BY SEAN DONOVAN
But, surprisingly, the Bills kept it close enough to have a chance to win at the end, which ultimately fell short after a blown route by Buffalo wideout T.J. Graham resulted in a game-ending interception.
In fact, Buffalo scored more points than any other Gillette Stadium visitor this season. It's well-known the Patriots' defense is weak, but few would expect the inconsistent Ryan Fitzpatrick-led Bills' offense to have so much success in a difficult road environment.
Through smart play design and accurate throws from the quarterback, the Bills continuously shredded the Patrtiots zone coverages. One of the best examples of this was on a late second-quarter scoring drive.
The Bills had a second-and-goal opportunity down 24-10 with 36 seconds left in the first half and needing a touchdown to keep pace in the game. On this play, as they did most of the day, they used a three-man route combination to create one open target in New England's zone scheme.
Here, they had tight ends Scott Chandler and Dorin Dickerson in-line to the left and wideout Donald Jones in motion.
Out of this formation, Dickerson and Jones crossed their patterns in front of Patriots linebackers Brandon Spikes and Donta' Hightower, who had zone coverage in the area. This combination successfully drew both defenders slightly apart, leaving Chandler wide open behind them in the end zone.
The score closed the margin to seven points going into halftime, and Buffalo used this strategy throughout the second half to keep its upset bid alive.
Buffalo again found itself down by 14 points late in the third quarter, needing to score a touchdown to stay within striking distance. With a first-and-10 at the Patriots' 45-yard line, the Bills utilized another three-man route combination to confuse the Patriots' coverage.
Dickerson and Chandler were lined up in the slot to the right, and Jones was lined up out wide. Dickerson ran a wheel route and Chandler ran a soft in-pattern.
New England linebackers Jerod Mayo and Rob Ninkovich both shadowed Chandler, leaving a hole in the coverage that left Jones wide open for a first-down reception.
Either New England was doubling Chandler, or Mayo blew his zone assignment. Either way, the Patriots were struggling to find a way to stop Buffalo's passing attack.
Later in the drive, now in a first-and-goal situation, the Bills ran one of their most effective plays of the afternoon. It demonstrated exactly how Fitzpatrick's targets were getting as open as they were.
Buffalo set up another three-man route combination, with Chandler as the in-line tight end and Jones and Brad Smith out wide and in the slot, respectively.
Brandon Spikes was in coverage in the middle, lined up over Chandler.
When the ball was snapped, Chandler and Smith ran parallel seam routes. Spikes trailed Chandler, which again left the tight end double covered. Smith's route cleared out the slot cornerback, and this left Jones wide open crossing underneath.
Jones would have scored on the play if not for a last-second shoestring tackle by Alfonzo Dennard. Fred Jackson would punch it in on the next play to trim the lead to one touchdown.
Again, the plan may have been to double the red zone threat Chandler, or Spikes may have blown his coverage. Either way, the Bills were making the Patriots pay.
Fitzpatrick was doing a stellar job of recognizing where the open receivers would be in his route combinations, and it's a credit to the Bills' coaching staff to have such good plays called for the defense New England was playing.
Unfortunately, a typically poor outing by the Bills' defense kept this performance by Fitzpatrick and the offense from leading Buffalo to a much-needed win.
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