The Bills defense had done a yeoman’s job, limiting Tom Brady’s bunch to three field goals and 96 passing yards in the first half. At one point, the New England Patriots quarterback became so frustrated that he and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels began jawing heatedly on the sidelines. Was a mutiny and an upset brewing?
Hardly. This was, after all, the Patriots vs. the Bills, and we have become all too familiar with how these games turn out. It was only a matter of time before adjustments would be made by Bill Belichick and his staff and the dam would burst.
Faster than you could say “throw the bleeping ball to Rob Gronkowski” a six-point halftime lead turned into a 23-3 victory as the Patriots continued their dominance of AFC East opponents while trashing the Bills playoff hopes. At 6-6, Buffalo is still in the hunt, but just barely. The Bills are going to need at least three more wins and a lot of help from other teams in order to end the 17-season playoff drought.
On this day, they were done in by Gronkowski, the Pro Bowl tight end who grew up just 20 minutes from New Era Field and spent many a Sunday afternoon as a teenager rooting for his hometown team. Gronk finished with nine receptions for 147 yards, including seven for 119 in the second half, setting up the game’s only two touchdowns on runs of one and 14 yards by Rex Burkhead in the third quarter.
But the blow Gronk dealt the Bills postseason aspirations were overshadowed by the blow he dealt his reputation with a dirty hit. With the Patriots leading by 20 points and 4:50 remaining in the game, Brady underthrew his tight end along the sidelines and the ball was intercepted by Tre’Davious White. The Bills rookie cornerback was tackled at Buffalo’s 41 by wide receiver Phillip Dorsett. Although White was already down, Gronk decided to make sure White stayed down. Taking a page from professional wrestling, he belly-flopped his 265-pound body on White’s head.
The cheap shot earned Gronk a 15-yard unnecessary roughing penalty and White a trip to the locker room with a concussion. It also should have earned Gronk an ejection. He undoubtedly will be fined by the NFL, but if league officials want to do the right thing and send the proper message, they should suspend him for at least a game, if not more.
Gronk has a reputation for being a physical player, but not a dirty player. Still, there’s no place in the game for dangerous after whistle hits like this, especially against a player who was already down and defenseless.
“I was just really frustrated at that moment,’’ he said after the game. “It just happened naturally through emotions and frustration. Just want to apologize to Tre’Davious White. I don’t really believe in types of shots like that.’’
As they shook hands walking off the field following the game, Belichick apologized to Bills head coach Sean McDermott for Gronk’s dirty play. “I just don’t think that there’s any place in the game for that, really,’’ McDermott said when asked about Gronk’s violent move. “It was unfortunate and I know he’s a better player than that.”
White, a leading candidate for NFL Defensive Rookie-of-the-Year honors, could be lost for next week’s game against the Indianapolis Colts. Buffalo also might be without quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who injured his knee on the first play of the game, but attempted to gut it out before being carted off to the locker room for good early in the fourth quarter.
Nate Peterman, who suffered the indignity of a five-interception, NFL debut three weeks ago, came on, but didn’t show much. Though he didn’t throw a pick, he completed only 6-of-15 for 50 yards and posted a 49.3 passer rating. He did lead Buffalo on one good drive, which petered out at the Patriots 1-yard line on fourth down.
The Bills continue to struggle offensively. They’re averaging a smidgen below 15 points per game while dropping four of their last five to even their record at 6-6. Buffalo actually started the day well, driving 66 yards in 11 plays before Taylor attempted to throw a ball into triple-coverage to LeSean McCoy in the end zone. The bone-headed pass was picked off by Patriots linebacker Eric Lee, a former Buffalo practice squad player.
The Bills played well defensively in last week’s 16-10 victory against Kansas City, and played fairly well Sunday, holding Brady to zero touchdown passes, while picking him off once. But they had no answer for Gronk on the first two series of the second half. Those two touchdown drives essentially put the game away.
And now the Bills find themselves in a familiar place, entering their final four games with faint playoff hopes. They will be favored the next two weeks, with home games against Indianapolis and the Miami Dolphins. Then, they travel to New England, and the Patriots may need that game in order to clinch homefield advantage throughout the playoffs, so they’ll be playing all their starters. On New Year’s Eve Day, Buffalo closes the regular season against the Dolphins in Miami.
The Bills are going to need a lot of help from other teams. But it doesn’t matter if they don’t get their own issues resolved. They’re not going to beat anybody scoring just three points.
Best-selling author and nationally honored journalist Scott Pitoniak is in his seventh season as a Bills analyst for WROC-TV and in his 33rd season covering the team.