Phew. I’ll say that again: phew. The Patriots won, but just barely. The Bills played better than the Patriots did for about 52 of the 60 minutes in the game, and they probably deserved to win the game for the power and ferocity that they brought to the game. Unfortunately, they came up just short.
Offensively, this game was really the tale of two Patriots teams: the ones that barely showed up for the first 90% and the team that dominated the last 10%. So let’s take a look at both teams, offensively. The Patriots came out of this game flat. They have a great core of running backs in Laurence Maroney, Fred Taylor, Kevin Faulk, and a couple of others. But they did nothing in their running game, nothing at all. Unfortunately, I think we’re finally seeing Laurence Maroney for what he is: a near-miss. He had a great two years, but between injuries and an inability to move vertically he has shown himself to just not be as good as we all hoped he would be. And that’s really a shame. But frankly, where Maroney fails the team has to be willing to try out other running backs. Taylor is a power runner and Faulk is a third-down back primarily, but I really think BenJarvus Green-Ellis could be a great running back. He just needs to be given a chance and I believe he will shine.
Tom Brady came out of this game looking rusty, and that’s understandable. A year removed from real NFL football, he showed all the signs: lack of accuracy, sloppy throwing form, poor decision making. He even gave up an interception that Buffalo converted into a TD. But the thing about rust is that it’s possible to shake it off. And that’s exactly what Brady did. As the game went on, as the running game diminished, Brady began to move back towards Tom Terrific, the future Hall of Famer. Using checkdown passes and mid-range throws, he marched the team twice in five minutes into enemy territory and twice punched it into the end zone. That’s the Tom Brady we all know and love. It took some time, but I think Tom is back to his old self, and the NFL had best fear him and his potential for this season.
Defensively, the Patriots played well in the first half and then ramped it up the second half. The main problem I saw was in their inability to stop the run. Fred Jackson is a capable but running back, but if he can cut through the defense that easily, then I don’t know what the Pats will do when real running backs come to play. They also need to recognize and prevent the screen pass much better, as that was a key weapon for the Bills all season. But in the last few minutes, the New England front line finally got the better of the Bills, forcing hurried pass after sack after hurried pass. They also showed poise by not succumbing to frustration after several key but questionable penalties were called against them.
The bottom-line for this game: the Patriots won and the Bills lost. The Patriots are 1-0 and the Bills are 0-1. But the Patriots will have to play a lot better if they want to beat better teams. Tonight was definitely a wake up call in Foxborough.