By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- All week long, in the buildup for the battle of 3-0 AFC East teams, the question was asked: Is the duo of Josh Allen and Sean McDermott good enough to really give the Patriots a push in the AFC East?
The answer on Josh Allen is easy.
It's a no. A simple no. Everyone outside of Buffalo knows that.
On Sean McDermott, we perhaps need not make final evaluations based on one game. But the Buffalo head coach did not have himself a very impressive afternoon on Sunday in Orchard Park.
In fact, it was kind of embarrassing.
It began long before kickoff, when a perhaps-slightly-paranoid McDermott aggressively yapped at two Patriots assistants -- one of whom was Brian Belichick -- to instruct them to get off the Bills' side of the field following warmups. McDermott's odd shouting match and corresponding jog away from conflict were the first indication that coach's focus may have been a bit compromised on Sunday.
We witnessed the importance of basic fundamentals and coaching when the Bills failed to recognize that the Patriots did not have two jammers out to block each gunner by the boundaries. In fact, the Patriots didn't even have one jammer on the outside, as the Patriots crammed nine rushers in the box to go against eight blockers. A prepared special teams unit would have quickly known to audible to bring the gunners in to protect against the block; the Bills did no such thing.
As a result, J.C. Jackson blocked the punt, and Matthew Slater scored what proved to be the game-winning points. While special teams coordinator Heath Farwell bears the brunt of that blame, everything that happens on the field falls under the watch of the head coach.
McDermott's lack of composure crept into America's living rooms when he oddly decided to challenge the spot of a run when James White very clearly extended the football over the line to gain. When the officials walked to McDermott to ask him about the challenge, he decided to yell at them to tell them that his defenders had stopped White's progress and thus the extension of the football shouldn't count.
Whether McDermott decided to waste a challenge because he felt forward progress had been stopped (on a play where ... forward progress ... clearly ... wasn't stopped) or because he simply wanted to yell at Craig Wrolstad's crew is not really the type of decision-making you might see in a winning NFL head coach.
McDermott displayed a clear lack of knowledge of the rule book when he yelled at the officials after Stephen Hauschka's missed field goal prior to halftime. McDermott appeared to take issue with Jamie Collins leaping over the line in order to attempt to block the kick or at least disrupt Hauschka. As you may remember, the NFL banned a leap over the line two years ago ... for players who run toward the line. It's completely legal to jump the line for players "in a stationary position on the line of scrimmage when the ball was snapped." Lawrence Guy did this multiple times last year. Now that freak athlete Jamie Collins is back in town, you know that Bill Belichick is going to utilize him every way possible.
Nevertheless, McDermott either didn't know the full rule or ... once again just felt like yelling at officials.
Bad coaching reared its ugly head in a huge way in the third quarter, when the Bills had to burn a timeout because his punt return team didn't properly get on the field after a stop on third-and-11. Was the punt return team -- the same punt return team that didn't know to audible earlier on the game-losing play -- not expecting a stop on third-and-11? This is inexcusable. Belichick likes to take digs at his players by saying "I can get the quarterback from Foxboro High School to do this or that," but, well, legitimately ... the Foxboro High punt return team can at least take the field without requiring a timeout following a stop on third-and-11.
A questionable coaching decision came later in the third quarter, when McDermott wasted his final challenge (and second timeout) to argue that Matt LaCosse committed offensive pass interference on a 31-yard catch-and-run by Josh Gordon. There was certainly a little bit of contact, or at least near-contact, that led to the defender hitting the turf. But it was clearly of the well-disguised incidental variety. Anyone who's watched the challenges throughout August and September knows that it requires significant, obvious, Nickell Robey-Coleman-on-Tommylee Lewis type of contact.
It's not a good challenge at any time, but especially not when you're going to be left with one timeout in a one-score game with 18 minutes left. Bad coaching, bad attention to detail, bad planning. Good claps after he lost the challenge though.
He looks like Bill Burr. That's neither here nor there.
Anyways. Plowin' ahead here.
(The Bills ran out of timeouts with 14:54 left in the game, by the way. Yikes.)
(Oh, the Bills had to take a delay of game penalty two minutes after that when they were on the Patriots' 6-yard line, because they had no timeouts to spare.)
