was good enough.”
It always is for the Patriots.
Defensive end Chris Kelsay, one of seven Bills who played in the last victory over New England, in the 2003 opener, was particularly bothered by yesterday’s loss.
“For the most part we did what we needed to do (though) we lost our composure on a couple of plays,” Kelsay lamented of the Bills 11 penalties for 124 yards. “ It’s the same old thing, they make you pay for your mistakes.
“(But) we felt like today was our day … it just didn’t turn out that way. We were due … long overdue, especially those of us who have been here for awhile and seen (the Pats’ dominance) first-hand.”
ACTUALLY, it started out as Buffalo’s day.
The Bills, on their first possession, ran 12 plays and, in over nine minutes, got the Pats’ 2-yard line. But on third and goal, Fred Jackson’s seeming touchdown was nullified by a false start from rookie offensive lineman Andre Ramsey and the Bills settled for a field goal.
Buffalo never scored again until struggling quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, replaced for one series in the fourth quarter by Trent Edwards, returned and tossed an 11-yard scoring pass to Lee Evans with three minutes to play.
Of his being replaced, Fitzpatrick admitted, “Obviously, I was upset, I wanted to stay in the game. But I couldn’t sit there and sulk about it. And then Trent goes down (ankle injury) and I had to go back in … it was almost as if I didn’t go out.”
BUT INTERIM coach Perry Fewell was forthcoming about the change.
“We were not converting third downs (Buffalo was 2-of-12),” he said. “We needed something to give us some momentum, so I made the decision. Maybe Trent could come in and give us a little spark … some momentum. Let’s see what he can do.”
Of course, one of Fitzpatrick’s problems was an inability to involve wide receiver Terrell Owens in the offense.
He finished with two catches for 20 yards.
Afterward, a frustrated T.O. allowed, “Fitz is having a hard time when he’s dropping back as far as protection (New England’s six sacks tied the season high against Buffalo) and trying to establish something in the pass game … it’s been that way all year.
“I’ve tried to stay patient as long as I can. … it’s just disappointing to be in this offense and know you can play, but not being utilized the way that you can to help the team.”
He added, “I really have no more answers … I’ve had this statement all year, I’m just going with the plays that are called. If I can’t really get the ball in my hands to do anything … what can you do? There are opportunities out there (but) sometimes our protection just doesn’t hold up to get those things done offensively.”
Or anywhere else, for that matter.
When asked what it would take to beat the Patriots, Owens speculated, “It’s going to take some changes.
“This is not the brand of Buffalo Bills’ football that I think these fans are used to.”
Except for the last 10 years, of course.