First quarter: Stripped away
The New England Patriots were the best team in the NFL at winning the turnover battle. The Pats haven’t lost their touch at the start of the 2013 season.
Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington punched the ball out of the arms of Bills running back C.J. Spiller on Buffalo’s second play from scrimmage. Tommy Kelly recovered for the Pats at the Buffalo 16, and three plays later the Pats had a touchdown.
New England led the NFL with a plus-25 turnover margin last year. Buffalo had the fifth-worst margin in the league, at minus-13.
“I went to make my cut and it just came away from me,” said Spiller, who saw the ball punched out from behind by Arrington.
Key play: The Pats’ touchdown came on a third-and-3 play as Tom Brady hit Julian Edelman with a 9-yard strike in the back of the end zone.
Key penalty: A facemask penalty on Arthur Moats on a punt return gave the Pats possession at midfield and set up a field goal.
Good adjustment: The Pats got a 48-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski to go ahead, 10-0. The snap for the kick was poor, and holder Danny Aiken had to double-clutch the ball to get it on the turf. Gostkowski was able to hold up then drill a line drive through the uprights.
Second quarter: Manuel to Woods
Let the record show EJ Manuel’s first career touchdown pass went to Robert Woods. Bills fans can only hope that turns into a trivia question that people actually will care about years from now? (Who caught J.P. Losman’s first TD pass? Who cares?)
Woods was the outside receiver in a three-man cluster to the right. Stevie Johnson ran to the flat, Scott Chandler ran up the middle and Woods broke up the sideline. Pats cornerback Aqib Talib bit on a Woods fake toward the outside.
“It was basically just an out and up,” Woods said. “It was Cover Two, the corner went wide.”
Who’s keeping the ball – Woods or Manuel?
“I’m keeping it,” Woods said.
Key plays: Da’Norris Searcy scooped up a fumble by Stevan Ridley and returned it 74 yards for a touchdown to pull the Bills within 10-7. The Woods TD was set up by an interception by Justin Rogers, who grabbed a ball that caromed off the fingers of Zach Sudfeld to give the Bills possession at the Pats’ 1:03.
Second guess: It all worked out fine thanks to the Rogers interception, but the Bills would have been wise to huddle up when they got the ball at their own 20 with 1:55 left in the half. They went three and out and gave the Pats the ball back with 1:10 left.
Third quarter: Graceful grab
EJ Manuel made a big-time throw to Stevie Johnson for an 18-yard touchdown pass to cap the first drive of the second half.
It was the only score of the third quarter.
It was a lofted throw down the left side of the field that Johnson caught in perfect stride. Johnson was in the left slot – he spent most of the day in the slot – and got a half-step behind Pats safety Devin McCourty.
The play capped the best Bills drive of the day, an 11-play, 80-yard march.
Key play: Manuel got the other big gainer of the scoring drive by scrambling for a 19-yard gain around right end to the Patriots’ 36-yard-line.
Big stand: The Bills stopped the Pats on three plays from the 1, and linebacker Kiko Alonso recovered a Brady fumble on the fourth-down play.
Second guess: The Pats tried to outmaneuver the Bills on fourth-and-goal by changing to big personnel. The Bills scrambled and got their big defenders on the field just in time to line up for the snap. But in their haste to get the play off, Brady didn’t get the exchange from center. The Pats would have been better off just running sturdy Shane Vereen from a spread formation.
Fourth quarter: Marked man
Leave it to Tom Brady. The Patriots’ quarterback engineered his 27th career victory after trailing in the fourth quarter by marching his team 49 yards in 12 plays to Stephen Gostkowski’s winning field goal.
Brady stands sixth all-time in fourth-quarter comeback wins, just one behind Brett Favre and four behind Joe Montana. John Elway is the career leader with 43, Peyton Manning has 38, Dan Marino 37.
The key third-down conversion on the winning drive was a 10-yard pass to Danny Amendola, who made a tough catch at the Bills’ 29.
Key plays: Clinging to a one-point lead, the Bills got the ball at their 20 with 5:51 left. They went three plays and out and held the ball for only 1:20.
Pats streak: The win was the 10th straight on opening day for the Patriots, tied for third longest in NFL history.
Second guess: C.J. Spiller got stuffed for no gain on first down of the drive with 5:51 left. The Pats had eight men in the box and were playing the run. At that point, the Bills should have gone play-action pass or something outside with Spiller.