FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Yes, C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson still play for the Buffalo Bills.
Seven days after they were so tough to find in Houston, they were spotted all over the place in Gillette Stadium.
The Bills on Sunday had their most prolific offensive performance of the season, gaining 481 yards on the New England Patriots. Spiller and Jackson accounted for 51 percent of that output in a deflating 37-31 loss.
“We’re not surprised; trust me,” Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork said. “They showed tonight that they have very explosive backs and skill positions. I think they have one of the better offensive lines, and they’re coached very well.
“They gave us a handful.”
They were invisible a week earlier against the Houston Texans. Spiller and Jackson combined for 22 touches and 137 yards in the 21-9 loss. They had only six rushing attempts apiece.
But they had 34 touches for 246 yards Sunday. They were the driving forces behind a club-record 35 first downs, surpassing the 34 gained against the Oakland Raiders last year.
Jackson had 16 carries for 80 yards and two touchdowns. A goal-line fumble prevented a third touchdown. He added four catches for 35 yards.
Jackson left the game with 75 seconds to play after getting drilled by linebacker Brandon Spikes. Bills coach Chan Gailey didn’t have a postgame update on Jackson’s status for Thursday night’s game against the Miami Dolphins.
Spiller ran nine times for 70 yards, actually raising his average from 7.2 to 7.3 yards per carry. He also caught four passes for 61 yards.
“Our mind-set was we were going to be physical,” Spiller said. “You’ve got to run the ball tough and hard. Those guys have a top-five rush defense. We knew that coming in, but we knew we had a great week of preparation.
“Our offensive line, they was geared up and ready for the challenge. I thought we moved the ball well. They got us a couple times, but I thought we got them more.”
Buffalo committed an incredible 14 penalties for 148 yards, their highest total in more than 40 years. The Bills were 11 yards short of their record set against the Boston Patriots in 1970.
“Penalties killed us,” Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams said. “You can’t have that. You do that against this team and they’re going to beat you, point blank.”
In the first half alone, referee Bill Leavy’s crew whistled the Bills for 10 penalties and 119 yards. Five of those flags came on third downs.
Some of the calls were controversial. Rookie cornerback Stephon Gilmore, one play after a 15-yard facemask, was whistled for interference on Brandon Lloyd in the end zone even though the ball obviously was uncatchable.
“I didn’t even touch him,” Gilmore said on the interference call. “I was running with him, turned to look at the ball and noticed the ball was thrown in the stands. He tripped over my foot, and they threw the flag on me.”
Four-fifths of Buffalo’s offensive linemen picked up at least one penalty. Left guard Andy Levitre was the only O-lineman to survive the game cleanly.
Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick got into Spikes’ face after the Patriots’ linebacker was called for unnecessary roughness in the fourth quarter. Spikes knocked off Fitzpatrick’s helmet and drove him into the ground after a pass.
“I’m not going to back down from anybody,” Fitzpatrick said. “Spikes is an emotional player. I think he’s a punk at times. He took a cheap shot at Scott [Chandler] in the first game and was doing a lot of jabbering and talking and hitting out there.
“He’s not one of my favorite players, not high on my list. … I think it’s important to make sure you don’t back down from anybody.”
The Bills never have prevented Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski from scoring. He had another touchdown Sunday, giving him nine in six career games against his hometown team.
Gronkowski’s career stat line against Buffalo: 30 receptions, 449 yards and nine touchdowns.
Bills defensive end Chris Kelsay didn’t dress because of the neck injury he suffered in Thursday’s practice. Kyle Moore started in his place.
Wide receiver Marcus Easley, promoted from the practice squad Wednesday, dressed but didn’t play. The 2010 fourth-round draft choice missed his entire first season with a knee injury and his second season because of a heart complication.
Cornerback Crezdon Butler, signed off the Arizona Cardinals’ practice squad last week, made his Bills debut but didn’t crack the stat sheet.
The Patriots didn’t have tight end Aaron Hernandez and starting safety Patrick Chung because of injuries. The Patriots shifted former Pro Bowl cornerback Devin McCourty to safety in Chung’s place.
Defensive end Trevor Scott, a University at Buffalo alum, was scratched because of a hamstring injury.