Strange game, that showed just how devastating turnovers can be. Despite dominating the time of possession 38 minutes to 22, running 89 plays to just 61 for Buffalo, and outgaining the Bills in total yards, 431-286, the Pats had to rally in the dying minutes of the 4th quarter to eek out a 23-21 win in Buffalo. Why? Because two huge turnovers led directly to two Buffalo TDs. Though this win did little to kindle SB excitement for fans of the 2013 edition of the Boys in Blue, a win is a win. A tough game to grade...but here goes:
I. OFFENSE: Looked anything but fluid. Two huge turnovers and a goal line fumble nearly did the Pats in.
1.) QB: Poor Tom Brady. The last time I can remember feeling this sorry for him, and seeing him this frustrated, was early in the 2006 season, when Reche Caldwell was his number one receiver. Other than a fine performance from a gritty Danny Amendola, and some key receptions from Julian Edelman, the pass receiving weaponry was seemingly reduced to spears and knives. Since most of his receivers were having trouble getting open, Tom was forced to hold onto the ball far longer than he surely wanted to, leading to him absorbing several heavy hits from the Buffalo front seven. For the game, Tom completed just 29 of 52 (fifty-two) pass attempts, for 288 yards, two TDs, and one Zack Sudfels drop, which resulted in an interception...and morphed into an easy Buffalo TD. Of these 29 completions, the average gain was a Curtis Painter like 5.3 yards. Not all can be blamed on Tom's receivers. Mid-way in the 3rd quarter, facing a 4th and goal from the Buffalo one yard, Brady fumbled a snap from center, leading to a turn over on downs...and allowing the Bills to remain on top, 21-17. Still...credit Tom for using the "spears and knives" at his disposal to lead his team on a 12 play, 48 yard closing drive, setting up a game winning 35 yard FG. Tom completed seven passes on seven attempts during this game winning drive: GRADE: "B+";
2.) RBs: Stevan Ridley has proven that he can be an effective NFL back. But, apparently he hasn't learned that Job One as a RB is to hold onto the ball, and that Job Two of a RB is to hold onto the ball. Fumbling can't, and won't be tolerated...especially by BB. Ridley fumbled on the second play from scrimmage, only to be saved by a "down by contact" ruling. Then, midway in the second quarter, with the Pats in command, up 10-0, and driving for another TD that likely would have broken the game open, Ridley slipped, and fumbled again, at the Bill's 25 yard line. It was scooped up by a Buffalo defender, and returned 74 yards for a Buffalo TD. This play cut the Pats' lead to 10-7, and changed the momentum of the game. It would be Ridley's final play of the day. Enter RB Shane Vereen, who looked and ran like Buffalo star RB, C. J. Spiller, was supposed to...running for 101 yards with just 14 carries. He also caught 7 passes for 58 more yards. Ridley finished with 50 yards on 9 carries...averaging over 5 yards per run. But, if a RB can't hold onto the ball, he's worthless: GRADE: "B-";
3.) OL: The "Big Uglies" allowed their King to be hit and sacked too often. But again, part of the reason for this was that "the King" had to hold the ball longer than average, because his receivers weren't getting open. Not a good day for RG Dan Connelly, and center Ryan Wendell. Some pass pressure seemed to be coming from the middle. Wendell also likely shares some of the blame for Brady mishandling the snap in the above mentioned failed fourth and goal gamble, at goal line. By and large, a decent job of run blocking by the OL...the production from which was marred only by the aforementioned Ridley and Brady fumbles: GRADE: "B-"
4.) TEs and WRs: Other than Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman (two TDs receptions), the remaining corp pf Patriots' receivers, both WRs and TEs, were awful. They looked completely out of place, timid, and had a severe case of the jitters. Preseason wonderboy Kembrell Thompkins showed a habit of "leaping", seemingly every time he attempted to haul in a pass, and, on one play seemed far more concerned about avoiding a hit than keeping his feet in bounds, to make a catch. The other preseason star, Zack Sudfels, had a drop, which morphed into an interception, setting up the Bills second TD...and giving them the momentum going into the second half of play: GRADE: "C"...despite Amendola's great gritty effort.
