Welcome back to Goose’s Gabs’ weekly report card for the New England Patriots. Well, Sunday’s game against the Buffalo Bills was a stinker of historic proportions. The Patriots blew a 21-point lead, Tom Brady threw four picks, Bill Belichick somehow wasted a crucial timeout in the final minute of the game, and the Patriots lost, 34-31. Here’s our take on who deserves a lot of the blame for the Patriots’ first loss to the Bills in 16 games, and who only deserves a little.
Very rarely can we say this, but this time it’s the truth: Brady killed the Patriots Sunday. Four touchdowns and 387 passing yards are great, but every interception proved costly and could have been avoided. The first came on an ill-advised floater to a running back in the flat, killing a drive at the Buffalo 37. The resultant Buffalo field goal completed at least a six-point swing and showed the Bills they could win. The second interception – thrown into very tight coverage over the middle – ruined a great chance for the Patriots to re-seize momentum early in the third. The third – a telegraphed play that safety George Wilson read easily and undercut – ended a drive well into field goal range and led to the Bills’ tying the game. And the fourth gave the Bills the lead.
Brady’s number of games this poor can be counted on one hand, but there’s no way around his poor decision-making’s role in the Patriots loss. He put up big numbers, but he made bigger mistakes.
Running Backs: B-
The Patriots’ three running backs combined for 81 yards on the ground and zero touchdowns. The most effective running play was an end-around by Wes Welker for 19 yards in the fourth. Rookie Stevan Ridley continued to impress, leading the team with both 44 rushing yards and 6.3 yards per carry. But had Danny Woodhead not stumbled on a key passing play, safety Bryan Scott would not have gotten Brady’s first pick, and Brady’s downward spiral might have been avoided.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: B+
Welker had the kind of game that fantasy owners dream about, setting career-highs with 16 catches and 217 receiving yards (plus 19 more yards rushing). His second of two touchdowns tied the game on 4th-and-goal from the six, and that came after Welker caught a difficult fourth-and-4 pass from the Buffalo 41 to keep the drive going. Rob Gronkowski, meanwhile, just continues to pile up numbers, catching seven passes for 109 yards and two touchdowns. He leads all NFL tight ends this season with 281 yards, 93.1 yards per game, 15 receptions for first downs, and five touchdowns. No one, it seems, can cover him.
Chad Ochocinco, however, made too very costly mistakes. A poorly run drag route allowed cornerback Leodis McKelvin to undercut Ochocinco and intercept Brady. And on third-and-4 from the 41, Ochocinco dropped a sure-touchdown floater that hit him right in the hands when he was wide open. Welker saved the day, but Ochocinco has to step up.
Offensive Line: B+
The offensive line held the Bills to no sacks and just four QB hits, but they also didn’t do much to help the running game, especially on straight rush plays (as opposed to end-arounds). The offensive line also committed two holding penalties, the second of which (by Logan Mankins) took the Patriots out of field goal range with the Patriots leading by just seven entering the fourth quarter. Good protection by the offensive line, but not great discipline.
Defensive Line: C-
Zero sacks and just two quarterback hits aren’t going to get it done when your secondary is as porous as New England’s is (more on that later). On top of that, the defensive line looked helpless against running back Fred Jackson, who rushed for 74 yards, 6.2 yards per carry and a touchdown. The line also caused almost a third of the 93 penalty yards assessed against the Patriots. Kyle Love‘s roughing the passer penalty turned a second-and-10 at the Buffalo 5 into a first-and-10 at the Buffalo 20. Vince Wilfork‘s unsportsmanlike conduct penalty at the end of the game didn’t really matter (Buffalo was already a the 1), but a leader like Wilfork shouldn’t be setting a bad example for his teammates with cheap shots like that.
Had the linebackers stopped Jackson once or twice, his rushing average would have been lower and his confidence wouldn’t have ballooned so greatly. They get a share of the blame for Jackson’s success on the ground, and they get most of the blame for Jackson’s 87 total receiving yards and 17.4 yards per catch. The linebackers did not knock down one pass and only hit Fitzpatrick once (Dane Fletcher). The aggressiveness with which the Patriots front seven went after opposing QBs in the preseason and Week 1 has completely disappeared in the last two games. Until the secondary improves (if it does at all), sluggishly chasing running backs and tight ends won’t be enough.
Defensive Backs: C-
Kyle Arrington‘s two interceptions and the Bill’s 4-for-11 third-down efficiency kept the secondary from the “D” range, but once again they looked horrible. Ryan Fitzpatrick had plenty of time to throw, and the Bills’ three wide receivers caught 19 passes for 279 yards and a touchdown. Sergio Brown‘s pass interference penalty early in the fourth wiped out a Josh Barrett interception that would have preserved the Patriots lead. Had Brown played the ball and not WR David Nelson, the interception likely would have stood. Another terrible game by the Patriots secondary, but the rest of the defense played just as poorly.
Special Teams: A-
Stephen Gostkowski nailed his field goal and all four extra-points, and combined with Zoltan Mesko to hold the Bills to an average starting spot behind the 18-yard line (discounting the three Bills drives started by turnover). At least for one game Mesko looked unhindered by his knee injury in Week 2. A Patriots loss kept this from a straight A, but it’s hard to find something the special teams could have done better.