By Maureen Mullen
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Tom Brady showed on Monday night against the Bills that his 38-year-old body can take a hit. And another one. And another one.
Meanwhile, the refs proved that no call was too small to ruminate over and get incorrect.
In a sloppy Monday night game where both teams and the officiating crew seemed out of sync, the Bills brought pressure on Brady and roughed him up. But the Pats quarterback withstood the pounding -- along with an egregious inadvertent whistle in the third quarter that likely cost him a touchdown -- to lead New England to a 20-13 win. The Patriots improved to 10-0, while the Bills fell to 5-5.
The Pats have been dealing with injuries on the offensive side all season long and, though they got most of their O-line back this week with only guard Tre' Jackson inactive, there were still some issues in the trenches.
While the Bills defense was not able to completely contain Brady, it limited him to throwing 20-for-39 and 277 yards with one touchdown, a sack and more than 10 non-sack hits. Several of those were of the teeth-rattling variety, including one to the chin late in the game from defensive end Jerry Hughes, from which it appeared Brady needed a beat to recover.
As they've done all year, though, the Pats offense eventually adjusted -- even using Bills head coach Rex Ryan to help make those tweaks. In the first quarter, Brady called an audible to switch what appeared to be a run from the left side of the formation to the right side. His cadence? "Rex Ryan."
"It's just communication on offense. We use a lot of terms. That one's just unique." - Brady on Rex Ryan audible pic.twitter.com/l0JM0d7aFI- NFL Network (@nflnetwork) November 24, 2015
Rex Ryan on Brady calling his name as an audible: "He likes me, I know that."- Ryan Hannable (@RyanHannable) November 24, 2015
The Pats' receiving corps -- already hit with injuries, including Julian Edelman who suffered a broken foot against the Giants last week and is not expected back soon, Keshawn Martin, who has missed five games with a hamstring injury and running back Dion Lewis, who suffered a season-ending knee injury against the Redskins -- took a few more hits Monday night with injuries to Danny Amendola, who injured his knee, and Aaron Dobson, who suffered an ankle injury. Amendola had nine receptions for 117 yards before he left. For comparison, eight other Patriots receivers had 160 yards combined.
By the third quarter, the Pats had just two healthy wide receivers -- Brandon LaFell and Chris Harper, who was just called up from the practice squad. Tight end Rob Gronkowski had just two receptions for 37 yards.
"We had to work around it a little bit tonight," Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said. "We'll see what it is going forward but tonight we definitely had to work around it. I thought Josh (McDaniels, New England's offensive coordinator) did a good job managing the game and we were able to do what we could do. It wasn't necessarily what we wanted it to be, but it was good enough."
On the other side, Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor -- also shaken up by a hit late in the game -- was held to 233 yards with no touchdowns. The young QB could be seen nursing his right shoulder in the fourth quarter as he tried to orchestrate a comeback that fell short when wide receiver Sammy Watkins caught a pass near midfield, rolled out of bounds, yet was ruled inbound with the clock ticking down to zero.
Not that it really makes a difference, but the clock should have stopped on that last play. He went out untouched.- Mike Pereira (@MikePereira) November 24, 2015
That call paled in comparison to what happened in the third quarter, though.
The Patriots were at their own 31 less than a minute into the second half. Brady rolled out to the right and threw a short pass to Danny Amendola down the right sideline. Amendola made a clean catch and appeared to have an open field between him and the end zone.
But a whistle was blown while the pass was in the air. The officials ruled the ball was dead at the spot of the catch, a 14-yard gain.
Ryan was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct on the play for interfering with the side judge for a 15-yard penalty, giving the Pats a 29-yard gain on the play. Not a bad parlay, but not the six points they could have gotten.
After the game NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino said on NFL Network Total Access, Monday Night Football Postgame Show: "The line judge lost track of the football and he blew his whistle inadvertently. That's a mistake and we shouldn't have blown the whistle. So by rule, they look at where the football was when the whistle was blown."
NFL VP of Officiating elaborates on inadvertent whistle from Monday Night Football. https://t.co/SBzYHnfwl7- NFL (@NFL) November 24, 2015
To make things worse, the Pats got no points on the drive when Stephen Gostkowski's 54-yard field goal went wide right. The miss snapped Gostkowski's streak of consecutive field goals made at 31, including 22 this season. It was his first miss from at least 50 yards since 2013.
Shortly after that, the Bills LeSean McCoy had a 27-yard run for a touchdown, tying the game at 10.
After a James White six-yard touchdown run in the third, the Pats had a 17-10 lead, one they wouldn't relinquish.
The Pats next face the Broncos on Sunday night in Denver to try to keep their perfect season alive.
Maureen Mullen is the sports editor of the Daily Item in Lynn, Mass. She is also the author of Diary of a Red Sox Season, 2007 with the legendary Johnny Pesky, and Yogi Was Up with a Guy on Third, conversations with 53 of the 64 living Hall of Famers.