(Dan Fouts said that the penalty was actually good for Buffalo. It was actually not; they were stopped at the 3-yard line and turned it over on downs.)
It was questionable, too, that McDermott wanted Jonathan Jones to be ejected for the hit on Josh Allen. Outside of any coach wanting any reason for any opponent to be ejected at any point, this wasn't the play to take that kind of stand -- especially after the game, long after the play took place. When your 6-foot-5 quarterback gallivants around the field like a running back, he's susceptible to getting hit. Outside of wanting Jonathan Jones to politely carry Allen over the line to gain on a third-and-8 scramble in a one-possession game, it's difficult to map out a preferred course of action for the defender playing defense. (More on this later, obviously.)
It's more than understandable to feel anger to see your QB taken out of the game. Totally. But blaming a defender for playing defense on a ball carrier who's eligible to be hit is not generally a productive way of doing business.
Maybe the Bills will end up giving the Patriots a run for the AFC East. Maybe this year. Maybe next year.
But with the way their head coach handled a big moment on his home field Sunday, we also have to leave open the possibility for maybe never.
Anyway -- a 16-10 win for the Patriots. Leftover thoughts!
--Tre'Davious White got called for pass interference, because he did this on a fourth-and-8 heave:
White got up and ... argued with the officials, as if to say, "Who? Me? For what?!"
Some might say this isn't an ideal attitude. But as the great Julius Campbell once famously told Gary Bertier ... attitude reflect leadership. (See the above 5,000-word screed on McDermott to understand the leadership.)
--Some defensive rankings for you. Through four games, the Patriots rank first in the NFL in yards allowed per game (243; 38 fewer than the second-best team). They rank first in the NFL in points allowed per game (6.8; 4.5 better than the second-best team). They rank first in the NFL with 10 interceptions; the second-best teams have five.
The turnover numbers would be even more tilted if Patrick Chung had gotten a digit under the pigskin on a near pick in the end zone. A couple of Buffalo fumbles also didn't bounce New England's way.
What's most wild about these numbers is that the Patriots have now played two games -- Week 1 vs. Pittsburgh, and Sunday at Buffalo -- with a starting linebacker out of the mix. Kyle Van Noy missed Week 1, and the defense allowed three points. Dont'a Hightower missed Week 4, and the defense allowed 10 points.
--I'm going to write every week that John Simon is the most underrated sports guy in sports. I'm not going to give you stats or any points of comparison. I'm just going to say, weekly, "Hey. That John Simon guy? Fella is un-der-rated."
And I'm right.
--Prior to the injury, Josh Allen was once again thoroughly unimpressive. Granted, the Hall of Famer on the other side was not exactly lighting things up, and yes, the Patriots' defense is immense. But ... there was no reason to throw either of the first two interceptions, just as there was no reason for Allen to put himself in position to take a hit and fumble while trying to scramble on a second-and-15.
Allen took a third-down sack to push a Buffalo field goal attempt from 38 yards to 46 yards. That ended up being inconsequential, but he didn't learn his lesson, because he took another third-down sack, this time pushing a would-be-44-yard attempt to a 49-yarder, it missed wide left ... barely.
He does things like this routinely:
I'll also let you guess which receiver he threw to on this third-down incompletion:
When it comes to unseating the Patriots atop the AFC East throne, Josh Allen is not the answer.
--One of my favorite reactions came from linebacker Matt Milano on a completion to James White. Milano did everything right, sticking with the elusive White and getting an arm into White's midsection just as the ball arrived. It was brilliant defense, really.
Despite the perfect D, White came down with the catch for a 26-yard gain to set up a first-and-goal at the 4-yard line.
Milano was utterly perplexed:
(Milano did later break up a pass to White on a third down in the fourth quarter to force the Patriots to punt and to give Buffalo a chance to win the game.)
--Matthew Slater Touchdowns With Badass Tinted Shield: 1 in 4 games
Matthew Slater Touchdowns Without Badass Headgear: 0 in 160 games
Do the math, nerds. The man is the Megatron of special teams now. It's amazing what one little strip of semi-transparent plastic can do.
