By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- The Patriots won on Monday night. For their effort, they won't be asked to join the Red Sox on their victory parade through Boston this week. Regular-season wins in Buffalo just don't carry that championship level of enthusiasm.
And this one in particular? It was ugly. It was gross. It was nasty, sloppy, grisly, unsightly. Yada, yada, yada. You know the drill -- sometimes in the NFL, you have to win ugly.
But, well, here, check this out: At least the Patriots' defense proved capable of carrying the team to a victory.
Granted, the performance came against a dreadfully weak offense, led by quarterback Derek Anderson, who has spent the last eight years being largely unemployed in the NFL. If you can't shut down that offense, then you can't shut down any offense.
But the Patriots did shut down that offense, limiting them to just six points. (The Bills did gain 333 yards, but 79 of them --close to 25 percent -- came in the final two drives, which took place in the most garbagey of garbage times.) They forced two critical turnovers, returned a pick for a touchdown, sacked the quarterback three times, and limited the Bills to just 4-of-14 efficiency on third downs. They limited the always-elusive LeSean McCoy to just 13 rushing yards on 12 carries, and for the first time all year, they kept their opponent out of the end zone.
Again, the Duck Boats need not be called upon to usher the Patriots around the city in celebration of beating Derek Anderson and the Buffalo Bills. But there's really not one bad takeaway you could muster from this defensive effort. And without that defensive showing, the Patriots might have actually -- gulp -- lost the football game.
With that, let's go ahead and karate-kick our way through some Leftover Patriots Thoughts from New England's 25-6 win in Buffalo.
--The Patriots have gotten themselves into trouble this year against inferior opponents -- namely, Indy and Chicago -- by making too many unforced errors. They avoided that fate in Buffalo, but just barely.
After Josh Gordon dropped a deep ball from Tom Brady on third down of the opening series, Joe Cardona's snap to Ryan Allen was low.
Allen was able to handle the punt and kick it away without issue, saving the Patriots from a ghastly turnover when the Buffalo crowd was at its most raucous.
On the Patriots' second drive, Brady probably should have been picked off by rookie linebacker Tremaine Edmunds. But Edmunds mistimed his jump, blowing his opportunity. The Patriots continued the drive and got a field goal out of it to put the first points of the game on the scoreboard.
They didn't score that field goal, though, before Brady was strip-sacked in the red zone, on a play where Trent Brown allowed Lorenzo Alexander to get to Brady. Joe Thuney made a diving attempt to recover the loose ball, but ended up deflecting back into a mess of bodies near the line of scrimmage. By nothing but good luck and good focus, David Andrews recovered the football to salvage the drive. (The Patriots were flagged for an illegal formation on that play, too.)
Despite all of those potential disasters, the Patriots emerged from all of that with a 3-0 lead. Could have been much worse, just like the week prior in Chicago.
--I just want to say that the Bills' reverse flea flicker was a terrible play. Nobody in the world -- outside of maybe Joe Tessitore -- saw this play for anything other than what it was: A godawful trick play.
This is how fooled Patrick Chung was by that trickery:
--Speaking of Tessitore, the broadcast crew came out a bit too hopped up on Mountain Dew regarding the Bills' offense. Every snap that LeSean McCoy took in the Wildcat was treated as if the Bills were revolutionizing the sport. (To reiterate from earlier: McCoy was held to 13 rushing yards on 12 attempts.) The broadcast crew was trying to inject some enthusiasm, overlooking the fact that Buffalo resorted to such tactics because they don't currently employ an NFL quarterback.
It reminded me a bit of the Chiefs-Patriots Monday night game in 2011, when Ron Jaworski tried his damnedest to pump up Tyler Palko to a national audience. Didn't work that night. Didn't work this night, either.
Anderson followed up the flea-flicker incompletion by throwing the football too high for 6-foot-5 Kelvin Benjamin. The Bills then punted for the first of five times.
--The Bills also did this:
They are a tough watch these days.
--I do appreciate ESPN's commitment to using 1996-era computer-generated graphics. I mean, they've certainly carved out a unique niche with these:
You just can't get that stuff anywhere else. Not since the mid-'90s, anyway.
--So, do you want to hear my wild conspiracy theory about the Josh Gordon punishment reports? I bet you don't. But here goes.
OK, so, Ian Rapoport is about as reliable as it gets. There's no way he'd go live with a story about Gordon being disciplined for being tardy if he didn't have at least two sources. So while some have speculated that perhaps Belichick leaked this fake news to someone in the organization in order to smoke out a leaker, I've got something more sinister.
What if ... Gordon was actually late? The Athletic's Jeff Howe said pregame that Gordon was late for the team bus while departing Foxboro for Buffalo on Sunday, and he said, "I don't think this is an isolated incident." The Boston Herald's Kevin Duffy said he heard that Gordon was late for a meeting during the week.
Clearly, some smoke. Hence, the report that Gordon was going to benched for the first quarter of Monday's game. That benching, though, never came. Gordon played 84 percent of the offensive snaps.
