Week 4 stock watch: Patriots squeak past Bills in AFC East showdown
The New England Patriots handed the Buffalo Bills their first loss of the year, and in doing so, got their third win over a division rival in as many weeks.
The New England Patriots remain undefeated after their 16-10 win over the Buffalo Bills. The team did not play great by any stretch of the imagination, but they were good enough to get a road victory in a tough environment. It wasn’t pretty, but a win is a win.
New England’s offense never looked right in this game. They struggled to put drives together all afternoon. Aside from a few chunk plays, the Patriots had a tough time moving the ball against the Bills defense. Had they not scored a special teams touchdown on a blocked punt, the result of this game might have been different.
The Patriots defense held their ground for the most part. The unit accounted for four interceptions and five sacks, and they only surrendered 10 points. However, it’s worth mentioning that they also allowed a 36-year-old Frank Gore to rush for over 100 yards.
If New England’s offensive struggles persist, the defense’s ability to stop the run will be an important factor in whether or not they can win close games. Allowing a running back in the twilight of his career to average over six yards per carry is a bit concerning, even if Gore is a future Hall of Famer.
Although they were far from perfect, the Patriots found a way to win a divisional game on the road. They’ll have plenty to work on this week as they prepare to take on the Washington Redskins this Sunday, again on the road.
Here are the top takeaways from Week 4:
How do we feel about a Matthew Slater touchdown? The veteran special teamer has been spectacular thus far this season. The 12-year Patriot has been making important contributions in the often-overlooked third phase of the game.
Slater came away with his first career touchdown versus the Bills. It came via a J.C. Jackson punt block, after which Slater plucked the ball out of the air and cruised into the end zone for six. Those six points were ultimately the difference in this game.
I usually don’t reward players for being gifted easy touchdowns, but I’m making an exception just this once. Slater is a fan favorite and borderline legend in New England for his play on special teams. If anyone deserves praise for a gimme touchdown, it’s this guy.
McCourty grabbed his fourth pick of the season Sunday versus the Bills. He now has one interception in each of the Patriots’ first four games, and he also leads the NFL in interceptions.
This was McCourty’s most impressive interception thus far in 2019, as one could argue that the first three were gifted to him by the opposing quarterbacks. However, this one did require some skill to bait Josh Allen into throwing the ball his way, and of course, to ultimately make a play on the ball.
Kyle Van Noy
Van Noy didn’t play in the Patriots’ season opener versus the Steelers, instead opting to be with his wife for the birth of their son. New England didn’t need his services to beat Pittsburgh, but he played a key role in their Week 4 victory over the Bills.
The sixth-year linebacker had himself a game in Buffalo. He accounted for six solo tackles and two sacks. However, his best play of the game came late in the fourth quarter, when Van Noy got pressure on backup Bills quarterback Matt Barkley… which led directly to a Jamie Collins interception that sealed the victory.
The second-year corner continues to flash his playmaking ability in the back end. He had a career game against the Bills. New England’s top corner Stephon Gilmore didn’t have a great game, but Jackson more than made up for that with his contributions on defense and special teams.
Jackson finished the game with two interceptions and a blocked punt that led to a special teams touchdown. He is now the second Patriot this season to have multiple interceptions in a single game.
The Patriots signal-caller had a day to forget against the Bills. Brady completed less than 50 percent of his throws and ended the game with an abysmal quarterback rating of 45.9. He also threw an embarrassing interception deep in the red zone, his first of the season.
Brady and the passing attack have been unreliable since the second half of last week’s game against the Jets. The GOAT will have an opportunity to redeem himself this Sunday versus an 0-4 Washington team.
Brady isn’t totally responsible for New England’s struggles in the passing game. The receivers deserve part of the blame, too, although Julian Edelman gets a pass due to the fact that he is still dealing with an injury and isn’t 100 percent healthy.
However, the rest of the Patriots receivers aren’t off the hook. Phillip Dorsett only caught two of his nine targets for minimal gains, and rookies Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski have yet to make any meaningful contributions on offense.
That said, Josh Gordon’s lack of success is the most alarming. The connection between Brady and Gordon looked off at times earlier this season, and that was the case for much of this game. If the Patriots expect Gordon to be the second option behind Edelman at receiver, he’s going to have to get on the same page with his quarterback.
The fact that New England couldn’t move the ball through the air against Buffalo is certainly noteworthy, but additionally, not being able to run the ball is a major cause for concern.
The Bills defense deserves credit for playing well, but the Patriots didn’t do themselves any favors. Sony Michel had another forgettable game, but it’s not all his fault. The offensive line did a poor job run-blocking. The absence of fullback James Develin additionally contributed to Michel’s lack of success on the ground.
Many people expected the Patriots to be a run-heavy team on offense in 2019, so their inability to run the ball thus far is surprising. They’ll have a great opportunity to get the running game going in Week 5, though, versus a Redskins team that is surrendering 147.5 yards per game to opposing offenses in 2019.