It wasn’t pretty, but the New England Patriots played to the level they should have played the whole game during that final drive, and they were able to pull out a narrow 23-21 victory over the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium yesterday. Stephen Gostkowski went from the overly criticized kicker (you’ll read more about him on the site later on today) to the rightful hero, and it goes beyond that game-winning field goal. Way beyond, in fact. Below are five things that I think we learned, and let’s start off with somebody who simply did not play well.
1. Pump the brakes on Kenbrell Thompkins
I think somewhere along the lines we got (and yes, I am definitely going to blame myself here) these unrealistic expectations about what to expect from rookie wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins. Yes, he looked polished in August, but there are two caveats there. First off, that was August; the game moves so much quicker once the calendar flips to September. Secondly, Thompkins is polished by the standards of a rookie, and when you combine those two facts you realize that Thompkins’s rough debut was to be expected. We need to tone down our expectations of Thompkins (if we haven’t already), because this guy is still just a rookie receiver at the end of the day. He slipped a few times and caught just four balls on 14 targets (no excuse for that lack of production), but he’s going to get better. This guy has the speed and route-running to be a legitimate receiver, and I think anybody who is writing off this guy after one game is making a huge mistake. Why? You can’t base your evaluation of a player based on how their NFL debut went.
2. Shane Vereen shredded my expectations, and I actually did expect something
Before the game, I tweeted that Shane Vereen would have a big game as a pass-catcher, and that’s because I just didn’t see anybody on the Buffalo Bills defense with the speed to counter him. Good job, Joe, right? Wrong. When Stevan Ridley was rightfully benched for that second fumble, I stated that I wasn’t sure Vereen could be trusted to carry the load as a rusher. Dead wrong. Not only did Vereen catch seven passes for 58 yards, but he also took a massive dump on the Bills run defense, which sucks to begin with, by rushing for 101 yards on just 14 carries. That’s right, he averaged more yards per play on the ground than through the air. Nicely done. I believe that Vereen isn’t just a wrinkle; he has what it takes to be a legit playmaker in this offense. Bona fide? Probably not, but I wouldn’t rule that out after what he did on the ground yesterday.
3. Danny Amendola matches the hype
Before I get to Amendola, I am sick of the Wes Welker to Amendola comparisons. Both players are great, okay? Just get that straight. Now, Amendola had an absolutely fantastic game, but that didn’t surprise anybody. I polled some of my followers on Twitter to see if they agreed that Amendola would be a strong threat for ten catches, and nobody disagreed. Nobody. That said, it’s still insane to see somebody haul in ten passes, and the Patriots definitely would have lost this game without Amendola. That’s a scary thought, because he did aggravate a groin injury before heroically coming into the game and delivering a clutch performance.
One more thing, I was just downright upset at some of the nasty tweets people were sending in reference to Amendola’s minor injury. It was like a few people had already turned on Amendola by calling him a waste of money or a popsicle stick. This game showed us all that Amendola is one of the toughest players in the league, and you know that now if you didn’t know it beforehand.
4. You still upset about Kyle Arrington?
I’m not the only blogger or Patriots fan who has vehemently defended Kyle Arrington, and he is an important player in this league as far as financials go. Why? Well, he received a four-year pact from the New England Patriots, thus affirming how valuable having a good, dependable slot cornerback is. While Arrington is quite awful in coverage on the outside, he is a very good player in the slot. That’s where his short-area quickness can be showcased, and he can also better find the football and make plays in the slot. And boy, did he make plays yesterday. Arrington managed to force two fumbles and almost had a pick in a crucial performance for this team.
5. Ryan Wendell has some work to do
Although he made strides in this regard as the season went on in 2012, Ryan Wendell had a subpar year as a pass blocker, and that was the lone blemish to an otherwise great season as a first-year starter. Wendell is durable, dependable, and possesses great stamina, and he has also mastered the most important thing at the center position; run blocking. But Wendell is a poor pass blocker, and he still needs to work on that part of his game. He did not look good at all yesterday in pass pro, and he is to blame for some hits on Tom Brady. But all is not bad, as Wendell was also his usual excellent self in run blocking, and he had himself a quality outing overall. He did face a very tough matchup yesterday so I’m not worried, but his lapses were one of the reasons why Brady faced a little more pressure than he should have. I also wasn’t a fan of Dan Connolly’s pass blocking, but the sack he allowed to Kyle Williams is easy to overreact on.