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Patriots vs Bills: Fan Notes from the Game

Notes, musings, and observations from the New England Patriots’ 16-10 victory over the Buffalo Bills.

NFL: New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

Here’s to an undefeated September.

It wasn't easy, and it wasn’t anything resembling pretty, but all three phases of the New England Patriots came together to squeak out a 16-10 victory over an incredibly stingy Bills defense. The Patriots are now 4-0 on the year and sit alone atop the AFC East for the first time this season, and approximately the 1500th time this century.

Road wins in the division are huge, and although there was a lot about this game I really didn’t like - particularly with the officiating crew - to have essentially a two game lead over the only real competition for the AFC East the Patriots have this year as the team closes out an undefeated first month is nothing to scoff at.

  • If you listen to the Pats Pulpit Podcast (subscribe!), you’ll know that I actually picked the Bills to win this game, 17-14. Their defense is championship-caliber, it was in Buffalo, and I just felt like the Bills were due to win one. And to be honest, at no point during the bulk of this game did I feel like I backed the wrong horse. Tommy never got comfortable. His throws were sailing high. The Bills defense was running all over the field. He threw an absolutely horrible end zone pick. The receivers were unable to get separation, and on more than one occasion it seemed like there were communication issues and nobody was really on the same page.
  • Plus, this game started as follows: Hightower inactive, Patriots lose the coin toss, Bolden goes nowhere on the kickoff, Dorsett misses a target, Pats punt, and flags prevent the defense from getting off the field. I kind of figured we were just in for one of those classic September games.
  • Luckily for me, even when the defense doesn’t play as well as it’s capable of playing (there were a few issues I’ll talk about in a minute), they’re still an absolute unit. Devin McCourty has more receptions than half the WRs in the NFL right now, and the front four plays disciplined, aggressive football.
  • The bulk of the defensive gameplay seemed to be centered around getting Josh Allen out of the pocket and exploiting his tendency to roll right when he feels pressure. The Patriots overloaded that side of the field and jammed the outlet throwing lanes to the point were Allen, on multiple occasions, had to just stand there hoping something opens up like a guy with a tray full of food at a crowded mall food court. Of the four sacks the defense had against Allen, three of them were coverage sacks.
  • Let’s make sure we give the Bills defense all of the credit it deserves. That’s a solid unit. Brady was off all day, and while you can certainly make a case for yesterday just being one of those off Brady days, the fact that the defense presented a bunch of different looks and were in the backfield constantly goes a long way towards explaining why that is.
  • The offense really only had two good drives all day, and I’d argue that the only Brady-esque throw that Tommy B made all game was that beautiful rainbow to James White that set up the Bolden TD. That throw and catch made up almost half of White’s receiving yards on the day, and he was New England’s leading receiver with 57.
  • The Bills took away everything underneath, clogged the middle, played close to the line, and left the middle-to-deep zones on the field open. But since there was good pressure from the front line, there just wasn’t time for those longer routes to develop. Great strategy.
  • The Bills defense got the best of the Patriots offense. The Patriots defense got the best of the Bills offense. The Patriots special teams got the best of the Bills special teams. To say that one element of football is more important than another is just flat out wrong; it’s a team game, and each unit contributes equally. Pats had the edge in two of the three phases.
  • Well...three out of four, especially early on. That Patriots blocked punt was the ultimate example of New England’s ability to get into opposing coaches’ heads and force them into committing jackassery. The Patriots ran a 10 man punt block and the Bills didn’t max protect. It was 10 rushing against 8, and JC Jackson came in off the edge completely unblocked.
  • Even sweeter: that TD was the first of Matthew Slater’s career. I have a funny feeling that play is going to work it’s way onto my Top 20 Moments of 2019 countdown. Congrats, Matthew.
  • Speaking of congrats: best of luck and all the happiness in the world to the couple who got married on the 50 yard line at halftime of the game yesterday. I just hope, for the bride’s sake, that Dan Fouts was taking a potty break when she threw the bouquet, or else she’d be catching all kinds of crap from him for intentional grounding.
