ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Reports of the New England Patriots demise and the Buffalo Bills rise proved premature.
Reeling from consecutive losses and a sub-.500 record for the first time in a decade, the Patriots overcame a two-touchdown deficit and showed that the gap between them and their AFC East rivals remains significant with a 52-28 thrashing of the Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium Sunday afternoon.
The Bills had spent more than $100 million on free agent defensive ends Mario Williams and former Patriot Mark Anderson in hopes of fielding a defense that would harass New England's legendary quarterback Tom Brady.
But after some first-half struggles, Brady asserted himself, aided by a strong running attack and an opportunistic defense that produced six turnovers. Brady completed 22 of 36 passes for 340 yards and three touchdowns as the Patriots rolled up 580 yards and scored 45 second-half points to even their record at 2-2.
"We were down 21-7 on the road -- our backs were against the wall -- and I thought we showed a lot of heart," said Brady, who is now 19-2 as a starter vs. Buffalo. "That's what this team is made of. We are going to battle to the end. I know that."
A huge part of that battle was waged by running backs Brandon Bolden (137 yards on 16 carries) and Stevan Ridley (106 yards on 22 carries).
"Well, I think they were really challenging us to run the ball," Brady said, when asked if the Pats were going against conventional wisdom by continuing with the ground game after going down by two scores early in the second half. "The Bills had some little guys on the field with our big personnel grouping, so, at that point you had to try to take advantage of it. You can't just keep throwing it, so we ran it. And Brandon ran great and Stevan ran great."
The run game, which accounted for 247 yards, complemented the passing game. Two of Brady's receivers -- Wes Walker (nine receptions for 129 yards) and Rob Gronkowski (five receptions for 104 yards) -- also surpassed the century mark.
"You can't panic, it's a long game and that's why you got to play all 60 minutes, and that's what we did. We played all 60 minutes," said Gronkowski, a Buffalo native who has eight TDs in five games against his hometown team. "We just have to come out stronger in the first half."
The Patriots also shined on the defensive side, as they picked off Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick four times and forced two fumbles, including one by Vince Wilfork on running back C.J. Spiller that denied the Bills a chance to go up by two touchdowns heading into halftime.
"Obviously the turnovers were huge," Brady said. "The defense was really getting after them. That fumble before halftime was a turning point."
Fitzpatrick completed 22 of 39 passes for 350 yards with four TDs.
The Bills dropped to 2-2 and have given up 100 points in two divisional games this season.
"Yeah, I do," Buffalo coach Chan Gailey said, when asked if he felt embarrassed. "I do not like to play like that. I do not think that is who we are, but that is who we were today. You cannot sugar-coat it anyway, but we are 2-2. That is who we are today."
Brady wasted little time establishing the Patriots offense, completing his first five passes for 80 yards as New England took a 7-0 lead with 6:49 to go on Ridley's two-yard run. The drive included a 41-yard bomb to Gronkowski.
Brady cooled down after that, completing just one of his next seven passes for six yards as New England's drives ended in two punts and a missed 49-yard field goal attempt by Stephen Gostkowski.
Buffalo tied the score 7-7 with 9:43 left in the half on a 24-yard touchdown pass from Fitzpatrick to tight end Scott Chandler. The play came one snap after Bills safety Jairus Byrd forced and recovered a fumble by Gronkowski.
Fitzpatrick had been picked off twice in first five series. The first came when nose tackle Vince Wilfork tipped the ball and it was intercepted by linebacker Jerod Mayo. The second occurred when Fitzpatrick badly underthrew T.J. Graham along the sidelines and cornerback Devin McCourty stepped in front of the receiver for the interception.
After Gostkowski missed a 42-yard field goal, the Bills drove 68 yards in six plays to take a 14-7 lead on a 20-yard touchdown pass to Chandler with 3:30 left in the half.
The Bills squandered a golden opportunity to go up two touchdowns late in the half, but running back C.J. Spiller was nailed by Wilfork, who recovered the ball at the Patriots 3.
Buffalo took a 21-7 lead with 11:08 to go in the third quarter when wide receiver Donald Jones turned a short slant pass from Fitzpatrick into a 68-yard touchdown.
The Patriots countered with a 17-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Danny Woodhead three minutes later to cut the deficit to one touchdown. The score put the exclamation point on an eight-play, 80-yard drive.
New England tied the game with 3:53 remaining in the third quarter on a four-yard run by Brady. It came at the end of an eight-play, 85-yard march.
The Patriots regained the lead on a 28-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Gronkowski five seconds into the final quarter.
New England extended its lead to 42-21 early in the fourth quarter on touchdown runs of two yards by Ridley and seven yards by Bolden.
Buffalo cut the gap to two scores with a 35-yard touchdown pass from Fitzpatrick to Brad Smith with 6:32 left.
But the Patriots answered with yet another score on a 25-yard on a touchdown pass from Brady to Brandon Lloyd with just over four minutes left.
Gostkowski kicked a 30-yard field goal with two minutes remaining to finish the scoring.
Notes: Fitzpatrick has 12 touchdown tosses this season and has two or more touchdown passes in four straight games, joining Jim Kelly (1991) and Joe Ferguson (1975) as the only Bills quarterbacks to accomplish that feat. ... McCourty had two interceptions to go along with five tackles, including one for a loss. ... The Patriots have scored 100 points in their last two meetings vs. Buffalo. ... Fred Jackson started at running back for the Bills after missing the previous two games with a strained knee. He finished with 29 yards on 13 carries and had three receptions for 50 yards. ... Spiller also saw action in the Bills backfield just a week after leaving the Cleveland game with a shoulder injury and had 33 yards on eight carries. ... The Patriots were without left guard Logan Mankins, wide receiver Julian Edelman and tight end Aaron Hernandez. ... Mario Williams, whom the Bills awarded the richest defensive player contract in NFL history, was credited with just two tackles.