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Tony Massarotti

Venturing Into Five-Down Territory: Pats Good But Not Perfect Against Bills

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Two weeks after a 41-14 thumping at the hands of the Kansas City Chiefs, the Patriots are now 4-2. Cincinnati was dismembered. Buffalo was beaten. Now New England prepares for a Thursday night meeting with the New York Jets, and all is well at Patriot Place.

Or is it?

For all of the good that took place on the field in Buffalo over the weekend, there were more than a few missteps, too. On more than one occasion, the Patriots played the part of Plaxico Burress and tried to shoot themselves in the lower body. Like Plaxico, they escaped with relatively minimal damage, though that does not negate the fact that mistakes were made.

Five plays that bugged me:

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First quarter, third-and-10 from the Buffalo 48, scoreless. Faced with a second-and-10 situation, the Patriots took a shot down the field and quarterback Tom Brady overthrew receiver Brian Tyms. Fine. But as the Pats lined up for third down, Brady looked like he wanted to change the play until he realized he didn’t have enough time and decided to call a timeout.

Again, fine.

So what happened next? The Pats came out of the timeout and Julian Edelman mistimed the snap count with Brady in the shotgun for what was clearly a passing play. As a result, third-and-10 became third-and-15. The Pats subsequently called for a handoff to Shane Vreen on the next play, which resulted in a two-yard gain and, of course, a punt.

Possession killer.

First quarter, fourth-and-1 from the Buffalo 14, scoreless. After Jordan Develin failed to convert the first down on third-and-1, the Pats lined up for a field goal. While some may have wanted the Pats to go for it, a field goal made sense. The Pats were on the road and the stadium was loud, and a field goal obviously would have given the Pats the early lead. Just before the snap, center Danny Aiken flinched, negating a Stephen Gostkowski kick that would have given the Pats a 3-0 edge.

Of course, you know what happened next. Aiken’s next snap was a little short and off-line, disrupting the timing of the play, Gostkowski’s 36-yard attempt missed to the left. For the second time in two possessions, the Pats shot themselves in the foot and undermined their own chance to score. At this point, the game remained scoreless.

Second quarter, two-minute warning, second-and-10 from the Buffalo 24, game tied 7-7. Following a huge strip sack and recovery by Chandler Jones, the Patriots had just reclaimed momentum deep in Buffalo territory. Brady is effectively given a free play when Bills defensive end Jerry Hughes jumps offside, after which Brady completes an 18-yard strike to Brandon Lafell that puts the ball at the Buffalo 6-yard line with 1:54 to go in the half.

The problem? There was a second flag on the play.

Playing in place of the injured Dan Connolly, left guard Marcus Cannon is called for holding on the play, negating the gain. On the next play, the Pats tried a wide receiver screen that was blown up. New England is forced to settle for a field goal and a 10-7 lead instead of a potential 14-7 advantage.

Chances, chances, chances.

Fourth quarter, second-and-12 from the Buffalo 18, Pats lead 23-16. Seeing Rob Gronkowski in a mismatch lined up wide right, Brady tosses a pass toward the goal that Gronkowski catches and carries into the end zone for a touchdown that gives the Patriots a 29-14 lead pending the extra point. Gronkowski is well into his celebration before realizing there was a flag on the play back near the line of scrimmage.

The call? Holding on Jordan Devey. Somewhat incredibly, the Pats actually overcome this despite a resulting second-and-22 situation. Brady connects with Gronkowski for 10 yards on the next play, then hits a crossing Lafell on third-and-12 for an 18-yard touchdown. The Devey penalty didn’t hurt in the end, but it was still yet another harmful mistake committed by an offensive line that had a slew of them.

Late fourth quarter, first-and-10 at the New England 20 and first-and-10 at the New England 35, Patriots leading 30-22. With the Bills having closed to within one score, Lafell was late getting lined up at the snap, immediately costing the Patriots five yards. Brady promptly erases the mistake with a 20-yard completion to Julian Edelman after which … the Pats blunder yet again.

This time, the culprit is left tackle Nate Solder, who flinched at the snap and cost the Patriots another five yards, forcing another first-and-15 situation. This mistake proved far more costly. The Pats ended up with a third-and-16 situation that Brady converted with a dart down the middle of the field to a sprawling Gronkowski for a 17-yard gain. Two plays later, Lafell hauled in a 56-yard pass touchdown pass to make the score 37-22, a final tally that suggested the game wasn’t as close as it was.

And a game that was far more mistake-ridden than many of us would like to remember.