For the past few years, the common lament from talking heads and fans has been that the New England Patriots had become too offense dependant. This is the reason they give as to why the Patriots do not win Super Bowls anymore (despite the best record in the NFL the past five, ten, whatever years any analyst uses) is that in the early 2000s when the Patriots had the incredible luck of the “tuck rule”, 45 yard field goals in a blizzard, last minute drives in the Super Bowl 36 with superstars like running back J.R. Redmond and tight end Jermaine Wiggins, John Kasay kicking off out of bounds to give up another twenty yards of field position on the final drive of Super Bowl 38, and Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb losing his Chunky Soup in the huddle on the final drive of Super Bowl 39. Not that there are other very good teams with excellent coaches every year in a salary cap league and where the NFL Draft punishes winning teams by letting the worst teams pick first each season, but rather the Patriots are too pretty on offense and do not have that defensive grit of those teams.
Of course, former New England Patriots cornerback Ty Law and cornerback Otis Smith would be escorted from the stadiums by NFL security for their aggressive play in the secondary in the current NFL after the NFL Competition Committee has made numerous changes to the game. No, the problem is the Patriots do not have “grinders” like wide receiver Troy Brown and running back Antwain Smith or tough, smart defenders like linebacker Tedy Bruschi or defensive lineman Bobby Hamilton. Well, after one game in 2013 this New England Patriots team looked a lot like those teams the early 2000s. Do you think any of those complaining fans and talking heads were happy to get what they wanted? The answer is very likely that they are not happy with watching the team grind out a tough victory on the road in week one.
First off, this game was an old fashioned AFC East slugfest. Whatever game plans the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills brought into week one went out the weekend when both offenses realized they each had no chance of dictating their game plan on the opposing defense. What jumped off screen was that both defenses were hard-hitting, strong in coverage overall, put some pressure on the opposing quarterback, and both were ball-hawking and opportunistic on defense.
Buffalo was surprisingly stout on defense in the running game early on in the first half. After Stevan Ridley fumbled for the second time in the first half he was benched, and backup LeGarrette Blount was ineffective. It was the oft-overlooked Shane Vereen who stood out receiving (which was expected) and rushing the ball (which was a pleasant surprise).
Even without standout secondary players cornerback Stephon Gilmore and safety Jairus Byrd, the Bills pass defense was aggressive against New England’s young receivers. Their defensive line generated a lot of pressure and blitzes came from all over the field. It looked very similar to the New York Jets defenses, which it should with former New York Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine in that same role in Buffalo. The Bills defensive line of Marcell Dareus, Mario Williams, and Kyle Williams were dominant (if you read Lead Editor Joe Soriano’s piece on Saturday about Five Bills to Watch on Defense here, you knew that could be the case) at times and had that interior rush that is so vital in slowing down quarterback Tom Brady.
Even when New England was able to complete passes against Buffalo, the defenders were there draped over them. The young wide receivers were not able to get separation, and when they did, there was a Bills defender there. The Bills defense was impressive and cornerback Leodis McKelvin finally played like a first round draft pick.
Wide receivers Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman both stood out for New England running crisp routes and making catches in heavy traffic. Unfortunately, rookie wide receivers Kenbrell Thompkins and Josh Boyce were ineffective, as Boyce missed both targets and Thompkins had four receptions on fourteen targets. Also, a player with high expectations who appeared to be near invisible in the offense was undrafted rookie tight end Zach Sudfeld.
On defense, the Patriots forced nine punts and created two turnovers. They only allowed two scoring drives to the Buffalo Bills offense. Think about that: the New England Patriots were carried by their defense which stopped the Bills and forced nine punts. Forget bend but do not break, this defense was not getting beat. Certainly, this is not the January 1986 Super Bowl 20 Chicago Bears defense, but this was an impressive defensive performance by New England.
Middle linebacker Jerod Mayo was all over the field and strong in the running game, especially in keeping C.J. Spiller under wraps all afternoon. Another standout was cornerback Kyle Arrington who was around the ball in the passing game and looked well on his way to earning his surprising contract this offseason. Finally, defensive end Chandler Jones and defensive tackle Tommy Kelly played big as well getting in the back field and helping in the run game. Jones had a few pressures that could have been sacks had he had a bit more composure.
Overall, it was a tough game, and a lot of credit goes to the Buffalo Bills who defended their home turf with ferocity. The Patriots finally gave the talking heads and fans who had been complaining for the past five plus years the game they wanted to see. The defense made the stops late and quarterback Tom Brady drove the team downfield and managed the clock to perfection to get the Patriots in position to win the game. Just like the old days, the Patriots pulled out a tough road win on a last few seconds of the game field goal. So why is no one happy after this game?