II. DEFENSE: Though the pass rush was tepid, and the pass coverage spotty, the "D" took care of Priority One by shutting down C.J. Spiller, and containing the Buffalo ground attack. The "D" only allowed one long TD drive. The other two Bills' TDs came on the Ridley fumble, and after the Brady interception (thanks to a Sudfelds' drop) set the Bills up deep in Pats' territory, in the closing minutes of the first half.
1.) DL: Good job of shutting down C.J. Spiller, although old nemisis Fred Taylor was allowed to do damage (13 carries for 67 yards). DT Tommy Kelly recovered a forced fumble in the red zone, leading to the Pats first score. Though the Pats recorded no sacks, the front four recorded four (4) QB hits, including two by Kelly. Kelly also had 7 tackles (2 solos), while Rob Ninkovich chipped in with eight (8) tackles (5 solos), and a fumble recovery: GRADE: "B";
2.) LBs: Jerod Mayo led the team in tackles by far with 15 (12 solos). Though the LBs were generally good in run support, they had issues in pass coverage, as TE Scott Chandler and RB Jackson combined to gain 80 yards on eight receptions: GRADE: "B";
3.) DBs: Credit Kyle Arrington for forcing two fumbles, the above mentioned one by Spiller, and one by Bills' WR Marquis Goodwin, which led to ten (10) Patriot points, and helped stake the Pats to an early 17-7 lead. Though WRs Stevie Johnson and Robert Woods each hauled in a E.J. Manuel TD pass, there were no pass plays of over 20 yards allowed for the game, and the Bills were held to just 150 passing yards. Now...part of the reason for that is that the Pats were facing a rookie QB, who missed several open receivers during the game. Still, the game plan was to contain the Bills ground game, and make Manuel beat then through the air...for the reason that Manuel is not an accurate deep passer. Steve Gregory had 9 tackles (7 solos), and the aforementioned Kyle Arrington chipped in with 5 tackles (4 solos), and a TFL, in addition to forcing the two aforementioned fumbles. We'll have to wait a couple of more weeks to see this secondary really get tested: GRADE: "B"
III. SPECIAL TEAMS: Credit the much maligned Stephen Gostkowski for hitting all three of his FG tries, including a 48 yarder, and the game winning 35 yarder, with 9 seconds left to play. His kickoffs were also good and long...as the Pats only had one kickoff that was returned. A good job punting by Ryan Allen, whose punting average was skewed due to a number of punts he made from inside the 50 yard line, which he tried to land inside the Buffalo 20 yard line. The Bills were unable to return any punts. Meanwhile, ulian Edelman averaged over 10 yards per punt return, on three returns: GRADE: "A";
IV. COACHING: The defensive game plan was to defense the run, and make rookie QB E,J, Manuel beat them. To facilitate this plan, the Pats appeared to play a very vanilla defense, with little blitzing. As as result, though the Pats recorded no sacks for the game, they managed to hold the Bills to 136 yards rushing, and just 150 more passing...numbers that the Pats will gladly take on any given week. Offensively, it's clear that the Pats' passing attack needs lots of work, and an infusion of talent. Much will be cured if TE Rob Gronkowski returns soon, and is anywhere near 100%. Still, one has to wonder about whether the Pats will get anything out of Thompkins, the injured Dobson, Sudfelds, and Boyce, in the near future. To say that Thompkins and Sudfelds were disappointing today is a gross understatement.What to do with Stevan Ridley is another issue. His propensity to fumble cannot be tolerated. Look for Vereen to get more touches, and for Blount to get more carries. That play at the goal line in which Brady fumbled the snap was disturbing. It never appeared that the Patriots offense played with any decisiveness, until the games' final drive. That said, it's only Game One. There's obviously lots of work to do: GRADE: "B";
V. PLAY OF THE GAME: On a 3rd and 8 from the Buffalo 39, with around 1:10 to play in the game, Brady converted with a 10 yard pass over the middle to Danny Amendola. It kept alive the final drive, and helped set up Gostkowski for the game winning FG;
VI. PLAYER OF THE GAME: A toss up between Brady, Amendola, Arrington, Shane Vereen, and Stephen Gostkowski. I'll go with Danny Amendola, who, playing hurt, finished with ten (10) receptions for 104 yards...including the "Play of the Game".
As always, your thoughts and comments are welcomed. Here are the game stats: http://scores.espn.go.com/nfl/boxscore?gameId=330908002