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Patriots vs. Bills: Fan Notes from the Game

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Notes, musings, and observations from the New England Patriots' 20-13 victory over the Buffalo Bills.

Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Doing these Fan Notes on a Tuesday always throws me for a loop. Usually my process is to watch the game on Sunday, make my observations, walk away from the computer for a little while after the game is over, and then go back a little later to desperately try and make sense of my borderline certifiable rantings. But when the game doesn't end until close to midnight on a Monday evening, I have to get up for work the next day, and I'm still recovering from the weekend and the inevitable "I hate my life" ennui that Mondays always bring, it's hard to really get these done. So excuse me if I come across as even more of an idiot than normal this morning, as last night's game took a lot out of me.

You know what? Screw that. I'm not Peyton Manning. There are no excuses for poor performance. You either do your job or you shut up about it. The Patriots got it done against the Buffalo Bills last night to complete the season sweep and move to 10-0 on the year in a game that wasn't always pretty, but that doesn't matter. And if the Patriots can do it hobbled and bleary-eyed, so can I, dammit.

  • I know I say it every single time - but man do I love Jon Gruden. His first bit of analysis was comparing Russell Wilson to Tyrod Taylor and then spent most of the game virtually giggling at all those fun new blitz packages the Bills were dialing up. He's the man I want officiating my wedding should I ever get married; it will take some of the sting off.
  • I do wonder, though, if whoever is in charge of distracting Gruden with cartoons and bright colors before it's time for him to go to work tells him that one team is supposed to make him happier than the other one does. He was definitely Team Buffalo last night.
  • I know this wasn't New England's best game of the season - but from a defensive standpoint, they continue to amaze. They started the game by forcing a 3 and out after giving up nine yards on the initial first down run by maintaining edge discipline and running a quick twist blitz with Jordan Richards around the B gap to free up Easley. They seemed to be operating out of a weird 4-3/dime package hybrid that put safeties into the box as linebackers and utilized Patrick Chung as the nickle back.
  • I hate that I can no longer even think of the words "nickle back" without immediately hearing awful music in my head and picturing thirty-five year old men in black t-shirts with wolves on them rocking out. Screw you, Nickleback.
  • Speaking of Easley - Marcus Easley had absolutely no idea where he was after the hit he took on that first punt return. He got straight up Case Keenum'd. I know that look all too well; it happened to me right after I got tricked into going to see the new Dumb and Dumber movie.
  • What's the over/under on how much play the Patriots "Rex Ryan" call is going to get this week as a classless troll move? The NFL Network is already all over it.
  • To that point, it was silent as a tomb when the Pats were on offense; you could hear every cadence from Tommy B, and I may have even caught a belch or two from the offensive line. In fact, I think the only time I've ever heard the stadium quieter is when Patriots opponents are on offense.
  • I may as well talk about the offensive line now and get it out of the way. Just a historically bad performance from the line last night, when the starters were supposed to be healthy and we were supposed to see some kind of upswing in consistency. False starts. Holding penalties. The inexplicable refusal to swap out bookend tackles as Cameron Fleming found himself completely outmatched all night. 15 hits on Brady, to the point where he started feeling phantom pressure. Just an ugly night all around. Jon Gruden mentioned several times that he has no idea who's coming and who's going when it comes to this line. And while you can apply that statement to pretty much everything Gruden sees, he wasn't wrong there.
  • The good news is that, should the Patriots actually go a week without losing someone, the best rotation of linemen is now healthy and should have a few weeks to play together. The bad news is that you now have to question how much of the Patriots' success these first ten weeks hinged on the quick release as opposed to effective protection.
  • Credit to Rex Ryan and the Bills, though; this is what always happens against a Rex-led defense, and Ryan has historically been able to confuse Tommy B like me on a remedial math test. So while there is for sure cause for concern, I think that this is also one of those things where you're just going to have to chalk it up to the way of the NFL. You never want to play the Giants or Ravens in the playoffs, Peyton Manning's injuries are going to suddenly be revealed after he plays poorly, and Rex Ryan is always going to empty the playbook when he plays the Pats.
