BOSTON (CBS) — That was so, so ugly.
Should we have seen it coming? Maybe, to an extent, but even accounting for some growing pains by the rookies, the Patriots’ Week 1 over the Bills should not have been that difficult. The Patriots won, and they’re 1-0, and that is all well and good, but there some serious reality checks handed out by the Bills on Sunday.
The most obvious is that the offense is simply not going to have quite as easy a run as it looked like it might have during the preseason. Training camp and preseason heroes Kenbrell Thompkins and Zach Sudfeld looked very much like rookies, while Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce might not even have been in Buffalo. There’s no way of knowing for sure. That’s not to say they are doomed by any stretch, but it looks like the idea that Tom Brady and the offense was not going to miss a step with all the young players at key positions was overly optimistic.
It certainly wasn’t all bad … just very bad. So without wasting any more time, let’s go ahead and tear through all of the leftover thoughts from the Patriots’ much-too-close 23-21 victory.
–I can’t make fun of the Bills too much, because they played an OK game and very much could have won. Still, a neutral-zone infraction on the first play from scrimmage? That’s so Bills.
–Also, Doug Marrone using a challenge in the opening minutes of the game on a play where Stevan Ridley was ruled to be down before fumbling but the Patriots recovered anyway and would have probably gained a yard if the challenge was “successful”? That’s so Bills.
–OK, just one more, I swear. Refusing to stop running the up-tempo no-huddle and instead choosing to snap the ball with 19 seconds left on the play clock every play when you’re leading in the fourth quarter, leading to drives of 1:00, 1:58 and 1:11 in the final 16 minutes of the game? That’s the most Bills.
–No player looked like more of a rookie than Kenbrell Thompkins. On the first pass thrown his way, he tripped over his own feet and face-planted instead of staying on his feet and making a catch. On a screen pass he caught on the right side, he opted to run back to the middle of the field when he had three blockers and just two defensive players to the outside.
That was dumb.
A minute or so later, Leodis McKelvin clearly held Thompkins as he ran a route along the left sideline, but Thompkins didn’t get the benefit of the doubt from the official, because he had already tripped over himself twice at that point.
In the third quarter, as Tom Brady scrambled, Thompkins got stuck being a spectator instead of keeping his feet moving and finding some space. Brady threw to Thompkins in the back of the end zone, but the pass bounced off his hands, and Brady looked like this:
Thompkins also ran himself out of the back of the end zone once, coming down with a would-be touchdown catch well out of bounds, and he was unable to tap his second foot on another sideline catch.
Thompkins’ “performance” was a reminder that preseason performances are fine and dandy, but once the ball is kicked off in Week 1, they don’t matter.
–That being the case, at least he got to be a part of the offense.. Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce, not so much.
–Deion Branch has been staring at his phone so hard waiting for a call from the Patriots that he actually just reaggravated a quad injury.
–Tom Brady finished the day 29-for-52 for 288 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, and he fumbled a snap on the goal line which was the most uncharacteristic of uncharacteristic mistakes. What I noticed that was very odd was that Brady just could not throw a tight spiral all day long. Even if his pass looked like it went 100 mph, replay showed it was almost always a wobbly duck. Brady looked sharp as ever during the preseason, so that was unexpected.
–I also found this hard to believe:
–Heading into camp, I’m sure I wasn’t the only person who thought Julian Edelman was entering the season on the roster bubble. It took him all of three and a half minutes to prove his worth to this offense.
With Thompkins looking like a rookie, and with no tight ends involved in the passing game (other than Zach Sudfeld dropping a pass for an interception), Edelman proved to be the second-most important receiver on the team behind Amendola. Edelman finished with seven receptions (third-most in a game in his career) for 79 yards (third-highest total in a game in his career) and two touchdowns (he did that once in the 2010 postseason but never in the regular season).
I’m not sure if his spot on the roster was ever in question with the coaching staff, but if it was, I’m sure they were awfully glad they kept him instead of Leon Washington on cut-down day. (Especially because Washington was still available to add to the roster weeks later.)
–Sometimes I feel like we watch football and occasionally lose sight of just how painful a sport it can be. Like, I’m sure it didn’t feel good for Edelman when he almost had his head ripped off his body.
But as spectators, we just say, “Oh, penalty,” and then sort of forget about the fact that Edelman just kind of went Exorcist on all of us.
–It’s a tired cliche that football is a “game of inches,” but that doesn’t mean it’s not 100 percent true. Brady’s first touchdown pass to Edelman was very nearly batted down at the line by Marcell Dareus …
… and then was very nearly tipped by linebacker Kiko Alonso …
… before Edelman was able to tap both toes about two inches from the boundary, with the pass having sailed just out of safety Jim Leonhard’s reach.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that football is pretty cool, and we should all keep watching it. All right.
–For the past year-plus, I’ve argued vehemently that Stevan Ridley didn’t really have a fumbling problem, that there were special circumstances around each of his fumbles that could explain why they happened. I, umm, no longer make those arguments.
–On the other hand, Shane Vereen looked more than capable of stepping up, and his final stats (101 rushing yards, 58 receiving yards) proved that. But what was maybe his best play might have gone largely unnoticed, because it came just before the game-winning field goal.
