Friggin' WOW!! That's all I have to say. I'm STILL wrapped up in this emotionally. That was both exhausting and exciting to watch. From my experience at Gillette Stadium (which I'll write about later) to the crowd around me, it was just incredible. You've all written some excellent FanPosts, so I won't repeat much of what you said, but simply add a few thoughts of my own from my perch in Section 332, Row 6, Seat 12.
Overall, I thought the Patriots came out rusty, particularly Tom Brady. He rocketed more than a few passes too far ahead of some guys and to far behind others. When he got his rhythm about the third quarter, things settled in and the game was less frenetic for NE. Buffalo worked hard to pressure Brady (the Giants' blueprint), but he was only sacked once for 10 yards while Edwards was brought down four times - twice by Tully Banta-Cain and once each by Adalius Thomas and Derrick Burgess. Who says we can't bring the pressure? In the end, it was big plays, patience, and fundamentals that won this game.
Buffalo would take the lead early and continue to press the Patriots until the last two minutes of the game. Terrell Owens was essentially blanketed by coverage and rendered ineffective, coming up with two receptions for 46 yards and no TD's. However, Bills' QB Trent Edwards made good use of RB Fred Jackson who went 5 for 83 and one TD. Rookie Bills' TE Shawn Nelson accounted for a TD as well. Oh, let's not forget DE Aaron Schobel's Tom Brady interception and 26 yard run for a pick six. Schobel has freakishly long arms that look like they came out of nowhere to pull down Brady's pass. He was within a few yards of Tom, so to pick a ball out of the air like that is quite a feat.
Early on, the Patriots stumbled defensively and had a tough time of it. I had a feeling they wouldn't use a 4-3 alignment that much because the Bills use the same defensive scheme, so Edwards would be familiar with it. The Bills were 1-6 last year against 3-4 teams, so there's your reason. I did, however, see a lot of loading the box which seemed to neutralize Buffalo's rushing attack - 90 yards total. However, it did leave NE vulnerable in the backfield. Where Edwards went 15/25, 212 yards, and two touchdowns. Ya gotta pick your battles.
I mentioned fundamentals early in this post. This game was a shining example of that, ESPECIALLY the forced fumble on Leodis McElvin's kick return. Hindsight is 20/20 and Leodis should've kneed the ball in the endzone for a touchback and a guaranteed 20, but he didn't and a Pierre Woods fumble was recovered by Stephen Gostkowski. Yes, you read that right - G Man was in the mix.
McDaniels, while being interviewed about all our team's new fumble drills, said that 40%, or so, of fumbles were caused by the other team going after it. In Denver last year you couldn't buy a turnover and there was a reason. We didn't work at it. On the final kickoff of the game you could see that those Patriots were coached at it. They went out and made a fumble. No luck there.
I believe this team has a lot to work on, but there is significant potential. A few random thoughts:
- Brandon Meriweather - If this game is any indication, the torch has been passed. He was a beast on the field, prowling, recognizing offensive looks, and making head's up plays. Welcome Rodney Jr.
- Offensive Line - Aaron Schobel was toying with the OL all night. We need to find a way to neutralize defensive ends. Luckily, Brady only went down once.
- Cornerbacks - Jonathan Wilhite did a nice job when called on. Leigh Bodden seemed to be in the mix as well as Shawn Springs. I don't think we have any shutdown guys, but this group will only get better. It's a significant upgrade over last year, IMO.
- Running Backs - We struggled to pick up yardage, but the Bills were doing a good job of clogging up the gaps. This was not on Laurence Maroney or Fred Taylor.
- Receiving Game - Brady was 39/53, 378 yards, and two touchdowns. Wes Welker quietly collected 12 for 93 and Randy Moss went 12 for 141. Kevin Faulk was 6 for 51.
- Benjamin Watson - The absolute STAR of this game. I had written in the past few days that I was curious to see if the Patriots would use their newly acquired tight ends for more receiving duties. I figured Chris Baker would be one of Brady's early looks, but I was half right - almost cut Ben Watson became the go to guy. He came up strong when he needed to. Congratulations Ben.