Monday, October 22, 2012

Patriots Hang On to Beat Jets, 29-26 in OT

In a game of give-aways and take-aways, the Patriots got the one that mattered most and pulled out a 29-26 victory over the division-rival Jets.  The win gives the Patriots the division lead over idle Miami and the losing Jets and Bills.  Next week it's across the pond to play the London Rams -- er, make that the St. Louis Rams -- at Wembley stadium.

After a week of people questioning if Tom Brady is finally on the downside of his career, he made very few mistakes and was a couple dropped passes away from controlling the game comfortably.  And in the end, he led a final drives to tie the game in regulation and win it in overtime.  Add to that Stephen Gostkowski's field goals to end each of those drives and the closeout by the defense in overtime, and it was a total team win.

Brady's numbers don't look great: 26 of 42 (62%), 259 yards, 2 touchdowns, 0 interceptions.  But there were several passes right on the money that were dropped, and though the Jets didn't pressure him consistently, they did a great job of coverage in the short zones favored by the Pats offense.  Some of his off throws were on purpose, because the Jets coverage was just that good.

Receiver Brandon Lloyd was targeted 8 times -- and he had 1 catch and 1 offensive pass-interference penalty.  He also dropped an early bomb that would likely have led to points on the first drive, and he dropped a potential touchdown late that would have won the game in regulation.  This off-season acquisition still isn't working out as well as the Patriots expected, and it should be improving more than it has so far.

The other receivers were mostly very good, when they got open.  Difficult to complain about Rob Gronkowski's production (6 catches, 78 yards, 2 touchdowns), or Wes Welker's (6 for 66 yards, 4 first downs).  Julian Edelman and Aaron Hernandez are still working their way back in after injuries, but both looked pretty good overall.

The surprise at running back was that Shane Vereen started instead of Stevan Ridley.  The two were chosen in back-to-back rounds in the 2010 draft, but last year Vereen was injured almost the entire season and Ridley grasped the offense and blocking schemes quickly and has gotten much more playing time  But Vereen looked comfortable in blitz pick up, had a nice burst, and ended up with 6.1 yards per carry (to Ridley's 3.8)  (Trivia question: Has Vereen out-gained Ridlley on the ground in any NFL games to this point?  Answer below.)

The offensive line really suffered from the absence of Logan Mankins.  On the first drive, replacement starter Donald Thomas windmilled two linemen -- one of which was picked up by Vereen.  If Thomas got *either* man, the play might have worked, but Brady had to throw it away and the drive stalled.  Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer are both playing very well, and overall it is a credit to this unit that the team averaged 4.2 yards per rush and let up only 1 sack in 43 pass plays.

The defense was a real mixed bag.  They shut down the Jets on 4 of 6 first half drives, but then let them score on 4 of 5 second half drives.  But they did force the Jets to take a field goal after a late fumble by Devin McCourty (on a kickoff) and they turned the ball over in overtime to end the game.  Some bad, some good, some very bad, some very good.

The Patriots took my suggestion and played Devin McCourty at safety most of the game, with both Chung and Gregory out.  It only semi-worked; he got worked over a few times, but never let receivers get behind him and so the passes were shorter gains than the ones against Seattle.  Despite what you'll read elsewhere, a week after giving up multiple plays over 40 yards, they gave up plays of 20-26 yards instead.  Still not great, but better.

Rookie Alfonzo Dennard did a decent job starting in McCourty's spot.  He had an interception, knocked away one pass, and would have knocked away another except the ball he tipped was caught by a Jets receiver.  Kyle Arrington had more difficulty, but Ras-I Dowling struggled the most.  He has obvious physical advantages (long arms and quickness), but somehow it isn't working out for Dowling.  He got beaten regularly on short routes and once on a long ball.

