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The Brady Botch

The Brady Botch
Terrific Tom Tortures Bills Once Again

The Buffalo Bills beat the crap out of Tom Brady on Monday night.

And still, he found a way to get the better of them.

Buffalo’s defense produced its best overall game of the season. Though the Bills only sacked Brady once, they pounded on him all night, reducing him to throwing the ball into the Gillette Stadium turf and spiking his helmet in frustration on the sideline.

Brady narrowly out-performed Tyrod Taylor statistically, completing barely half his passes (20-of-39) for 277 yards, while his counterpart in white went 20-for-36 for 233.

“I was pretty agitated all night,” Brady told a Boston radio station Tuesday morning. “For three hours and 20 minutes, I was pretty agitated.”

At the same time, Rex Ryan’s game plan and the players who executed it snuffed New England’s running game, such as it was, keeping LaGarrette Blount and the rest under four yards per carry and allowing just four first downs by way of the run.

Buffalo even neutralized Rob Gronkowski, limiting the least-stoppable tight end since Kellen Winslow Sr. to two catches for 37 yards.

Yet it wasn’t enough. For all of that, the Patriots still came out with their 10th win in as many starts this season, taking a 20-13 decision that ended any pretense of a race for the AFC East title, as well as hamstringing Buffalo’s hope of reaching the playoffs since Johnson or Flutie was still a thing.

Brady got the necessary people focused on at least two plays—a 20-yard touchdown pass to James White with 13 seconds left in the first half, and a 41-yard catch-and-run hookup with Danny Amendola that set up White’s 6-yard touchdown run that put New England ahead to stay.

Both plays were made possible by shoddy tackling from the Bills, with Corey Graham getting stiff-armed on White’s touchdown catch and Duke Williams (to the surprise of absolutely no one) whiffing on Amendola’s big play.

And by Brady’s greatest strength—the ability to impose his will not only on the opposing defense, but on his own teammates.

“You see things, and you want to try to create some urgency, and see if we can get into the game and start to tighten things up,” Brady said of his sideline intensity. “You’ve got to figure out, when things aren’t going well, how to rally. When things don’t seem to be going well, how are you going to find that rhythm? And just making sure everyone’s focused, and letting them know I’m focused, and they need to be focused, and that we can all be more focused together.”

And that was really about it. Other than those two breakdowns (and another excruciating kick-return fumble by Leodis McKelvin), the Bills outplayed and outhit their longtime dominators, doing everything they needed to do—harassing Brady, swarming his receivers on their trademark short routes, and running the ball efficiently, especially when lining LeSean McCoy and Karlos Williams up on either side of Taylor.

Still, none of it really mattered.

Because—and no qualifiers or hedging should be needed any more—they were facing the greatest quarterback to ever play the game of tackle football.

That debate ended—or should have, at least among reasonable folk—when he rallied his team from the largest fourth-quarter deficit in Super Bowl history, against game’s best defense and using the most closely monitored footballs in National Football League history, to win XLIXth edition last February.

Monday night was not Brady’s best game of the season, or even his top performance against the Bills in 2015. For most of the evening, he barely resembled the guy who filleted Buffalo for 466 yards and three touchdowns while completing 38 of his 59 throws in September’s 40-32 win in Orchard Park, successfully demonstrating that it is not, contrary to commonly held knuckle-dragging belief, necessary to even try to run the football in order to win.

The Bills flustered and hurried Brady on almost every drop-back, but he was still able to come up with as many pinpoint throws as the Patriots needed to win the game.

Just like he always does.

Meanwhile, all the physicality and emotion displayed by Buffalo puts the Bills at 5-5. That’s the exact record they had a year ago 10 games into the 2014 season, with Doug Marrone coaching, Kyle Orton quarterbacking (to use the word loosely) and the same bunch of guys playing defense.

The Bills did not embarrass themselves on Monday. If anything, they emerge from the defeat looking more like a legitimate wild-card contender than they did going in. Their performance makes winning the at least four, and probably five, victories they need in their final six games seem feasible. If, that is, the obvious shoulder injury Taylor incurred Monday does not put their playoff hopes in the highly erratic hands of E.J. Manuel.

The first of those six, on Sunday in Kansas City against the suddenly streaking Chiefs, serves as a test of whether the team that came up just short in Foxborough was the real thing, or if Monday night was little more than the ultimately disappointing (and horrifically officiated) high-water mark of yet another lost season.

The author has written about the Buffalo Bills, among other topics, since 1990, and publishes We Want Marangi at You can also follow him on the Twitter at @DavidStaba.

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