There was a whole lot to like about Sunday's 52-28 win over the Buffalo Bills. There was also a whole lot to intensely dislike about Sunday's win. Here are a few of each.
WHAT I LIKED ABOUT SUNDAY'S GAME
Resiliency. There were times during this game where Buffalo was absolutely imposing their will on the Patriots. Nothing was working offensively, nothing was working defensively, and the Bills were dangerously close to blowing this one wide open. In spite of it all, though, the Patriots hung in there, stuck to the gameplan, and bounced right back in it. Wins like this one are great measures of mental toughness and confidence in the team. You obviously never want to get into a hole, but knowing that the Patriots are capable of battling back, especially in a hostile environment, is reassuring.
The Running Game. Once again, the Patriots ran the ball superbly. A ton of credit goes to the offensive line, who had an absolutely stellar day, but the reality is that Stevan Ridley and Brandon Bolden ran with authority and conviction. Both backs found holes, extended plays, broke tackles, made defenders miss, and found the end zone. And this was all against a Bills defensive front that has been lauded by everyone as the best in the league.
Donald Thomas. I really should put the entire offensive line here instead of just Thomas, but I wanted to give the man special credit as he was filling in for Logan Mankins and had an absolutely phenomenal day. The Patriots ran left, behind Thomas, on the vast majority of their rushing plays, and more often than not there was a massive hole for the back to explode through. Thomas, also dominated the 1-on-1 battles he won in pass protection, and is a starting-caliber lineman that we are very fortunate to have on this team. Logan Mankins is probably the toughest man currently alive, so odds are his hip injury is serious enough to keep him out for a while. Luckily, we have a more than reliable backup in place, and while Thomas is no Mankins, he allows the O line to maintain that sense of cohesiveness that is absolutely crucial for keeping Tommy B upright.
Run defense. Even though they were both banged up, Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller are two very dangerous backs. You wouldn't have thought so yesterday, though. It was good to see the front seven bounce back after getting gashed by Ray Rice last week. Both backs gave up fumbles on crucial drives after getting lit up by Brandon Spikes, and neither could really get going. When Buffalo is passing well, as they were for much of this game, to consistently shut down the run is a big plus.
Big hits. This defense may not quite be where they need to be yet, but dammit can they bring the pain. Between Brandon Spikes, Vince Wilfork, Pat Chung, and others, I'd like to think that this defense is slowly earning a reputation as a unit that is going to make you pay for every yard that you get. And while I'd like to be able to list "Shut Down Defense" as a talking point in the positives column, this D is still a work in progress. And if you're going to give up yards, you may as well put the hurt on players in the process. We may look back at the Spikes hit on Spiller at the goal line as the moment that saved this season, and the best part about it is that wasn't even the biggest hit of the game (how ya feelin', Donald Jones?).
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE ABOUT SUNDAY'S GAME
Slow start. While the Patriots looked downright clinical on their opening drive, after that they looked sluggish and unmotivated. Starting slow has been a theme for the Patriots so far this season, and if that trend continues there will definitely be games where the Patriots won't be able to work their way out of an early hole. This team has the talent and the offensive firepower to come out of the gate with their foot on the accelerator, and I see no reason why they should keep starting slow. It's a major issue and one that needs immediate attention.
Big plays. This is probably the biggest negative that I'm taking away from Sunday's game. If the Patriots had given up a big play here and there, I wouldn't be all that concerned. But this defense has given up at least two 20+ yard plays every game so far this year, which is absolutely unacceptable. When your defense is susceptible to the big play at any given moment, no lead is safe and the other team is always in it. Preventing the big play is priority #1 for this defense, especially with Peyton Manning coming to town this week. Manning is probably the only QB in NFL history who can be down 27 points with three minutes left to play and I'm still terrified that he's going to lead a comeback. My fears certainly won't be laid to rest if he is consistently able to pick us apart for 20 yards at a clip. Whether it's a scheme change, a personnel change, or what have you, this defense can't keep getting rocked for big yards.
Missed Opportunities. New England left a fair amount of points on the board in the first half to the tune of either missed field goals or dropped passes. Luckily, the Bills turned the ball over six times this past Sunday, which allowed the Patriots to capitalize later on. However, when you are given multiple opportunities to open the game up early, particularly when you are on the road, you have to take advantage of them. Other teams may not be as forgiving as Buffalo was. If New England had dropped this one, we could have pointed to any number of first half plays that the Pats could have capitalized on.
Coverage. There were several times on Sunday where Bills receivers were wide, wide open. I honestly don't know how coverage can be so bad that receivers were able to get as open as they did, but something needs to be done. On the plus side, receivers haven't been so completely wide open all season, so something in particular was up last week, but there's just no reason to leave players so open all over the field.If Ryan Fitzpatrick hadn't finally remembered that he was Ryan Fitzpatrick, we could all be singing a different tune right now. You can bet that Peyton Manning won't have trouble finding his receivers if they are as open as the Bills' were.