Sunday’s win over the Giants down in New York went down to the wire and had the same amount of intensity and atmosphere as the games these two teams played in February in past years but didn’t end well for the Patriots.
Fortunately this time around, New England finally came away on the right end of things.
By the time it was over it was the Giants sideline that was left completely stunned as the Patriots handed New York its fifth loss of the season and dropped them to .500. Meanwhile, New England headed off to the airport to come home having maintained their unbeaten record on a day where enough went wrong and could have ended differently.
That being said, here are eight things we came away with on Sunday that are definitely noteworthy after their last-minute 27-26 win over New York.
1) Malcolm Butler is quickly emerging as an elite NFL cornerback: Aside from the 87-yard reception that Odell Beckham Jr. made on the Giants’ second play from scrimmage, Butler played really well going up against one of the NFL’s best receivers. That play was more a product of a bad angle taken by Devin McCourty that took Butler out of the play and prevented the tackle being made long before Beckham Jr. would have been able to have the opportunity to head off to the races and score. Overall Butler kept him in check, with Eli Manning targeting Beckham Jr. 12 times for just four receptions for 104 yards. Take away that touchdown, and Beckham Jr’s totals are 3 catches for 17 yards. The play he scored on was a 23-yard grab where the additional 64 yards came after the catch. If Butler was able to tackle him sooner, his stat line would reveal just how well Butler handled him. However, the play Butler made at the end of the game where he knocked the ball out of his hands as Beckham Jr. came down with the ball and saved a touchdown might end up being one of the pivotal plays of the season, especially if one win ends up being the difference in getting the number one seed in the postseason. But overall, credit Butler with a tremendous performance when New England needed him most, which he’s more or less done all season at this point.
2) Julian Edelman’s loss is a big one: Rob Gronkowski and Tom Brady are obviously two key players the Patriots can’t live without, but Edelman’s absence is a huge blow to an offense that relies so heavily on what he’s able to do out there. Coming into Sunday’s game he was the team’s leading receiver in receptions with 57 and also lead all receivers with 34 first downs. In the short time he was in Sunday’s game, he was targeted five times with four catches, three of which moved the chains. Sustaining drives and moving the football was one of the biggest problems New England had after he left, totaling just seven receiving first downs over the entire second half, six of which came on their final two possessions. Needless to say someone is going to have to step up in his absence in the coming weeks and they’ve got some seriously big shoes to fill.
3) It’s Time for Danny Amendola to be Danny Amendola: Amendola’s been coming on strong since the end of the postseason last year and he’s carried it over into the early part of 2015. He’s been terrific over the past few games and Sunday was no exception for the veteran receiver. Amendola was huge in the fourth quarter on Sunday, with Brady connecting with him on all five of his targets, including a critical fourth down grab on New England’s game-winning drive that kept their hopes alive and ultimately allowed them to put Stephen Gostkowski in position to kick his field goal. After taking a pay cut this offseason because of his reduced role, this is a huge chance for Amendola to become a bigger part of this offense and pick up the slack while Edelman is sidelined and re-establish his value to the team. He’s already started to have his moments after having returned a punt 82-yards to set up a touchdown to get New England back in the game on Sunday and now is the perfect opportunity for him to become the player the Patriots thought they got when they signed him two years ago.
4) Amendola’s ascension is going to decide Aaron Dobson’s fate: With Amendola likely moving up the depth chart now that he’ll most certainly have his number called more often, the Patriots are going to need someone down the depth chart behind he and Brandon LaFell to produce. That’s going to pit Dobson against Keshawn Martin in the battle for playing time. Dobson is really the preferred choice because he has the speed and the height that New England needs and it’s the entire reason they drafted him when they took him out of Marshall two seasons ago. However, injuries have hampered his development and he’s slipped down so far that he’s become the odd man out for the most part in this offense. Meanwhile, Martin’s been dealing with a hamstring injury that kept him out of Sunday’s game, but he’s shown some pretty good flashes and it’s going to really force Dobson to up his game. Dobson did make a critical five yard reception on a 2nd-and-3 on New England’s final drive that moved the chains and got them near midfield before Amendola helped setup the game-winning kick. But, make no mistake, this is a huge moment for the former Marshall standout. In these situations guys need to step up and in Dobson’s case he’s running out of chances. Hopefully he takes advantage.
Patriots defensive back Logan Ryan has fought hard each week and deserves a little more credit.
5) People need to get off of Logan Ryan’s case: Ryan has taken quite a bit of heat this season but Sunday saw him go out and put forth a pretty solid outing. Aside from the 31-yard reception he gave up to Reuben Randle, Ryan put together a pretty good performance and he’s been better than people have been giving him credit for. One of his best attributes is the fact he, like Butler, has a short memory and bounces back after giving up big plays, which is an attribute that is important for any good defensive back. Ryan has that, and he’s gotten better each week and already leads the team in interceptions with four and nearly had another during one play on Sunday. He’s been better than fans could have hoped for in a secondary that was supposed to be a mess, yet thanks to players like him, it’s been anything but that to this point.
6) Jamie Collins’ absence was noticeable on Sunday: Take away any team’s best athlete and it’s a huge problem and against the Giants, the lack of speed in the middle of the field was definitely an issue for New England’s defense. The Giants had a lot of success over the middle and not having Collins there to deal with New York’s passing game was definitely something that stood out. That’s the one solace that most fans can take away from this game, especially considering the Patriots were still able to come out of there with a win. But according to reports, Collins’ illness has had him so sick in recent weeks that he hasn’t been able to eat. Considering their continuing injury issues, the Patriots need to take their time letting Collins get his strength and size back before putting him back out there because Sunday was definitely a reminder of how much they really do need him.
7) Time to get Scott Chandler more involved: Chandler seems to be evolving more and more each week and becoming more involved in the offense. Now that the Patriots have to adjust thanks to Edelman’s impending absence, one would have to believe we’re going to see more of him. Chandler’s averaging 10.5 yards per catch and caught his second touchdown since joining New England on Sunday, and this is a player who last season in Buffalo caught almost 50 passes (47) for 497-yards and three touchdowns in a really bad offense. So far he hasn’t had his number called much after catching just 13 passes in New England’s offense, including three targets and one catch on Sunday, which was a 1-yard touchdown reception. One would have to believe they’ll start tageting him more, because he’s been underutilized for the most part thus far.
8) Stephen Gostkowski is a special player: It would have been hard to imagine replacing one clutch kicker with another so seamlessly, yet that’s exactly what the Patriots somehow managed to do after having Gostkwoski slip right in after Adam Vinatieri moved on to Indianapolis all those years ago. Since then, the veteran has been nothing short of brilliant and his game-winning kick on Sunday from 54-yards out with 0:06 to go in the game was absolutely one of the biggest field goals we’ve seen made during his 10-year career. Gostkowski said after the game that one of the things that keeps him calm is the fact he sings a song in his head to keep him loose. Whatever he’s been doing obviously works and considering how great he’s been, he’s a player who Patriots fans should be singing his praises after seeing just how consistent the veteran has continued to be. Players like him don’t come around very often, and if you take into account how many kickers are seeing their attempts sail wide this season, Gostkowski is quietly reaching the point where it’s fair to finally consider him as the best in the game given what he’s accomplished over his career in the environment he kicks in.
Overall it was a great win to remain unbeaten and now the Patriots will get a nice long break as Bill Belichick reportedly gave them time off until Wednesday before they start getting ready for a visit from the Buffalo Bills, who will visit Foxboro in a Monday night match-up one week from now.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary