Here are three things we couldn't help but notice as the Patriots fell 16-0 to the Bills Sunday afternoon:
1. Tom Brady is back … just in time
Look, if you knew three weeks ago, at the dawn of the 2016 NFL season, that the New England Patriots would go 3-1 in the absence of Brady during his four-game, Deflategate suspension, you would drool at the prospect. Granted, you would figure the loss to come in the season opener against the Arizona Cardinals, maybe following a short week against the Houston Texans — not the Rex Ryan-led Buffalo Bills — but hey, take 3-1 any way you can get it. Except that quarterback Jacoby Brissett — who started in place of Jimmy Garoppolo, presumably still not ready to go with the shoulder injury he sustained two weeks ago against the Miami Dolphins and inactive for Sunday’s game — clearly isn’t ready for any semblance of extended playing time just yet, nor should the rookie really be expected to exhibit a keen knowledge for the playbook laid out by head coach Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. Brissett completed 10 of 17 passes for 133 yards, but made a number of rookie mistakes, including a costly fumble towards the end of the first half that put a halt on one of the Patriots’ only drives of the game. There might be a lot to dissect here if Brady weren’t ready for a return, officially, on Monday. No need. Brissett’s next start won’t be for some time.
2. Don’t blame Cyrus Jones
Oh, it was indeed some kind of rough afternoon for the rookie cornerback. But Jones, who botched the first two kickoff returns of the game — bringing the initial deep kick of the game out to the 9-yard line, the second, another deep kick, to the 14-yard-line — wasn’t the reason why the Patriots offense couldn’t find any sort of groove against a Bills defense that may be emerging as a player in the AFC East. Julian Edelman had one catch on the day. Brissett overthrew a wide-open Danny Amendola badly in the third quarter. Reigning AFC Player of the Month LeGarrette Blount, had difficulty maneuvering the ground game from the very beginning. Brissett found something building with tight end Martellus Bennett (five catches for 109 yards), but had no rhythm with anybody else in the New England offensive attack. And that includes …
3. Rob Gronkowski, a nonfactor again
The best tight end in the business did haul in his first catch of the season, an 11-yard grab in the second half, long after an APB had been sent out for his whereabouts. It’s difficult to surmise just what is happening here. If Gronkowski is still bothered by his hamstring injury, and his presence on the field was a smokescreen, then it didn’t do much to stop Bennett on the opposite side. If his chemistry with Brissett never manufactured, no worries as he’ll have the familiarity of No. 12 throwing to him beginning next weekend in Cleveland. But Gronkowski’s disappearance the last two weeks, while not exactly concerning, is a bit frustrating, particularly with a rookie quarterback who could have utilized him a lot more. Instead, Gronkowski’s presence was hardly felt. Probably, hopefully, for the final time this year.