Sixteen thoughts on the Patriots’ 16-10 win over the Bills . . .
1. I suppose it’s mildly encouraging the Patriots can submit a troubling offensive performance — they totaled just 224 yards, didn’t drive for a touchdown after their second possession, and had just 11 total first downs — and still come away with a win on the road against a worthy opponent. Bad days for most teams lead to an L in the loss column. The Patriots remain undefeated, and that’s certainly better than the alternative they flirted with for much of Sunday afternoon: Losing to an inspired Bills team that nearly beat them despite some dubious coaching decisions and generally poor play from young quarterback Josh Allen.
2. Make no mistake, the Bills exposed some real issues with the Patriots offense. Brady finished 18 of 39 for 150 yards, with no touchdowns and an end-zone interception by Micah Hyde. Nothing came easy. The line leaked and the Bills pressured consistently from all angles, Patriots receivers struggled to get open (Josh Gordon and Phillip Dorsett had just 5 catches on 16 targets), Brady had to throw the ball away on several occasions, and his decision-making was even questionable at times. He made only one superb throw, a beauty he dropped into James White’s breadbasket 26 yards down the field on the Patriots’ second possession.
3. The Patriots had a chance to put the game away with about six minutes left in the fourth. They picked up a first down on a couple of nifty Sony Michel runs, then gave it to Michel for 3 yards on first down again. (He finished with 63 yards on 17 carries.) But Brady had a dangerous pass intended for Gordon tipped on second and 7, then went deep down the sideline on third and 7 for a covered White. The Bills were already out of timeouts, so the Patriots essentially stopped the clock for them twice by throwing when they probably should have kept it on the ground.
4. It’s clear the Bills defense under Sean McDermott is legit. We already knew that to be true about the Patriots defense, and Brady and the offense owe them a debt of gratitude for this one. The Patriots defense totaled five sacks and four interceptions, including Jamie Collins’s game-clinching pick of a deflected Matt Barkley pass in the final minutes. That allowed Patriots fans to exhale, but the flaws the Bills exposed will remain causes for concern.
5. I’m curious whether the Bills will look at this as confirmation they are as good as their record (3-1), or lament the opportunity that got away. Had they not blown all of their timeouts before the fourth quarter and been able to protect the ball with some degree of competence, they might have won this game. They probably should have won this game, and they shouldn’t be happy with a moral victory.
6. Watching Allen in the first half was like watching a reel of the worst plays of Drew Bledsoe’s career. He has a great arm, but he just slings the ball, often throwing off the back foot even when there’s no pressure. He took a sack at the end of the first quarter that took the Bills out of field goal range, threw deep when his receivers weren’t open, and was a butt fumble away from looking like someone who really should be a Jet.
7. Allen was 1 for 8 for 10 yards in the first quarter, with additional completions to Patriots defensive backs Devin McCourty and Jackson. He was so bad it was a mild surprise the Bills didn’t bench him for J.P. Losman in the second quarter, even though Losman hasn’t been in the league since 2011. Allen looked like a different quarterback at the start of the second half, getting rid of the ball quickly and decisively while completing nearly as many passes in the first two minutes of the third quarter (three) as he did in the entire first half (five). He went 6 for 6 for 69 yards on the nine-play, 75-yard drive, punctuating it himself with a quarterback sneak to cut the Patriots’ lead to 13-10.
8. I suppose the officials had to call Jonathan Jones for a helmet-to-helmet hit that knocked Allen from the game early in the fourth quarter. But it seemed more a result of Allen being 6 feet 5 inches and ducking his head than any Vontaze Burfict-like cruel intention by Jones. It was violent, but hardly dirty. Allen was replaced by Matt Barkley, who hit John Brown for a 28-yard completion with Stephon Gilmore in coverage, but otherwise played like Matt Barkley.
9. The Patriots’ best player, other than J.C. Jackson, was arguably rookie punter Jake Bailey, who was called into action nine times. He had been so impressive — he put five punts inside the 20 last week against the Jets — it was a mild surprise when his placement is just OK, such as on his 47-yard boot on the Patriots’ first possession that trickled out of bounds at the Buffalo 25. But he had a huge one in the fourth quarter, booting a 60-yarder from his end zone, that the dangerous Andre Roberts returned for 12 yards, and Bailey averaged 48.1 yards per punt overall.
10. Sure didn’t take long for Devin McCourty to end the suspense as to whether he’d pick off a pass for the fourth straight game. His pick of an Allen deep chuck intended for Brown ended the Bills’ first possession. That tied the NFL record set by the Patriots’ Mike Haynes in 1976 for the most consecutive games with an interception. When you’re matching records set by Haynes, the best cornerback in NFL history in my opinion, you know you’re doing something very right. McCourty has four of the Patriots’ league-leading 10 interceptions, and it’s already the most he’s had in a season since 2012, when he had five. His career high came in his rookie year, 2010, when he had seven and made the Pro Bowl as a cornerback.
11. One play after McCourty’s pick, Brandon Bolden — who was surprisingly on the receiving end of Brady’s first two completions last week against the Jets — ran it in from 4 yards for the Patriots’ first and only offensive touchdown. That was Bolden’s first rushing touchdown as a Patriot since a Week 12 loss to the Packers in 2014. He did have a pair of rushing touchdowns during his one-year layover with the Dolphins.
12. Bolden has been a role player, and a valuable one, during his seven seasons with the Patriots (2012-17, ’19). But his career rushing totals would actually equate to an impressive season’s worth of stats. He has 228 carries for 1,012 yards and 9 rushing touchdowns in his career.
13. Stephen Gostkowski missed an extra point for a third straight game. He’s now 11 for 15 on extra points this season, and the four misses is the most he’s ever had in his 14-year career. He missed three (46 of 49) in 2016. I’ll stop telling you this isn’t a problem now. His miss after the first touchdown changed the whole math of the game. Gostkowski did hit a 23-yard field goal to put the Patriots up, 16-10, late in the third quarter. But it should have been 17-10.
14. Can’t imagine there are many, if any, other players in NFL history who hit the interception/blocked punt combo that Jackson provided the Patriots in the first half. Jackson’s block was recovered by Matthew Slater (of course it was), who ran it in for his first career touchdown and a 13-0 lead. Jackson added a second interception in the second half.
J.C. Jackson Live Postgame Press Conference: https://t.co/7J2f2DEynm
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) September 29, 2019
15. Let the record show the first touchdown the Patriots defense allowed this season came more than 14 quarters into the season, with Allen’s 1-yard on fourth down coming at the 10:37 mark of the third quarter. Weird play, too, with the ball ricocheting backward off Danny Shelton’s helmet a fraction of a second after Allen stretched the ball over the goal line.
16. I demand a display at the Pro Football Hall of Fame of all those little notes Belichick scribbles to himself during the game, even if we’d probably need him to provide a key to decipher them.