The New England Patriots are now in sole possession of first place in the AFC East following a 37-22 victory over the Buffalo Bills. Here are five things we learned from the big win:
The offense can still carry this team
In the first half, the Patriots offense was suspect, at best. Following a head injury suffered by Dan Connolly, the offensive line seemed to fall apart, and Tom Brady couldn't trust the protection. But when the Patriots came out in the 3rd quarter, everything changed. Brady was prolific, the offensive line held up in protection (Jordan Devey and Josh Kline each held their own against a ferocious Bills front). The Patriots also did a terrific job stretching the field. Tom Brady was throwing the deep ball with confidence, and it was his best game in that area all season. Brady finished with four touchdowns, two to Brandon LaFell, one to Tim Wright, and one to Brian Tyms. The Patriots defense was pretty solid today, but they did allow points. It's nice to know that the offense can back them up.
Rob Gronkowski is (really) back
Rob Gronkowski was removed from the injury report this week, and it looks like it was with good reason. He continues to look more an more like his old self. His third and long reception to help ice the game in the fourth quarter was one that showed his improved cutting ability. Gronkowski did have an injury scare, but looked fine upon his return. Tom Brady seemed particularly excited on a deep catch Gronk made down the sideline over a
Brian Tyms is a deep threat
Brian Tyms didn't play a whole lot in his debut with the Patriots, but he came up big. He had two targets, and both were deep throws. The first was overthrown, but the second was a beautiful contested touchdown grab in triple coverage in which he wrestled the ball away from a Bills defender. No, Tyms is no Randy Moss. But yes, that catch was very Randy Moss-esque (the Moss style celebration and #84 jersey helped here too). Even if Tyms is only a designated deep threat, his skillset is something the Patriots have lacked sorely in recent years. Brady needs someone he can trust to just go up and get the football, and perhaps Tyms is that player.
Mayo injury leaves the Patriots very thin at linebacker
Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo suffered what appeared to be a very serious knee injury in the second quarter of today's game. Mayo was carted off and did not return. We will all hope for the best, but if the injury does leave Mayo out for the year or extended time, the Patriots will be very thin at linebacker. Dont'a Hightower is recovering from a knee injury of his own. In his absence, the Patriots played Chris White and Deontae Skinner in expanded roles. Skinner did show up on a blitz with a sack of Kyle Orton.
Rob Ninkovich is still pretty good
The Patriots played a pretty solid game defensively considering their lack of depth along the front seven. Their inability to cover Scott Chandler was alarming. Perhaps Brandon Browner can help in that area. There were some general lapses in the secondary too. However, the defensive line won out today. Chandler Jones, Vince Wilfork, and Casey Walker all played well and won at the point of attack. Neither Fred Jackson or CJ Spiller could get anything going on the ground. The pass rush was relentless. But the star of the game defensively was Rob Ninkovich. Ninkovich has had a slow start to the season, but came alive today. He was crucial in setting the edge against the run, and abused Seantrel Henderson to the tune of three sacks. If the Patriots have Ninkovich back to his old self, their front seven will be able to better absorb their lack of depth.