  • What is concerning, though, and I don't know if there's really a solution based on the current roster, is how much defenses can key in on Gronk now that he's the last legitimate threat the Patriots have. He was held to two receptions for 37 yards last night, mainly because he was heavily bracketed in Under Zone, which took away Brady's first read, which made him hold onto the ball longer, which in turn led to a lot of incompletions. Here's hoping Edelman is ready for the playoffs and Amendola isn't broken.
  • Good thing Logan Mankins isn't on the team anymore; Nigel Bradham gave Tommy B a semi-cheap shot on the pick that was called back due to offsetting penalties. If Mankins was still there, Bradham would be waking up this morning naked and face down on a carton of expired milk behind an I-95 truck stop with zero memory of the last 12 hours and a long, jagged scar right over his kidney.
  • Jonathan Freeny subbed in for Mayo on Buffalo's second drive and got absolutely gashed on run blocks. Mayo comes in and looks great. Freeny gets the bulk of the snaps for the game. Is there something I'm missing here?
  • Watching Scott Chandler stop and try and switch directions after a catch is the exact same motion a cartoon character makes when he overshoots a turn.
  • When LeGarrette Blount is getting absolutely nowhere early - which is about half the time - I always wonder why they never bother to try out a different back.
  • Really, ESPN? Three seconds left in the quarter after a Patriots punt and you couldn't let the Bills just run a play before going to commercial? You had to go punt/commercial/play/commercial there?
  • Either stadium security did a masterful job of confiscating the hundreds of "ESPN Lies" signs that fans were sporting all over the Gillette parking lot last night, or a tremendous amount of credit is due to the camera crew for avoiding them all with their sideline shots. Either way, somebody definitely earned his paycheck last night.
  • I also heard that, during the postgame, ESPN had stadium security usher all fans immediately out the doors instead of allowing them to hang out and watch the postgame. Probably a smart move at the end of the day, but also pretty weak if you ask me. You want to spend nine months reporting false information and raking Tom Brady over the coals, that's fine - I know you have to get ratings at all costs as your writers and readers and viewers leave your network in droves and you manufacture the narratives that are going to keep you relevant. I honestly get that. I don't like it, but I get it; you are no longer necessary in 2015, so you do what you have to do to stay afloat. Kind of hard to get mad at that. But at least allow for the well-deserved blowback from those who aren't buying it. I mean that would be good ratings too, wouldn't it?
  • How is that no-turn, both hands up breakup by Pat Chung not DPI, do you ask? Apparently if the ball hits the defender before the receiver goes for it, then it's a no-call. Because that makes all the sense in the world.
  • Why are the remaking Point Break? And why are you all going to see it?
  • I don't want any one of you to think that that "Mobile Strike: At Home with the Gronkowskis" commercial started out as a commercial for Mobile Strike in any way. Even money says that they just set up a bunch of cameras, got the Gronks together, let them do their thing for a morning, and sold the ad to whatever company made the most sense. That 100% happens at their house every single day in some capacity.
  • Absolutely zero run game from New England last night, especially early on. I think a big part of that was the absolutely zero offensive line that came with it.
  • I also wonder why James White only received four touches, especially when two of those touches went for scores and another one was a pretty nice looking draw play on 3rd and long. The coaches spend both offseasons effusively praising this guy, the offense is decimated by is the time! Are they saving him for the playoffs? Is there some kind of secret Annexation of Puerto Rico James White package that they're busting out when it matters most?
  • James White's TD reception was the kind of Tommy B presnap reads that we've come to expect from him. Buffalo showed a weakside blitz, but were actually going to drop and overload that side in coverage as slot corner Nickell Robey came in on a strong side blitz. Brady saw it all the way, also noticing that Corey Graham wasn't in position to take away the hot read. So he made the call at the line, hit White coming out of the flat, and a broken tackle later he was in the end zone.
