Some thoughts coming off of Sunday’s win:
FINALLY, A FAST START
1) Heading into Sunday’s game, the hope was that the Patriots’ offense could do something it hadn’t done all season.
They needed to get off to a fast start.
After three straight losses of playing uninspiring football, the New England Patriots managed to take control early against Josh Allen and a formidable Bills team who they hadn’t beaten in their previous three meetings.
In a season where they’ve played most of their games playing from behind, quarterback Mac Jones managed to orchestrate his team getting out to a quick lead on Sunday, which set the tone for the afternoon. The Patriots scored on two-straight possessions to start this one, allowing them to play Sunday’s game on their terms, rather than having to spend the afternoon playing from behind.
For Jones, Sunday saw him end up with a bit of redemption after he finally had his best performance of the season. Given his rough start, the third-year signal-caller continued building off of last week’s terrific second half and it carried over into Sunday’s contest.
Having finished their match-up against the Raiders completing 16-of-19 in the second half of last week’s loss, Jones kept that going during the early part of this one. He completed 11-of-14 for 123 yards in the first half against Buffalo as New England built a 13-3 lead, and then followed that up with a second half that saw him complete 16-of-14 for 149 yards and two touchdowns.
Overall, he missed just five throws on the afternoon, completing 25-of-30 (83.3%) for 272 yards and two touchdowns.
One of those touchdown passes happened in the final seconds of the game after the Bills had put together a run that saw them score 15 points in the fourth quarter, which had them sitting with a 25-22 lead with 1:58 left to go in the contest.
But Jones got the offense moving after he put together an 8 play, 75-yard drive that ended with a touchdown throw to Mike Gesicki, causing the relatively sparse crowd at Gillette Stadium to erupt into cheers as Gesicki and the rest of his teammates celebrated after the play.
The best part was, they ended up doing a great job of managing the play clock. The offense methodically moved down the field on that final drive, burning time off the clock while leaving the Bills with just 0:12 left when Josh Allen finally got the ball back in his hands.
Two plays later, it was over. There would be no crazy, fluky play to spoil this one, and the Patriots walked away winners after three extremely difficult weeks.
For Jones, it was a performance he definitely needed, especially for an offense that hadn’t scored 20 points since Week 1 against the Eagles. The last time they went over 20 points was in the finale against the Bills in Buffalo last January (a 35-23 loss), and the last time they scored at least 29 hadn’t happened since the 38-15 blowout over the Cleveland Browns in Week 6 of last season, which was Bailey Zappe’s last NFL start.
Right before the final drive, Patriots.com’s Evan Lazar asked Jones about the fact teammate Davon Godchaux told the quarterback just before went out to “Be like Mike and Kobe,” referencing former basketball greats Michael Jordan and the late Kobe Bryant.
That moment brought a smile to his face, and he was glad he was able to reward that confidence by ultimately getting his club a victory.
“Yeah, DG [Davon Godchaux]. Ever since I’ve gotten here, he’s been one of my close buddies,” said Jones. “He keeps it loose. He’s funny. He makes plays out there. And I know he has confidence in me and that means a lot to me as a younger player, compared to him who’s been in the league for a little bit. And he’s done a great job and I want to continue to do that and make people believe.”
Meanwhile, at 2-5, there’s still a long way to go. Jones added that while he’s happy they got the win, it’s just “a crumb” in what they’re trying to work towards moving forward.
“I think just keep fighting and, you know, it’s just a crumb, right? That’s what I always say. And you’ve got to build off that,” said Jones. “You’ve got to build off that and attack every day the same. It’s all about playing for each other, playing for the guy next to you and understanding why. So we did that today and we need to continue to do that every day in practice and in the games.”
Jones had a fairly clean pocket to work with on Sunday. (PHOTO: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports)
PATRIOTS FOUND THE RIGHT MIX UP FRONT
2) The offensive line ended up being a big part of Sunday’s storyline, with Michael Onwenu moving to right tackle after several frustrating weeks where that side had been an issue. Cole Strange also returned on Sunday and looked about as healthy as he has all season, having missed the previous three weeks as he continues battling the knee injury he sustained in training camp.
Sidy Sow started at right guard, which left New England with a unit that had Trent Brown (left tackle), Strange (left guard), David Andrews (center), Sow (right guard) and Onwenu (right tackle) all lining up against a stout Bills defense.
That group was incredibly solid all afternoon, with Jones not finding himself under constant duress for the first time all season, while the ground game was also about the most effective we’ve seen all year.