The defensive star of the game was linebacker Rob Ninkovich, who moved back to LB from the defensive line a few weeks back (for the injured Dont'a Hightower).  He is showing great versatility, notching 1.5 sacks yesterday, 2 tackles for a loss, 2 quarterback hits, and 1 important forced fumble/recovery in overtime to end the game.  Hightower had a sack, too, and he had added 7 tackles, which is impressive given that he wasn't out there too long.  He also does well in pass coverage, and might be their best pass-coverage linebacker -- a mere seven games into his NFL career.

Jerod Mayo continues to get beaten in pass coverage, though it's not always his fault.  He should take the blame when it's a 5- to 10-yard completion; but anything beyond that is either a blown coverage, bad scheme, or the safeties responsibility.  Mayo did lead the team in tackles (11), and Brandon Spikes had 10 bone-jarring tackles.  Spikes only guessed wrong once, and as he's limited his misreads, he has become an excellent run stopping backer.  Just ask Shonn Greene.

The Jets rand the ball well, which might indicate subpar play on the line.  It might have been true of Kyle Love and Chandler Jones, but Vince Wilfork and Jermaine Cunningham performed very well.  Wilfork made 7 tackles (a big number for a lineman in this defense), and he blew up a running play that led to a fumble and a safety... and all points are huge when you need overtime to win.  Cunningham had just 2 tackles on the stat sheet, but he forced runs back inside and forced the Jets QB up in the pocket several times.  He also got credit for half a sack.  Jones isn't playing badly, but he isn't quite the phenomenon he was projected to be.  He also loses outside contain on inside spin moves too often.

Special teams gaveth, tooketh away, and then gaveth again.  Devin McCourty started the Patriots scoring with a 104-yard kickoff return for touchdown.  But late in the game he fumbled a kickoff, which could have lost the game.  And the team gave up two long kickoff returns (one of which was called back on a penalty).  Also, there was the timeout call just before the team's first punt -- apparently because they didn't have the right personnel on the field.  Unacceptable.

On the plus side, Stephen Gostkowski hit two critical field goals, Zoltan Mesko repeatedly pinned the Jets inside their 20 yard-line, and Wes Welker had some decent punt returns.

The only continuing quibble about coaching is their insistence on throwing to Brandon Lloyd when he is not open.  If he's not open, don't force it -- take what the defense gives you and move on.  There are always complaints about the play calling, but in this game it was better.  They started out passing a lot, but this time they got back to the running game and it was effective in helping control the ball.

So where does that leave us?  In first place, where we belong, of course!  4-3 will have to do for the moment, but don't mark down 5-3 just yet.  The Rams aren't great, but they do get pressure on the passer, which plays against one of the Patriots weaknesses -- the offensive line.

Statistical Oddity of the Week: Jets QB Mark Sanchez' career record against the Patriots is 3-5.  In all 3 wins he threw zero interceptions.  And in all 5 losses he threw at least 1 interception.  Consistency; that's what it's all about.

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "This was the best Pats/Jets game since the first Tuna Bowl.  I remember the Pats blocked a field goal at the end to preserve the win."

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS.  4-3!

PPS.  Trivia answer: Vereen actually outgained Ridley in two consecutive games in 2011: 39-0 against Kansas City and 18-4 at Philadelphia.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Patriots Botch Another, Seahawks Win 24-23

Seattle used an opportunistic defense and big plays on offense to down the Patriots 24-23 yesterday.  The loss drops the Patriots into a four-way tie for the lead/basement in the AFC East -- all teams at 3-3.  Next week they face the New York Jets in a game where the winner will have at least a share of the division lead... and the loser will have at least a share of last place.

There are many life lessons to be learned from football -- but the most important is that you need to take full advantage of your opportunities.  In life, you only get so many chances to buy Apple stock at $5/share; miss them and you will regret it.  In football, you only get so many possessions; mess them up and you will regret it.

Last week against Denver, the Patriots messed up two or three times and the Broncos messed up five or six times, so the Patriots won.  This week, the Pats messed up five or six times, and Seattle only messed up two or three times, so the Seahawks won.  The maddening thing is that with all their defensive problems and missed opportunities, the Patriots are just three plays away from being 6-0 instead of 3-3.

