NEPD Staff Writer: Matthew Jones
The Patriots improved to 6-3 on the season after defeating the Buffalo Bills 37-31 in what was a surprisingly competitive game. New England allowed 481 yards of offense, failing to stop both the run and pass, but a strong offensive performance and three forced turnovers helped strengthen the Patriots’ hold on the AFC East. Read on for more analysis of New England’s nail-biting victory.
Patriots’ offensive line struggles with Buffalo’s interior pass rush
Tom Brady was only sacked once, but New England’s offensive line struggled to create a clean pocket for the Patriots passer. Left offensive guard Logan Mankins was questionable entering the game, and left early with what appeared to be a lower leg injury after center Ryan Wendell fell on Mankins’ leg. Starting right guard Dan Connolly also left with a back injury and did not return. Nick McDonald stepped in at left guard, while Donald Thomas took over on the right side. By the end of the game, Marcus Cannon was the only healthy reserve lineman on New England’s active roster. Should Mankins and/or Connolly miss extended time, the Patriots may be forced to consider adding another offensive lineman, either from their practice squad (tackle Matt Kopa, guard Jeremiah Warren) or via free agency.
Running backs Stevan Ridley and Danny Woodhead score three times
New England’s running game has been one of the pleasant surprises of their season thus far, and that success continued this week. Stevan Ridley rushed 22 times for 98 yards and a touchdown, breaking off at least two explosive runs between the tackles for big gains. Danny Woodhead only carried the ball once, scoring on an untouched 15-yard touchdown run behind Logan Mankins, but added another touchdown on one of his four receptions for 46 yards. With Tom Brady and the passing game struggling to find a rhythm, the Patriots were lucky to keep things running smoothly on the ground. Only Shane Vereen failed to impress, rushing five times for five yards behind questionable blocking. As expected, rookie running back Brandon Bolden was inactive yet again.
Ryan Fitzpatrick further exposes New England’s porous pass defense
The Patriots were without starting safety Patrick Chung today; New England’s starting secondary consisted of Alfonzo Dennard and Kyle Arrington at cornerback, with Devin McCourty and Steve Gregory occupying the safety spots. Aside from McCourty’s game-winning interception in the end zone, the pass defense was ineffective all game: Fitzpatrick spread the ball to seven different receivers, totaling 337 yards and two touchdowns on 40 attempts. As usual, much of the blame can be attributed to the soft zone shells the Patriots have been unsuccessful with all season. Dennard, who had played well thus far this season, was largely unsuccessful in his attempts to contain the likes of Stevie Johnson and Donald Jones. New England’s linebackers continued their struggles against tight ends: Scott Chandler caught five passes for 65 yards and a touchdown. Chung and cornerback Aqib Talib cannot arrive fast enough.
Run defense struggles to set the edge vs. Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller
Buffalo’s two-man rotation at running back was largely contained during the last Bills/Patriots contest, but both of their runners were successful today. Fred Jackson struggled during the first half of the season, but enjoyed a renaissance this week against the Patriots, finishing with 16 carries for 80 yards and two touchdowns; Jackson also caught four passes for 35 yards before being attended to with a late-game injury. C.J. Spiller rushed nine times for 70 yards and added 61 yards through the air on four catches. The Patriots struggled to defend the run both inside and outside; they frequently failed to contain Buffalo’s runners to the inside and missed a number of tackles as well. Rookie sensation Chandler Jones failed to set the edge effectively, finishing the game with just one tackle and no sacks.
Bills ultimately done in by combination of penalties and turnovers
Despite gaining 481 yards of offense, the Bills were unable to emerge victorious largely as a result of penalties and turnovers. Buffalo committed 14 penalties in the game, costing their team 148 yards of field position; the Bills were twice called for defensive pass interference in the end zone and repeatedly provided New England’s offense with additional opportunities to move the ball downfield. Fred Jackson fumbled twice, losing the first and almost costing Buffalo the game on his second (which was eventually recovered by Bills center Eric Wood), and Ryan Fitzpatrick lost a fumble as well. After executing a brisk two-minute drive downfield, Fitzpatrick’s final pass attempt was easily intercepted by Patriots defensive back Devin McCourty; the turnover allowed New England to escape with a slim victory.