On first-and-10 from the Buffalo 29-yard line, the Bills had Vereen dead to rights five yards behind the line of scrimmage. Had Alex Carrington been able to wrap up Vereen back there, the Patriots would have been facing a potential 50-plus yarder, where a miss would have lost the game. Instead, Vereen took a step backward before turning on the afterburners, blasting past Alan Branch and running right through Jim Leonhard’s arm tackle for a gain of 15 yards. After that, it was just center the ball and kneel on it to set up the winning kick. That was a professional run right there by Vereen. Not many men can turn this play into a 15-yard gain:
–What a luxury it is for the Patriots to be able to slow-play the end of that game just the way they wanted, knowing their quarterback is not going to panic as the seconds tick off the clock. That’s an advantage that a lot of teams can’t have, and it’s why the Bills didn’t have any shot to come back after the Stephen Gostkowski field goal.
–Let’s grade the punter! Ryan Allen, in his first NFL game, had some ups and downs.
His first punt was great, fair-caught at the 10-yard line. That’s an A grade.
His second punt was terrible, a 19-yarder that went out of bounds at the Buffalo 28-yard line. That’s pretty much an F grade.
Allen’s third punt was perfect, with the Patriots able to down the 65-yarder on the Buffalo 8-yard line. The punt earned an A+ grade, but it was upgrade to an A++ when Allen entered the screen on the broadcast to give his guys high-fives.
His fourth punt was another A grade, downed at the Buffalo 11. Nice touch on that short one from the 37.
His fifth punt looked like a lousy one – a 35-yarder that came out of the New England end zone – but I’d venture to guess he was told to get rid of it quickly and get it out of bounds to avoid any chance of return. So I’ll go light with a C grade on that one.
And his final punt bounced into the end zone. I’ll go B-.
Overall, that’s a B grade on the day. But most importantly, it was good enough where nobody is talking about Zoltan Mesko today. And it was good enough where I won’t have to grade each punt going forward. Thanks, Ryan Allen.
–I thought Steve Gregory was having a pretty good game, or at least a better game than he had most of last year, but there’s no doubt that the 18-yard touchdown pass to Robert Woods was as much on him as it was Aqib Talib, if not more. While we can’t know the coverage called, Gregory never once took his eyes off the backfield, completely unaware that Woods had the entire corner of the end zone all to himself. Regardless of his responsibility, the safety ought to be covering somebody rather than just staring at the quarterback and hoping the ball is thrown in his direction.
–Here’s a question: Why, as football fans, do we sit back and passively accept a four-minute delay for a video replay review that should take all of one second? On Kyle Arrington’s non-interception, when the ball was clearly on the turf, the “review” should have been over as soon as it started, and the game should have continued. Instead we got an initial delay, a series of six commercials, another 30 seconds for the referee to jog out and explain what we already knew four minutes earlier. That’s ridiculous. Let’s revolt.
–Twitter is cool. You get information as it happens, and instead of being stuck listening to just one color commentator, you can follow hundreds at a time, all providing perspective on different games, thereby allowing you to keep up with much more than you’d be able to without Twitter.
That being said, Twitter is just the worst.
The gross overreaction and rushes to judgment in situations like Danny Amendola’s groin injury is an awful thing to see. The man missed about four plays at the end of the first half, grabbing his groin in pain, and he didn’t immediately come out of the locker room after halftime … when the Patriots were on defense. No matter, as far too many people were quick to pull the trigger on all their “AMENDOWALA ARE YOU KIDDING ME YOUR SOFT!” tweets.
Amendola then came back onto the field, and on a gotta-have-it third-and-3 from midfield, he caught a pass over the middle in traffic for a gain of six. On that same drive, on a third-and-6 from the Buffalo 24, he came up with a huge grab, again in traffic, this time for a gain of 19 yards. In the fourth quarter, he caught a pass for a 13-yard gain on a third-and-10, he picked up six yards on a third-and-3, he picked up six yards on a second-and-4, and he picked up 10 yards on a third-and-8. Are you seeing the trend?
The man was the most valuable receiver, keeping drives alive and moving the chains all afternoon. Brady threw to Amendola eight times on third down, completing all but one of them and picking up seven first downs. Anyone who let out a whiny Amendola-is-soft tweet should have been placed in Twitter jail for at least two hours.
–One of those third-down catches came on a pass that was fired at full speed and looked like this, too.
Another of those third-down catches looked like this:
That Amendola guy can play. Probably time to appreciate him instead of complaining that he’s fragile.
–Same goes for Stevie Johnson-Patrick Chung jokes. Those got old fast.
–Johnson was right that nobody could cover him, and it was very evident when he was all alone on a third down and let a pass bounce right off his hands.
–I laughed out loud (LOL as the kids say) when Jeff Tuel tried to go up and talk to Tom Brady after the game. It was just after Brady and E.J. Manuel (whose composure was his most impressive trait in his debut) shared a brief chat on the field following the game. Tuel wanted a piece of Brady, and the way Brady looked at him is the way I imagine he treats most adoring fans. “Uhh, thank you.”
–Last year, the offense could survive without Rob Gronkowski. This year? Your partner in crime (not literally) is in prison for committing crime, and the “soft” start to the schedule no longer looks like quite the easy stroll to 3-0 that it once did. Hurry back, Roberto. Tu es muy importante.