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Bills commit 14 penalties in 37-31 loss to Pats

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Bills commit 14 penalties in 37-31 loss to Pats

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) Buffalo's offense had no trouble moving the ball on New England's defense Sunday.

The Bills just went in the wrong direction far too often.

Despite setting a franchise record with 35 first downs and racking up a season-high 481 yards of offense, the Bills committed 14 penalties and turned the ball over three times, derailing any chance they had at upsetting the first-place Patriots, who narrowly escaped with a 37-31 victory.

``We go into every game expecting to win, but that one, I just felt like it would have been right,'' said Buffalo receiver Stevie Johnson. ``But this ain't no Disney movie. This is real life and we've got to make these plays at the end of the game and win.

``I'm tired of just coming up short.''

The Bills (3-6) fell to 2-23 in their last 25 games against New England (6-3) and 0-11 at Gillette Stadium.

And this time, they have only themselves to blame.

The 14 penalties were the most by the Bills since totaling 15 against Minnesota on Oct. 1, 2006, and the 148 penalty yards were the second-most in team history, trailing only the 159 accrued against the Boston Patriots in 1970.

The opening sequence defined the rest of Buffalo's afternoon, too.

After marching 20 yards on four plays to begin the game, the Bills went from a third-and-one at their own 40 to a third-and-21 after a pair of false starts and a holding call.

``The penalties were unbelievable,'' said Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who was 27 of 40 for 337 yards with two touchdowns. ``When you're looking at it offensively, having a third-and-one and all of sudden going to third-and-21 . just can't have it.

``We were able to overcome some of them, but there were just too many yellow flags out there for us today.''

Fitzpatrick was stripped of the ball while being sacked on the ensuing possession, leading to a 1-yard touchdown run by Stevan Ridley, and running back Fred Jackson ripped off a 12-yard run early in the fourth before fumbling on the New England 1.

``It's something we talked about going into the game, not giving their offense more opportunities than what they deserve,'' Fitzpatrick said. ``Unfortunately that fumble was a big turning point, essentially giving them seven points early in the game. That's something that I guess we weren't able to overcome throughout the game.''

The Patriots let a 17-3 lead slip to 34-31 with 7:47 left on Fitzpatrick's 2-yard pass to Donald Jones, and Buffalo then held New England to a 27-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski.

The Bills quickly moved to the New England 15 before Fitzpatrick threw the ball right into the hands of safety Devin McCourty while trying to hit T.J. Graham in the back of the end zone, ending any hope of a stunning win.

``I had every idea we were going to score and win the ball game by one,'' said Bills coach Chan Gailey. ``That was my total thought. I just knew we were going to do that.

``We are not good enough yet to not play extremely well and win. We've got to play extremely well to win. We're not there yet.''

The game was closer than expected considering New England led the NFL in points and yards gained and Buffalo was next to last in points and yards allowed.

The Patriots extended their streak to 11 straight scoring possessions against the Bills with a field goal and three touchdowns on their first four series Sunday. In the previous meeting, a 52-28 win by the Patriots on Sept 30, New England scored on its last seven series - six touchdowns followed by a field goal.

But not even that - and 13 Buffalo penalties through three quarters - could give the Patriots a secure lead and they entered the fourth quarter ahead 31-24.

``It's very frustrating,'' Johnson said. ``The way we moved the ball today, the game plan we had, the way our quarterback played, it just seemed like it was right for us to come back and win this game.''

The Patriots led 24-17 at halftime, scoring on a 43-yard field goal by Gostkowski, Ridley's touchdown run, a 15-yard scamper by Danny Woodhead and a 2-yard pass from quarterback Tom Brady to Rob Gronkowski, his fifth touchdown catch in three games.

Gronkowski's touchdown came two plays after Buffalo's fourth defensive pass interference penalty and third in the end zone, covering 36 yards.

The Bills scored on a 42-yard field goal by Rian Lindell, a 14-yard run by Jackson and a 3-yard pass from Fitzpatrick to Scott Chandler with 31 seconds left in the half.

Chandler's touchdown capped the fourth straight scoring drive of the game covering at least 72 yards in less than 3 1-2 minutes.

Woodhead scored again, his first multi-touchdown game of his career, on an 18-yard pass from Brady, who finished 23 of 38 for 237 yards. But the Bills cut the lead to 31-24 on the next possession on a 1-yard run by Jackson and Lindell's extra point.

Gostkowski's 48-yard field goal gave the Patriots a 34-24 lead 50 seconds into the fourth quarter.

Buffalo just couldn't climb all the way back.

