ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – In the AFL days, and in the early 1970s, War Memorial Stadium in Buffalo was known as the “Rock Pile”.
It was called that largely because of the fans, who would bring coolers of beer and hibachis to the game. Into the stadium, not just in the parking lot. Drunk fans would throw bottles and cans of full beer at the players as they left the field. Players kept their helmets on, and hoped that they would catch one of those beers thrown at them so they could enjoy a cold one on the way to the locker room.
If you have that kind of perspective, Sunday’s 16-10 win by the Patriots at New Era Stadium may have reminded you of those old days of the AFL.
The Patriots survived a dogged effort by the homestanding Buffalo Bills in front of a raucous crowd in western New York. The Patriots remain undefeated at 4-0, and the defense continues to play at an astounding level. But the Bills’ defense was equal to the task, and if the Bills had an offense that is ready for prime time, they would have won and won easily.
The Patriot offense, especially the passing game, was almost totally shut down. What won the game for the Patriots was interceptions, quarterback sacks, bad game management by the Buffalo coaches, and a special teams touchdown. It wasn’t Tom Brady, it wasn’t Sony Michel, it wasn’t Stephen Gostkowski. You take the win, but the Patriots got out of town both very happy and very lucky.
Brady had his worst game of his career in a winning role. His quarterback rating was only 45.9, the lowest of his career in a victory. He had only 18 of 39 passing for 150 yards, no touchdowns, and an interception that was perhaps his worst throw of maybe the last 5 years. James White led the Patriots with eight catches for 57 yards, but for most of the game Buffalo had all the Patriot passes smelt out and well, if not perfectly, defended. Michel managed 63 rushing yards on 17 carries, not outstanding but not paltry either.
Basically, despite playing well enough on defense to win the game, Buffalo did more to lose this game than the Patriots did to win it. Bills Nation has been lamenting this for many years. They seem to play better, but they just can’t beat the Patriots. If the Red Sox could eventually figure out how to beat the Yankees in the postseason, the Bills will eventually win games like this. Sadly for the Buffalo fans, it’s not happening just yet.
Josh Allen showed flashes of the great quarterback he could be some day, but for much of the game, he was flummoxed by the Patriot defense. He finished with 13 of 28 passing for 153 yards and three interceptions. Most of the numbers he put up came following a Brady end zone interception, and he looked like he was getting into a rhythm until he was knocked out of the game early in the fourth quarter on a helmet to helmet hit by Jonathan Jones.
The game changed on that Brady interception. Halfway through the second quarter, with the Patriots leading 13-0, the Patriots took over at their five-yard line. Helped by a pass interference call on Tre’Davious White on Phillip Dorsett which netted 27 yards, the Patriots drove all the way to the Buffalo 2-yard line in 15 plays. On third and goal, play 16 turned the entire game around. Brady wanted to hit Josh Gordon with a fade pass in the left corner of the end zone, but he couldn’t get separation. So Brady rolled to his right. He had Jakobi Meyers and Julian Edelman in the right side of the end zone, but Brady missed both and instead hit Micah Hyde in the numbers in the end zone. It was a worse throw than Jarrett Stidham’s pick-six last week. The Bills outscored the Patriots 10-3 the rest of the way.
Part of the reason the Patriots had a 13-0 lead at that time was a blocked punt that went for a touchdown. Midway through the first quarter, former Patriot punter Corey Bojorquez punted from his 33, but J.C. Jackson broke through and blocked the punt. Matthew Slater picked up the loose ball and ran 11 yards for the score. Despite the Bills looking good on defense in the early going, the Bills found themselves down 13-0.
Allen threw three interceptions, and his replacement Matt Barkley threw one. Jackson had two of the picks, with Devin McCourty and Jamie Collins one each. Jackson’s second pick midway through the third quarter was actually an incompletion, as the ball was touching the intended receiver, Zay Jones, while he was standing out of bounds before Jackson secured the catch, rendering the play an incomplete pass. But even the replay crew in New York missed it and upheld the call on the field of interception.
The Bills hurt themselves in the fourth quarter by calling their final timeout early on in the final period. The Bills are lucky that the Patriots didn’t have the power running game to run the clock later and had several chances to pull ahead, but were not able to convert, but not having time outs late in the game hurt them.
Allen finished with a passer rating of 24.0; Barkley was 9 of 16 for 127 yards and a rating of 56.0.
The one bright moment of the game for Buffalo was courtesy of Frank Gore. In the second quarter, just shortly after the Brady end zone pick, Gore blasted up the middle for a 41-yard run, which put the future Hall of Famer over 15,000 yards for his career. He joins Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton and Barry Sanders as the only running backs in NFL history to top 15,000 rushing yards for a career. Gore finished with 109 yards rushing and a 6.4 per carry average. He remains a physical marvel at 32 years of age, excelling at an age where most backs of that age are retired.
The Patriots had better hope that the league doesn’t have a new blueprint on how to stop their offense. The Patriots no longer have Rob Gronkowski, who loved to excel in his former home territory. They were only able to hang on to Antonio Brown for one game. Edelman had sore ribs but was cleared to play, and his lack of production was telling. Gordon, Dorsett and Meyers didn’t make up for that lack of production. Brady could get nothing going all game long. Granted, the Bills have played the Patriots tough over the last few years on defense, and perhaps other teams might not be able to duplicate this. But you the Patriot fan might be just a little bit concerned.
Meanwhile, if Buffalo fans wanted to pelt the Bills with full beer cans at game’s end, shame on them. Sooner or later, the Bills win games like this.
Posted Under: 2019 Patriots Regular season