The Patriots screw-ups from yesterday are an impressive list:
  1. On Seattle's second possession, Jerod Mayo whiffed on third-down tackle of QB Russell Wilson, and Wilson converted the first down.  The next play was a touchdown pass instead of a field goal attempt.
  2. The Patriots got a gift on a blown punt, taking over at the Seattle 24 with the clock running down in the second quarter  But they screwed up time management for the second week in a row, and when Tom Brady was called for intentional grounding, the half ran out without even a field goal attempt.
  3. As the third quarter headed into the fourth, the Pats drove 60 yards to the Seattle 6 yard-line.  But Brady threw an interception in the end zone, depriving the team of an easy field goal try.
  4. Then the Patriots defense got their second fumble recovery of the game, but after passing for 45 yards on two plays, they went conservative (three Stevan Ridley runs) and settled for a field goal.
  5. And after two more lackluster "drives," Sterling Moore blew his outside containment on the last Patriots punt of the day, giving the Seahawks a short field to get the winning touchdown.
Take away one of those screw-ups, and the Patriots come out on top.  After all, they only lost by one point against the top-rated defense in the NFL, in one of the most hostile environments in all of sports.  But instead, add up all those missed opportunities, and the Patriots weren't good enough to overcome them.

Brady had by far his worst game of the year.  Many of his throws were short (though some of that was caused by Seattle pressure).  And both of his interceptions were bad -- the first one was to a blanketed Deion Branch and the second one was in the red zone, where he needed to protect the ball for a field goal at the very least.  He ended up 36 of 58, 395 yards, 2 touchdowns, 2 INTs.  But he seemed out of sorts overall; not audibling as much, throwing to covered receivers too often, and committing two intentional grounding penalties.

His receivers mostly did their job; though there were several balls that went through receivers hands (it was raining, after all).  Wes Welker continues to prove that reports of his demise were greatly exaggerated -- notching 10 receptions for 138 yards and a stretch-to-the-pylon touchdown.  Aaron Hernandez returned to get 6 catches (30 yards and a touchdown), and Brandon Lloyd and Rob Gronkowski also got 6 catches each (for 80 and 61 yards respectively).  But none of it could make up for the two interceptions; those were killers.

On the offensive line, the most intriguing matchup was left tackle Nate Solder versus sack machine Chris Clemons of Seattle.  Solder did an adequate job in that one-on-one battle, winning most of the time.  However, he let Clemons get pressure twice on the Patriots last-gasp possession, which sort of negated good work most of the day.  In fact, Brady was kept pretty clean on the day (5 QB hits, 1 sack for 7 yards); though the pressure kept him from stepping into his throws.

The Patriots tamed their own running game, rushing just 26 times for 87 yards (3.3 ypc).  A far cry from the last two weeks of 250+ yards a game, but probably necessitated by the defense being played.  The prior games made the Pats running attack look better because those teams played soft zones to make sure they didn't get beaten by the passing game.  Not this week -- Seattle played mostly their base defense, and they held up well enough to keep the Patriots 10 points below their 33-point season average.

The defense pitched in with two fumble recoveries and some timely plays to end drives.  But in the end, they gave up way too many big plays.  Wilson had 6 plays that covered over 20 yards: 22, 24, 29, 46, 50, and 66 (the 46 and 66 yarders coming in the fourth quarter).  And those big plays all came on scoring drives.  And it was the entire defense: sometimes the DBs let up big pass plays; sometimes the linebackers let them up; and sometimes the defensive line let the QB out of the pocket so he could make them.

Rookie Chandler Jones impresses in pass-rushing (2 sacks for 10 yards, 3 QB hits, and 1 forced fumble), but he still doesn't hold the edge against the run.  He's a work-in-progress, but he's great at part of his job and improving at the other part.  Pressed into full-time duty, lineman Jermaine Cunningham looked more like the guy from the last two years -- that is he disappeared.  Rob Ninkovich excelled at linebacker, and if Cunningham could hold up, perhaps the overall defense would benefit from moving Ninkovich back to LB permanently.  But the team can't do that until someone steps up to take the left end position.

