As the last seconds ticked off, it was what everyone expected: A New England Patriots victory over the Buffalo Bills. The Bills have only won one game against New England in the last decade. The Bills held a one point lead until very late in the game when the Patriots kicked a short field goal to take the lead with five seconds left to win 23 – 21.
Sep 8, 2013; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills quarterback EJ Manuel (3) and New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) after a game at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Patriots beat the Bills 23 to 21. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, and Shane Vereen had big games. Amendola’s performance was exceptional. In the first half Amendola was clearly Brady’s ‘go-to’ guy. Yet late in the half he tweaked his groin and hobbled off the field. Whatever the trainers did at half time was impressive, because groin injuries don’t heal in 30 minutes, yet Amendola was able to play very effectively in the second half. He was clutch, making key third down conversions in traffic on the winning drive.
Edelman had two touch down receptions and was also a key target of Brady. Kenbrell Thomkins struggled mightily in this game. It was clear he was confused at times and he was not on the same page with Brady. Brady showed his frustration as Thomkins misread back-shoulder timing throws and when Thomkins dropped a touchdown pass that was slightly out of his reach due to his lack of understanding of what Brady’s expectations were on the play.
Vereen registered his first 100 yard rushing performance. Vereen replaced Stevan Ridley in the second quarter after Ridley fumbled the ball deep in Bills territory. The fumble got picked up and was returned almost 80 yards for a touchdown to bring the score to 10 – 7. On the play, Ridley slipped while trying to cut it back to the middle. As his feet went out from under him and he hit the ground, the ball came loose. However, since he wasn’t touched by a defender, it was a live ball. Ridley had fumbled earlier in the game, but Dan Connolly bailed him out by falling on the loose ball. Putting the ball on the ground a second time ended his day.
The Patriots won the game. Brady kept his cool on a very frustrating day, and led a late fourth quarter drive to salvage a victory. Brady looked good overall, moving well within the pocket under some decent pressure by heavy blitzing from the Bills. Brady was accurate with the ball, but the passing game was limited due to the rookies not being up to speed.
The Patriots run defense was fantastic. C.J. Spiller is one of the more dangerous backs in the league, yet he was bottled up the entire day. The Patriots secondary was pretty strong as well, although they did have a couple of break downs. Aqib Talib pretty much shut down his side of the field except on one play. It appeared it may have been a broken coverage as he released the Bills receiver as if he was expecting safety help. However, there was no safety in the area and it led to a simple throw and catch for a touchdown as the receiver had no one within 15 yards of him. Dennard had a very strong game in coverage.
Danny Amendola was huge. Wes Welker was not missed on this day. Amendola ran the short option routes exceptionally well, even with a tweaked groin, and picked up key yardage to keep drives alive. Amendola also made some very clutch plays on the game winning drive. If he can get and stay healthy, he will match or exceed the production of Welker for sure.
Sep 8, 2013; Orchard Park, NY, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Danny Amendola (80) makes a catch as Buffalo Bills safety Aaron Williams (23) defends during the fourth quarter at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Patriots beat the Bills 23-21. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports
The offensive line did not have a great day, but they held up well enough against an outstanding effort by the Bills defensive front. This was a very physical game as both teams were hitting hard. The Bills blitzed often and the Patriots gave Brady enough time to get rid of the ball. Unfortunately, the timing wasn’t there yet with the rookie receivers. There was an interesting personnel alignment on several run plays to the left. Marcus Cannon lined up at left tackle in place of Nate Solder. In most of these cases, Solder stayed out there as a blocking tight end, lining up on the right side and going in motion to the left.
Steven Gostkowski was 3 for 3 including a game winner with seconds left. He also kicked the ball very well on kick-offs.
The turnovers almost cost the Patriots this game. Buffalo won the turnover battle 3 to 2. Ridley’s fumble that was returned for a touchdown changed the entire complexion of the game. The Patriots had a 10-0 lead, in large part due to a Buffalo fumble by Spiller that led to the Patriots first touchdown. The Patriots were moving the ball well and it appeared they might put the game out of reach early by extending the lead 17 – 0 mid way through the second quarter. Ridley’s fumble resulted in a 10 -7 score and gave the Bills and the Bills fans some much-needed life.
Ryan Allen had a bad day. He barely got a hold down a long field goal, but the job did get done. It was an ugly kick, but it resulted in three points. Allen also shanked a punt when he was kicking close to his end zone. Allen has the talent, so hopefully he will develop. But Zoltan Mesko was missed today. Fortunately the Patriots won this game or Mesko’s absence could have been pointed to as a reason why the Patriots lost.
Also, the rookie head coach for the Bills misfired late in the game. With the Bills still holding a 1 point lead with about 4 minutes left, the Bills continued their no-huddle offense. That in itself wasn’t necessarily a bad coaching move. However, they were snapping the ball with 20 seconds left on the clock. On first down the Bills ran for a 1 yard gain. Then they hurried to the line on third down and snapped the ball with 20 seconds left on the clock, and threw an incomplete pass. The quick three and out was poor game management.
The Patriots had trouble staying on their feet. I’m not sure if they had the wrong sized cleats or the wrong shoes in general. Early in the game Thomkins stumbled on a deep in route that resulted in an incomplete pass instead of a big gainer. Zach Sudfeld lost the confidence of Brady when he seemed to trip over his own feet on what should have been a routine reception. Instead, the ball bounced of Sudfeld’s hands as he was falling to the ground and Brady’s pass ended up being an interception. The big turnover by Ridley came when his feet slipped out from under him as he made a cut. He was untouched when he fell to the ground and fumbled the ball away. Nate Solder had his feet slide out from under him when he tried to stop and turn back inside to make a block. Had he made that block, Vereen would have had a big gainer, but instead was popped pretty good for only a short gain.
The Bills had some key penalties that were drive killers for them. Also, Stevie Johnson dropped a short little outlet pass that would have converted a third down late in the game. That play may have cost the Bills the victory. Johnson did have a nice touchdown catch on a beautiful throw from Manuel over double coverage. However, he should keep his mouth shut because he made a fool of himself dropping a pass that may very well have sealed the victory for the Bills. It would have sustained a drive that may have eaten up the rest of the clock.