I know what everyone is thinking and I'll let you know that I was thinking it, too.
I broke my standard rituals for game day and I accept all blame for whatever happened yesterday. I didn't go to Professor Thom's to watch the game, I didn't order a giant platter of their nachos, I didn't drink pitchers of whatever was on tap. I didn't wear my Wes Welker jersey- what else was I supposed to do?
I wore my Pats Pulpit t-shirt underneath my Ty Law jersey from a decade ago to the Red Sox-Yankees game (that I knew they were destined to lose. No way they pull off a four game sweep). I had bottled beer and I had Brother Jimmy's BBQ with fresh squeezed lemonade.
And Stevan Ridley wore his sneakers to the ice rink, his arms flailing as he tried to gain traction, and the ball fell free, returned for a touchdown.
And that's my fault, and that will be my cross to bear for the rest of the season- no one else's.
When Ridley fumbled and the Twittersphere exploded, I was calm. It was the first points allowed on the season and the defense had only allowed 56 yards on 5 drives- they were playing lights out. I shook my head, but the game was never in question. The Patriots got right back on the horse and eventual drove to a 17-7 lead.
That's when Zach Sudfeld slipped, like Ridley, and he bobbled the ball into the arms of the Buffalo defender. Next play, the Bills went all in and the rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel threw a beautiful pass to a wide open rookie wide receiver Robert Woods (who I absolutely adored during the draft process). Mistakes add up and it looked like the math was trending against the Patriots. Still, the Bills had yet to manufacture an extended drive and the defense had been extremely solid all day.
Then the Bills pulled the Belichick Special as they were able to receive the kick after halftime and pull off two consecutive scoring drives, completely flipping the momentum of the game and the script of the story. The Bills were taking advantage of the turnovers on defense. The Bills were disrupting the pocket. The Bills freaking deferred the kickoff to start the game.
We should have known. The Bills came ready to play and they completely ran over the Patr-oh. Wait.
No. Let's change that.
Ridley will never fumble like that again. Tom Brady will never fumble on the goal line like that again. The Patriots will never start within their own red zone on four straight drives, including once on their 3 yard line, after such a monumental momentum shift like that again. And the Patriots still won.
They should be ready for it, but games won't happen like that for the rest of the season.
The game was full of extraordinary circumstances that the Bills entirely deserve credit for forcing and/or capitalizing on. But this won't happen every week to these New England Patriots. Bill Belichick won't allow it. Tom Brady and Logan Mankins won't allow it. Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, and Devin McCourty won't allow it. The youth that permeates throughout this roster will have learned and they will have adapted and they will get this team "back on track" (as much as a team that pulled off an early divisional win will need).
And it's that youth that will remain pivotal as the Patriots continue their season of seasons against the odds.
When the third year Ridley falters and the fourth year LeGarrette Blount does little, the third year Shane Vereen explodes with a career day and could possibly challenge Ridley for the outright starting role- giving the Patriots a glut of three NFL starters under the age of 26 at the position. Vereen is the best pass blocker, best receiver, and now he can challenge for a top two spot on pure running ability- who wouldn't want him coming out of the backfield?
When the newly signed Danny Amendola, in his sixth season, gets jeered in the first half for being "soft" with a groin injury and then comes back out in the second half for 7 completions on 8 attempts for 64 yards, most on circus catches that Wes Welker could only dream of reaching, you know that the heart of Amendola will capture Patriots fans across the nation. His rapport with Brady will grow and he'll do anything to help this franchise.
Then there's the entirely undervalued fifth year Julian Edelman who, if healthy, could be a fantastic slot receiver for a whole season. Edelman absolutely stepped up to the plate as the veteran depth and was Brady's go-to in the red zone, with Edelman using his quickness to break free. Add in his value on special teams and punt returns? Sign him up for a long term contract with Sebastian Vollmer-esque health escalators to account for injuries.
Behind them? Well, it seems there was a lot of criticism for our rookies. Second round pick Aaron Dobson didn't play, which means that he's a colossal bust. Let's compare him to other top 3 round draft picks of this year:
Tavon Austin, 8th overall, 6 rec, 41 yards
DeAndre Hopkins, 27th overall, Playing Tonight
Cordarrelle Patterson, 29th overall, 1 rec, 10 yards
Justin Hunter, 34th overall, DNP
Robert Woods, 41st overall, 1 rec, 18 yards, 1 TD
Aaron Dobson, 59th overall, DNP
Terrance Williams, 74th overall, 2 rec, 32 yards
Keenan Allen, 76th overall, Playing Tonight
Marquise Goodwin, 78th overall, 1 rec, 0 yards, 1 fumble lost
Markus Wheaton, 79th overall, 0 rec, 0 yards
Stedman Bailey, 92nd overall, 0 rec, 0 yards
Average: 1.6 recs, 12 yards
By sitting on the bench, Dobson's not too far behind. And you know what else you'll notice? Kenbrell Thompkins and his 4 receptions for 42 yards outproduced all of them.
Sure, he wasn't aggressive to the ball and sure he missed a few receptions on his "14 attempts", but let's be serious- that number doesn't tell the full story. At least four of those attempts were uncatchable and two additional attempts Thompkins caught on the sideline, but the defender pushed him out before he could land. There was definitely a disconnect on back shoulder throw, but in reality, Thompkins numbers don't do his play on the field any justice. He played every single snap except for the goal line and the field goal set-up snaps. The undrafted rookie.
Thompkins just sunk his teeth into some pretty meaty material- let's watch him develop this season. Brandon Lloyd went 5 rec/69 yards in his debut as a veteran last season. Thompkins can still grow up.
(Note: speaking of uncatchable, the two throws to Josh Boyce were both uncatchable as well)
Oh, and New England managed to win without any production from their tight ends, the cornerstone of the offense. Tight End/Fullback hybrid Michael Hoomanawanui caught one pass for five yards. That's the entire contribution (other than Sudfeld's slip and bobble).
So you're telling me that the Patriots have an extremely impressive stable of running backs, have some proven success with their veteran wide receivers, with additional promise in their rookies, and they haven't even tapped into their tight end position? And Rob Gronkowski could return by Week 3?!
Maybe we should be singing a different tune. The Patriots offense is full of promise. The defense was stellar, allowing only one drive over 37 yards and allowing only 14 points and 286 yards on the day. Special teams was solid, with the kicking game coming through, Ryan Allen with an up-and-down, yet promising day of punting, Edelman with a star day at punt returns, and LeGarrette Blount...uh...didn't fumble? Wasn't Matthew Slater? Not sure about that, but the overall unit graded as positive.
So let's give the team another chance to impress us. This team showed plenty to give us some hope moving forward and you know that the success will continue to show stronger as the season wears on. They fought through some pretty extreme circumstances to come home with a win into a short week, which is what matters the most. Brady won't be fumbling on the one yard line again.
And I need to find another jersey to wear.