Brandon Spikes did some guessing and mostly got it right -- two tackles for a loss and a QB hit.  And Mayo ended up with eight tackles, but it's the one he missed against the Seattle QB that stands out the most.  All he had to do was hold up Wilson until the rest of the team arrived, but he completely whiffed and that changed a field goal attempt into a touchdown on the next play.  It is not the kind of tackle a player like Mayo can miss in that situation.

The secondary... whew, what stinker.  Time after time, play after play, long passes sailed toward Seahawks receivers who were well covered, and the Patriots defenders never turned around to knock the ball down, never cut in front for an interception, and too often got called for interference.  This week's torched DB was Kyle Arrington, who was targeted more than anyone else, and who allowed play after play without slowing things down at all.

And on the last Seattle drive, with the game on the line, both starting safeties were out with injuries.  But rather than take my advice and put Devin McCourty at safety, the team went with rookies Tayvon Wilson and Nate Ebner.  With predictable results.  Wilson got turned around, Ebner reacted too late, and it was a 46-yard touchdown over both their heads.  Ballgame.

Special teams didn't distinguish themselves, either.  The long punt return came at exactly the time it could not come.  And the Seattle punter's net average (43.0) was almost as high as Mesko's gross average (44.3).  Although Stephen Gostkowski redeemed himself from his recent struggles, hitting 3 of 3 field goals and getting 4 touchbacks on 6 kickoffs.

As for the coaching, it was remarkable to see the creativity on offense evaporate in the fourth quarter.  Seattle used run-blitzes to stop the Patriots cold on those last two possessions; but the Pats never audibled to a screen pass or a short slant to combat it.  And they have to rethink how they handle timeouts at the end of the half.  For the second straight week they botched things just before the half, but they didn't learn their lesson from the Denver game and paid the price against the Seahawks.

So where does that leave us?  3-3 isn't great, but overall the team isn't playing terribly.  A play here or there and they could easily be 5-1 or 6-0.  But they have to be more consistent against the Jets this weekend.  The only reason the rest of the AFC East is tied with them is that they haven't played games against all the teams yet.  They have the Jets followed by the Dolphins -- wins those two weeks puts them atop the division, with only Buffalo possibly tied with them (and the Patriots holding the tie-breaker by virtue of their head-to-head victory over the Bills).

(Very Telling) Statistical Oddity of the Week: On their scoring drives, the Seahawks averaged 10.92 yards per play; on their non-scoring drives, they averaged 2.52 yards per play.

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "Screw up the end of the half, okay.  Botch the punt coverage, it happens.  But you can't have red zone turnovers."

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS.  3-3!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Patriots Handle Manning, Broncos 31-21

(Sorry for the delay; I was out of town and offline for the entire day after the game, so no way to get the update in.  This update will be brief; though I hope informative.)

The Patriots rode three Denver turnovers and several other miscues to a 31-21 victory.  The win puts them at 3-2, once again placing them atop the AFC East all by themselves, a game ahead of all the other teams (who are bunched at 2-3).  The schedule has them flying west to play in Seattle, a difficult venue and a better team than most predicted.

Quick Points: Offense

1.  Enough already about Wes Welker being on the outs with the Patriots.  He made more catches every week so far this season: 3, 5, 8, 9, and 13 (and note, he's already second in the NFL in receptions.)

2.  The running game is for real -- 247 yards last week, 251 this week.  The last time the Patriots ran for 200+ years two weeks in a row was a long time ago (trivia question: name the year -- answer below).

3.  But Stevan Ridley needs to get serious about not fumbling.  In his last 6 games, he has 3 fumbles and he lost 2 of them (and he was centimeters away from another fumble at the goal line against Denver).  If he keeps it up, Brandon Boldin will take his job.

