By JOHN WAWROW
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — ORCHARD PARK — Stevie Johnson accepted the blame Monday after the Buffalo Bills receiver's hands failed to back up his big boasts.
A week after claiming New England had no one capable of defending him, Johnson wound up dropping the ball himself in a season-opening 23-21 loss to the Patriots on Sunday.
"When you don't win a game, at the end of the day, that's when you get negative attention," Johnson said. "And I deserve it."
The ever-colorful player became the focus of criticism midway through the fourth quarter with Buffalo clinging to a 21-20 lead. Facing third-and-1 at the Bills 49, Johnson was wide open in the left flat when EJ Manuel's pass bounced off his fingers to end the drive.
The Bills punted, then went three-and-out on their next possession to give Tom Brady enough time to orchestrate a 49-yard drive to set up Stephen Gostkowski's 35-yard field goal with 5 seconds remaining.
Johnson took the loss personally, in part because it was a familiar outcome against an AFC East nemesis that beat Buffalo for the 19th time in 20 meetings.
"The reaction is as expected. Everybody is placing the blame on me," said Johnson, who avoided speaking to reporters following the game. "It's OK. I felt like I put myself in that position."
Johnson did finish with three catches for 39 yards, including a third-quarter touchdown that put Buffalo ahead 21-17. And, in his defense, there was plenty of blame to go around for a Bills team that squandered numerous opportunities.
The Bills' new-look hurry-up offense was mostly stuck in neutral. They managed just 15 first downs, five coming on an 11-play, 80-yard drive that ended on Johnson's touchdown. Buffalo had difficulty on third down, converting just 4 of 13 opportunities.
And penalties proved costly. The Bills were flagged 13 times, with 10 accepted by the Patriots for 75 yards.
Add it up and the Bills' time of possession was 22:17, the shortest since controlling the ball for 22:08 during a 27-11 loss to the New York Jets on Nov. 6, 2011.
"Obviously, you've got to get that fixed," running back Fred Jackson said. "We can't leave our defense out there. We can't go three-and-out and put them out there and make them have a long day."
These were the telltale signs of a young team still searching for its identity with an entirely new coaching staff under rookie Doug Marrone.
"At the end of the day, we didn't make the plays we needed to win that game," Marrone said. "We came up short."
Marrone maintained confidence in Johnson bouncing back, with Buffalo preparing to host the Carolina Panthers (0-1) on Sunday.
"I have the utmost confidence in Stevie. He takes those things hard," Marrone said. "What he has to do, and he knows this, is he has to shake it off, come back and make a play. He will."
The Bills have more concerns to deal with after Marrone announced cornerback Ron Brooks and rookie receiver Marquise Goodwin will be out indefinitely after both were hurt Sunday.
Brooks underwent surgery Tuesday on a broken right foot. Goodwin had surgery on Monday to repair a broken right hand.
The initial prognosis is that both players' injuries are not season-ending, Marrone said.
Brooks was getting regular playing time as the third cornerback in passing situations. And his injury further depletes a secondary that's already missing starter Stephon Gilmore (broken left wrist) and starting safety Jairus Byrd (plantar fasciitis in both feet).
That leaves Buffalo down to four cornerbacks, including Brandon Burton, who was acquired last week off of waivers.
Byrd was unable to provide a timetable when he might be healthy enough to play.
"I don't know," he said. "I'm just waiting on my feet, honestly. Whenever they get ready and get right, that's when I'll be able to go out there."
Byrd is also attempting to become familiar with the defense after missing most of the offseason before signing his franchise tender three weeks ago.
Goodwin is a third-round draft pick out of Texas who was expected to add speed to the passing attack.