Right after Tom Brady fumbled at the Buffalo 2-yard line, after a 7-minute 89-yard drive, I took a deep breath, wiped away the tears of blood falling out of my eyes like I was Mads Mikkelson mid-poker game, and told myself to calm down.
This was Tom Brady. This was Bill Belichick. This was the Patriots. Yes, they were down 21-17 and EJ Manuel was prancing around like he was Mystikal circa Spring Break 2002 (deservingly so, the kid looks great), but they would find a way back. They had to. This was the fuel that Brady needs to do what Brady does.
And yes, the Pats’ next drive was a three-and-out that took all of 47 seconds, but the principle is legitimate: in the end, Tom Brady will find a way to get the New England Patriots to win. He’s too good. He’s won too much. He’s too angry and pissed off and infuriated by the idea of failure.
But oh boy was this way too close. The Bills pretty much gave the game away, with penalty after penalty, their youth and inexperience showing on a drive-by-drive basis. For every Patriots’ turnover, the Bills would give it up as well. And yet it took a last-minute field goal by Stephen Gostkowski to take the lead and the eventual victory. No one feels good about this win, I imagine, Bills and Pats fans alike. But there is hope for New England. Here are three takeaways from this week’s game.
1.The passing game needs a bit of work…but Danny Amendola is great
This will almost certainly be the main topic of discussion concerning the Patriots in the next week. The uber-efficient, crisp aerial attack of past Patriots teams was definitely not exemplified in today’s game. Julian Edelman came out of nowhere with 7 receptions for 79 yards, and 2 TDs. Danny Amendola immediately won the hearts and minds of Patriots fans by coming back from tweaking his groin (does one tweak a groin? Sprain a groin? Agitate a groin?) with 10 receptions for 104 yards, including some truly spectacular leaping grabs. Amendola ably stepped into the Welker/security blanket role for Brady and will be the #1 target for the foreseeable future.
The rookies on the other hand…looked like rookies. Zach Sudfeld only had one target, and it went as wrong as possible: Sudfeld tripped up in his route, had to dive for the pass, and the ball bounced off his hands into the arms of a waiting Justin Rogers. Sudfeld barely saw the field after that point. Aaron Dobson didn’t play because of a hamstring issue. Josh Boyce barely made his presence known on the field. And Kenbrell Thompkins was only able to haul in 4 catches for 42 yards on a whopping 14 targets.
But good news: things are only going to get better, especially for Sudfeld and Thompkins. The biggest criticism of both performances was their inefficiency in running their routes crisply, and that’s something that will only improve with repetition and more time with Brady. Thompkins did still show nice ability to get off the line quickly and create separation, and a few different steps, and it’s 7 or 8 catches instead of 4 (CBS’ Dan Dierdorf was ragging on Thompkins like he had broken into his house and peed on his carpet, seeming to forget that he was an undrafted rookie in his first pro game).
Same goes for Sudfeld, who needs a confidence boost more than anything, plus what good is a Patriots team without a Rowlf? We may not see immediate improvement what with the Thursday game against New York, but it will absolutely come in time.
2. The running game should be a strength of this Patriots’ team
Okay, let’s get this out of the way. Stevan Ridley needs to do a better job of controlling the ball. It was a semi-issue last year, and this wasn’t a good start to the year in that regard. But he is BY FAR the best option at running back for the Patriots, and had a great game outside of the fumble. Vereen impressed greatly, with 14 carries for 101 yards, but he is absolutely best used as a 3rd down back, and doesn’t have the same upside and power that Ridley has. Likewise LeGarrette Blount (who has no business being the Pats’ kick returner, and will almost certainly be replaced by the recently resigned Leon Washington) is a good change-of-pace bruising back, and struggled mightily on 1st and 2nd down this afternoon (7 carries, 15 yards)
Which is why Belichick’s benching of Ridley in the second half was really frustrating. Too often the Patriots were forced into throwing constantly with little success in the 3rd and early 4th quarter, because they couldn’t establish the running game with Ridley on the sideline. We know that Belichick is stubborn (see: Tim Tebow), but I wonder if it might hurt the team in the long run. Ridley was clearly upset with himself, he know that this is a problem that he needs address. Should he get consistent carries in future games (the Jets should be a promising matchup for him) he should live up to his promise as a top back in the NFL.
3. The Patriots know how to plan on defense
I said earlier this week that the key to the Patriots’ winning was containing CJ Spiller and forcing the Bills to rely on their rookie quarterback. I didn’t think that they would do this good a job. The Patriots pretty much took Spiller out of the game holding him to 17 carries, on 41 yards, and, more importantly, only 14 yards on 5 receptions, and one fumble.
There are two players that should be given a large amount of the credit. One is Kyle Arrington who had a great game in the slot. Every single time Arrington wrapped up on a Bills receiver, he immediately grabbed for the ball to try and tear it out, forcing two key fumbles that the Pats recovered. The other is Jerod Mayo, who showed that he is still one of the best linebackers in the AFC, racking up 15 tackles, and keeping Spiller in check for much of the game.
Of course the most credit should go to Bill Belichick, who clearly came into this game with a plan on defense, one that was executed quite well. I don’t think anyone imagined that Manuel, who was pretty much forced to shoulder the load, would step up the way he did. But 9 times out of 10 you contain the home-running hitting running back over the rookie QB in his first game. It was the right choice, and one that just barely paid off.
Coming soon: Week 2 Preview/Predictions for Patriots vs. Jets. Things are going to get mean.
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