4.  The Patriots lead the NFL in scoring, and the offensive line is a work-in-progress (at best), they have been missing two of the key receivers (Aaron Hernandez and Julian Edelman), and the play-calling has been experimental at times as offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels finds the plays that work best.

5.  Even with a 3-2 team, Tom Brady is probably in the running for league MVP again.  His numbers so far: 124 of 185 (67%), 1,450 yards, 8 TDs, 1 INT, and 102.8 QB rating.  And the offense should get better as the O-line gels and players return from injury.

6.  Danny Woodhead should never run the ball on first or second down.  He is much more effective when he runs against pass defenses on third-and-long.  And even though he's a liability in pass protection, he's good enough to make defenses pay if they don't know he's going to run.  (Note: point made by my friend Allan before the game.)

Quick Points: Defense

1.  The Patriots linebackers are subpar in pass coverage.  And it really shows with Dont'a Hightower out and safety Steve Gregory (out with injury) unable to help in short coverage.  This might be their achilles heel, but of course they have 11 more games to get it straightened out.

2.  As mentioned in previous updates, teams simply can't run consistently against the Patriots.  The team ranks 5th in yards-per-carry allowed (3.4) and haven't given up a single run of over 20 yards all season.

3.  The new safety rotation should be Patrick Chung, Gregory, and Devin McCourty.  Not that I'm down on McCourty, who is better than most people think.  But with rookie Tayvon Wilson in for the injured Gregory, the play-action fakes opened up too many intermediate passing plays.  And the Broncos hit several long pass plays (and just missed several other open receivers deep).

When McCourty played safety last year, at least he didn't get beaten deep.  The Patriots have more options at corner: Ras-I Dowling, Sterling Moore, Wilson, Alfonzo Dennard (who made some nice plays on Sunday), and even Nate Ebner.  But once you get past Chung and Gregory, their best option at safety is McCourty.

4.  Linebackers Rob Ninkovich and Jermaine Cunningham have improved immensely this year.  The 4-3 seems to suit Cunningham, who came off the milk carton to make several key plays already this year.  And Ninkovich was mostly just decent last year, but he's had two excellent games in a row and three overall this year.

5.  The Patriots lead the AFC in turnover ratio at +17 for the season -- an average of +3.4 per game.  The second-place team is only +8 (trivia question #2: name that team, answer below).

Quick Points: General

1.  The game was closer than you think -- without Broncos drops, it could have been a one-possession game.

2.  Patriots crowd did their best, but the stadium simply can't get that loud.  And before you blame the fans, remember that 99.5% of season tickets were renewed when they moved from Foxboro Stadium to Gillette -- and the lack of crowd noise was noted immediately at the new venue.  Same people, different stadium... you do the math.

3.  Al the Foxboro Weather God struck again.  The forecast called for rain all game long, but it only sprinkled in the first five minutes and was dry the rest of the day.  He's attended about 15 games, only one with bad weather.  For a price, he is available for weddings and bar mitzvahs -- if weather is important on your special day.  Please email for further details :)

So where does that leave us?  3-2 and leading the AFC East... has a familiar ring, doesn't it.  No chance the Patriots take the Seahawks lightly next week.  The last time they did that, the Arizona Cardinals surprised them and set them up to fall below .500 for the first time in almost a decade.

Statistical Oddity of the Week: Shane Vereen's line in the game: 1 carry, 1 yard, 1 yard-per-carry, 1 touchdown, longest run 1.0 yards. Other than that run, you'd never know he even dressed for the game (no tackles, no pass receptions, and no targets in the passing game).

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "The Cardinals held the Pats to 18 points, but they still lead the league in scoring."

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS.  3-2!

PPS.  Trivia answer #1:
The Patriots ran for 200+ yards 10 times in 1978, and that was the last time they ran for over 200 yards two weeks in a row.  Interestingly, the yards were spread out -- they did not have a 1,000-yard rusher that season.

