It doesn't have to be pretty to count. For the second straight week, the New England Patriots played a tough opponent without playing their best football, and came away with the victory. Tonight, the Patriots defeated their Buffalo Bills in a 20-13, grind-it-out contest. The game was marred by sloppy play from both sides and poor officiating. Nonetheless, the Patriots are happy to walk away with the win. Five things we learned from the game:
The refs stink.
Was this the biggest takeaway from the game? Yeah, probably. #Whistlegate became a thing during this one. With the Patriots up 10-3 in the third quarter, Tom Brady scrambled out of the pocket, ran towards the sideline, and flung the ball to Danny Amendola, who made a late break to get open. Amendola would catch the ball with dozens of yards of open space in front of him. He probably should have scored. The key phrasing: should have. The sideline judge blew an inadvertent whistle on the play, thanks in part to interference from Rex Ryan. It was a terrible play, and it led to a potential 14 point swing as the Bills would score a touchdown on their next drive. As bad as the call was, it was consistent with what we saw from the referees and Gene Steratore's crew all night. Constant stoppage. Missed calls. Poor explanations. Officiating has been poor throughout the 2015 NFL regular season. Tonight was certainly no exception.
The Patriots still have serious o-line problems.
From a Patriots' perspective, this was probably the biggest thing we learned. The team started with a line of Marcus Cannon, Josh Kline, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, and Cameron Fleming. Before the end of the first half, Sebastian Vollmer came on at right tackle and Bryan Stork came on at center. It did not help much. Marcus Cannon continued his struggles at left tackle, and it was a bit baffling to see the Patriots leave him there, especially with such a capable pro in Vollmer ready to make the switch. Tom Brady was harassed throughout the night - getting hit more than a dozen times. It did not help that the Patriots' line could not open any running lanes either. Overall, it was a night to forget for this unit. The offense, which was at the top of the league in 3rd down conversion rate before this one, converted on just 4 of 14 tries.
The defense can win the Patriots games.
This was definitely an ugly game, but the Patriots defense really stepped up tonight. They allowed just 13 points, and now have the league's best scoring defense at 18.2 PPG. LeSean McCoy was the only real factor for the Bills' tonight, as he was very active as a receiver. The Patriots mixed in a lot of zone against the pass while low on bodies at cornerback. Patrick Chung and Tavon Wilson often lined up in man near the line on receivers. The Patriots mixed in a fair amount of base, and there was very strong linebacker play from Jerod Mayo and Dont'a Hightower. On the edges, both Rob Ninkovich and Jabaal Sheard had fantastic games. All of the Patriots interior defensive linemen played well too. Sammy Watkins was limited to just a single catch while being blanketed by Malcolm Butler most of the night. Tyrod Taylor did not have a particularly good game, but the Patriots defense was more than up to the task of shutting down the Buffalo offense. They allowed just 3 of 15 third downs to be converted.
James White and Danny Amendola are more than fill-ins.
With Dion Lewis out or the year and Julian Edelman out for the foreseeable future, the Patriots needed other players to step up in their place. James White had a quiet first game filling in for Lewis, but made his presence known tonight. He had a 20-yard catch and run for a touchdown to close the first half and give the Patriots a 10-3 lead. He had a beautiful stiff-arm of a Buffalo defender on the play. He also punched in a six yard touchdown on the ground after a 41-yard catch and run by Danny Amendola in the second half. Speaking of Amendola, he was the Patriots' best offensive weapon in the game, picking up 117 yards on nine receptions. However, he did go down with a knee injury late in the game, and that will be a situation to monitor going forward.
The Patriots are still undefeated.
10-0. That's what counts. This game may have been ugly, but a win is a win. The Bills are a tough opponent, and Rex Ryan put together a fantastic game plan to slow down New England's offense. This was a tough game to win, the Patriots showed character, and they are one game closer to their ultimate goal of another championship.