Buffalo's collapse and the Patriots' fourth-quarter comeback, in the return of the ultra-poised Tom Brady, showed, once again, why teams such as New England, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and the New York Giants play for championships and the Bills, Bengals and Browns don't.
The mighty not only have players with steady nerves and heart, but they also have players who aren't indecisive at the moment of truth and don't doubt their coaching or path to success. The personnel men for these teams seem to find players who hold themselves and others accountable.
That's why the Patriots can survive 57 minutes of getting outplayed, and, in a lot of ways outcoached, to rally over Buffalo. It's how Pittsburgh can somehow force enough breaks to take advantage of a random coin flip in overtime to overcome a Hines Ward fumble that cost them a chance to seal the game in regulation.
It's also why the Bengals, who played well enough to defeat Denver, can randomly have two safeties -- the final lines of defense -- tackle the intended receiver (as they should have) but have nobody in place to stop Brandon Stokley before he got to the goal line for the winning 87-yard touchdown. It was a completely unfortunate happenstance, but so was Leodis McKelvin's fumble on a kickoff -- after he hesitated bringing the kick out of the end zone -- that gave the Patriots two minutes to set up the clinching 16-yard touchdown pass from Brady to tight end Ben Watson.
"We played really, really well," said despondent Bills cornerback Donte Whitner. "It's tough. It's tough. I wanted to shut everybody up who didn't think that we are a good football team. We had our opportunity. We wanted to win. We needed a win. We had a win. We let it go."
Bills players were crushed, as they should have been. Had they not felt as bad as people felt for them, it would have enhanced the perception -- and maybe reality -- that they are a mess of an organization with a coach on the hot seat and players in need of direction.
For the majority of the game, they stiff-armed their terrible preseason play and showed that maybe the firing of offensive coordinator Turk Schonert just over a week before the start of the season wasn't such a desperate move. New coordinator Alex Van Pelt called a masterful game of screen passes and runs that highlighted tailback Fred Jackson. The offensive line that started three players who'd never played an NFL snap gave quarterback Trent Edwards more than ample time. Edwards said he routinely could go through at least two progressions, a salute to his protection.
"They were keeping us off balance," Patriots outside linebacker Derrick Burgess said. "They did a good job. We couldn't get them stopped."
Until the final drive, when the protection broke down and precision turned to collapse. With 45 seconds left and about 50 yards to get into field-goal range, Edwards started the drive with a 19-yard pass to Terrell Owens. However, Edwards was then sacked twice and threw an incompletion under duress.
Don't be fooled, Brady is still rounding into form after returning from a serious knee injury. He made his share of mistakes -- that is, until the pressure was on. He led the Patriots on two touchdowns in less than two minutes.
Week 1 concluded with few surprises. And though it's the opening week and some teams will fall apart while others will hit their stride, for the most part things held to expectations -- as they will. Barring catastrophic injuries, the Patriots, Colts, Giants, Eagles, Packers, Vikings, Ravens, Titans and maybe the Cowboys will be in the playoff hunt.
They have talent, playmakers, trust, aspirations and discipline.
Randy Moss, who had 12 catches for 141 yards, sought out New England's wideouts after showering. He wasn't trying to get them together for dinner or to hang. He wanted to know if any of them were going to join him between 8 and 9 a.m. Tuesday -- players' day off throughout the NFL -- to watch film. They're coming.
Saints running back Mike Bell, who rushed for 143 yards and had the game of his NFL life, didn't want any glory for his role in New Orleans' 45-27 wipeout of Detroit or lobby for a bigger role in the running back rotation.
"Drew [Brees] deserves all the credit for everything," Bell said of his quarterback's six-touchdown performance. "Drew and the offensive line."
There is something different about teams that expect to win.
While some of the Patriots spoke to media about their narrow escape or about the need to get better before facing the Jets in Week 2 (Will Rex Ryan offer Bill Belichick any more bait?), Burgess stood alone in his locker, thumbing through his Holy Bible.
Burgess was in an odd mood, despite getting a sack, quarterback hurry and three tackles. Strangely, he felt for the Bills.
"It was different because I haven't been in a big game like that in awhile," Burgess said. "It feels good to know the white flag doesn't ever come up. It has to be a tough feeling for them because they did such a great job. Somebody's got to lose, though. That's how this game is."
Burgess knows about losing and white flags being waved all too well. He played for the Raiders the past four seasons, so gutting out a win was something different, for sure. After speaking his peace, Burgess packed up his Bible and said, "We won but we have to get back to the drawing board if we're going to go anywhere this season."