“Ugly wins are people too!”
This was my mature, post-game response to the grumbling fanatics in my living room who were unhappy with the performance of the Patriots offense in Buffalo on Sunday. Fortunately, Jeff Howe of ‘The Athletic’ phrased it much better in a recent column:
17. There will surely be a narrative that the Patriots didn’t earn any style points in their victory against the Bills, but don’t buy into it. When a team is that dominant on defense and special teams, style points are sometimes mistaken for fantasy points. This was a good, solid win.
That narrative not only existed at my house, but it was spread through the airwaves, written down in ink and pretty much the accepted train of thought tweeted across the wilds of social media. As much as the Patriots are earning respect for making the defense great again, style points on offense still matter to the fans. And it’s completely understandable.
Tom Brady has been so good for so long, making diamonds out of dust and carrying us through the dry, bend-but-don’t-break years, that it’s easy to forget this dynasty started with defense. A solid, if unspectacular offense backed by hard-hitting, blanket-coverage that kept giving the ball back to Brady. I can’t say the Patriots have gone full circle, because TB12 is a far superior quarterback than he was back in 2001 and he will surely bounce back with a better showing - most likely as soon as this Sunday, on the road vs. Washington.
All but two of the NFL experts have put the Patriots at the top of the Power Rankings this week, with the Chiefs only a Gene Steratore index card behind. After the first quarter of the season, they are in a class by themselves. The competition isn’t likely to stiffen in Week 5 vs. the Redskins this week, no matter which of his three quarterbacks head coach Jay Gruden decides to start. At -15.5 it’s another big spread for the bettors, and once again I’ll take New England to win and cover on Sunday.
Around the AFC East:
New England (4-0) at Washington (0-4)
Buffalo (3-1) at Tennessee (2-2)
NY Jets (0-3) at Philadelphia (2-2)
Miami (0-4) - Bye Week
Kansas City (4-0) vs. Indianapolis (2-2)
Houston (2-2) vs. Atlanta (1-3)
Cleveland (2-2) at San Francisco (3-0)
Baltimore (2-2) at Pittsburgh (1-3)
Oakland (2-2) vs. Chicago (3-1)
Jacksonville (2-2) at Carolina (2-2)
LA Chargers (2-2) vs. Denver (0-4)
Cincinnati (0-4) vs. Arizona (0-3-1)
1st - Staff (AP Pro32).
1st - Lindsay Jones (The Athletic): Offensively, the Pats’ win over Buffalo wasn’t pretty. But we have no issue keeping the Pats here in the top spot, especially when so many other supposedly good teams couldn’t even manage to win ugly. We also think that with upcoming games against Washington, the Jets and Giants, there will be plenty of chances for Tom Brady and Co. to show off.
1st - Consensus (Bleacher Report): Sooner or later, a team was going to test the defending Super Bowl champions after three straight blowouts to open the season. The Patriots got that test Sunday against the Bills. Buffalo gave New England all it could handle, holding the Patriots to just 224 total yards—over 150 fewer than the Bills piled up. And yet, it was the Patriots who emerged with the win when the dust settled. It was just another example of what makes them so maddening for opponents. The Bills did just about everything right. But a blocked punt return for a touchdown and a late interception on a tipped ball were all it took for New England to hang on for the victory.
1st - Pete Prisco (CBS Sports): They got a scare against the Bills, but that defense is special. The secondary is the best in the NFL. They won’t face a challenge from the Redskins this week.
1st - NFL Nation (ESPN): Football Power Index (FPI) chance to make the playoffs: 99.7%. How to increase their playoff chances: Based on the FPI projection, this is like finding a fault in a Picasso. Given how high the bar has been raised by the Patriots in recent years, it isn’t so much about qualifying for the playoffs as positioning themselves for a deep postseason run. And the offense has plenty to improve upon -- starting with a more consistent running game.
