Concerning? Oh, you bet.
There was so much to like in the Patriots’ 37-22 escape from Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday that if you had to break it up in chunks and choose a favorite moment, New England fans would be left playing mental games of rochambeau.
Tom Brady looked like Tom Brady, circa 2007, particularly on a 43-yard touchdown pass to newcomer Brian Tyms - in triple coverage - who fittingly celebrated in Randy Moss fashion, and probably left one-time deep threat hopeful Aaron Dobson looking over his shoulder heading into this week.
In fact, Brady found 10 different receivers on the day (not including Danny Amendola, of course), for his best game of the 2014 season thus far (361 yards and four touchdowns). Julian Edelman once again led the way, but in no way was this Brady focused solely on his most dependable asset. Rob Gronkowski hauled in seven catches for 94 yards. Brandon LaFell had four, including a 18 and 56-yard touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
On the defensive side, there was Chandler Jones’ best impression of Lawrence Taylor, recovering a forced fumble by Kyle Orton. Darrelle Revis kept Buffalo’s stud rookie wide receiver Sammy Watkins (20 yards receiving) virtually silent on the afternoon.
In all, it was a satisfying way for the Patriots to follow up last weekend’s dismantling of the Bengals, assuring that the win over previously-unbeaten Cincinnati wasn’t a fluke.
And yet it was also a game filled with frustration for the New England Patriots, especially as injuries piled up like leaves on the front lawn you just raked this morning.
Jerod Mayo left the game with a knee injury and did not return. Stevan Ridley went down in pain during the second half. Offensive guard Dan Connolly got his bell rung in the first half, which once again forced Brady to be introduced to tuba star Jordan Devey. Gronkowski went down (only to return) to the chorus of empty beer bottles smashing over various coffee tables all over New England.
It was also a game during which the Bills seemingly announced that they may very well prove to be a pain in the ass.
The Bills looked like, well, the Bills, for stretches of the game. Safety Duke Williams had the most egregious pass interference in recent memory when he blatantly pushed Edelman out of the end zone on a pass attempt in the first quarter. That led to an easy Brady touchdown pass to Tim Wright and a 7-0 New England lead. Orton threw a ball to Jamie Collins that ranks with Brady’s interception in Kansas City among the worst of the season in the NFL. The Bills, hoping to run out the clock in the first half, ran C.J. Spiller right, only to watch the running back cough up the football. The Patriots recovered, and tacked on three more points before running to the locker room, thank you very much.
But Orton also had a 299-yard, two touchdown game on Sunday, relying on tight end Scott Chandler (105 yards receiving) and wide receiver Robert Woods (78 and a touchdown). Kyle Orton. He was fun to watch, a mixed bag of competitiveness and incompetence, the latter of which suggests the Bills will be hard-pressed looking for a playoff spot with him lining up behind center.
The Bills, now 3-3, and a game behind the Patriots (4-2) for the AFC East lead, didn’t turtle, despite being down 23-14 after three quarters. Buffalo’s defense gave the Patriots fits for much of the afternoon, and forced the offense into a number of long-yardage third-down plays.
New England was 7-of-15 on third downs during the game, with each success coming at an even more crucial time in the game, most notably on Brady’s nails completion to Gronkowski on third and 16 for 17 yards on the final drive of the game.
“We were able to make some plays,” head coach Bill Belichick said. “Not where you want to be.
“Fortunately we had good execution by our offensive team.”
That, of course, began - and ended - with Tom Brady. Some ankle injury.
The only thing questionable about Brady on Sunday is where it ranks among his greatest games of all time. A fortnight after one of his worst performances in a Patriots uniform, this was simply vintage Brady. It was the 16th time the New England quarterback has tossed four touchdowns in a game, something he hadn’t done since Nov. 3 of last season. His 361 yards on the day tie his 23rd-best game in the NFL. His 139.6 QB rating is the 17th-best of his career.
It may have taken six games, but Brady now has a reliable assortment of weapons at his disposal with Edelman, Gronkowski, Wright, LaFell, and now Tyms in the mix. Dobson may or may not still be an “emerging” star, but it speaks volumes that Tyms did in one game what the Patriots have been hoping Dobson could deliver for more than a year now. Amendola is now simply a useless roster spot.
But if the offensive line took a hit with the loss of Connolly, then the quarterback may be back to Exasperation Square One. Teammates spoke of Mayo's injury with a certain semblance of devastation after the game. Ridley was seen leaving the stadium wth a cane, and not of the Big Daddy variety.
That’s all not to mention that in one afternoon, the Patriots lost key components on the offensive and defensive lines and at running back, and have to turn around and play the Jets in all of four days. Thanks, Goodell.
That’s a primary concern. A secondary one to come out of Sunday is that the Bills may be legit. Yeah, we said the same things about the Dolphins after Week 1, but Buffalo’s defensive presence, particularly on the line, is no joke, evidenced by New England’s paltry running game (50 yards on 27 attempts).
The Bills visit Gillette Stadium, a place they’ve never won, in the season finale on Dec. 28. They could still be fighting for a wild card berth at that point, and much like last season, when the Dolphins beat the Patriots in Week 15, Buffalo could have its eyes on denying New England home field advantage in the playoffs. Double whammy.
The Bills may have lost, but this game, in some ways, had the feel of the Patriots’ regular-season loss to the St. Louis Rams’ Greatest Show on Turf in 2001. In losing, the Patriots proved they could hang with the NFL elite, a factor that helped spur them to a victory in Super Bowl XXXVI.
Is that hyperbole? Probably, and the reports that most Bills left the locker room before media access certainly displays a lack of accountability and maturity. Kind of of like carrying your defensive coordinator off the field after beating Detroit.
Still, the Bills may have showed that they belong in the discussion, a conversation that the Patriots may have ended as far as them slipping. Sunday showed few signs that Brady and company are hitting the trade market by the end of the month.
Sold, at a price. And right into Jets Week.
All four days of it.
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