What we learned in the Patriots’ 37-31 win over Buffalo on Sunday:
We thought after a rout of St. Louis in London and a bye week to rest and recharge that New England’s early-season issues would disappear. That’s certainly not the case in terms of the defense. Ryan Fitzpatrick torched the Pats for 337 of the Bills’ 481 total yards and was one pass away from a win. Put it this way. The Patriots’ first four drives went like this: field goal, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown. To that point, Buffalo had committed 10 penalties and had the only turnover. Still, it was a one-score game at the break, a testament to the Bills’ ability to move the ball and answer, a trend that remains in the second half. Aqib Talib debuts next week. Maybe that’ll help.
Offensive lines are never sexy (unless you had a swine fetish and followed the Redskins in the 1980s). New England’s is often overshadowed by the playmakers all around it. However, the Pats entered Sunday ranked fourth in the league in rushing and tied for sixth in fewest sacks allowed, an indication at what is driving this top-ranked offense. But Dan Connolly hurt his back in the first half and Logan Mankins suffered a leg injury on a sack of Brady in the third, incidentally the first time a defense had gotten to Brady in nearly two games. Keep an eye on these injuries, for they could test the most consistent unit the Pats have.
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The saving grace (again) was the D’s ability to take the ball away. There were three Buffalo turnovers, including the game-clinching interception in the final minute. Contrast that with the offense’s ability to take care of the ball and you have a building turnover margin, so often hailed as the sport’s most important statistic. New England now has a plus-16 margin in turnovers, tied for the NFL lead with Chicago (the Bears played later Sunday). That alone can turn a poor defense into an average one, which is really what this unit is when it comes to the most important stat: points allowed.
Danny likes Bill(s)
Mr. Woodhead remains a sneaky matchup problem in the right situation. All too often that situation is when Buffalo’s defense is lined up on the other side of the ball. In six career games against the Bills, Woodhead has five touchdowns, including two in Sunday’s win. He has a grand total of six scores in 32 games against all other teams while with the Patriots. Then again, this is Buffalo we’re talking about. Several New England players likely have similar surges against the Bills. We choose to give Danny some love this time.
Gots to like Gostkowski
Remember a few weeks into the season when the kicker was considered a problem area? In keeping with the knee-jerk ways that Pats fans have made into a trademark, Stephen Gostkowski caused worry by missing a few field goal attempts. But since he was off on two attempts in Buffalo in Week 4, he has made 11 straight, including four beyond 40 yards. Additionally, he continues to hammer kicks deep, adding another six touchbacks (he entered Sunday fourth in the NFL in that category). Until their second possession of the fourth quarter, the Bills’ average starting point was their own 17. That cannot be discounted when teams are able to carve up the Pats secondary.