The saying, “a win is a win” couldn’t have been more true for the Patriots in their 37-31 win over the Bills Sunday afternoon. Despite not playing close to their best football of the season, the Patriots made just enough plays, none bigger than a Devin McCourty interception in the end zone with less than a minute to play, to sneak past the Bills. The Patriots are now 6-3 having won three in a row with the 6-3 Colts coming to Foxboro next Sunday.
Here are five observations from the win:
Danny Woodhead scored a career high two touchdowns in the win over the Bills.(FILE:USPresswire)
One, maybe two steps back for the defense
After only allowing seven points and having their best game of¬† the season against the Rams in London two weeks ago, the unit definitely took a few steps back, playing arguably their worst game of the season in Sunday’s win over the Bills. Poor pass coverage, atrocious tackling and not being aggressive all went into the poor performance Sunday. The Patriots gave up a franchise-high 35 first downs and also a dismal 481 yards of total offense. The one silver lining for the group is they were able to force three turnovers, including McCourty’s interception of Ryan Fitzpatrick when the Bills were looking for the win on their last drive.
In the past it’s been the horrid pass coverage which has been the defenses biggest downfall. Sunday this was not the main story as the Patriots tackling was so bad it made Buffalo running backs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller look like All-Pro’s as they were able to weave in and out of Patriot defenders for big gains. The poor tackling had something to do with the Patriots allowing 162 yards rushing, something they have done well against this season. Also uncharacteristic of the Patriots were unnecessary penalties including two personal foul late hits against Alfonso Dennard and Jerod Mayo. The defense seemed to have taken strides in the past few weeks, but Sunday’s game erased all those thoughts and possibly added a few more concerns with the poor tackling and uncharacteristic penalties. With rookie quarterback Andrew Luck, who is having an outstanding rookie season, coming to Gillette this Sunday the team will certainly need to get their mistakes fixed or else they could be in for a very difficult game next week.
Defense needs to generate pressure
Two weeks ago against the Rams the Patriots blitzed and generated more pressure than in any other game this season. Going into Sunday’s game it was thought the team would try and build on it and blitz more. This wasn’t the case as the Patriots went back to their old selves and played their usual “vanilla” defense, rushing three or four guys each play allowing Fitzpatrick to scan the defense and find an open receiver. The very few times where the Patriots did rush more than four players it was successful forcing Fitzpatrick into bad throws, and even a fumble in the first quarter forced by Vince Wilfork and Jermaine Cunningham in on the recovery.
The strength of the Patriots defense is their front-seven. Why not allow them to make plays? Putting things in the hands of the secondary is not the right way to be doing things. With players like Rob Ninkovich, Dont’a Hightower, Chandler Jones, Jermaine Cunningham and even Justin Francis of late able to rush opposing quarterbacks, let these guys loose and give them the opportunity to make plays. They could even have their safeties come up to the line and blitz. Generating pressure seems to give the defense a better chance of having success rather than sitting back, dropping seven players into coverage and having the opposing quarterback have all day to throw. It will be interesting to see how Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia approach the game next week since they have been known to sit back and drop players into coverage against rookie, and young quarterbacks forcing them into making mistakes, but Luck isn’t like a rookie the Patriots have faced in the past.
Offensive somewhat clutch
Much has been made of the offenses’ inability to be clutch in the fourth quarter and close out games. The Patriots had the chance to do just that Sunday and were successful…(kind of). Following a Donald Jones touchdown with 7:47 remaining, cutting the Patriots lead to 34-31 the Patriots got the ball back. In most cases this season the Patriots would have gone three-and-out, but this was not the case as they drove 59 yards in 14 plays resulting in a field goal while taking 5:41 off the clock. It wasn’t nearly as successful as it could have been, as the Patriots had 1st and goal from the 2-yard line. On that play the Patriots went with a hurry up quick count and Stevan Ridley was stopped for a loss, followed by a penalty sending the line of scrimmage back to the nine yard line and two plays later a field goal. Some had an issue with the hurry up, quick count, but to me there was nothing wrong with it, just maybe the play call itself. Time and time again we have seen the Patriots do this and have seen a Tom Brady quarterback sneak usually working to get at least two or three yards. While the drive didn’t result in a touchdown putting the game away, it did result in points and taking more than five minutes off the clock, something they failed to do in that situation this season. Coincidentally the drive was the only trip to the red zone which did not result in a touchdown. The Patriots scored touchdowns four out of the their five trips on the afternoon. New England did benefit from a ridiculous number of penalties by the Bills — 14 for 148 yards.
Offensive line steps up
This has been one of the positions on the team which has not gotten the attention and praise it has deserved this season. There have been a number of injuries keeping players out seemingly at least one per game. Once again Sunday the team saw starting right guard Dan Connolly and left guard Logan Mankins leave with injuries. Backups Nick McDonald and Donald Thomas filled in nicely, making it difficult even to notice two starters were missing. The group was able to protect Brady fairly well for the most part only allowing one sack, and four quarterback hits against a fierce Buffalo front-seven. With how well Brady has performed this season, some credit should go to the offensive line even with the injuries they have been forced to deal with. The group will need to continue to perform like they have, making Brady feel as comfortable in the pocket as possible. They will be tested coming up in December with games against the Texans and 49ers, teams with very good defenses.
Injuries adding up
Quietly injuries have become a cause of concern for the Patriots. Safety Patrick Chung has not played since Week 6 in Seattle, which has forced some shakeups in the secondary with McCourty moving to safety, which might even be a better position for him, but when Chung returns he will in all likelihood get his starting spot back and start alongside McCourty or Gregory (I’d suspect McCourty). The offensive features the greatest number of injuries starting with the previously mentioned Mankins, who missed two full games just a few weeks back. Mankins has not been 100 percent all season long, and most likely won’t be 100 percent the remainder of the year. It was reported by the Boston Herald he left Gillette with a walking boot. Aaron Hernandez missed his second consecutive game with an ankle injury, following missing three straight games after Week 2. It seems like the Patriots brought Hernandez back too soon and now are paying the consequences. Fellow tight end Rob Gronkowski appeared to be a little banged up prior to the bye week, but looked well-rested and ready for the second half on Sunday. Wes Welker who appeared to injure his ankle in London had it roll up on him again on Sunday. CSNNE reports the wide receiver had x-rays following the game. With two games in five days coming up with the Colts and then the Jets on Thanksgiving, it may be a difficult task asking Welker and some of the other injured players to play in both of those games. The silver lining for the team is following the Jets game they in a sense have a mini bye before playing the Dolphins in Miami on Dec. 2, which will give the players a few extra days to get their health restored.