  • My favorite part of the play, though? Jon Gruden's commentary on literally back-to-back plays. Gruden on 2nd and 10: "look at all these blitzes the Bills are dialing up. Rex Ryan needs to keep this heat coming, Mike." Gruden on the next snap: "The one time you blitz Tom Brady, he burns you." Never change, Jon. Never change.
  • Everything about that drive - which was their best of the game - was great; however, hands down the play of the game was the pass breakup by Devin McCourty that kept LeSean McCoy out of the end zone. Wheel and circle routes from receiving backs have plagued the Patriots for multiple seasons now, and McCoy was wide open in the end zone (and to be honest, probably should have had this). Perfect angle, perfect timing, and what easily could have been 10-3 Buffalo at the half instead was 10-3 New England lead that gave them back-to-back possessions to close and open the half. That play changed the complexion of the entire game.
  • I'm actually amazed that the Patriots came out throwing to close out the 2nd quarter. When absolutely nothing is working, you'd figure that's a prime opportunity to just run it out. Glad I'm not the one calling the shots.
  • When the Bills were successful, it wasn't to difficult to see what was working: a strong first down run by McCoy and an edge breakdown from New England that allowed Taylor to roll out. Almost every time they were able to set up a down and longer than seven or so, the New England defense was very effective.
  • Heyyy Aaron Dobson made one catch and then got hurt before going straight to IR! What year is this, 2013? 2014? 2015? The correct answer is all three!
  • I'm starting to wonder whether or not that's actually a decent way to go when it comes to being an NFL player. Show a lot of promise, do enough to make the team, get hurt every season and collect a paycheck while not getting your clock cleaned, and just do that for as long as you can until you get cut. If you're stingy enough, you can have a nice little nest egg and set yourself up for life with zero wear and tear on the body.
  • The play that's getting the most attention this morning is, obviously, the inadvertent whistle on 3rd down that negated what could have been a huge Brady-to-Amendola gain. The refs made a mistake there, and an inexplicable one, and everyone is right to be grumbling about it. But what does everyone expect? Competent reffing? Based on what? What's that Einstein quote about the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results? The refs stink, we all know it, so why keep harping on it?
  • I'm on the record numerous times as saying you'll find no bigger hypocrite than the sports fan, and I stand by that statement steadfastly. And you'll never see that sports fan hypocrisy on greater display than when the refs get involved in a game in any capacity. It's absolutely hysterical to watch, and to catch myself doing it, when the calls go your way and you tell yourself "well, lousy officiating this year, it's good to get a few for a change." And then when the flags go the other way, of course, the refs are out to get you and the whole thing is corrupt. It especially noticeable with the Patriots since this team is so universally reviled - holy Tebow do I love how much people hate us - and consistently in the spotlight; the Pats are either the NFL darlings and get all the calls because of their pretty boy, let's-all--change-the-rules-for-me-because-I-whine-and-complain quarterback, or the NFL is purposefully trying to even out the games by having the refs call an unfair game against New England. News flash to everyone who watches the NFL: we're all idiots. We're all clueless. We're all incredibly, incredibly biased and, for the most part, only see and believe what we want to see and believe. And what's wrong with that?
  • Last thing I'll say about the inadvertent whistle: people are saying it would have gone for a touchdown. And who knows, it might have. But Ronald Darby was maybe three feet away from Amendola when he made that catch, and he stopped running after the whistle. So to act like the NFL 100% robbed the Patriots of six point is a little far-fetched. Again, he might have broken free and scored there; there was a ton of real estate in front of him. But pump the brakes on a surefire TD.
  • Nice try, Bill. That was the most animated I have ever seen Bill Belichick trying to quiet the fans. I could literally watch this all day.
  • And like two waves from Tommy B and it's silence. That's awesome.
  • That the Patriots didn't designate a player to spy McCoy at all times is inexplicable.
  • Or maybe they did assign a player to McCoy, and that player's last name just happened to rhyme with "weenie." That would explain some of those checkdown 12 yard gains.
  • Gostkowski missed FG to end the streak, Bills scoring drive, Pats three and out. No thanks.