``If we were able to win that game, all of a sudden you turn the season around and you forget about the five losses before that,'' Fitzpatrick said. ``This is a tough one to swallow for us, especially with the way it ended.''

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Stanley Cup Final 2018: Players to watch

Stanley Cup Final 2018: Players to watch

It doesn't take an expert to tell you players like Alex Ovechkin or Marc-Andre Fleury will play a big role in the Stanley Cup Final.

Both the Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights will need their best players to be at their best to take home the Cup. But who will be the unexpected heroes? Who are the players no one is talking about who will have a big hand in their team's success or defeat in this series?

Here are five players you should be watching in the Stanley Cup:

1. Devante Smith-Pelly: Smith-Pelly had seven goals in 79 games in the regular season. Now he has four goals in just 19 playoff games.

Smith-Pelly has been one of those unlikely playoff heroes for the Caps this postseason with very timely performances such as scoring the series-clinching goal in Game 6 against the Columbus Blue and scoring the goal that put the game away in Game 6 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The physical play has really stood out as well for him, which fits well on the fourth line role he has settled back into now that the team is healthy again. Barry Trotz tried moving him to the top line in the absence of Tom Wilson and the results weren't great. He is best suited for the role he currently has and that will allow him to thrive.

2. James Neal: Neal came up just short of the Stanley Cup last season as a member of the Nashville Predators. He totaled nine points in 22 games during that run, a number he has already matched in just 15 games this postseason.

There are very few players on either team that boast the kind of postseason experience Neal has. He will be leaned upon this series for his leadership.

Vegas is a young team and their unprecedented success in the playoffs may make this feel like the first run of many for the Golden Knights, but not for Neal who is on the last year of his contract and came tantalizingly close to the Cup last season. He will play like there is no tomorrow because, for him, there may not be in Vegas.

3. Andre Burakovsky: Burakovsky was one of the heroes of Game 7 with two goals to put away the Tampa Bay Lightning. That marked just the latest peak in a career full of peaks and valleys for the young winger. Just two games before, Burakovsky was a healthy scratch and spoke to the media about his plans to speak with a sports psychologist in the offseason.

The talent is there and it certainly appears that the injury that kept him out earlier in the playoffs is largely behind him. Burakovsky’s issues have always been mainly between the ears. In a series against a fast team with strong depth, he can be an absolutely critical piece for the Caps. Hopefully, his Game 7 performance gave him the confidence he needs to continue to be effective.

4. Ryan Reaves: Vegas acquired both Reaves and Tomas Tatar around the trade deadline. If I were to tell you that through three rounds of the playoffs, both players were healthy, had played the same number of games (6) and had the same number of points (1), you’d think I was crazy. Yet, here we are.

Reaves was largely an afterthought in a complicated trade between Vegas, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Ottawa Senators, but he has carved a nice role for himself on the Golden Knights’ fourth line and even scored the goal that sent Vegas to the Stanley Cup Final against the Winnipeg Jets.

Reaves is also an agitator on the ice, but what do the Caps do against a player like that when their normal fighter plays on the top line? We may see Reaves and Wilson come to blows this series, but it won't be very often because that is a bad tradeoff for the Caps.

5. Brooks Orpik: The elder statesman of the blue line, Orpik is the only player on the Caps with a Stanley Cup to his name and is the only one who has any idea what this experience is going to be like for the team.

Orpik is very diligent about keeping in shape which has allowed him to play in 81 games this season and all 19 playoff games despite being 37 years old, but you do have to wonder how much is left in the tank. Despite being the favorite whipping boy for the proponents of analytics, his physical play has been effective this postseason. The focus he placed on the skating in the offseason has paid dividends so far in matchups against the speedy Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning, but the Golden Knights will be the fastest team they have played yet. There is no denying Orpik is much more suited towards a physical style of game. Wil he continue to be effective or will Vegas exploit the Caps' third defensive pairing?

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Wizards Tipoff podcast: Markieff Morris goes 1-on-1; no All-NBA votes for Beal?

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Wizards Tipoff podcast: Markieff Morris goes 1-on-1; no All-NBA votes for Beal?

On the latest episode of the Wizards Tipoff podcast presented by Greenberg and Bederman, Chris Miller caught up with Wizards power forward Markieff Morris. Morris looked back on the 2017-18 season and gave his side on what needs to be fixed.

Chris and Chase Hughes also had a heated debate about Bradley Beal not receiving any All-NBA votes. Chase is an awards voter and defended his ballot. Chris wasn't having any of it.

They also went into the conference finals and what it would mean if the Rockets beat the Warriors.

You can listen to the episode right here:

You can download the podcast on Apple Podcasts right here and on Google Play. If you like the show please tell your friends!