ORCHARD PARK - Heading into Sunday's game, the Buffalo Bills had won just one of their previous six meetings against the New England Patriots. And in their five losses, the Bills lost by an average of 19.4 points.
On Sunday the Bills lost by two, 23-21, a marked improvement, but it was clear the team was in no mood to celebrate any for moral victories.
"I wanted to win the game," Bills' rookie quarterback EJ Manuel said after being asked if playing well in his first NFL against Tom Brady was any consolation for him
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Steve Johnson (13) catches a touchdown pass from EJ Manuel in front of New England Patriots' Devin McCourty (32) and Kyle Arrington (25) during the second half of their game on Sunday, in Orchard Park.
"Obviously, Tom Brady is a great quarterback and is going to go in the Hall of Fame. At the end of the day, you want to win. That's how I see it."
Manuel did, in fact, play well on Sunday in his NFL debut as he went 18 of 27 for 150 yards and two touchdowns. However, as a team, the Bills continued to make too many mistakes to compete with the upper echelon teams in the NFL.
"I'm always critical of myself because I don't like to make mistakes twice," Manuel said. "I really don't like to make them once, if not twice. Overall, at the end of the day, we lost. So, I can't really say we did this great, we did that great. At the end of the day, you want to win."
The Bills' main problems on Sunday were taking too many penalties, allowing the Patriots to go 11 of 20 on third downs and an inability to establish a running game.
"Their run defense was one of the best run defenses in the league last year," Bills' head coach Doug Marrone said. "Those guys are stout and they can play, so again, I think there were times that we were able to take advantage of something strategically. At the end of the day, they were 4.5 yards running the ball, we (had a) four-yard average running the ball. Again, they're a good football team and we feel like we're a good football team."
New England held CJ Spiller to 41 yards on 17 carries, an average of 2.4 yards per attempt. Spiller also had a key fumble in the first quarter deep in the Bills' own end, which led to the Patriots' first touchdown of the game.
"We have two great running backs and with Tashard (Choice and Fred Jackson)," Spiller said. "I'm pretty sure they're going to try to come in and stop the run. I'd be surprised if any team didn't do that and we know that going into the game. We just have to try to find ways to counter them."
For a while, it seemed like Jackson was going to be the answer as he finished with 67 yards on 13 carries, but his efforts couldn't help outweigh the yards the Bills gave back on penalties (10 for 75 yards).
"I think it's hard to overcome," Marrone said. "Especially when offensively you have a young quarterback and you're a young team. It's not acceptable. We have officials at every practice, we have to get together as a staff and we've got to figure out a way not to have that. We have to look at them and evaluate them first."
There were some bright spots on the day however, including the play of Da'Norris Searcy, who made a heads up play on a Stevan Ridley fumble that resulted in a 74-yard return for the Bills' first touchdown.
"He's been playing well," Marrone said. "Kind of under the radar a little bit with what's going on. I think he's a guy that really works hard, plays on defense, plays on special teams. Obviously that was a big play, (the) defense made a couple big plays today."
"It seemed like forever," Searcy said of how far away the end zone looked on the touchdown return. "It felt like the farther I ran, the farther back it was moving away from me. That's why I started looking around to see if somebody was behind me. I just put my head down and kept running."
Searcy, who is in his fourth year out of North Carolina, helped the Bills' depleted secondary keep Buffalo in the game Sunday as it limited Brady to just 29 completions on 52 attempts, including a Justin Rodgers interception that set up Manuel's first career touchdown pass to fellow rookie Robert Woods.
"We knew we had a tough task ahead of us," Searcy said. "We knew we had to go out there and trust each other and make sure we communicate right away. We felt like we made plays but we still left a few out there."
Next up for the Bills will be a meeting with Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers.
"Our goal now is to go watch the film and learn from it and keep getting better," Searcy said. "It's really early, just week one and we know we have a long season ahead of us and we know we can get this thing turned around."