  • If ever there was to be a must-have third quarter QB sack, it was Chandler Jones on Tyrod Taylor after the Pats couldn't answer Buffalo's scoring drive. I know it was a designed run play and thus doesn't count on the stat sheet, but it was a sack in my book and the play that almost turned the course of the game.
  • What exactly is the end-game for the folks who opt to mess with Sasquatch? What do they think is going to happen? Pranking 101: prey on the weak. On those who can't fight back. Don't mess with 8 foot tall ape men. You deserve what you get.
  • Every time Buffalo started to take back some momentum, they did it by leaning heavily on McCoy against a Patriots defense that saw the field a lot because the Patriots just couldn't crack Rex Ryan's defensive code. A few first downs here and there would have helped a ton, but you really have to give credit where credit is due here. What a masterful defensive gameplan by Ryan, as usual.
  • And some of Shady's jukes last night were absolutely incredible. The man can stop on a dime and pull some Matrix stuff to get out of the way. Kind of like Dion Lewis.
  • *Sob*
  • Yeah, Brady took a ton of hits last night - but on the plus side, the bulk of those hits didn't look too bad. The few hits that were bad, were big. I bet he's sore today.
  • Tommy B's final stat line was 20 of 39 for 277 yards with a TD and a pick. I'd say that of his 19 incompletions, maybe 10 of them were on purpose,  balls thrown right into the ground or out of bounds as the pressure came in.
  • Oh, Danny Amendola. You beautiful, underrated bastard. Nobody ever talks about you, you lose credit and glory to better looking, more effective people, and there are plenty of naysayers out there, but at the end of the day you always deliver when it matters most. Just like vanilla ice cream.
  • And like vanilla ice cream, you may never get the recognition you deserve, as a non-contact knee injury sustained while waving off a punt kept him out of the game and seems worthy of an MRI this morning. If he's out, that leaves three healthy receivers on the roster: LaFell, Chris Harper, and Matthew Slater. 2013 was great, football gods, but I don't want to go through it again. Enough.
  • It's not like the Patriots can just sign somebody either; receiver isn't really a position where you can simply walk into the locker room and pick up the playbook, especially in an offense as complex as New England's.
  • Am I really hearing people talking about bringing back Randy Moss?
  • On the plus side, a lot of young guys are getting experience, and so when everyone comes back healthy for the playoffs there will be a ton of dangerous weapons, right? RIGHT? Please?
  • Sammy Watkins owned Darrelle Revis a few weeks ago. OWNED him. You can only really see it by going back to game tape, but Watkins got the better of Revis all day long. Malcolm Butler held Watkins to zero catches through three quarters last night, and to three all night, all of which came in garbage time. Man have New England's stingy ways come back to bite them in the ass again. They really should have emptied their bank account to keep Revis.
  • I don't have a million dollar idea; I have a billion dollar idea for anyone with the wherewithal to figure out how to do it: find a way to apply the fantasy football concept to commercial breaks and referee huddles. Maybe draft certain refs and commercials at the beginning of the year and you get points for on-air plays, confusion, incorrect calls, couples kissing after a diamond exchange, flags getting picked up, refs pointing the wrong way, trucks barreling over the desert, commercial/play/commercial sandwiches, referee mic malfunctions, and extra long breaks?  I don't know. But if you can figure out a way to make the 4/5ths of the time we spend during a football game as fun as the 11 minutes (actual number there, not kidding) that the ball is actually in play, there's a real mint to be made.
  • Seriously. In a 3 hour game, the ball is actually only in play for 11 minutes. That's insane.
  • When injuries are piling up league-wide the way they are this season, that goes beyond your run-of-the-mill bad luck and unfortunate accidents. There has to be something systemic going on here and it should be addressed.
  • What was up with that awful camera angle towards the end of the third quarter in which both lines of scrimmage disappeared and we couldn't see anything in the secondary? Camera malfunction? Patriots cheating again?
  • Poor Leodis McKelvin. That man just can't catch a break in Foxboro. If your house gets vandalized again, you can crash on my couch for a few days. It's the least I could do.
