By: Bob George/BosSports.net
September 08, 2013

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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Maybe they ought to go back to six preseason games, like there used to be prior to the 16-game schedule in 1978.

Judging by the poor play by both the Patriots and the Buffalo Bills, especially the Patriots, it looks like both teams could have used a do-over of the month of August. The 2013 season opener for both teams was a hideous affair, marked by turnovers, penalties, poor play, players who may be exposed as overrated, and in the end, a lucky 23-21 win for the Patriots at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday. The Patriots will have lots to work on this week and not much time to do so, and the Bills have to be scratching their heads wondering what in the world they have to do to beat this Patriot team.

Speaking abstractly, the Patriots had a big problem with turnovers, while the Bills had a big problem with penalties. Stevan Ridley had two fumbles, one lost, the lost one being returned for a touchdown, and was benched after the second fumble for the rest of the game. Tom Brady suffered an interception which wasn't his fault, but lost a snap exchange at the Buffalo one-yard line on fourth and goal which could have been hung on him. These three turnovers turned what should have been an easy Patriot win into a nailbiter, which wasn't decided until Stephen Gostkowski drilled a 35-yard field goal for the win with five seconds left.

Buffalo certainly played well enough to win, but were hampered by key penalties. In all the Bills had 10 penalties for 75 yards. The game began with an offside call on Marcell Dareus. A 19-yard pass from E.J. Manuel to Robert Woods in the first quarter was nullified by an illegal hands to the face penalty on Cordy Glenn. A seven-yard pass to C.J. Spiller in the second quarter was pushed back thanks to an illegal block in the back penalty on tight end Scott Chandler, and the Bills' drive ended on the next play on a lost fumble. A 15-yard pass to Fred Jackson in the third quarter was wiped out on an illegal hands to the face call on Kraig Urbik. Pre-snap penalties on both of the final Patriot offensive possessions aided in the two field goals by Gostkowski which gave the Patriots the win.

But you expect the Bills to do this. Despite playing a pretty good game, the Bills still do not know how to win games like this. The Patriots usually have the Bills for lunch in a game like this. But the turnovers, among other things, cost the Patriots to the point of almost losing only their second game to the Bills in this century.

The two main culprits for the Patriots on offense were Ridley and Kenbrell Thompkins. Ridley did gain 46 yards on nine carries for a 5.1 average per carry. But his two fumbles sent him to the bench for most of the game.

In the second quarter, the Patriots had the ball at the Buffalo 24, first and five. Ridley took the handoff, slipped and dropped the football. Da' Norris Searcy picked up the loose football and rumbled 74 yards for a touchdown to make it 10-7 Patriots at the time. It was Ridley's second fumble of the game and he did not play in the game again. Ridley continues his penchant for fumbling, something that still needs work.

Late in the second quarter, Brady was at his own 25 facing second and five. He tried to hit Zach Sudfeld in the right flat, but the ball skimmed off his fingertips and into the arms of Justin Rogers at the Patriot 37. Two plays later, Manuel found Woods for an 18-yard touchdown pass to make it 17-14 Patriots at the half. This pick was all Sudfeld, as the pass was catchable and he merely blew the catch.

The only true regrettable moment for the Patriot defense was the first drive of the third quarter for the Bills. They took the kickoff and drove 80 yards in 11 plays, with big mouth wideout Stevie Johnson catching an 18-yard touchdown pass despite being double covered by Kyle Arrington and Devin McCourty. Johnson would later drop an easy flat pass to help kill a drive and the Bills would not score again after this touchdown.

Sudfeld and Thompkins may have been exposed as August superstars and September busts, but there is time to refute that postulation. Sudfeld was invisible all day except for that pick. Thompkins, meanwhile, ran wrong routes all game long, was out of position most of the time, never got separation, and did not look anything like he did in August. Sudfeld had no catches while Thompkins did catch four passes for 40 yards.

Shane Vereen, Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman saved the day for the Patriots. Vereen had 159 all-purpose yards, 101 rushing and 58 receiving. He averaged 7.2 yards per rush. Edelman hauled in two touchdown passes and had seven catches for 79 yards.

But Amendola may have been the most scrutinized Patriot. The replacement for Wes Welker, he did show his worth with 10 catches for 104 yards, some of them of the diving variety. He did miss some of the second quarter due to a groin injury, but overall he did look the part as long as he stays healthy.

Brady was only 29 of 52 passing for 288 yards, two touchdowns, an interception and a passer rating of 76.4. Brady did his best to fire up his team and his leadership skills shone through brightly, in a game where his new offensive players needed it the most.

The Patriots have a short week to prepare for the Jets on Thursday night. Thompkins and Brady have some work to do, and Ridley needs to get out of the coach's doghouse.

One of these days, the Bills will win a game like this. Fortunately for the Patriots, not yet.


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