PPPS.  Trivia answer #2: The Houston Texans are at +8 turnover ratio for the year, including the Monday night win over the Jets.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Patriots Blow Out Bills, 52-28

After sleepwalking through the first half, the Patriots roared back with a record 45 second-half points and drubbed their favorite whipping boys, the Buffalo Bills, 52-28.  The win, coupled with a Jets loss to San Francisco puts the Patriots in a three-way tie for first place in the AFC East.  Only the losing Dolphins trail at 1-3.  Next week the Manning-led Broncos come to town for what will be an important game for both teams.

Neither team seemed interesting in winning in the first half.  The Patriots got zero points on three Buffalo turnovers, and the Bills could have put the Pats two scores behind but fumbled inside the 1 yard-line.  The Patriots had their first two fumbles of the entire season in the second quarter, but the Bills countered with two terrible interceptions and that fumble in the red zone.

But in the second half, there was no question who wanted to win.  The Bills scored on their first possession to take a 21-7 lead.  The next time they scored, it was already 42-28 Patriots and the game was effectively over.  The Patriots scored touchdowns on six consecutive possessions, and unlike the first half, they converted three Buffalo turnovers into 17 points.

Though he was masterful in the second half, Tom Brady needs to stop forcing the ball to newcomer Brandon Lloyd.  He targeted him as many times as Wes Welker in the first half, but had almost nothing to show for it.  Lloyd seems to understand the offense, but Brady has to trust that the chemistry with Lloyd will develop, and that the second half touchdown they combined on will be the norm in the future.  He can't continue to force the ball to Lloyd without risking interceptions (though thankfully there were none yesterday).

Brady's stats on the day: 22 of 36, 340 yards, 3 passing touchdowns, 1 rushing touchdown, 0 interceptions, 120.1 QB rating, 1 sack for 7 yards, and aside from forcing the ball to Lloyd a perfect day.  He threw it away when necessary and changed to running plays when necessary to exploit defensive alignments.  In fact, he was almost as instrumental in a dominating running game as any of the blockers.

Speaking of the running game, this was the first game in almost 30 years in which the Patriots had two 100 yard rushers.  Stevan Ridley continues his solid and sometimes spectacular running style with a 22 carry, 106 yard, 2 touchdown day.  And he picks up blitzers! Add to that rookie free agent Brandon Bolden's 16 carries, 137 yards, and 1 touchdown, and the team took 40 carries 247 yards (6.2 ypc) and got 4 touchdowns, including Brady's scramble being the fourth.  (Trivia question: name the last undrafted rookie to run for 100+ yards for the Patriots?  Extra credit if you can name the year and opponent.  Answer below.)

Bolden and Ridley ran through holes opened up by multiple players and factors.  The Bills played a soft zone so they wouldn't get beaten by the passing game, which made running easier.  But the offensive line did an outstanding job clearing out a stout Bills D-line.  And that was without star guard Logan Mankins (on the shelf for this game).  But the unexpected factor was the blocking by the tight ends.  Rob Gronkowski was the lead blocker up the middle for the lion's share of those yards.  And surprising newcomer Daniel Fells did a great job sealing the edge or kicking out on two of the touchdowns.

Not to be outdone, the receivers had two 100+ yard performances of their own.  Wes Welker made himself Mister Indispensable in the second half, with 6 catches for almost 100 yards after halftime.  He finished with 9-129, and converted first downs on 5 of 6 grabs in the second half.  Gronkowski started out shaky, with a few drops and a fumble in the first half.  But when the game was over, he had 5 catches for 104 yards and a touchdown.  And as noted, about 10 devastating blocks in the running game.  Danny Woodhead got the Patriots back in the game with a nice adjustment and run-after-catch for a 17-yard touchdown that started the six-touchdown train a-rollin'.

