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Monday, September 9, 2013

Beating The Bills Doesn't Mean Much, The Patriots Have Plenty of Work To Do


You know that as a fan base we are truly spoiled when we can look at a season-opening win on the road, against a divisional opponent that featured a last-minute drive and think, man the Patriots really played poorly. Such is the world we live in where 23-21 victories over the Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium fill us with more frustration and anger than joy. Stephen Gostkowski's clutch (for him) 35-yard field goal with five seconds left was the difference.

This is more than us being miserable bastards, after all of New England's recent history of being regular season heroes then losing in the postseason, these games take on a more sterile look and feel. A function of being in the AFC East (one of the worst divisions in pro sports) is that the Pats are basically a lock to win it and/or make the playoffs every season that Tom Brady (29 of 52, 288 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT) and Bill Belichick are employed in Foxborough.

It was a sloppy contest with both teams combining for five turnovers and Buffalo getting whistled for 10 penalties (75 yards). New England started off well, leading 10-0 after the first quarter, and ended strongly (outscoring Buffalo 6-0 in the fourth quarter) so it was the second and third quarters that were bizarre even by wacky opening day standards.

I will resist the urge to draw final conclusions off of one game but there were certainly some trends to keep an eye on. Danny Amendola (10 catches, 104 yards) might be made of glass but when he can drag himself onto the field, he has great hands and Brady already seems to have built a connection with him. Conversely, preseason All-Stars Kenbrell Thompkins (4 catches, 42 yards; 14 targets) and Zach Sudfeld (0 catches, 1 target) looked like the undrafted rookies they are rather than the preseason standouts that everyone went overboard praising.

Bills rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel (18 of 27, 150 yards, 2 TDs) was predictably up and down. He showed the ability to run (19-yard carry) and sling it (witness the beautiful 18-yard TD pass to Stevie Johnson) but he also lacked touch on some of his easier throws.

Bigger picture, three of New England's obvious storylines coming into this season only got further muddled: 1) their defense got no pass rush (0 sacks, 4 QB hits); 2) Stevan Ridley (2 fumbles, 1 lost) has a case of fumbilitis that might be fatal; 3) outside of Amendola, who can Brady confidently throw to?

Julian Edelman (7 catches, 79 yards, 2 TDs) and Shane Vereen (101 yards rushing; 58 yards receiving) were the unexpected (but not really) workhorses for the Patriots. New England's defense looked solid (albeit against the Bills and a rookie QB that nobody fears), it's not a leap to say they only really gave up seven points since the Bills got a 74-yard fumble return for a TD by Da'Norris Searcy and a gift interception (off Sudfeld's stone hands) that set them up with a short field for another 18-yard touchdown pass-this time to rookie Robert Woods. Jerod Mayo had 15 tackles (12 solo) and Kyle Arrington forced two fumbles that were recovered by Tommy Kelly and Rob Ninkovich respectively.

To state the obvious: Brady really missed Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. The good news is that the former should be back in a few weeks when the competition ramps up (sorry Jets and Bucs). Amendola's groin injury is a worry heading into Thursday's (8:25, NFL Network) home opener vs. Jets (1-0). Playing two divisional games on such a short schedule to begin the season seems cruel but I'm not Adrian Gonzalez so I won't complain.

The Jets should be 0-1 but thanks to an all-time bonehead penalty, they were able to kick a last-second field goal of their own for an 18-17 win vs. Buccaneers that they didn't deserve. Oh well, the Pats will face another rookie quarterback-Geno Smith-who started his pro career by going 24 of 38 for 256 yards, one touchdown, one interception and 47 yards rushing. The Patriots and Bills won't cross paths again until Week 17 at Gillette Stadium, you know by then that Buffalo will be playing for nothing but pride and a high draft pick.





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