New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman (11) makes a second half catch against the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Patriots beat the Bills 23 to 21. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

New England Patriots Week 1 Grades

The New England Patriots didn’t play their best game against the Buffalo Bills, and the 23-21 scoreline shows just how close this one was. The Patriots needed a game-winning field goal from Stephen Gostkowski to win the game, and it was only during that final, clutch drive led by Tom Brady when we saw this offense click. Danny Amendola made some huge plays on that final drive, as he wowed us all with some difficult grabs in even more important situations. The toughness Amendola showed will not be forgotten for a long time, and teammates such as Brady and Shane Vereen, who also had himself a whale of a ballgame, raved about that toughness. Below are the grades for each of the four positional units.

New England Patriots Pass Offense D-

I wasn’t a fan of the Patriots passing attack yesterday, and the context is what really bugs me. The Patriots were going up against a secondary that was missing it’s two best players in Stephon Gilmore and Jairus Byrd, and they still only averaged 5.3 yards per pass play when including sacks. If you watch his throws closely, there wasn’t anything off with Brady. The accuracy was there, and he showed some absolutely insane velocity on intermediate throws over the middle of the field. It’s just that the blocking in front of him was sketchy, and both Ryan Wendell and Dan Connolly were exposed in pass protection.

Then there’s the receivers. Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, and RB Shane Vereen were all terrific, but the Patriots received a really bad performance from Kenbrell Thompkins. Although a couple of his targets were not good throws, Thompkins dropped a few passes and had ten targets go incomplete. Brady was 4-14 for 42 yards when throwing it to Thompkins, who slipped several times as well. But Thompkins doesn’t deserve too much blame, because Leodis McKelvin played out of his mind, the Bills were ridiculously physical with him, and it was just his first game. I’ve seen worse and things need to be put into perspective, but Thompkins didn’t make things any easier. As for Zach Sudfeld, that was an awful play. I feel bad that he never got a chance to redeem himself and only played in 19 snaps (Michael Hoomanawanui had an awful time blocking), but it wasn’t the debut Sudfeld had in mind.

There were some bright spots from the Patriots passing game and my grade is cynical, but I grade based on how well they did in the game. My future prospects for the Patriots passing attack are positive, but my evaluation of their play on Sunday is not.

Patriots Running Game A-

Sure, Stevan Ridley fumbled the ball twice and got benched for it, but he did have an efficient day running the ball. The same can’t be said for LeGarrette Blount, who had a very inefficient day, and he’ll have stat totals like that when he’s not able to break a run for a big gain. The New England Patriots rushing attack was positive as a whole, though, and that’s due to the efforts of one man in Shane Vereen. He was absolutely amazing as a receiver and rusher, and he thoroughly destroyed my mediocre expectations of his rushing ability. Vereen ran for 101 yards on just 14 carries, and the Patriots rushing grade is earned by some great running  by Vereen and quality run blocking from the OLs.

Patriots Pass Defense B

I though the Patriots did a really solid job in pass coverage, and the safeties did their jobs well. There were no passes allowed of 20 yards or more, and the Buffalo Bills had a rough time. Any time you can hold down an elite receiver like Stevie Johnson to just three catches in a game, you deserve to be praised. The Patriots also severely limited the other Bills receivers, and it’s telling that Fred Jackson was actually the Bills leading receiver. Kyle Arrington had an exceptional game making plays with two fumbles forced, and he was also astute in coverage with a near-pick. If Alfonzo Dennard misses time by being found guilty, then the Patriots pass defense will take a huge hit; he was exceptional. Only Aqib Talib looked bad, and he is often criticized in this space. Talib should and needs to have a huge year in 2013, but he got off to the wrong start with a below-average (but not terrible by any means) game; his coverage on Johnson’s 18-yard touchdown was absolutely horrendous.

The biggest concern with the New England Patriots pass defense is the pass rush, and it was absolutely abysmal. Tommy Kelly got some pressure, but nobody else stood out. The backups were anonymous, the Patriots pass rush was frustratingly inconsistent, and Chandler Jones got blanked out by Cordy Glenn, thus failing his first test in what is supposed to be a breakout campaign. Jones did get some pressure but only as an interior rusher at DT (took advantage of the Bills awful LG situation).

Patriots Run Defense B+

The New England Patriots defense can hold its head high after this game, and it isn’t too often that the Patriots defense outperforms the offense. But that was the case in this one, and the Patriots did an incredible job of completely negated the influence of one of the most dynamic and talented running backs in the NFL in C.J. Spiller. The Patriots had the perfect gameplan for him and Johnson, and Spiller averaged a measly 2.4 yards per carry. Vince Wilfork and Rob Ninkovich were just amazing in run defense, and running it to the right side was just not a good idea for the Buffalo Bills in this one. Wilfork’s display cannot be understated, and the Patriots as a whole looked lively in run defense. Fred Jackson did, as usual, do quite a bit of damage against the Patriots run defense, but the Pats run D had themselves another good game.

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Tags: Alfonzo Dennard Aqib Talib C.J. SPiller Chandler Jones Dan Connolly Danny Amendola Fred Jackson Julian Edelman Kenbrell Thompkins Kyle Arrington LeGarrette Blount New England Patriots Rob Ninkovich Ryan Wendell Shane Vereen Stevan Ridley Stevie Johnson Tom Brady Tommy Kelly Vince Wilfork Zach Sudfeld

  • Gary Wolff

    In general I agree with all your analysis, however, I do think some of the criticism is a bit severe for a week 1 game with several rookies starting their first game. The passing game was definitely more out of sync than I expected given what I saw in pre-season. Yet this was a division rivalry on enemy turf with a pumped up Buffalo defense. However, I guess if they lost, which they probably should have, I might feel differently…. Buffalo’s penalties, poor clock management, and Johnson’s drop on an easy 3rd down conversion late in the game were why the Patriots had the opportunity to come back in this one.
    When the games count the energy level is much higher of course, and the defense game plans as opposed to the vanilla calls… I think there is a ton of good film to teach these guys a lot, and I expect by week three to see a ton of improvement… The Jets game might not be much better than this one on the offensive side of the ball… I expect the D to dominate on Thursday

    • Joe Soriano

      I tried as best as I could to state that I know these are normal growing pains and that I’m not overly concerned about the future of this team. In fact, my overall opinion on this team has not changed at all. My job in doing this piece is solely to grade the team based on how they played without any context added or reservations made, because that’s just the kind of goal I have in mind with this series. Don’t worry, I fully understand that rookies like Kenbrell Thompkins will get better and that the pass defense is not a “D-” pass defense; they just played like it for most of yesterday’s game.

      Should they have lost, though? Definitely not. It was a sloppy game, but they deserved to win. They had some gifts from Buffalo, but Buffalo also received plenty of “gifts” from the Pats.

      • Gary Wolff

        Yes then, out of context of the bigger picture, I’d agree then… And yes, a win is a win and almost every win is deserved… The Patriots certainly earned it by making many, many clutch plays… But as is typical of the Bills, they are very generous to their opponents and they certainly were in this game… There’s only a few games that aren’t earned… like when a ref completely blows a call like the Seattle debacle last season, or when a game is literally given away like the TB game yesterday… Although the Jets still had to make a long field goal… but without a bonehead dead ball penalty, that game was lost to the Jets.