FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Tom Brady won’t return to an undefeated team after all.
But following the Buffalo Bills’ surprise 16-0 shutout victory at New England Sunday, he will come back to an AFC East that is suddenly tighter a month into the season.
Buffalo’s win was a continuation of an offensive turnaround that seemed improbable after a 0-2 start.
The change in direction began with the firing of offensive coordinator Greg Roman and promotion of assistant Anthony Lynn. It is now in full bloom after back-to-back wins over Arizona and New England.
“For sure, we’re confident in coach Lynn,” running back LeSean McCoy said. “Each game, each time he has a shot he has to call a play, different situations, he’s answering every time. … We loved him already before he was an offensive coordinator, and now we’re just falling in love with the calls that he’s making.”
And for a team that seemed to be going nowhere two weeks ago, getting just its second win in 16 visits to Foxborough is a very big deal.
A big part of the reason is quarterback Tyrod Taylor. In his second year as a starter, he has found confidence with his throwing.
He had trouble reading coverages and throwing the deep ball earlier in the season, but didn’t exhibit those issues in picking apart a veteran New England defense that is having trouble defending the pass this season.
Buffalo’s defense also took a big step by handing the Patriots their first shutout loss at Gillette Stadium.
Even with Brady serving the final game of his four-game “Deflategate” ban, cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman said it’s something to build on.
So was the camaraderie his teammates showed about an hour before the game, when Bills safety Robert Blanton and others were involved in a shoving match with Patriots quarterback Jacoby Brissett and receiver Malcolm Mitchell.
Robey-Coleman said he and other Buffalo players felt disrespected when the Patriots players twice ran through their pregame warmups.
Several punches were thrown when a shoving match erupted near the sideline. The altercation appeared to begin when Brissett was jogging along the field and was shoved by Bills safety Robert Blanton.
Brissett didn’t stop, and Mitchell retaliated by shoving Blanton. Blanton responded by punching Mitchell in the chest and head-butting him, which led to several other players and assistant coaches getting involved before it was broken up.
“When he did that, it kind of put a fire up underneath us,” Robey-Coleman said. “We came out there with some fire. And it was like, ‘Nah, we ain’t going to let nobody disrespect us no matter where we’re at.'”
WELCOME BACK BRADY: As bad as things went for the Patriots on Sunday, Brady’s return to the team on Monday is welcomed for several reasons. Not only do they get back the leader of their offense, but they get back a healthy player at the position with Jimmy Garoppolo still recovering from his shoulder injury and Brissett not 100 percent after tweaking his right thumb last week. Receiver Julian Edelman said his presence will help everyone refocus.
“Any time one of your best players isn’t there, there’s something missing,” Edelman said. “We handled a lot of it well. Today we just didn’t. The Bills outplayed us, so that’s that.”
A LITTLE MORE GRONK: After going without a catch in his season debut last week, Rob Gronkowski got his first reception of 2016 with an 11-yard reception in the fourth quarter. With it, he took over sole possession of 20th place among NFL tight ends. Gronkowski (5,566) needs 161 yards to move past Irving Fryar (5,726) into fourth place on the Patriots career receiving list.
BOUNCING BACK: Following a 0-2 start, Ryan looked forward to Buffalo’s next two opponents.
He said Arizona and New England would be a great test to see how his team responds. The Bills passed with flying colors in winning both games, starting with a 33-18 win over the Cardinals.
“Yeah, not one of the more brilliant statements I’ve had,” Ryan said with a self-deprecating laugh. “Well, I feel a lot better.”
SACK ATTACK: The Bills had three sacks against the Patriots.
Buffalo has 13 sacks in four games after managing just 21 last season — a franchise low for a 16-game schedule. Last season, the Bills failed to record more than two sacks in one game. This season, the Bills have had three or more three times.
More encouraging is the Bills’ defense prepares to welcome back star defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, who missed the first four games serving a suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.
Follow Kyle Hightower on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/khightower