BOSTON (CBS) — Any time a team wins 52-28, you’d figure it would be difficult to search for negatives. That’s not entirely the case this week for the Patriots.
While the final score said the Patriots dominated the Bills, there was still some room for criticism. So let’s get into the four ups and four downs from this week’s Patriots victory.
Brandon Bolden And Stevan Ridley
We knew the Patriots improved their rushing attack this season, but who saw this coming? Brandon Bolden rushed for 137 yards and a touchdown on just 16 carries, and Stevan Ridley rushed for 106 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries. Even Tom Brady couldn’t help himself from joining the rushing frenzy, scrambling for a four-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter.
Combined, the Patriots averaged 6.2 yards per carry, rushing for 247 yards total. For some perspective, the Bills had allowed just 301 total rushing yards in their first three games.
Donald Thomas And The Offensive Line
The big news this weekend was that left guard Logan Mankins was not flying with the team to Buffalo. That meant Donald Thomas would get the start, leading to much uneasiness throughout New England.
But Thomas played great, as evidenced by the huge rushing performance by the team and Tom Brady getting sacked just once.
Thomas got singled out (perhaps unfairly) for not playing well against Arizona in Week 2, but he played marvelously all day against the Bills. Rob Gronkowski, who was listed as questionable with a hip injury, also blocked well, showing no ill effects.
Another scapegoat this season was cornerback Devin McCourty. He dropped two interceptions last Sunday night in Baltimore, but he made up for it this week by holding on to two passes from Ryan Fitzpatrick. He also contributed with five tackles, including one for a loss that allowed Bill Belichick to decline an offensive holding call.
McCourty definitely made his mistakes last week, but he was also victim to some truly horrific calls by the replacement officials. This week, he took a major step forward and will help silence some of his doubters. At least for a week.
It’s sort of old hat at this point, but the quarterback deserves respect for that performance. He finished the game 22-for-36 for 340 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions, and he ran in another touchdown from the 4-yard line.
He racked up plenty of fantasy points, but in the real world, he played a nearly perfect game in leading the Pats back from a 21-7 third-quarter deficit.
The most famous mantra of the Bill Belichick era is simple: “Do your job.” Well, Stephen Gostkowski’s job is to kick the football, and he didn’t do that so well on Sunday.
Gostkowski missed his first two field-goal attempts, one from 49 yards and one from 42 yards, costing the Patriots six crucial points in the first half.
Ultimately, the team was able to snap out of it and make the Gostkowski story an afterthought, but with three misses in four weeks, Gostkowski’s created plenty of doubt regarding his ability to do his job.
He finished with 104 receiving yards and a touchdown on five catches, and he had for the most part a fantastic game. However, early mistakes nearly cost the team dearly.
Gronkowski twice dropped what should have been a touchdown pass (to be fair, one drop was due to getting hit), and he also had a costly fumble that set the Bills up deep in Patriots territory. On the very next play, Ryan Fitzpatrick connected with Scott Chandler for a 24-yard touchdown pass, and the Bills tied the game 7-7.
Admittedly, the standards are high for Gronkowski. But the best tight end in the NFL can’t make those mistakes and have his team win by 24 points too often.
He made a nice diving touchdown catch during garbage time, which could definitely go a long way in developing a reliable rhythm with quarterback Tom Brady. However, for most of the afternoon, he just looked a step behind. He let a long third-down pass go through his hands and off his facemask, and in total, he caught just three of the seven passes thrown his way.
Given the circumstances of the victory, with Welker and Gronkowski each going over 100 yards receiving, Lloyd’s quiet day is no big deal. But for the Patriots’ offense to truly fire on all cylinders, he’ll need to be a bigger part of it.
Dont’a Hightower’s Hamstring
OK, I lied. It actually is difficult to find four problems with the Patriots on Sunday. They committed just one penalty for 10 yards, they won the turnover battle 6-2, and, well, they won by 24 points. To criticize that one too harshly would just be nit-picking.
So in the absence of any real poor performance, I’ll single out Dont’a Hightower’s hamstring for having a bad day on Sunday. The rookie linebacker chased down Fitzpatrick from behind for his first career NFL sack, but that would be his last play of the game due to a hamstring injury. The defense did just fine in his absence, for the most part, but that’s one valuable hamstring for the Patriots going forward.