The Buffalo Bills stayed with the New England Patriots in the season opener at Ralph Wilson Stadium. But in the end, the defending AFC East champions came out on top.
Tom Brady threw for 288 yards, Shane Vereen rushed for 101 yards and Stephen Gostkowski kicked three field goals in the Patriots' 23-21 win over the Bills.
The Bills had a 21-17 lead heading into the fourth quarter, but couldn't hold on for the win. They decided to stay in the hurry-up offense, which didn't take a lot of time off the clock. The Bills had the ball for less than four minutes in the fourth quarter, which allowed the Patriots to have multiple chances to close the gap and win the game.
Buffalo had a few bright spots, including an improved defensive performance. The Bills defense forced three turnovers, including Da'Norris Searcy's 74-yard fumble return for a touchdown in the first half. Justin Rogers' interception late in the first half led to a Bills touchdown.
But the Bills made several miscues. Buffalo was penalized 10 times for 75 yards, including two offensive penalties that wiped out big gains. Dropped passes were also a problem. Scott Chandler dropped a pass that would have gone for a first down and Stevie Johnson dropped a pass in the fourth quarter that would have resulted in a first down.
There's a lot to analyze after the Week 1 contest. Here is this week's Buffalo Bills report card:
GRADING THE UNITS
OFFENSE - C+
While C.J. Spiller struggled, Fred Jackson had a good day for the Bills.
Spiller rushed 17 times for 41 yards and had five catches for 14 yards. He also lost a fumble. But the Bills also used Jackson, who rushed 13 times for 67 yards and caught four passes for 41 yards.
One thing is clear: the running backs are going to be a key part of the Bills' offense.
Rookie starting quarterback E.J. Manuel had a solid outing. He threw his first NFL touchdown pass to Robert Woods -- Woods' first NFL reception and first NFL touchdown -- and threw another touchdown pass to Stevie Johnson in the third quarter. Manuel finished with 150 yards passing and 23 yards rushing.
The Bills' no-huddle offense needs some work. They came up empty on a lot of drives. The Bills' offense only scored on two possessions, which isn't good enough. You want touchdowns, but you can settle for field goals. They couldn't get enough scoring plays Sunday.
The offensive unit also made their share of mistakes. Chandler had a bad drop. Johnson dropped a pass on a third down play that would have kept the drive alive. Spiller lost a fumble that led to a Patriots touchdown in the first half. Rookie wide receiver Marquise Goodwin also lost a fumble.
There were plenty of positives in this game for the offense. But the mistakes hurt them.
DEFENSE - B-
There was a lot to like about the Bills defense Sunday. The unit forced three turnovers and scored a touchdown. They also sacked Brady twice.
The Bills made a goal-line stand -- Brady fumbled the snap and Kiko Alonso recovered the fumble -- and the Bills forced the Patriots to kick three field goals. And holding the Patriots to 23 points is a nice accomplishment. After all, last year at home against the Patriots, the Bills gave up 52 points.
But the Bills did give up 158 rushing yards, including 101 to Shane Vereen. They couldn't cover Danny Amendola, who caught 10 passes for 104 yards. Julian Edelman was another thorn in their side. Edelman caught 7 balls for 79 yards and two touchdowns.
They need to make some improvements, especially with the run defense. That needs to get better. It has been a problem in recent years and they have a lot of work to do in that area. We'll see how the run defense responds next week against the Panthers and quarterback Cam Newton.
But this week, the Bills defense showed us that they are heading in the right direction. They have some work to do, but they played well against New England. It's definitely a game the unit can build off of.
SPECIAL TEAMS - B
There weren't many big plays on special teams, but there weren't any major mistakes either.
Shawn Powell was solid. He averaged nearly 46 yards per punt -- he had nine punts Sunday -- and pinned the Patriots inside the 20 three times. His longest kick of the day went for 57 yards.
As for new kicker Dan Carpenter, he wasn't very busy. He nailed all three of his extra points attempts, but did not have a field goal attempt.
COACHING - B-
For the most part, it was a good first game for the new coaching staff led by head coach Doug Marrone.
Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine deserves a lot of credit for the Bills' defensive performance against New England. While I thought the Bills should have rushed more than three or four players on both of Tom Brady's touchdown passes, they put pressure on Brady for most of the game and it led to takeaways.
The offensive unit could use some work, but there were some good signs. The Bills' running backs, C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson, had 39 touches. The passing game was fine, but they need to get more receivers involved. T.J. Graham did not have a catch and rookie receiver Robert Woods only recorded one reception.
But the decision to stay in the hurry-up offense late in the game was a stupid one. In a game that featured good performances by the Bills' young players, the coaching staff showed a little inexperience by not abandoning the no-huddle offense. In a close game, it's important to run some clock. The Bills didn't do that and it was a bad decision made by the coaching staff.
Using the no-huddle for most of the game is fine. But different situations require different approaches. Late in a game, you need to change your approach. You can't give Tom Brady five minutes to win a game. That's what happened Sunday and the Bills lost the contest.
PLAYERS OF THE GAME
OFFENSE: E.J. Manuel. In his first NFL start, the Bills rookie quarterback was efficient. He completed 18 of 27 passes for 150 yards and two touchdowns. He finished the game with a better passer rating than Tom Brady. I'm sure he'd rather have the win, but that's an impressive stat.
He looked comfortable in the pocket and showed off his mobility a couple of times, including a 19-yard run on the opening drive of the second half.
Another impressive stat for Manuel: zero turnovers. He didn't put up big numbers, but he didn't make any major mistakes. That was important and a big reason why the Bills almost won Sunday afternoon.
DEFENSE: Da'Norris Searcy. Searcy had four tackles, a sack and the 74-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown. He also made a nice tackle on the opening kickoff. He was one of the best defensive backs for the Bills. There were a lot of questions about the secondary entering this season, but Searcy showed Sunday that this unit has some solid talent.
Discipline. The penalties killed Buffalo. Linebacker Jerry Hughes was called for offsides twice. Scott Chandler was called for two penalties in the first half. Manuel's 19-yard pass to wide receiver Robert Woods was wiped out by a penalty on Cordy Glenn. And a penalty on Craig Urbik erased a 15-yard gain by Fred Jackson.
Penalties can hurt you, especially in a close game. The Bills-Patriots game was a good example of that.
STAT OF THE GAME
Time of possession. The Bills' no-huddle offense didn't keep the Patriots' offense off the field. The Patriots had the ball for 37:43 of game time. The Bills held the ball for 22:17.
STAT OF THE GAME II
C.J. Spiller's touches. I criticized former Bills coach Chan Gailey for not using Spiller enough last year. On Sunday, Spiller had 17 rushes and five receptions for a total of 22 touches.
In two games against New England last season, Spiller had a total of 23 touches.
The Bills will stay in western New York for next week's game. At 1 p.m. Sunday, they will host the Carolina Panthers at Ralph Wilson Stadium.