Originally written on New England Sports React  |  Last updated 11/13/14

To say that Sunday’s contest against the Buffalo Bills was an offensive onslaught for the New England Patriots would be quite the understatement. Well, at least in the second half, anyways. The Pats put up 45 points in the second half, scoring touchdowns on six of their eight possessions while holding the Bills to two scores en route to a 52-28 victory at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The 52-point total was the most they had put up against Buffalo (in Buffalo) since 2007, when they managed to score 54. They could have put up even more points were it not for a dropped touchdown by Rob Gronkowski and two missed field goals by Stephen Gostkowski along with fumbles by Wes Welker and Gronk. Missed opportunities was a theme of the game early on, with the Pats trailing 14-7 at the half, but it was the team’s opportunistic defense which helped keep it that close. With the Bills inside the Pats 10 and poised to go up two scores, Spikes knocked the ball from Spiller’s hands about a yard out of the endzone with Vince Wilfork recovering for the turnover. It was yet another forced fumble for Spikes, who caused another in the second half and has attacked ball carriers with more ferocity and physicality this season. The fumble was also one of six turnovers for the Pats defense, who added four interceptions as well. Two of the INTs came from Devin McCourty, who showed more consistency in coverage in shutting down Stevie Johnson. He held the Bills’ number-one receiver to just three catches for 25 yards, and showed flashes of the play that excited Pats fans in 2010.

Despite the solid play from McCourty, the defense still got torched for 438 total yards, 350 of which came through the air. That certainly isn’t a promising number, especially with a match-up against future hall-of-famer Peyton Manning looming. If the Pats allowed almost 400 yards and four touchdowns to Ryan Fitzpatrick, it’s frightening to think what a quarterback of Manning’s stature could do to the group. Luckily, they were bailed out this week by their bend-don’t-break defense, but what if they hadn’t been? It’s certainly possible that Buffalo could’ve put up close to 40 points or more on the Pats, something that would’ve made this game much closer than it had to be. Even allowing the 28 points that they did let the game become closer than it needed to be, with a 35-40 point victory easily within the realm of possibility. The blame easily falls on the secondary, specifically the safety position, for the amount of points the Bills scored. Safety Patrick Chung was the central culprit, biting on play fakes, being late coming over for help, and taking bad angles on ball carriers throughout the game. Steven Gregory and Tavon Wilson didn’t do much better (though Wilson had an interception), their collective performance allowing tight end Scott Chandler to catch two touchdowns and multiple balls in the middle of the field. They’ll need to patch up their communication for this weekend’s contest with the Broncos, or Peyton Manning will have a field day with them.

Besides the safeties, the linebacking core also did a poor job in pass coverage. They had trouble staying with their guys, and most of the time left receivers wide open with a couple yards to spare. Like the safeties, they’ll need to improve on their mistakes if they are to have any chances of containing Peyton Manning. Besides that, the Pats LBs complimented the front seven very nicely, helping to effectively set the edge and force running backs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller towards the teeth of the defense. The ‘D’-line got multiple stops behind the line on run plays, and added three sacks to the stat sheet as well. Vince Wilfork, after being held quiet against the Ravens, had a terrific game with a tipped pass that went for an interception, a fumble recovery, and numerous tackles including a bone-crushing spear of Donald Jones on a screen the defensive tackle had sniffed out. This group will need to continue to try to generate pressure this weekend against Manning, whether it be on blitzes or simple four-man rushes, to bail the secondary out in coverage. Sacking him a couple of times or forcing him into bad throws would be huge for this group.

Accompanying the turnovers which may have bailed this team out of a loss was the dominance of the offensive group. Balanced and looking more lethal than they have all season, the Patriots threw for 330 yards and ran for 243 against a Bills defense that was supposed to be feared for the presences of Marcell Dareus and Mario Williams on their defensive line. Stevan Ridley rushed for 106 yards and two touchdowns while Brandon Bolden ran for 137 and a touchdown, taking advantage of a very impressive performance by the offensive line despite the absence of veteran Logan Mankins. The group allowed the Bills’ high-priced pass rushers to sack Brady just once. The QB and his line devised the plan to run the ball more when the Bills showed looks with seven defensive backs on the field, choosing to challenge them to stop the run rather than read the QB. With more time to throw due to the confusion of the Bills, not knowing whether to play pas coverage or the run, Brady made many fine throws on the day, including numerous floaters that beat man coverage due to their nearly perfect placement. One found the outstretched hands of Brandon Lloyd for his first touchdown in a Pats uniform, a diving catch that surely had some Pats fans excited. Despite the touchdown, however, his communication with Brady seems to still be slightly off, especially on deep comeback routes and button hooks; hopefully time will help them get on the same page. Even though they had fumbles, Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski had solid days, each with over 100-yards receiving. They look to continue to be a very important part of this offense until Aaron Hernandez returns.

Even with holes in the secondary and communication issues aplenty, the highly-touted matchup against the Broncos should still prove to be a close game. Peyton Manning and Tom Brady will get their yards, no matter if they turn the ball over or get stopped a couple of times. The key will be how long each quarterback has the ball for, and it’s likely that whichever one has it the longest will win. This leaves the game in the hands of the running backs, whose performances will dictate the outcome of the game. The responsibility of the quality of their performances lies with the offensive line, who will need to drive Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller away from the Pats rushers as well as keep them away from Brady. Coming off of their impressive victory over the Bills, I feel that the Pats have the confidence to execute well against the Broncos and pick up a victory at home. Just as Manning will be back, so will the Patriots dominance of him. Well, at least as far as win-loss record is concerned.

-Ryan Hartley

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