The Patriots’ middle finger to the NFL came roughly midway through the fourth quarter against the Bills Sunday. With 8:15 remaining in regulation, the Patriots were faced with a 4th-and-1 at the Buffalo 41-yard line while leading by 16 points. The conventional decision would’ve been to punt the ball away, and force the Bills to drive the length of the field in a two-possession game.
But revenge doesn’t work that way.
Instead, Tom Brady hurled a deep pass to Julian Edelman down the seam. The ball fell incomplete at the nine-yard line, but the message was sent: the Patriots are in it for blood.
So far, 2015 is looking a lot like 2007—the last season in which the NFL investigated supposed Patriots subterfuge. Following a 40-32 beating of the Bills Sunday, Brady is now 107-of-155 with 1,213 yards and 13 touchdown passes since the NFL deemed his footballs to be under-inflated at halftime of the AFC Title Game. We’ve seen this act before, and there is no mercy.
That doesn’t mean the Patriots are in line for an undefeated season this time around. They survived a three-touchdown barrage from the Bills in the fourth quarter Sunday, and allowed well over 400 yards of offense to the Steelers last week. This patchwork secondary is a work in progress, and has a penchant for surrendering the big play.
But when Brady is playing this well, none of that matters. He’s still at the top of his game at 38 years old, and that was on full display Sunday in Buffalo.
The Bills have invested more than $250 million in their defensive line, but could hardly get near Brady all afternoon. He was only sacked twice, and shredded the Bills like he has so many times before, throwing for 466 yards and three touchdowns. It was the second-most yards Brady had ever thrown for in a game.
The Patriots have scored a touchdown on every trip into the red zone this season, largely thanks to a healthy Rob Gronkowski. For the first time since 2011, Gronkowski isn’t coming off a season-ending or post-season surgery. Rex Ryan didn’t have King Kong, so instead he tried to stop Gronk with an assortment of corners and linebackers. Gronkowski stomped all over them, catching seven passes for 113 yards and a touchdown.
The ferocious Ryan pass-rush that often gave Brady fits with the Jets didn’t make an appearance until late in the fourth quarter, when defensive end Jerry Hughes recorded a strip-sack inside Buffalo territory. The Bills cut the deficit to five after scoring a touchdown on the ensuing possession, but that seemed to just serve as a kick in the rear for Brady. He marched the Patriots down the field, with some help from an air-born Danny Amendola, and set up a decisive field goal after whittling the game clock down to 1:15.
The Bills were oozing with bravado heading into Sunday’s game, as their swagger and trash-talk emanated from all corners of Ralph Wilson Stadium. The antagonism even spilled into the team store, where the Bills put air pumps on display.
But instead of backing up their tough talk, the Bills crumbled. They were penalized 14 times for 140 yards, including two costly personal fouls on a punt attempt from their one-yard line in the first quarter. The Patriots took control of the ball on the Buffalo 13-yard line, and found the end zone a mere 31 seconds later. That sequence silenced Bills fans, who chanted last week they wanted a piece of Brady.
They got him, all right. The rest of the league should be on notice.
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