Monday, September 26, 2011

Bills Comeback, Beat Patriots 34-31

Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words:

That's right folks, the Buffalo Bills snapped their 15-game losing streak against the Patriots and vaulted the field to stand atop the entire AFC at 3-0. And I say good for them; they earned it, coming back from a 21-point deficit with timely turnovers and a defense that made the Pats earn every yard in the second half.

The 34-31 Patriots loss leaves them at 2-1, one game back in the AFC East and tied with rival New York for second place. Next week brings a cross-country trip for a tough test against the Raiders in Oakland -- a team that handed the Jets their first loss yesterday, so it will not be an easy game. 

As for the train-wreck yesterday, the blame game begins with quarterback Tom Brady. His 4 interceptions outweighed the gaudy 67% completions and 4 touchdowns. It was Brady's first four-interception game in five years, and only the fourth of his career. Not all of Sunday's INTs were his fault, and one was just bad luck, but two were bad passes, and those two are on Brady. And all four of them were game- or momentum-changers. 

The first came just before the half, with the Patriots leading 21-7 and driving for more. But Brady's sideline throw to Danny Woodhead was behind him and low, and when Woodhead popped it up corner Bryan Scott made a great play to pick it. The Bills drove the length of the field and nailed a field goal to cut the lead to 11 at the half.

The Bills got the ball first in the second half, but the Patriots defense held them to a three-and-out and the Pats had the ball in great field position at their own 43 yard line. However, on the first play, Chad Ochocinco ran a lazy route and was undercut by Leodis McKelvin for the second pick. Buffalo drove for a touchdown and the lead was down to 4 points. 

A few drives later, the Patriots were closing in on a game-clinching score (would have made it a 14 point game) when Brady threw to a covered Rob Gronkowski and it was picked again. Brady had no business throwing this one, it was second-and-two, so a throw-away or dump off was the correct play with the primary receiver covered. Two plays (and two huge penalties) later the Bill scored a game-tying touchdown, knotting it at 24 with 10:36 left in the game.

Even with all that, the game was still winnable, until... on the next play from scrimmage, Brady's throw was tipped by a defensive lineman and run back for a touchdown -- 31-24 Bills. Not Brady's fault, more of a fluke. But now playing catch up, the Patriots took 7:00 to score a touchdown to tie the game again. However, with the game tied and only 3:30 left on the clock, the Bills ran it down and kicked a field goal to win as time expired.

There are your 350 words on what Brady did wrong. Here are a few for Chad Ochocinco. His lazy in-cut let up an interception, one that should only partially be blamed on Brady. And his drop of an easy -- and I mean really easy -- touchdown with 8:18 left in the game forced two fourth-down conversions and ate up almost 5:00 of additional time. Ochocinco ran the right route, he was in the correct position, and all he had to do was catch it. And if he made that catch, the Patriots would have had time to come back for a tying (or perhaps winning) score at the end. But his drop let Buffalo run out the clock.

And a little slice of blame for offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien:
  • Danny Woodhead should not run out of running formations, he is more effective out of the shotgun.
  • Every time Brady moves the running back from left-to-right or right-to-left, it's a pass play. If I figured that out, trust me, the opposing defenses know it, too.
  • Your wide receivers caught 3 passes for 33 yards (0 for 0 by Deion Branch); so I'd suggest giving Matthew Slater a try before you get your tight ends and Wes Welker killed.
  • A healthy 4.2 yards per rush yesterday, but only 26 running plays and 45 passing plays... ever hear of using up some clock once you have a lead?
  • Average yards per rush by your running backs this year: BenJarvus Green-Ellis = 3.6, Danny Woodhead = 4.3, Stevan Ridley = 5.9. I'm no math wiz, but Ridley should start, and you should ride him as far as he takes you. He appears to know the pass protections well enough, so why was he riding the pine most of the game?
And the tiniest slice of blame for a defense that forced three three-and-outs in the last 30 minutes. They just couldn't stop the Bills at the end of either half, which hurt a lot. But Kyle Arrington's two early interceptions set the Patriots up with the 21-0 lead. Add to that the Patriots offense turned the ball over on four of their last eight possessions, and this loss lands squarely on Brady and his mates.

Worst of the rest:
  • Devin McCourty isn't awful out there, but he needs to get in position to stop completions instead of making tackles.
  • Leigh Bodden has not regained his 2009 form. He looks like a statue in press coverage and a windmill in zone.
  • I didn't check the game film, but it appears the Patriots played with only one safety. Sergio Brown made a few plays, but Josh Barrett (#30) could have been in an Umpire's uniform for all the good he did you out there.
  • (Note on above point, why oh why did the Patriots release safety James Sanders? If they knew they might cut Brandon Meriweather, they should have kept Sanders around for depth.)
  • Brandon Spikes, stop standing around cheering your teammates and make a play.
  • The roughing the passer call on Kyle Love was BS.
  • Still not getting much pressure on the quarterback, but they have to straighten out the safety position before blitzing more.
  • Jermaine Cunningham, still lost 1+ year in -- could he be the Meriweather of linebackers?
The bright spots:
  • Four words... Wes Welker is amazing. 16 catches for 217 yards and 2 touchdowns (1 on fourth-and-goal). Thank you Miami for letting him go!
  • Defensive line played pretty well; most of Fred Jackson's yards came at the expense of the linebackers and safeties.
  • Andre Carter held up the edge well and blew up two plays before they got started.
  • Lack of offensive line depth didn't hurt any in this game: 0 sacks and only 4 quarterback hits on the day.
  • The aforementioned Ridley: 7 rushes for 6.3 yards a carry.

So where does that leave us? Well, 2-1 is worse than 3-0 but not exactly a disaster. The Patriots lost a game they should have won, and it doesn't get any easier from here -- Oakland and then the New York Jets. The best hope for this Sunday is the Patriots having some strange new defensive wrinkles for Oakland QB Jason Campbell. Last time he played New England he had 1 interception and 3 fumbles.

Statistical Oddity of the Week: The Patriots top three tacklers were all cornerbacks (McCourty 11, Bodden 7, Arrington 6).

Statistical Marvel of the Week: Wes Welker accounted for 14 first downs in the game. You read that right, 14.

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "If they knew Meriweather was on the outs, they should have kept Sanders around. All the new defensive linemen won't do much good if they can't cover receivers."

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS.  2-1!

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