Turnover differential is a big reason why the New England Patriots have been such a successful franchise in recent years. New England has led the NFL in turnover margin in each of the last three seasons, compiling 70 more takeaways than giveaways over that span. But in their Week One victory over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, the Patriots gave away the ball three times while taking it away only twice. Thus, instead of earning an easy victory, it took a Stephen Gostkowski field goal with five seconds remaining in the game for the Patriots to come away with a 23-21 win in Buffalo.
Offense Grade: C
Tom Brady had an uncharacteristic game, completing only 55.8 percent of his passes (29-of-52) for 288 yards with one interception. Some of his new receivers, particularly rookie Kenbrell Thompkins, didn’t appear to be on the same page as Brady. Thompkins did have an impressive 20-yard catch in the second quarter – one of four catches he made in his NFL debut – but he ran poor routes on several other occasions. One notable mistake came late in the third quarter, with the Bills leading 21-17. He made the catch, but because he ran his route too close to the back of the end zone, this allowed a defender to push him out of bounds, preventing the go-ahead touchdown. Two plays later on fourth-and-goal, the Patriots fumbled the ball to come away with no points.
At times, it looked as if Brady’s only reliable options in the passing game were Danny Amendola (10 receptions, 104 yards) and Julian Edelman (seven receptions, 79 yards, two touchdowns). Amendola, who has a reputation for being injury-prone, left the game late in the first half after apparently injuring his groin, but he returned to action to have a spectacular second half. Edelman caught multiple touchdown passes in a game for the first time in his career.
The offensive MVP of the game was running back Shane Vereen, who ran for 101 yards on 14 carries and also caught seven passes for 58 yards. Regretfully, fellow running back Stevan Ridley lost control of the ball twice in the first half. The first time around, officials luckily ruled him to be down by contact before fumbling, but the second time, the ball was recovered by Buffalo safety Da’Norris Searcy and returned 74 yards for a touchdown. As a result, Ridley spent the second half on the New England bench.
Defense Grade: B
The Patriots played a solid, but unspectacular, game on defense. One of Buffalo’s three touchdowns came on a fumble return, so New England’s defense really yielded only two touchdowns, and one of them came on a short field after Brady’s lone interception. But to be fair, much of New England’s success in this regard was due to the inexperience of rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel. Buffalo’s coaching staff didn’t take many risks in their offensive play calling, so Manuel was never in a position to be sacked. Manuel did complete two touchdown passes, one coming at the end of an 11-play, 80-yard drive in the third quarter, but he threw for a total of only 150 years.
The New England defense did a decent job in defending the run by giving up only 136 yards rushing. The Bills were forced to punt nine times and the Patriots recovered two fumbles, both of which were forced by cornerback Kyle Arrington.
Special Teams Grade: B
Gostkowski had a near-perfect day. He made all three of his field goal attempts and put all six of his kickoffs into the end zone, resulting in five touchbacks. However, rookie punter Ryan Allen did not look great in his first NFL game. While Allen did have a 65-yard punt that was downed at the Buffalo eight-yard-line, he also shanked one for 19 yards that allowed Buffalo to start at its 28-yard line. The coverage teams gave up no significant returns.
Coaching Grade: B
One thing that is typical about head coach Bill Belichick’s game plans is that he will tailor them to the talents of his personnel. In recent years, the Patriots offense has been very tight end-heavy due to the receiving talents of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Now that Gronkowski is injured and Hernandez is no longer with the team, the remaining tight ends on the roster are getting virtually ignored. Rookie Zach Sudfeld was targeted only once and Michael Hoomanawanui caught one pass for a mere five yards. Because those two are the only healthy tight ends on the roster, tackle Nate Solder lined up in that position on several occasions.
On defense, the Patriots refrained from doing anything particularly aggressive against Manuel. As a rookie playing in his first NFL game, Manuel’s strengths and weakness are relatively unknown at this point, so it was virtually impossible to target his skills accordingly. Playing a safe, conservative defensive against the Bills was the right call in this situation.
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Gregory Hunt is a Boston native and a life-long fan of the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics. He’s also particularly fond of lacrosse, IndyCar racing and women’s college basketball. He currently works for Examiner.com where he serves as the Senior Manager of Content and Media Access. He also writes for Examiner.com as the New England Patriots Examiner. His work can be found on Examiner.com.