  • Annabelle from IBM who was too sick for a birthday cake last year might be one of the cutest kids I have ever seen. I realize that as a male in 2015 I'm not allowed to compliment a child anymore without everyone immediately assuming the worst, but I don't care, she's adorable.
  • Did anybody else from New England take a field trip to Old Sturbridge Village as a kid? That lead-in really brought back some memories. I remember once I went there and ended up eating some horse feed on a dare and spent the rest of the trip on the bus curled up in a ball - but I got some delicious rock candy at the end, so it kind of evened out.
  • No clue what Tommy B was thinking on that pick, forcing a ball into double coverage to a practice squad receiver. Makes zero sense. That play, at that point in the game, could have been three runs and a punt that knocked two minutes off the clock and pinned the Bills deep down two scores. Harper wasn't even close to open. He hasn't earned that throw yet. Not even close.
  • I will say, though - phenomenal catch by Harper on a 3rd down conversion that ended up getting negated by a holding penalty. So reason for optimism.
  • MONSTER stuff on 3rd and short as the clock started to become a factor in the 4th. Buffalo tried a stretch run, New England sniffed it out, and dropped the RB for a loss to force the punt. That was likely four down territory had they not been able to make the backfield stop.
  • I don't know what the difference is between 1st quarter Blount and last quarter Blount, but I have some analysis I'd like to pass along to him: whatever you're doing in the 4th quarter, just do that for the whole game.
  • One last message to the refs: you can't say "let's just call it a touchdown so we can review it later." That's not how it works. You call the play as you see it on the field. If it's a TD, OK, but if it isn't, then don't err on the side of replay.
  • Sammy Watkins picked one helluva time to make his first catch of the night. What a grab. I've been saying it forever now and it's worth repeating here: great receivers deserve great QBs, and it's disheartening when talent gets wasted like that.
  • That said: man up. Sammy. Quit whining about your touches. That's football.
  • Gotta love how Talyor got hurt before he started making his only truly beautiful throw of the game, a downfield strike that hit Chris Hogan right in the hands between two defenders. Maybe the Patriots popped something back in.
  • I kind of hate myself for being so excited for Creed. Rocky is my favorite movie of all time, and so you figure I'd want to let the franchise rest in peace. But here I find myself.
  • Give it hell, Hudson Solder. We're all pulling for you harder than you will ever know.
  • How many times can you almost sack a quarterback? The number of times the Patriots had Taylor dead to rights only for him to scramble and extend the play had me standing and sitting like Wayne and Garth trying to figure out how to get Cassandra back. I guarantee anyone watching me through the window (hope you enjoyed the show, you perverts) thought I really, really had to sneeze but couldn't quite get over the hump based on the faces I was making.
  • Consultant referee Gerry Austin, where have you been all my life? He looks exactly like you'd expect him to, and there is no doubt in my mind that he spends most of his days on his front porch telling all these damn kids to get off his property.
  • People are up in arms about why Sammy Watkins was called down in-bounds to close out the game when he slid, untouched, to the sideline with two seconds left to give Buffalo one last shot at a Hail Mary. That was actually the right call; the NFL rule is that a player has to be moving forward out of bounds in order for the clock to stop. Watkins was clearly going backwards and slid out, which dictates for the clock to keep running. Now I have no clue why that is and feel like out of bounds should be out of bounds, but like many NFL rules, logic and common sense aren't priorities.
  • Since the Rob Ryan "who farted?" face is on indefinite fat leave, we're going to have to subsist on angry sideline Rex Ryan. That Vine is laugh out loud funny.
  • Phew. I hate Monday Night Football. Very glad I won't be having any more Tuesdays like this one until next year.
  • 10-0. Double digit wins for the 13th straight year, which is good for 2nd longest streak in NFL history. The 49ers, who won 10+ for 16 years between 1983 and 1998 to set the record.

A short week, and the final primetime game of the regular season, awaits. Brock is not Peyton, but Denver is still no joke, and are tough at home, and with this offensive line, we need a good week of practice and some good news from the medical staff on the status of these receivers. Now if you'll excuse me, I really need a nap.