By: Steve Balestrieri
The final score says the New England Patriots yesterday won 37-31 over the Buffalo Bills but there wasn’t a whole lot of jubilation around Patriots nation yesterday just a large sigh of relief.
Once again, the offense couldn’t put the game away despite having a first and goal at the 2 yard line with less than three minutes remaining and the defense who were in a giving mood all day, gave up the majority of the field one more time as Ryan Fitzpatrick picked his way down the field before the Bills, who made so many mistakes on Sunday made one more. Don’t pin the interception that was thrown right to Devin McCourty in the end zone on Fitzpatrick.
Rookie WR T.J. Graham ran the wrong route and was supposed to cut behind McCourty instead of behind him, so Fitzpatrick’s pick was on him however, the rookie did stand up and admit he made the mistake at the end of the day that so many were waiting to put on Fitzpatrick’s penchant of forcing things. Fitzpatrick played very well yesterday; he picked the Patriots apart for the vast majority of the day, and like other QBs who they’ve faced this season, had way too much time to survey the field.
Defensive Gameplan?- Much more was expected from the Patriots coming off of a bye week with two weeks to prepare and a week of self-scouting to boot. The tackling on defense was particularly atrocious and frankly if that is the best game plan they can come up with against Buffalo with two weeks prep time on defense, then perhaps it is time for Bill Belichick to take over the reins of the defense from Matt Patricia and bring in another coordinator after the season.
It wasn’t a secret what the Bills were trying to do, I said last week in our key matchups that the best way for Buffalo to get Jackson and Spiller involved was setup the runs by passing early and giving them much better flexibility on offense. They did that and continued to do that and the Patriots didn’t seem to do any adjusting to stop them. At least any that was visible to the naked eye.
Offense Can’t Deliver Knockout- On the surface, a day when the offense puts up 37 points you consider them having a big day, but after the points they’ve hung on the Bills defense the past two meetings, the yardage they put on Buffalo wasn’t overly impressive. Of course, Buffalo too was in a giving mood on defense and committed a number of costly penalties. Some of them the head scratching variety and some blatantly bad calls marked the Bills defense on Sunday.
Tom Brady completed 23-38 for 237 yards and 2 TDs, hardly the numbers one would expect against the Bills defense and while Stevan Ridley had a solid outing 22 carries, 98 yard for a 4.5 yard per carry average, the secondary backs did little damage as Buffalo did a much better job defending the run this time around.
The Patriots had a few chances to put Buffalo away in the fourth quarter and couldn’t land the big blow. First and goal at the 2 yard line, the team should score more than 3 points there. If they pound the ball in, Fitzpatrick’s last drive is rendered moot.
Playcalling…not again?- Josh McDaniels continues to try to outsmart himself with trick plays that don’t work and aren’t needed. With the Patriots moving the ball across mid-field do they really need to run a fake-reverse deep ball? That one didn’t even fool the beer soaked guys in the 300 section. And what about the play calling down at the Patriots goal line after Buffalo went on a long drive and appeared poised to score? McCourty stripped Fred Jackson of the ball and the Patriots had the ball back with seven minutes to go.
So do the Patriots try to grind out the yards to get out of the hole? Three straight passes, three incompletions, 11 seconds gone from the clock. It wasn’t the best time to go three and out and burn only 11 seconds and have to punt from their end zone. Granted, Wes Welker shouldn’t have dropped the ball which would have made the third down, much easier to convert. Welker has to make that play but the offensive coordinator has to take into consideration what the circumstances are. Welker had two costly drops on the day, the other being an easy touchdown where he was wide open down the seam on the Patriots first possession, where they had to settle for three points.
Gronkowski not targeted much- Curious that the Patriots only threw to Gronkowski a few times down the middle of the field when the Bills were perhaps their weakest there. On the plays they did use him, he got a couple of big gains, he also chipped in with a 2 yard touchdown pass from Brady.
Gronkowski presented a huge mismatch against Buffalo as he’s done every time he’s played the Bills. Re-looking at the tape is a must this week to see if the Bills were doing anything special to take him away or was he just not targeted.
So this week is in the books, it was a win but definitely doesn’t feel like one. I’m sure they’re doing the same thing in Buffalo wondering how this one got away. But that is why Buffalo is 3-6 and has been on the skids for a long time now. And it’s precisely why the Patriots are 6-3 and have been on top for the past decade plus.
Game Balls are to be distributed in wins so here goes:
Sebastian Vollmer- SeaBass did a great job on Mario Williams, didn’t hear Williams name called much at all on Sunday. Vollmer is having an outstanding year at RT, remember all the handwringing about the offensive line all summer?
Stevan Ridley- With another very good performance he is cementing his position as the feature back in this offense. On a day where the outside running plays weren’t working, he ran hard up the middle and sans a 2 yard loss in the red zone; he’d have had another 100 yard rushing day. But 98 yards and a 4.5 yard average are very good.
Danny Woodhead- Talk about making your snaps count, Woodhead played only 16 snaps on Sunday yet delivered two big touchdowns, one rushing and one receiving. It was the first multiple TD game of his career for the diminutive running back who is quite valuable to the Patriots offense.
Devin McCourty- On a day where the defense left much to be desired, McCourty made two very important plays that turned the ball over. The first, he stripped Fred Jackson of the ball on the Patriots two yard line, at the time it was a huge momentum shift back to New England. The second was the interception that sealed the game in the Patriots end zone.
Check back later as we’ll have a feature on the Patriots defense now that Talib is in the house today. Will things change? Can they change? And will the defense be better or at least good enough?