--Speaking of Slater, can they please stop calling unsportsmanlike conduct penalties on him? The man defines sportsmanlike conduct. He is the embodiment of all that a true sportsman aspires to be. His conduct is, at all times, commendable and certainly sportsmanlike.
Maybe if he commits a penalty, the ref should announce, "Brief Accident, No. 18, New England. Zero yards, we're just going to assume it was a mistake. He's already apologized. First down."
--Last week, that perfect streak of targets caught by Phillip Dorsett ended when it shouldn't have ended, because Dorsett actually caught the ball. Nevertheless, Tom Brady and Dorsett made that meaningless streak even more meaningless by connecting just twice on nine targets on Sunday.
--Josh Gordon: Powerful human being.
Thanks to Levi Wallace there for basically summing up my entire high school football career in one play.
--Has any quarterback in the history of the sport ever been scrutinized for intentional grounding more than Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr.? The one where he did get penalized should not have drawn a flag; Julian Edelman was close enough.
Also, this was how Bills safety Jordan Poyer held up Edelman at the line of scrimmage:
For that play to result in intentional grounding instead of defensive holding is ... bad. It's not good, folks.
From there on out, though, any throwaway by Brady launched a discussion about intentional grounding, including one where he ran all the way to the sideline and threw it well past the line of scrimmage.
Ever since Super Bowl XLVI, it's as if the world decided to focus squarely on Brady for new ways to enforce intentional grounding. It's weird.
--Aside from the obvious, there were two TERRIBLE things about Brady's end zone interception. First and foremost, it came at the end of a dynamite drive that began all the way back at the New England 5-yard line. That drive was a life-sucker for the home team, which was set to trail by either 16 or 20 points in what was their September Super Bowl. Points there would have been devastating for Buffalo.
Secondly, the pick came after a timeout. When Brady and Josh McDaniels and Bill Belichick have a minute to talk things over ... you've generally come to expect something better than that.
--Brady may own Buffalo, as he's now 16-2 there, but he hasn't thrown a touchdown in three straight trips to Orchard Park. That's all I got. How about that fact? Wow. Can you believe it?
--J.C. Jackson had two interceptions, and a blocked punt. But he plays for Bill Belichick, so you know that the first bit of film he'll see in a meeting room this week will involve none of those plays but will instead just be this:
--In my football opinion ... this whole "letting it play out" thing needs to have some limits.
We are all aware that the Saints got robbed of a touchdown in L.A. this year, but when a quarterback throws a ball three yards forward, we don't need to let it play out like it's a fumble. Someone's eventually going to get hurt on one of these obviously fake touchdowns, and then what? THEN. WHAT?
--The Patriots ran for 74 yards on 23 carries. Yeesh. It's really affecting the entire offense, as the lack of a reliable ground game makes it slightly easier to defend against the pass. And while everybody who's new or filling in this year is doing the best they can, the reality is that when you lose Trent Brown, David Andrews, Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen and James Develin, your running game is going to take a step backward. Those are all tremendous, tremendous blockers, so it's not all that surprising to see the running game take a hit.
--That being said, there's something to be said for timeliness. And with the Patriots backed up on their own 15-yard line with 5:19 to go and a six-point lead, Michel broke off an 8-yard run and a 9-yard run to kill some clock and help flip the field.
That would have been huge if the Patriots continued to run the ball, thus draining the clock down to two minutes or picking up one more first down to win the game. Instead they called two pass plays, both of which were incompletions. On a day when there was no such thing as an easy completion for Brady ... that play calling was suspect. (Likewise, the inside screen to James White and the pass to Dorsett short of the goal line when the Patriots were inside the 10 earlier in the game was lousy. The Patriots had no solutions to the Buffalo defense, really.)
The Patriots punted to Buffalo with 3:19 left on the clock.
--Don't let it go forgotten that punter Ryan Allen was a significant reason the Patriots won Super Bowl LIII, but he was nevertheless cut and replaced months later because Bill Belichick is Bill Belichick. That replacement won AFC Special Teams Player of the Week ... as a punter ... in his third NFL game. And in his fourth NFL game, he did this:
Mamma mia! That is a spicy punt. A cccccccccccccasual 60 yards on that boot.
