ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Rapid reaction from the Patriots' 34-31 loss to the Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium:
What it means. The Patriots drop to 2-1, with the surprising Bills now 3-0 and atop the AFC East. This is a disappointing turn of events for the Patriots, who led 21-0 in the second quarter. A key turning point came at the end of the first half, when the Patriots were driving and looked primed to go up 28-7. But an interception on a pass intended for running back Danny Woodhead, which Woodhead couldn’t corral and it popped in the air, gave the Bills life. They got a half-ending field goal to make it 21-10. That was a huge 10-point swing, setting up an entertaining second half. The Patriots imploded in this game, on the field and on the sideline. Bill Belichick was hot on the Bills' final drive and appeared to cost the team a second timeout (update: Belichick said after the game he called for the timeout, as the clock was going to start after a replay review).
What’s next. The Patriots visit the Raiders next Sunday. The Raiders (1-1) entertain the Jets this afternoon in their home opener. The Bills visit the Bengals.
Brady and interceptions. Quarterback Tom Brady threw four interceptions, two of which were tipped. That matched his regular-season total from all of 2010. Brady’s last game with four interceptions came in the 2006 season against the Colts. He also had four-interception games vs. Kansas City in 2005, Miami in 2004, Buffalo in 2003, and Denver in 2001. That four-INT performance at Buffalo in 2003 was the last time the Bills had beaten the Patriots. The Patriots had won 15 straight against the Bills dating to that game.
Defensive questions abound. While Brady’s error-filled day was the top story, no doubt, the Patriots’ defense couldn’t come up with the big stop in the critical situation. This opens some old wounds from past years for the Patriots. They had chances to close the door, but hurt themselves with big penalties and lack of execution.
How Patriots adjusted without Chung. With safety Patrick Chung missing the game with a right thumb injury, the Patriots played it pretty straight-up his absence. They were in a nickel defense for most of the game against the Bills’ spread attack, with Sergio Brown and Josh Barrett starting at safety, and cornerback Kyle Arrington the fifth defensive back. The inexperience of Brown showed up on a key fourth-quarter play in which Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick threw an ill-advised floating interception in the end zone to Josh Barrett, but Brown was called for pass interference on the play, negating the pick. On the 38-yard Fred Jackson, there was a mostly missed tackle by Barrett.
How Patriots adjusted without Hernandez. The Patriots entered the game with just one pure tight end on the roster (Rob Gronkowski) despite having run 83 percent of their snaps with two or more tight ends in the first two games of the season, a result of Aaron Hernandez missing the game with a knee injury. The Patriots morphed into a three- and four-receiver offense, with Chad Ochocinco and Julian Edelman splitting time as the third option. Brady seemed to miss his two tight-end package.
Welker sets record for most regular-season games with a reception. Receiver Wes Welker was one of the Patriots’ stars, coming up big in the clutch while totaling 217 yards, a new franchise record (Terry Glenn had the old record, 214 yards, in 1999). He also set the franchise record for most regular-season games with at least one reception (64), breaking tight end Ben Coates’ old mark. The 30-year-old Welker is in the final year of his contract and he looks as good as ever. Welker and tight end Rob Gronkowski were the Patriots’ top offensive players.