FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Buffalo Bills receiver T.J. Graham came out of the shower, stood near his locker and pulled his towel down hard over his head. There were no tears, just angst.
He had made the final, fatal mistake in the Bills’ 37-31 loss to the New England Patriots, and there was nothing that could undo it. Graham was supposed to run in front of Pats safety Devin McCourty as quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick threw into the end zone with 23 seconds left. Instead Graham ran behind him, and McCourty made an easy interception.
“That was a rookie mistake,” Graham said. “I’m supposed to cross his face in the front, and it was a good pass. If I had crossed his face I probably would have made that play. So I take blame for that one.
“That was my mistake. It might be why I don’t get on the field much, I guess, if I make those mistakes.”
It had taken Fitzpatrick just 1:43 to drive the Bills 65 yards to the New England 15. One of the great wins in Bills history was within the team’s grasp. Then it was in the hands of McCourty.
“We’re disappointed, we’re upset, angry,” said tight end Scott Chandler. “We’ve got to find a way to win, that’s the bottom line. There’s no such thing as a close win or a close loss. They’re all just wins or losses. This was another loss.”
Another in a long line. The Bills dropped to 3-6 with their 12th straight loss in Foxborough and their 18th defeat in the last 19 meetings with the Patriots.
With five losses in their last six games, the Bills acknowledged their season is on the brink of irrelevancy, starting with Thursday night’s home game against Miami. The overwhelming likelihood is 10 wins will be needed to have any chance at a wild-card playoff berth.
“It’s pretty much a must win from here on out,” running back C.J. Spiller said.
“We only got seven games now,” defensive end Mario Williams said. “In order for us to get to where we want to go, we’ve got to win out. We can’t keep losing like this.”
Actually, the Bills never have lost one quite like Sunday at Gillette Stadium.
The Bills made a team-record 35 first downs and outgained the Pats, 481 to 347. but were undone by losing the turnover battle, 3-0, and made 14 penalties for 148 yards, their most penalty yards in a game since 1970. Buffalo was called for 19 penalties in a 1985 loss at Miami.
“We had some costly errors early in the game that set us back,” said guard Andy Levitre. “We shouldn’t put ourselves in situations like that where we have to come back at the end of the game. We should be the ones in the lead near the end so we don’t have to march down the field like that.”
Fitzpatrick was fantastic much of the game. He completed 27-of-40 for 337 yards and two touchdowns.
The Bills were down by 14 points on three separate occasions, and Fitzpatrick mounted long drives for touchdowns each time.
Fitzpatrick got great help from his running backs, Spiller and Fred Jackson. Spiller produced 131 scrimmage yards on 13 touches. Jackson produced 115 on 20 touches.
Fitzpatrick hit Donald Jones on a 2-yard TD pass with 7:47 left to pull the Bills within 34-31. New England answered with a 59-yard drive to a field goal to go ahead by six.
The Bills took over with 2:06 left on their own 20. Fitzpatrick hit Stevie Johnson for 21 yards and Jones for 14. Four plays later Spiller took a short pass and ran 14 yards to the Pats’ 15.
“There was a lot of confidence,” Spiller said. “We were very confident we could go down and win it.”
On the fatal play, Fitzpatrick looked to his left so as not to tip off the defense before going back to Graham for a slant pattern to the right.
“This is a tough one to swallow for us,” Fitzpatrick said. “But we’ve got to find a way.”
Fitzpatrick’s teammates felt for him.
“That guy’s a warrior,” Chandler said. “I mean, the guy’s taken huge hits, stepping into great throws. He made a ton of great throws today. He’s a great leader on our team.”
The Bills’ first turnover of the game was just about as costly, because it handed the Pats a touchdown.
Midway through the first quarter, Fitzpatrick looked for Spiller in the left flat but had to pull the ball down when Pats linebacker Jerod Mayo read the play. That gave Pats star defensive tackle Vince Wilfork time to split a double-team, sack Fitzpatrick and force a fumble that New England recovered on the Buffalo 13. Four plays later, New England scored a touchdown.
The Bills’ defense allowed the Pats to score a field goal and three touchdowns in their first four possessions. Buffalo did better in the second half, holding the Pats to a touchdown and two field goals in five possessions.
Pats quarterback Tom Brady completed 23-of-38 passes for 237 yards.
Unlike the first meeting between the teams in which the Bills blitzed Brady on just one pass play, defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt sent at least seven blitzes at Brady on pass attempts. The defensive linemen moved around more than in the past.
“With our health getting better, including myself, I was able to play on the right side and go against the left tackle more,” Mario Williams said. “We just tried to mix it up. We tried to put as much pressure as we could on him, just to get him moving, keep him off the spot so he’s not just sitting back there taking his time.”
Five defensive penalties helped the Pats on two of their touchdown drives. It was the sixth straight game the Pats scored 30 or more against the Bills.
“It really gets old,” said Bills safety Jairus Byrd. “We should have held them to field goals but they were putting points on the board, touchdowns. This is getting old. At some point this has to change.”