I recognize that I'm exhausting the space allowed for punter talk. But hachi machi, and great googily moogily. That fella can kick.
--The Bills have an excellent defense. But they're still the Bills. To wit: After that Bailey bomb, John Brown dropped a pass, Zay Jones dropped a pass, and Cole Beasley dropped a pass/didn't really try to catch a pass at his feet. The Bills were forced to punt, and the coverage unit all celebrated as if they had downed a punt at the 8-yard line; sadly, none of them saw the two officials on the goal line signaling for a touchback.
It's comforting to know that even at 3-0, even with the champs somewhat on the ropes, the Bills. Will. Always. Bill.
--Suppose it's time to talk about The Hit. Everyone's gotten their two cents in by now, so I'll add mine. What I find most fascinating is that your view of the hit depends entirely on the angle you're watching.
The first replay angle made it look like Jonathan Jones launched himself into Allen's head.
The second replay angle makes Jones actually look like the victim of Allen dropping his head into the defender's helmet.
Perspective really is everything. But the bottom line is that Josh Allen was a runner. Running backs get hit like this all the time. I've unfortunately spotlighted it innumerable times over the years in my "NFL Does Not Care About Running Backs' Brains" series. Examples can be found here, here, here, here, here, and here.
And Josh Allen, six yards from the line of scrimmage and fighting to make it eight yards ... he's a running back there.
--"The first thing that came out of my mouth on the sideline, if one of us did that to 12 [Tom Brady] we wouldn't be in the game anymore," Micah Hyde said. "No way, there's no way we would continue to be playing in that game
Here's the thing, Micah. Tom Brady knows how to play without getting hit like that. It took some learning, though. In fact, a young Tom Brady was once nearly decapitated on a much more violent hit all the way back in 2001. It took place on the same field you played on Sunday. It's on YouTube. You should watch it. It's crazy.
Somewhere along the line (call it, oh, I don't know, the fall of 2008), Brady learned about self-preservation. It's a big reason why he's still going.
We need not negatively discuss a player suffering from a concussion currently, but we can state the realities of running as a ball carrier over the middle of the field while trying to fight for extra yardage. Hits are going to happen. We know what predatory, dirty hits are. This wasn't one of them.
--It was kind of a bad game for Stephon Gilmore, by his All-Pro standards. He allowed some yardage, got called for a mysterious defensive holding to negate a third-down sack, and he committed a clear pass interference on what ended up being a long third-down completion. Not great.
HOWEVER ... is anybody talking about the tackle he made on second-and-goal during the Patriots' goal line stand?! Because I'd like to talk about the tackle he made on second-and-goal during the Patriots' goal line stand.
Here is Gilmore's tackle on second-and-goal during the Patriots' goal line stand:
With no feet on the ground, that tackle is entirely core strength and upper body strength. (Gilmore works out.) What an effort. The Patriots stopped Frank Gore on the next play and then had the near-pick/incompletion on fourth down to complete the stop that saved the game. That tackle by Gilmore made it all possible.
--Kyle Van Noy got called for a weird penalty, as he hit Matt Barkley from behind after the QB threw a backward pass. Barkley was eligible to be hit, because he was either a blocker or an eligible receiver at that point. But perhaps he was not eligible to be clipped from behind. Not really sure on that one.
Either way, Van Noy said Barkley was faking.
"He may have done a good job acting," Van Noy said, per Phil Perry. "I like Matt, he's a good dude. But he lives in California. His acting skills were pretty good on that play."
Faking or not? You decide.
If it wasn't a quarterback, it probably wouldn't have been called. But then again, no player other than a quarterback would just stand there in the tackle box looking away from the massive men flying this way and that.
--Jamie Collins has a new career high with three interceptions. It is Week 4.
--Van Noy had another monster game. He had two sacks, a tackle for a loss, and he provided QB pressure on Jackson's second pick and Jamie Collins' game-sealing pick in the final minutes. What an afternoon.
But for my money, his most impressive play came late in the fourth, when he treated 330-pound right tackle Ty Nsekhe like a tackling dummy:
--Here's me typing up this extraordinarily long version of Leftover Patriots Thoughts:
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