By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Buffalo Bills rolled to 378 total yards of offense against a Patriots defense that had problems on all levels at Gillette Stadium Sunday. Devin McCourty and Logan Ryan combined for 24 tackles, an indication of horrendous coverage. Speaking of tackles, they missed 14 of those, most importantly on Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor. Special teams had a bad afternoon as well (besides the punter), right from the get-go with Cyrus Jones’ indecisive running on the opening kickoff.
It was a bad day all-around for the Patriots, but ultimately, the defense allowed a not-so-insurmountable 16 points. The real core of the Patriots’ problems, of course, was the offense and the goose egg they put up on the scoreboard.
As abysmal as the Patriots’ pressure, tackling, and coverage all were against Taylor and the Bills offense for much of the game Sunday, the team still could have overcome those issues. The defense gave the team chances to get back in the game and kept the Bills out of the end zone for their final eight drives. And when given those chances to come back, the Patriots offense couldn’t capitalize. You can’t overcome the number zero.
Yes, the Patriots had a rookie third-string quarterback under center in Jacoby Brissett, who presumably was also playing with an injured thumb. You could look at some of Brissett’s big mistakes, his lost fumble on the Bills’ 10-yard line chief among them, and point to his thumb. But regardless of Brissett’s physical limitations, fumbling the ball there is just inexcusable. That was the kind of gaffe that transcends the cliche “rookie mistake.” Brissett also had some key mistakes in the passing game when the team needed big plays, most notably missing an open Danny Amendola on 3rd-and-19 late in the third quarter.
However, the Patriots’ offensive miscues cannot be chalked up to the rookie QB. It’s not Brissett’s fault that Brandon Bolden dropped a potential momentum-shifting touchdown catch in the third quarter when the score was still just 13-0. It’s not Brissett’s fault that Jerry Hughes flew in untouched to drag him down for a 14-yard loss when the offense had a chance for a last-minute scoring drive in the second quarter. It’s not the rookie’s fault that Chris Hogan committed two penalties on the same play to negate Julian Edelman’s 90-yard gain on the Pats’ first play from scrimmage. It’s not his fault that the offensive line committed five penalties and Shaq Mason was the only starting lineman who was not flagged. (The offense as a whole took six penalties for 49 yards.)
That kind of sloppiness cannot continue for the Patriots offense with Tom Brady back. It’s understandable to believe that Brady’s presence on the field will have the offense more composed, focused, and prepared, but the playbook is also about to burst wide open with No. 12 back in the fold. Can this group handle the increased complexity and avoid all those flags within a week?
As bad as the entire Patriots team (minus Martellus Bennett and Ryan Allen) looked on Sunday, the big takeaway was that this is how the team really should have looked with an injured third-string rookie under center. The play-calling was overly conservative and the execution was sloppy, and unfortunately, getting shut out by Buffalo makes a lot more sense than dropping 27 on Houston on a short week. There’s no doubt that they will look a lot better going from Brissett to Brady, but they will need to clean up the penalties and drops in a hurry.
Bill Belichick’s demeanor after the loss (and even during it) was a rare form of slow-burning fury. His postgame remarks were about as disgruntled and terse as any presser in his 16-year tenure – understandable, considering it was the first time the Patriots had ever been shut out at Gillette Stadium. Sunday will probably turn out to be the Patriots’ worst performance of the season, but you ought to expect them to follow that up with one of their best.
The Patriots will be OK. Week 5 is an obvious “We’re on to Cincinnati” situation. The now-Brady-led offense is about to undergo a massive transformation. Gronk is about to be Gronk. But that kind of execution you saw on Sunday was not just because of the quarterback and will need to be the first thing to get in gear for the Patriots to rebound in the way they’re expected to do.
Matt Dolloff is a writer for CBSBostonSports.com. His opinions do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Have a news tip or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.