The right side of the line was where they went during the opening drive, with Rhamondre Stevenson running four plays behind that side as the Patriots opened the game with a 9 play, 63 yard drive that ended with Chad Ryland kicking a 30-yard field goal to give them the early 3-0 lead.
On the next drive, which was set up by an interception by Jabrill Peppers on Buffalo’s first play from scrimmage, the Patriots kept it going. With one of their best run-blocking linemen in Strange back in the line-up, they switched things up and started attacking the middle, with Ezekiel Elliott leading the way on a 7 play, 45 yard drive that ended with him taking it in from 2-yards out, extending their lead to 10-0.
Ezekiel Elliott celebrates with Mac Jones on Sunday. (PHOTO: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports)
Overall, the ground game averaged 4.0 per carry as a group, with Andrews also manhandling Buffalo’s defensive line, including a play where he just tossed defensive tackle Poona Ford to the ground like a ragdoll.
The pass protection was also terrific. Jones only had a handful of throws where he was under duress but even when the Bills brought pressure, Jones was able to step up on several plays even with someone bearing down on him and he had enough time to get it out of his hands at the last minute and make a play.
While Brown did leave the game briefly in favor of Vederian Lowe, this was overall their most effective group of the season and they certainly figured it out at the right time.
Jones said after the game that the guys up front made everything work, and he was appreciative of how they played on Sunday.
“We left some stuff out there, as always. But at the end of the day, we fought back,” said Jones. “And the offensive line, especially, just gave me the time I needed today. And when I have time, I can read the offense how we’re supposed to and I really appreciate those guys.”
DEFENSE SET THE TONE
3) New England’s defense was solid on Sunday, making their presence felt early in this one after Jabrill Peppers came up with a big interception on Buffalo’s first offensive play from scrimmage.
Peppers said the play was one he saw on tape, with the veteran drifting back and leaping up and high-pointing the football as Allen attempted a long throw to tight end Dawson Knox down the right sideline.
That turnover gave the Patriots the ball back at the Buffalo 45-yard line. From there, three runs by Ezekiel Elliott and two completions to Demario Douglas later, Elliott took the football in from 2 yards out for his 70th career rushing touchdown and New England’s first significant lead of the season as they capitalized off the turnover and went up 10-0.
It was a pretty good effort collectively all around. J.C. Jackson did a good job against Stefon Diggs, holding the receiver to six catches on 12 targets for 58 yards and one touchdown. Diggs’ touchdown was frustrating because Jackson had him wrapped up but Diggs somehow was able to get away, which saw the veteran take off into the end zone. However, Jackson’s overall effort was good enough, and it ended up being exactly what they needed.
Peppers’ collective effort was also great. He was all over the field on Sunday, finishing the afternoon with 8 total tackles along with a quarterback hit and definitely brought a lot of energy to this one.
Andrews joked about Peppers, who was standing near him while Andrews was at the podium talking to reporters after the game. The veteran center smiled while calling his teammate a bit of a “psychopath” due to the energy he plays with. Andrew also recalled some moments when they were both coming back from injury last year where they became good friends, and he said it’s been fun being out there with him on Sundays.
“Pep, you’re a little bit of psychopath,” joked Andrews. “I mean, he just — he screams a lot. He’s from Jersey; I don’t understand half the stuff he says. He’s just out there screaming. But, I can remember last year when Pep came in, we were rehabbing together coming off of injuries, and those were some fun times. Out there running with Pep, I don’t like running, but he made running pretty fun. I think I beat him a couple times, too, so he was hurting a little bit.”
“But, Pep’s been a great addition to our locker room. He plays the game the right way, I think. He plays it tough, plays it physical. I appreciate having a guy like him in our locker room.”
Peppers gave him a hug as he passed Andrews on his way to the podium, telling reporters he was just glad he could make a play to help his team on Sunday.
“It’s always good to start fast,” said Peppers. “You have to have a good start in this league, and I try to be a spark plug in any way possible. That was a play I recognized on tape, just having to play the proper technique and catch the ball, man. I was happy I could get the team one.”
(PHOTO: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports)
SPECIAL TEAMS GOT IT DONE
4) While some may not have been pleased with the selections of Bryce Baringer and Chad Ryland in this past April’s draft, Sunday was definitely a reminder of how important both of these players are turning out to be.
