Sunday’s game against the Bills went down as one of the toughest ones for the Patriots so far this season, with New England hanging on for a 16-10 road win to improve to 4-0 on the season.
Here are some thoughts coming off the vicotry:
1 ) With Stephen Gostkowski continuing to struggle, Sunday was really the first time his difficulties were magnified as the Patriots found themselves in a tight game that could have turned out badly had their defense not held on.
After missing the extra point on New England’s first-quarter touchdown, the Patriots found themselves in a dogfight late in this one as points suddenly were at a premium and the one point New England was lacking left the Bills with an opportunity to take the lead late. Buffalo started their final drive of the game from their own 14-yard line, driving down to the Patriots 39-yard line before Kyle Van Noy put a hit on Bills quarterback Matt Barkley, which led to an errant throw and the game-clinching interception by Jamie Collins.
Fortunately, their defense carried the day and both New England’s offense and Gostkowski were let off the hook. Had the Bills managed to go down and score and hit the extra point at the end of regulation, it would have potentially been a tough division loss that would have put the Patriots at 3-1 heading into next week’s game down in Washington.
Make no mistake, Gostkowski has gotten the benefit of the doubt from Bill Belichick, who is clearly willing to allow him to weather whatever it is causing his current erratic performance. But as we now start heading into Week 5 and into the second quarter of the season, this is the time Gostkowski needs to start settling in as we start moving into October. Hopefully, Sunday marks the end of his struggles.
Sunday’s game was tough for Brady and the offense.
2) Sunday was one of the more frustrating performances we’ve seen from Tom Brady and the offense in recent memory, with the veteran struggling to get anything going against a Bills defense that was nothing short of relentless.
Brady finished Sunday’s game 18-of-39 for 150-yards along with a gut-wrenching red-zone interception, which completely turned the momentum of this game as the Patriots had an opportunity to completely change the tone of this one.
The play in question came late in the second quarter after New England managed to string together the longest drive of the day by either team, marching 76-yards on 16 plays while holding the ball for more than 8-minutes.
After battling their way down to the Bills’ 2-yard line, Brady was flushed out of the pocket and forced to roll out to his right, firing a pass to Julian Edelman who was coming across toward the corner of the end zone. The problem was, he didn’t see safety Micah Hyde, who had dropped off his man and broke on the football and snatched it out of the air for the interception.
That was a critical mistake by Brady, as it negated an opportunity to put them up 20-0 and instead allowed the Bills to take advantage of the turnover and take the football the other way for a field goal. Suddenly, New England’s lead was just 13-3 and given how much they had struggled prior to that point, this one certainly felt like a game that wouldn’t be easy.
The Bills made Brady’s life difficult, breaking through the offensive line all afternoon and never allowed him to get into much of a rhythm. In the fourth quarter when it mattered most, the Bills held Brady to just 3-of-8 (38%) for 13-yards throwing the football and it was really New England’s defense who, once again, carried the day. The Patriots converted just 5-of-18 on third down Sunday, with Brady completing a mere 8-of-16 throwing the football including his interception.
Fortunately, the outcome turned out in their favor and New England survived a rare off day by New England’s signal-caller. But give the Bills credit. This group is tough defensively and they’ll likely be another tough out when they meet again on December 22nd. With Buffalo still at 3-1, depending on how their journey goes from here, the rematch at Gillette Stadium may have a little more meaning next time compared to recent seasons.
New England’s defense was terrific on Sunday.
3) New England’s defense managed another impressive outing on Sunday, pressuring Bills QB Josh Allen all afternoon while holding Buffalo to just 2-of-13 (15%) on third down. But the biggest story of the day was all the plays they made in key moments, with this group coming up with four big interceptions along with five sacks.
The turnovers started on the Bills’ first possession, with Devin McCourty coming up with his fourth interception in as many games. That play was probably the most impressive one yet for McCourty, who leaped into the air in front of John Brown and took the ball away before returning it 19-yards to midfield.
New England’s offense took full advantage, scoring a touchdown off the turnover, which ended up being their only offensive touchdown of the day.
J.C. Jackson also got into the action, picking off two passes of his own, the second of which led to a field goal by Stephen Gostkowski, which put the Patriots up 16-10 with just under a minute left in the third quarter.
The final turnover of the day came courtesy of Jamie Collins, who took advantage of an errant throw by Matt Barkley, who was in the game after Allen was knocked out earlier in the contest. On the play, Barkley was hit as he released the football by Kyle Van Noy and his pass landed in the hands of Collins for the interception. That play was the knockout blow, as the Patriots offense ran out the clock and New England walked away with the victory.
Michel had to fight for every yard on Sunday.
4) Sunday saw a slight improvement in the ground game, although it was still a tough outing. Sony Michel got the lion’s share of the carries, carrying 17 times for 63-yards while averaging 3.7 yards per carry. That was a big improvement over last week after he finished with 9 carries for just 11-yards against the Jets.
But one thing that stood out is the fact that the offensive line’s struggles remain an issue, with Michel being dropped for a loss or no gain on 4 of his 17 carries. Coming into Sunday’s game he had been dropped for no gain or a loss on 9 carries through the first three weeks.
To compound the issue, they tried to keep Buffalo off balance but Brady connected on just 6-of-15 (40%) for 34-yards throwing the football on second down, setting the Bills up to come after Brady on third down as the Patriots found themselves in 3rd-or-8 or longer on 11 of their 18 third down attempts. That made for a tough afternoon as the offense had to fight for every last yard and they were fortunate that the defense came up with a stellar effort.
With all the injuries they’ve been dealing with up front, Sunday’s contest was one of the more frustrating reminders that they still have their work cut out for them.
Slater scored his first career special teams TD Sunday.
5) Special teams were a crucial part of Sunday’s win and veteran Matthew Slater certainly came up big in this one.
Following New England’s touchdown, the Bills had a punt blocked by Jackson, who dove in cleanly and got his hand on the football as it left Corey Bojorquez’ foot. Slater swooped in and scooped up the football, returning it 11-yards into the end zone for the touchdown.
It was a huge play, with Slater celebrating his first career special teams touchdown in style, falling to his knees and raising his fists in the air as his teammates rushed over to celebrate with him.
His touchdown ended up being the game-winning play, which was massive given that they wouldn’t reach the end zone for the rest of the afternoon.
Another player who was big in this game was punter Jake Bailey, who played a critical role in helping the Patriots win the battle of field position as New England consistently found itself deep in its own territory. But Bailey flipped things around repeatedly. He punted the football 9 times on Sunday, averaging 48.1 yards per punt. That was big because for the most part, save for the turnovers, Buffalo didn’t really have good field position for most of this game and Bailey was a huge reason why that was the case.
Fortunately, the Patriots played the more complete game in this one and Bill Belichick was clearly pleased after the game with their special teams effort. However, the Bills were the first big test of the year and it’s obvious they still have some work ahead of them to get to where they need to be offensively.
For now, the Patriots will get back to work as they prepare to take on Washington on the road next Sunday at 1pm.