1st - Tom E. Curran (NBC Sports Boston): There will be more days like Sunday in Buffalo. Not a lot of them. There aren’t that many defenses in the league nor opposing stadiums that are going to gum up the 4-0 Patriots plans as thoroughly as Buffalo did. But the Patriots need to evolve on offense and they may not yet have the humans to do it. The defense makes all that moot.
1st - Chris Grenham (NESN): New England’s offense struggled in Buffalo, but its defense was up for the challenge in fighting off the Bills. It was good to see the Patriots get through a tough test on a day where their offensive production was minimal.
1st - Dan Hanzus (NFL.com): The Patriots’ defense balled out again Sunday, forcing four turnovers in a tough road matchup against an equally game Bills defense. When the revitalized Jamie Collins snatched a Matt Barkley floater out of the air for the game-clinching interception, it finished a day of covering for New England’s slumping offense. Here’s a great stat from Greg Bedard: The Pats have had 22 possessions since taking a 20-0 lead over the Jets in Week 3 -- only four of those drives have gone longer than five plays. Brady looked utterly lost in Buffalo, finishing with 3.8 yards per attempt -- in the dreaded Gabbert Zone for NFL quarterbacks. When Bill Belichick settled for a 23-yard field goal with the Pats up 13-10 and sitting at the Bills’ 4-yard line late in the third quarter, was it a show of faith in his defense or a signal of doubt in his Brady-led attack? Probably both.
1st - Darryl Slater (NJ.com): Analysis: It wasn’t pretty, but the Patriots won again in Buffalo.
1st - Peter Botte (NY Post): Bill Belichick didn’t even need a big day from Tom Brady to win again in Buffalo, just an early special-teams touchdown and a late defensive stand against backup quarterback Matt Barkley. Another hefty spread is coming, as the Pats face Dwayne Haskins and the winless Redskins.
1st - Mike Florio (ProFootballTalk): A tradition unlike any other ended in Buffalo on Sunday; another tradition — the Patriots beating the Bills — continued.
1st - Vinnie Iyer (Sporting News): The Patriots couldn’t get much done offensively in Buffalo, but they showed their defensive dominance again with their takeaways. They made us remember they can win games with special teams, too.
1st - Nate Davis (USA Today): That vaunted defense is, um, slipping — now ranked second against both run and pass. Nothing a date in Washington won’t fix, though.
1st - Mark Maske (Washington Post): The offense, and QB Tom Brady in particular, struggled at Buffalo. But the Patriots were bailed out by their defense and special teams. It’s all but official that yet again there won’t be a competitive race in the AFC East this season.
1st - Frank Schwab (Yahoo! Sports): The Patriots won so nobody cares, but Tom Brady had a rough day: 18-of-39, 150 yards, no touchdowns, one interception. And the interception was a bad one, with the Patriots near the end zone. No, this isn’t a sign Brady is hitting the wall at age 42. But we’ll keep an eye on things anyway.
2nd - Jenny Vrentas (SI): Five more sacks and three more interceptions for a defense that’s allowed just one TD over four games. But Tom Brady had his lowest-rated performance in 13 years. What gives?
2nd - Doug Farrar (TouchdownWire): The only way to beat the Patriots is to play your best game and take advantage of any rare vulnerability. The Bills were unable to do this despite a game in which they limited Tom Brady to 18 completions in 39 attempts for 150 yards, no touchdowns, and one interception. Brady’s passer rating of 45.9 was his worst ever in a Patriots win, and the 16-10 result had a lot to do with a secondary that picked off four Bills passes and a special-teams unit that created more points than Brady with a touchdown on a blocked punt. Now that Brady has cleared the only team that forced him into a negative touchdown-to-interception ratio in 2018 (at least until the Dec. 22 rematch), it should be back to normal against the Redskins, Giants and Jets. We will see, however, if a disappointing running attack and a limited group of receivers hold Brady up against shakier defenses.