Baringer has quietly been impressive this season, with Sunday being another solid effort. While the rookie only punted twice, he came up with two big ones, including one that went for 64 yards and hung up in the air long enough for Brendon Schooler to get down the field and drop Bills receiver Deonte Harty at Buffalo’s 13 yard line. His other came near the end of the first half when he hit a perfectly-placed ball that sailed out of bounds at the 3-yard line, giving Allen and the offense no shot at getting any points to close out the half.
As for Ryland, he had his best performance so far as a rookie, finishing the afternoon going 3-for-3 while hitting field goals from 30, 24, and a huge 49-yard kick after the Patriots managed to answer Buffalo’s first touchdown drive of the day with points. That kick allowed them to maintain some momentum and on an afternoon where wind was a factor, Ryland absolutely deserves credit for his poise, especially since a miss would have given Buffalo great field position with a chance to take the lead.
That field goal did have one miscue, with the Patriots not having the right personnel on the field. That forced the Patriots to burn a timeout rather than rush the attempt. Belichick said during his press conference it was obviously something that shouldn’t have happened, and not burning the timeout would have potentially made the attempt that much harder. Given the way the wind had already affected one field goal by Buffalo, they felt preserving the field position and not rushing the attempt was the better decision.
“Yeah, that was a – that could have been costly. Obviously, we … that was a mistake, you know, on our part,” said Belichick. “And I’d say, you know, normally, probably just think about taking the delay penalty and kick it. But the way the wind was today, those kicks were hard.”
“But, yeah, normally that would kind of be a time-out thing. But based on the way it was today, that was a good kick. Chad [Ryland] made a 49-yarder. And you saw what happened on [Tyler] Bass’ field goal. It looked like one of my five irons, straight to the right. It was a tough wind out there today.”
Bourne scored a touchdown but got away with a late turnover Sunday. (PHOTO: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports)
ADDITION BY SUBTRACTION?
5) JuJu Smith-Schuster was sidelined during Sunday’s game, but it’s hard not to feel like his absence may have instead been a positive. It ended up seeing a more explosive offensive performance, with Demario Douglas and Jaylen Reagor each seeing increased snaps.
Douglas ended up with 4 catches for 54 yards, as well as a run that went for 20 yards, which was New England’s longest rush of the season after Douglas eclipsed Mac Jones 18-yard scamper in Week 2 against the Dolphins.
The rookie played 37 snaps on Sunday, which was his highest total of the season, and the most since he played 33 snaps in the opener against Philadelphia.
Reagor finished Sunday with one reception for 11-yards, playing in 25 snaps, which was an increase from the 14 he saw last weekend against the Raiders.
DeVante Parker saw a drop off in playing time, with the veteran seeing the field on just 35 plays, which was his lowest total of the season. His previous low came against both Dallas (45) and last week against the Raiders (45).
But overall, this group was far more efficient than they had been in previous weeks, and Douglas continues to be a big asset for this offense. He made a fantastic diving 19-yard grab in the fourth quarter on a 1st-and-15 that allowed them to overcome a delay of game penalty the previous play, and it ultimately set up Kendrick Bourne’s 4-yard touchdown that extended their lead to 22-10 with 7:36 left to go in the game.
However, it was certainly not all perfect. Bourne finished the afternoon with 6 receptions for 63 yards and his touchdown, but he had a big fumble late after Bills safety Jordan Poyer came in from behind and punched the football out as the veteran was wrapping both hands around the ball after Bourne had just picked up 9 yards on a 2nd-and-15.
The turnover gave Buffalo the ball at the Patriots’ 29 yard line trailing 22-17, and they ended up turning it into points 8 plays later when Allen took it in himself from 1-yard out and then completed a pass to Knox for the 2-point conversion to give the Bills the lead 25-22 with 1:58 left to go in the game.
Fortunately, Jones and the offense bailed him out, taking it the other way and finishing things off with their game-winning touchdown for their second win of the season.
Bourne told reporters he’s definitely relieved they got the victory, and that he knows he got away with one.
“Very relieved,” said Bourne. “Just have got to take care of the ball better. Just trying to make a play, trying to be myself, and kind of not thinking about the ball in a sense. The drive was kind of funny in a sense. Just trying to be aggressive, I was really trying to get to the sticks. I just have to know I could not really get there, and just secure the ball more when I am going down.”
All in all, it was a nice effort for a team that needed something positive to build off of after three tough weeks. With the Dolphins up next the Patriots won’t get much time to enjoy this one as they continue trying to claw their way out of the 2-5 hole they’re still in with 10 games left to play.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary