By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
FOXBORO (CBS) — Last week against Houston, it was difficult to find major flaws in any facet of the Patriots’ game. This week against, Buffalo, that’s not the case.
The Patriots struggled on offense, defense and special teams, and the coaching staff did not have a banner day, with the end result being a 16-0 victory for the Buffalo Bills, who now find themselves with a renewed sense of confidence in the AFC East. It was the first time the Patriots were shut out at home since Boomer Esiason and the New York Jets left Foxboro Stadium with a 6-0 win in 1993.
Nothing really worked for the Patriots in this one, so you’ll understand that the “Downs” may outnumber the “Ups” after such a showing. And because the “Downs” defined the day, we’re going to start with those.
Obviously, the offensive game plan had to be stripped down for the rookie QB who’s still in his first month in the NFL. But Josh McDaniels’ game plan was remarkably conservative, one that looked to have been devised with the hope that the defense would carry the day. Once it became clear that the defense would not hold up its end of the bargain, the offense did open up a little bit, with Brissett finally getting a chance to air it out a bit.
But overall, the offense never could quite get anything going, and that was clear from the first snap of the game, when a 90-yard catch-and-run by Julian Edelman was wiped away by not one but two penalties on receiver Chris Hogan. The offense committed two false starts, two holding penalties and a chop block, in addition to another holding penalty and an illegal shift, both of which were declined.
Some individual players could have been better, but in total, the offensive picture was not a pretty one for the Patriots.
We’ll never know exactly how much that right thumb was bothering him, so it might be unwise to criticize the rookie too harshly for some of his inaccurate passes. That being established, he still should have connected with a wide open Danny Amendola on a third-and-19 in the middle of the third quarter.
But more than any one pass, Brissett’s biggest mistake came when he failed to protect himself and the football when the Patriots made a rare visit to the red zone. In the second quarter with the Bills up 13-0, Brissett had no open options and decided to tuck and run. Linebacker Zach Brown put his shoulder right through the football and directly into Brissett’s midsection, popping the ball free. Buffalo recovered. New England never made it that deep into Buffalo territory again.
It’s not right to pile on a rookie QB who was put into a bad situation, and he did launch a couple of picture-perfect deep balls (one was dropped by Brandon Bolden, one intended for Chris Hogan was broken up), but that turnover was a doozy.
The Buffalo offense, quite simply, did whatever it wanted to do on the road against the Patriots. When they wanted to run, they ran. When they needed to pass, they did so with ease. When they needed to convert a third down, they did what was needed.
Cornerback Logan Ryan got picked on a bit. Receiver Robert Woods found himself at times to be completely uncovered. The defensive linemen spent so much time focusing on containing Tyrod Taylor that they often ended up being out of position and getting completely taken out of running plays for LeSean McCoy. The middle of the field was a soft spot for the entire first half, and though that area improved in the second half, the damage was done.
The players didn’t make plays, and the game plan by Belichick and Matt Patricia seemed to be one that was hopeful that the Bills would turn the ball over and make mistakes. Neither happened, and so the loss is as much on the defense as it is the offense.
One of the unheralded reasons the Patriots shut out the Texans in Week 3 was the battle of field position. That was likewise a major factor in the Patriots’ shutout loss in Week 4. Rookie Cyrus Jones had a lot to do with that.
He caught the opening kickoff a couple of yards deep in the end zone, but decided to take it out for a return … until he changed his mind on the 2-yard line. Jones appeared to stop and start taking a knee before realizing where he was on the field. He popped back up and tried to make the most of his return, but he was smothered on the 9-yard line. That’s not where an offense with a rookie QB needs to start its first drive of the day.
Jones tried to make up for it on the Bills’ second kickoff by taking a ball out from four yards deep in the end zone. He only made it to the 14-yard line before getting tackled. Considering the Patriots have exploited the new kickoff/touchback rules to their advantage so much early this season, it’s hard to believe Jones was unaware that these were bad decisions.
He took a knee in the end zone on the Bills’ third kickoff, drawing a sarcastic cheer from the home crowd, and he muffed a punt in the game’s final minute before recovering the ball.
The area in which the second-round pick out of Alabama figures to be able to make an impact is in the return game. On Sunday, he made the wrong kind of impact.
Throughout his 11-year career, Stephen Gostkowski has nailed some big kicks. That can’t be disputed. But he wasn’t given a $17 million contract to miss 48-yard field goals at home.
Gostkowksi’s miss was particularly painful for the Patriots, as it came after the defense forced a Buffalo three-and-out to start the second half. The offense then drove 46 yards and was looking to at least get on the board to start the comeback effort. But Gostkowski’s kick started out right and didn’t come back, never really having a chance to squeak between the uprights.
He’s only about 78 percent from the 40-49-yard range in his career, and a 48-yarder is never an automatic three points. But Sunday’s miss was most certainly an inopportune time to miss.
The Patriots had a very ugly day offensively, but if it weren’t for Martellus Bennett, they’d have had no offense to speak of whatsoever. Bennett was rookie Jacoby Brissett’s favorite target, as the QB threw his way six times, with Bennett catching five passes for 109 yards. That yardage accounted for roughly 40 percent of the Patriots’ total offense on the day.
It was the second time this season that Bennett has gone over 100 yards receiving in a game, after going all of last year without a 100-yard receiving day.
For the second straight week, the punter was one of the Patriots’ stars. Unlike the Houston game, though, this one won’t earn any special teams player of the week honors. His appearance on this list is more a matter of nobody else performing well. He punted six times, pinning the Bills inside the 20 twice and averaging a net of 49.2 yards.
He worked out on Sunday. He’s heading back to work on Monday.