NFL Week 1 analysis: Buffalo Bills vs. New England Patriots
The Buffalo Bills fell short of the New England Patriots in Week 1 thanks to sloppy penalties, a stuttering offense, and yet another late game-winning drive by Tom Brady. However, it wasn’t the loss so much as it was the way the Bills lost that surprised many. Instead of folding in the face of one of the top quarterbacks in the game, the Buffalo Bills kept the score close throughout, leading the game for much of the second half, before folding under a late field goal. Now the question for both teams is can they forget the sloppy plays and focus on the good as they prepare for Week 2.
The Buffalo Bills defense was the biggest surprise story of the game – more than even the good but not great debut of E.J. Manuel. With injuries to some of their top players and a roster laden with inexperience and unproven talent, the Bills were ten point underdogs for a reason, and it mostly started with their defense. However, this unit played a spirited, high energy game that flustered Tom Brady throughout much of regulation. There was probably more pre-snap movement in the first half of Game 1 than there was in all of 2012 under Dave Wannstedt. Consider the fact that the defense was on the field for nearly two thirds of the game and it’s a wonder it took until the last five seconds of the game for New England to even score more than 20 points when most (myself included) would have picked them to score closer to 40. The Buffalo secondary was still suspect, especially in the middle of the field, but the front seven vastly overachieved and did a great job of maintaining pressure on Tom Brady and his running backs at the line of scrimmage throughout the game.
The Patriots on the other hand had one goal in mind on defense: shut down C.J. Spiller. Mission successful on that front. Spiller had to fight for every yard and was routinely stuffed with no space. This set the run-happy Bills back as their only real offensive success came from a few long passes and a few timely Fred Jackson runs. Also credit the Patriot defense for creating early turnovers and setting their offense with points that would sustain them throughout the game. This group has been much maligned for the past couple years, but it will be interesting to see how this secondary performs against more experienced competition. For Week 1 at least, they looked much improved from last year.
The Bills offense was the less pleasant surprise. They showed some great stuff in the second and third quarters. Their drive to open up the second half was an 11 play, 80 yard beauty, capped off by the best pass a Bills QB has made in over a decade. Still, they were largely ineffective in the fourth quarter, putting up only 28 yards and 1 first down in that frame. While Manuel’s rocket arm is something to be excited about, he missed a few open passes that might have moved the chains in crucial situations (the one off Stevie Johnson’s fingertips comes to mind).
Meanwhile, the Patriots may have won the battle, but what is their outlook for the season? Their only effective skill players were Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, and Shane Vereen. How easy will it be for a more talented defense to shut down that tandem? Tom Brady desperately needs someone who can run sideline routes to spread out defenses before it becomes a game of slant patterns through the middle. The Bills might not have been able to stop it, but someone else will
Players of note
It’s interesting that the second-most maligned defensive player on this team was not only one of the best Bills on the field for much of the game, but that he did it while playing through the same injury that the most maligned defensive player is sitting out for. Playing through plantar fasciitis (the same ailment that kept Jairus Byrd out) Mario Williams looked no worse for the wear in action against the Patriots. He torched his blockers a few times and fueled a defensive line that put more consistent pressure on Tom Brady than the Bills have had in almost a decade. It’s the biggest reason this defense only gave up touchdown drives that started from their own 31 yard line or worse.
It’s hard to imagine the Patriots would have won this game had it not been for the great catches from Amendola on the final New England drive of the game. He converted several key third downs with big grabs over the middle to keep the Pats afloat long enough to get into field goal range. As long as he can avoid missing any more snaps with a groin injury, Tom Brady should once again have plenty of safety valves between Amendola and Julian Edelman.
The Bills need:
Discipline. Doug Marrone’s debut as a head coach was a spotty one. His lightning quick, no-huddle offense only held the ball 22 minutes, which might explain why the defense was too gassed to stop Shane Vereen in the last minute of the game as the Pats were rolling across the field for the win. Many have criticized Marrone for not milking the clock when the Bills had the ball with about five minutes left, but you can’t fault him for wanting more points with a one point lead against Tom Brady. Passing wasn’t the issue, how he managed the clock was. He should have had the guys huddle up and milk the clock to give his defense a breather while also giving his offense a chance to pick the best play possible. Given that the Pats defense rarely showed fatigue, this no-huddle approach proved to be no advantage at all late in the game.
Then there were the penalties. So, so many penalties. The Bills might have won this game without their penalties alone to stunt offensive drives and move along Patriot drives. Next week, the overall discipline and game planning of the coaching staff needs to match the situation of the game more appropriately if the Bills are going to start winning games.
The Patriots need:
Skill players to step up. Kenbrell Thompkins looked lost for most of his pro debut, as he made Leodis McKelvin look like Champ Bailey at times. Tom Brady needs this kid to step up in a big way as the Patriots offense looked sloppy and inexplosive for most of the game. This goes against just about everything we’ve known about the Patriots to this point. They need more speed and more skill at these positions, but they’re likely not going to get it this year. That means Thompkins and others had better be ready. Their schedule isn’t about to get any easier.
Cory Buck is a staff writer for The Penalty Flag. You can reach him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @TheBuckMopsHere.