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Monday, September 21, 2015

Until Further Notice, The AFC East Continues to Run Through Foxborough, MA

If the Bills are the biggest threat in the AFC East to the Patriots in 2015, it should be another cakewalk to a meaningless division title. Poor Buffalo (1-1 overall, 1-1 home) was all geared up for the annual Rex Ryan (who is now 4-10 against the Patriots in his career as a head coach) Week 2 Super Bowl vs. New England (2-0 overall, 1-0 away). In fact, the Bills looked the part of a true contender for the opening drive of the game and then in the fourth quarter which was mostly garbage time until they made it interesting in an eventual 40-32 loss at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Tom Brady (38 of 59, 466 yards, 3 TDs), Julian Edelman (11 catches, 97 yards, 2 TDs), Rob Gronkowski (7 catches, 113 yards, 1 TD) and Dion Lewis (98 yards receiving, 40 yards rushing, 1 TD) shredded what is supposedly one of the top defenses in the NFL. Other than Rex Ryan's crazy lack of discipline (14 penalties, 140 yards) and attention to detail, the biggest tangible question surrounding the Bills is whether Tyrod Taylor (23 of 30, 242 yards, 3 TDs, 3 INTs; 43 yards rushing) can be a starting quarterback on a playoff contender. Throwing mostly short yardage passes might work in the regular season against garbage defenses (hi Indy) but that's not how you get to the postseason.

Buffalo received the opening drive and went 80 yards in 10 plays: rookie Karlos Williams capped off the 5-minute drive with a 2-yard touchdown run. New England bounced back with an 8-yard touchdown catch by Edelman. The Pats then took advantage of two very short fields to go ahead 21-7 on Lewis' 6-yard touchdown run late in the first quarter and Gronk's 2-yard touchdown catch early in the second quarter. Former Dolphin Charles Clay's 9-yard touchdown catch cut it to 21-13 but Dan Carpenter missed the extra point. Those were Buffalo's last points until the fourth quarter when the Patriots had expanded their lead to 37-13.

New England's defense combined for eight sacks (their most since 2003) and three interceptions (by Duron Harmon, Logan Ryan and Malcolm Butler). The Bills have much higher paid defensive players like Marcell Dareus and Mario Williams but there was no question that Chandler Jones (6 tackles, 3 sacks) and Jamie Collins (11 tackles, 2.5 sacks) were the most dangerous guys on that side of the ball at least on Sunday. Stephen Gostkowski's 46-yard field goal made it 24-13 heading into halftime for the visitors. LeSean McCoy (89 yards rushing, 27 yards receiving) doesn't seem to be Rex's favored type of physical running back despite his superior talent.

Gostkowski opened the scoring in the third quarter with a 21-yard field goal followed by a 22-yard touchdown catch by Edelman and a 50-yard field goal. After getting blanked in the third, the Bills showed some fight in the fourth on Robert Woods' 32-yard touchdown catch (that went right over Butler's hands). New England outsmarted themselves trying to run up the score when they just could have burned the clock and gotten out of Buffalo smoothly. Instead, they turned it over on downs and the Bills inched closer on Taylor's 7-yard touchdown run then truly made things interesting on a 24-yard touchdown catch by Sammy Watkins (who had burned Bradley Fletcher) following a fumble by Brady.

New England drove 72 yards in seven plays (3:01) and made it 40-32 on Gostkowski's 25-yard field goal with 1:15 remaining. Ryan iced it with his game-ending interception on an overthrow by Taylor. In the first two games this season, Lewis has been a revelation that looks like he'll be a very useful weapon if he can just hang onto the ball (he fumbled for the second week in a row). Today, the pleasant surprise was provided by Aaron Dobson (7 catches, 87 yards) who actually looked like an NFL player. New England only dressed three wide receivers and while Edelman can come close (tying his career-high with 19 targets), they need other guys to turn to once in a while. Danny Amendola had his customary one catch but at least it was a great one: a sweet diving 29-yard grab on the final drive.

So much changes from week to week in the NFL that is really silly to draw any type of conclusions from results between other teams, particularly this early in the season. With that said, the fact that Miami struggled so much in their Week 1 victory at Washington then followed that up with a 23-20 loss at Jacksonville (1-1) this afternoon shows that they seem to be their usual mediocre selves. How is Joe Philbin still employed there? If the Jets (1-0) lose tomorrow night in Indy (0-1) as expected, the Patriots will be up one game already on the rest of the soft AFC East.

New England's Week 3 meeting with the Jaguars next Sunday (1, CBS) has all the makings of a trap game: they are going into a bye week after that and they know that they can sleepwalk and still beat lowly (but improving!) Jacksonville. That's why I can picture the Pats looking terrible but still beating the Jags by a few scores. They always have a game like this, especially early in the regular season when they are getting the kinks out and some useless team (think Oakland last season) comes to Gillette for their beating. Prepare to be frustrated since I know that the Patriots will be double-digit favorites at home.

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