Rookie quarterback EJ Manuel and the new-look Buffalo Bills opened the season with a familiar lament.
No matter how many times the Bills retool their roster, they almost always find a way to lose to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
"Obviously, Tom Brady is a great quarterback and is going to go into the Hall of Fame," Manuel said. "But at the end of the day, you want to win. That's how I see it."
What Manuel and rookie head coach Doug Marrone instead saw was Brady marching the Patriots 49 yards on 12 plays to set up Stephen Gostkowski's 35-yard field goal with 5 seconds left to secure a 23-21 victory Sunday. With that, Brady shrugged off a sloppy start to improve his career record to 21-2 against the Patriots' AFC East rival.
It's a string that dates to 2001, making Manuel the eighth Bills starter Brady has out-dueled. It's a list that includes Rob Johnson, Drew Bledsoe and Ryan Fitzpatrick, Manuel's immediate predecessor.
Brady acknowledged he was far from perfect and still getting accustomed to the Patriots' new group of receivers.
"I think we have a long way to go," said Brady, who finished 29 of 52 for 288 yards passing, with two touchdowns to Julian Edelman, an interception and a fumbled snap at the goal line. "But I am glad we started with a win. It feels a lot better than losing."
It marked the 36th time in Brady's career — and fifth against Buffalo — that he's led the Patriots to victory when tied or trailing in the fourth quarter.
Here's five reasons the Patriots beat the Bills:
1. AMENDOLA CATCHING ON: With Wes Welker's offseason departure, the Patriots turned their attention to sign free-agent Danny Amendola in hopes he can develop into Brady's favorite receiver.
So far, so good. Amendola shook off a nagging groin injury he aggravated late in the first half to finish with a game-best 10 catches for 104 yards. Three of his catches came on the final drive, all for first downs, including a 10-yard reception in traffic to convert a third-and-8.
"We all know Tom has been in this situation before: He's really one of the best," Amendola said. "We really rallied behind him."
Brady credited Amendola for persevering through his injury.
"He really toughed it out," Brady said.
Edelman had seven catches for 79 yards.
The biggest disappointment was rookie Kenbrell Thompkins, who had several drops, including one in the end zone. Thompkins had four catches for 42 yards, but was targeted 14 times. With Rob Gronkowski sidelined (back/forearm), the Patriots' tight ends combined for one catch — Michael Hoomanawanui for 5 yards.
2. THIRD-DOWN LETDOWN: Despite forcing three turnovers, including safety Da'Norris Searcy returning Stevan Ridley's fumble 74 yards for a touchdown, the Bills' defense had difficulty getting Brady off the field.
The Patriots converted 11 of 20 third-down chances, including two on the decisive drive.
"You have to stop him," said defensive end Mario Williams, who had six tackles and a sack. "I feel like a lot of times we were in a good position. But we just have to make the tackle and get him down."
New England had 431 yards offense to Buffalo's 286, and a 26-15 edge in first downs.
3. VEREEN STEPS IN: The Patriots' running attack didn't miss a step after Ridley was benched following his lost fumble midway through the second quarter.
Shane Vereen took over and gained a career-high 101 yards rushing along with seven catches for 58 yards. Vereen put the finishing touches on the decisive drive with a 15-yard run to the Bills 14.
Ridley watched from the sideline with his helmet perched on his head.
"I'm happy for him. I really am," Ridley said of Vereen. "It (stinks) for me to be in this situation, but as a teammate, I pat him on the back."
4. OPPORTUNISTIC ARRINGTON: Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington forced two fumbles that led to touchdowns.
Arrington punched the ball out of running back C.J. Spiller's hands on the Bills' first possession, to set up Edelman's 9-yard TD catch. Late in the second quarter, he jarred the ball loose with a heavy hit on rookie receiver Marquise Goodwin to set up Edelman's 8-yard score.
5. COSTLY DROP: Bills receiver Stevie Johnson scored on an 18-yard TD catch to put the Bills up 21-17 on the opening drive of the third quarter. And yet, Johnson had a pass fall out of his hands on third-and-1 early in the fourth quarter.
Johnson finished with three catches for 39 yards, failing to play up to a big boast he made to open the week. That's when he said: "I don't think (the Patriots) have got nobody to stop me."
The Bills also stopped themselves with 10 penalties for 75 yards.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org