So how'd this happen? How did Rapoport go forth with that report? I have an idea.
What if ... some players on the roster remain miffed at the Malcolm Butler benching in the Super Bowl? What if whatever it is that Butler did to earn that benching was not quite as severe as some would believe? What if it was a minor issue treated like a felony by the head coach? After all, Belichick has a record of being a little over-the-top with his punishment and treatment of Butler.
And so, what if those players wanted to prove a point by leaking (correctly) that Gordon is showing up late somewhat routinely, in order to shine a spotlight on some inconsistent handling of discipline by the head coach?
That is of course a conspiracy theory straight out of left field. But it makes as much sense as anything else does regarding this situation.
--Or, perhaps a Week 8 game against a 2-5 Bills game is more important than a Super Bowl. Could be that, too.
--Devin McCourty's pick-six, during which he somehow became the fastest man in the NFL, was impressive in and of itself. Great read, great break, good catch, nice run. Well done.
But it was even more impressive when you remember that the defensive captain got absolutely cleaned out by Benjamin on a blind-side block earlier in the second half.
A lesser man would have rolled himself off the field and gone directly into a cold tub for a few hours after that. But McCourty stayed in the game and made the game-sealing play.
--By the way, Kelvin Benjamin arguing that he made that block with shoulder, seemingly unaware of the fact that it didn't matter how he delivered an illegal blind-side block, was on brand. Perhaps he should have taken blocking lessons from Cam Newton during their time together.
--Stephon Gilmore is a quiet man. If I were to give him a nickname, it would be "The Quiet Man." (I'm incredibly creative. If I were to give myself a nickname, it would be "The Creative Man.") So it was fun to see him jawing a bit at Bills head coach Sean McDermott, after the Bills' sideline believed a pass interference penalty had been called on Gilmore. (In actuality, it was OPI on Benjamin.)
I don't think that counts as "trash talk," per se. But from "The Quiet Man"? That's some fierce, ferocious stuff right there.
--Broke it down a bit in the Ups And Downs postgame story, but Kyle Van Noy stepped up in a big way in this game. With Dont'a Hightower out, that was much needed. He also hit Derek Anderson so hard that the quarterback now has to worry about how his amateur golf career will be affected. The play-by-play announcer should pronounce his name correctly the next time he plays on national TV. The man has only been on the most high-profile team in the NFL for three years.
--Van Noy also must have read last week's excellent Players' Tribune story from Darius Miles:
--Also worth a little spotlight is Julian Edelman. He was able to put forth the full Julian Edelman Experience™ in this game. He caught nine of the 10 passes thrown his way (plus a 10th on an 11th target that didn't count due to a holding penalty by LaAdrian Waddle). Six of those catches resulted in a fresh set of downs for the Patriots. He also broke a six-yard run on a reverse to convert a third-and-2.
Considering he's 32 years old and is coming off a torn ACL and a PED suspension, he's surpassed any and all expectations through his first four games back with the team. He now has 25 receptions for 251 yards and two touchdowns. Extend that out over a 16-game season, and it's a casual 100-catch, 1,000-yard, 8-touchdown season.
He'll have to finish the season healthy for this year to be considered a success. But the early returns have been positive, and his performance Monday night was by far his best of the year.
--There was some debate about the Rob Gronkowski catch up the sideline. Jason Witten said Gronkowski's foot was out of bounds. The broadcast made it seem like it would get overturned on review.
The broadcast, though, failed to note that Gronkowski probably had that left foot down before ever stepping toward the sideline. Here he is securing the catch while his left foot is still on the ground:
The step toward the sideline, where Gronkowski appeared to be out of bounds by a centimeter or so, was a moot matter. The left foot had already been down. But nobody mentioned this. That's what I'm here for.
--Speaking of rules, I always enjoy learning new ones. For instance, I did not know that there was such a thing as a one-point safety! But I learned that on Monday night.
Had Julian Stanford exited the end zone after intercepting Brady on the two-point conversion attempt and then fumbled back into the end zone, and if the Patriots had recovered that fumble in the end zone, then the Patriots would have gotten a point out of it. But because Stanford fumbled while still in the end zone, the Patriots got nothing for their fumble recovery.
Thanks, Football Zebras, for the lesson. This know-it-all certainly appreciates knowing more now. Learning is FUNdamental.
--Also shined a light on Tom Brady's psychotic commitment to winning. It gets taken for granted a bit, as we all get caught up in the latest Brady story du jour. But he took a beating in this game. Kyle Williams ended the first New England drive with this hit:
That hit set a tone for the Buffalo defense, which relentlessly pursued the QB all night long. Brady not only withstood the regular contact that comes from being a pocket passer, but the 41-year-old willingly accepted more pain by throwing a block on a linebacker and falling forward in the middle of the field to pick up a first down on an eight-yard scramble.
He also showed a decent burst when rushing the length of the field to celebrate McCourty's pick-six:
Guy is nuts. And very good. That is all.
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