ORCHARD PARK —
In retrospect, they really should have allowed fans to bask in their fleeting glory and tear down the goal posts on that fantastical day at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
One year and two blowout losses later, it’s clear that victory was nothing more than a wrinkle in time, not the kairotic moment in the Bills-Patriots rivalry it seemed to be at the time.
History is repeating itself here. Though it happened before I was born, many of you will remember the 1980 season opener, when the Bills ended a decade-long, 20-game run of losses to the Dolphins. Fans rejoiced as if a totalitarian ruler had been toppled, wrestling both goal posts to the ground and ripping up yards of turf. One visiting columnist wrote that it was “the biggest celebration in northern New York State since Woodstock.”
Yet, the Dolphins continued their dominance well into the next decade. In 1983, United Press International called it “one of the most lopsided rivalries in pro football.” It wasn’t until Jim Kelly paraded into Buffalo that the Bills would beat the Dolphins with any degree of regularity.
And until the Bills are bestowed with a quarterback who can go drive for drive with Tom Brady — or the Golden Boy goes off into the sunset with his supermodel soulmate — this rivalry will remain just as lopsided as Sunday’s 52-28 final score suggests.
The Patriots did their part to give the Bills a legitimate chance to win Sunday, missing two field goals and fumbling twice deep in their own territory. The Bills led by two touchdowns early in the second half even though they squandered a scoring chance just before halftime and it was starting to feel like last year’s game at The Ralph.
But Brady never panicked, except for the few seconds when he couldn’t find his helmet. The Bills, on the other hand, cowered when it became apparent the Patriots would not. Within the hour, New England was ahead by multiple touchdowns and it was starting to feel like the New Year’s Day game in Foxboro when the Bills jumped out to a 21-0 lead but somehow found themselves out of it by the third quarter.
Buffalo fans went stampeding for the exits after Ryan Fitzpatrick threw an interception with 11:19 remaining, a stark contrast from last year, when fans lingered in the stands long after the final whistle, singing and dancing as if they were, in fact, at Woodstock, tearing down the goal posts in their minds.
The Bills trailed by two touchdowns at that point. No matter that they scored 17 points in the final 11 minutes of last year’s win, or 21 points in the first quarter of last year’s loss, or that they could’ve put up 28 points in less than 14 minutes earlier in this very game if not for C.J. Spiller's fumble at the goal line.
The game was over, and everybody knew it.
“Bottom line,” coach Chan Gailey said, “they whipped us.”
“That was really embarrassing,” Fitzpatrick said. “Unfortunately, we have been in this situation before.”
And they’re bound to be in this situation again.
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