The defense had a bunch of stars on the day.  But none shone brighter than Rob Ninkovich or Vince Wilfork.  On a day when the Bills (who led the NFL in rushing before yesterday) could have gashed the Patriots with cut-backs and power rushes, Ninkovich and Wilfork sealed the outside and the inside respectively.  Ninkovich had 7 tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble.  Wilfork had 3 tackles, 2 passes knocked down, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery.  These to set the tone on the defensive line, and Chandler Jones and Jermaine Cunningham pitched in with timely plays.

The linebackers had a down day until the Bills fell way behind.  Once Dont'a Hightower went out, Buffalo QB Ryan Fitzpatrick exploited bad linebacker coverage for big gains in the passing game.  Pass coverage is not the strong suit of either Brandon Spikes or Jerod Mayo.  And even though Spikes did make one nice play in pass coverage and Mayo got a tipped-ball interception, the mid-level passing game is what kept the Bills alive.  Both players are more run-stoppers, and Spikes had a huge game in that area, forcing the first-half fumble that kept the score close.  But the fact remains; if Buffalo hadn't insisted on giving the game away, we might be talking about the team's weakness and lack of depth at linebacker (Tracy White, really?).  But of course, a win cures all ills...

The secondary was also up-and-down on the day.  Devin McCourty nabbed two interceptions and knocked away two passes.  He also did a great job in run support (and always does).  However, he also let up at least two long passes, and just about everyone in the secondary missed Donald Jones on his 68-yard jaunt.  Sterling Moore and Kyle Arrington continued to battle every down.  It isn't perfect with either of them, but mostly teams seem to pick on McCourty, so neither gave up a ton.

Rookie Tayvon Wilson looks like the real deal.  He got his second interception yesterday, and recovered a fumble, too.  He and safety Patrick Chung give the secondary some attitude and swagger, and they are sorely in need of that as teams continue to attack them as the weakest part of the defense.  Safety Steve Gregory impresses every game, although in the interest of full disclosure, both he and Chung missed the boat on Buffalo's second touchdown, letting them split the middle for an easy pitch-and-catch.

On special teams, Stephen Gostkowski's case of the "yips" showed up in the first half.  He missed two field goals, one wide right and one wide left.  He needs to get himself together before those misses cost the Patriots another game (as they did against the Ravens last week and the Cardinals the week before).  Punter Zoltan Mesko did a nice job, both punting and holding.  Though it's unclear if long-snapper Danny Aiken is putting it where it should be on field goals.  It looks like those snaps are a little close to the body of the holder; but that might be what they want, since it's what they get week after week.

Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels made great halftime adjustments.  It probably shouldn't have taken until the half, but getting back to Wes Welker and pounding the running game against five- and six-defensive back sets was the way to go.  And new tight ends coach George Godsey appears to be doing quite well, my preseason concerns notwithstanding.  Each new tight end seems to work into the offense well -- if not catching passes, at least doing a good job blocking.

So where does that leave us?  The Bills had a chance to go up 2.5 games over the Patriots (including the tie-breaker), but the comeback win basically gives the Patriots a 0.5 game lead over the Bills in the division.  The Broncos come to town next, and they have traditionally given the Patriots fits when they have good quarterbacking.  Well, it doesn't get much better than Peyton Manning, so things will not be easy this week.

Statistical Oddity of the Week: Oh, what to choose... the 45 points in the second half (NFL record), the two 100-yard rushers *and* two 100-yard receivers (only the second time in NFL history), or the 580 total yards (4th most in Patriots history).  I will go with Brady's astounding 19-2 record against the Bills.  I doubt there are any quarterbacks with that kind of record against a divisional opponent in league history.

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "If Gostkowski hits his field goals, the Patriots are 4-0 this morning."

Bonus Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "Remember the Raven's debacle?  24 total penalties for 218 yards.  Against the Bills it was 4 penalties for 27 yards.  Welcome back, real refs!"

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS.  2-2!

PPS.  Trivia Answer
None other than BenJarvus Green-Ellis ran for 105 yards on 26 carries against these same Buffalo Bills on November 9, 2008.