  • Is Fouts getting worse, or is it just me? Not only is he convinced that every single player on the field committed a foul on every single play, but the fouls he’s calling for don’t even make sense. He got mad at Brady for grounding well outside the pocket. I lost track of how many times he looked for a holding callI’m convinced that Dan Fouts thinks that every single play, someone gets away with a hold. He gets names wrong all the time and doesn’t seem to remember the rules. If I was related to him, there’d for sure be a group text on my phone discussing what we should do with Great Uncle Dan to make sure he doesn’t try and make toast by sticking the whole toaster directly into the oven.
  • Last thing I’ll say about Dan Fouts today - I feel like this Fan Notes are just riddled with complaints about him every time he calls a game - I have a working theory about him. He’s CBS’s worst color guy, and because of that he gets the worst games. He probably shouldn’t have gotten Pats/Bills yesterday, but odds are they didn’t think they’d both be 3-0 when they assigned the commentators. So every week he’s stuck having to call the games that nobody really cares about and rarely have any major moments, and because of that he’s just saying what he can to try and keep himself relevant.
  • Either that, or he really is that much of a moron. Could really go either way.
  • A will say this, though; that was an absolutely horrendous officiating job. The number of calls they got completely wrong, only to then flag the other team for something ridiculous as a sort of makeup call, was embarrassing. The perfect example was when they flagged Brady for grounding when he was clearly throwing to Julian Edelman, who was well within the area, only to not flag him later in the game when a perfectly timed Buffalo -gap blitz blew up the play in the backfield and he blatantly got rid of it with no eligible receivers in sight. Kyle Van Not got a personal foul for bumping the quarterback after he had thrown a backwards pass and was now a blockerAs the game went on I
  • How awesome is Frank Gore? Dude is 36 and was responsible for almost half of Buffalo’s offensive production. I’ve been a fan of his for years, and that he continues to do what he does as a running back is nothing short of remarkable.
  • New England utilized a fair amount of what has been referred to as DOT Defense yesterday - one guy with his hand on the ground, everyone else seemingly standing around doing nothing. Against younger QBs, it’s very hard to assign protections when you don’t know who is dropping into coverage and who is rushing, particularly who is rushing into what gap. New England didn't really blitz all that much yesterday because they didn’t need to.
  • There were a few offensive plays the Bills made yesterday that was just good players doing good things. When a receiver comes down with the ball in solid coverage or gets open on a slant route, you really can’t knock that. And getting gashed by Frank Gore has been something that defenses have had to deal with for years. But I’m still seeing players streaking open deep and down the sidelines. There were some inaccurate passes and overthrows that would have been huge gains with better QBs. It has happened almost every single week as well, which, at this point, has me thinking that it’s going to be a weakness for an otherwise absurd defense.
  • And while I'm on the subject of things that concern me about this team as we head into the quarter mark of 2019:
  • The Patriots have gone 6OL on multiple occasions and still have trouble running the ball. The running game got the Patriots to the Super Bowl last season. This offensive line isn’t getting any reinforcements anytime soon, so they need to figure out how to open up gaps for the backs. It’s important to note that run defense has been a strength of all four opponents the Patriots have faced this season, but the Patriots had the ball with just over five minutes to play in the game and they couldn’t close it out on the ground.
  • Ghost has missed a league-leading four extra points. He officially has the yips. The yips go away, and once he gets his confidence back I’m sure he’ll be fine. But every time Ghost lines up to take a kick, I feel like I’m walking into a public bathroom and about to open the lid on a closed toilet. Could be a completely clean bowl, could be an absolute disaster. It’s very rare to feel that way about a kicker in New England and I hope it goes away soon.
  • Edelman’s rib injury highlights that the Patriots have no wiggle room whatsoever at the receiver position, even when N’Keal Harry comes back. Edelman clearly wasn’t himself yesterday. Not that I blame him; I can't even fathom what it’s like to play football with any kind of rib injury. I broke my ribs before, in an incident that may or may not involve trying to open a pickle jar; it hurts to breathe. I prayed to Tebow you don’t have to cough or sneeze. Passing gas went from my favorite thing to do to an activity I dreaded. Edelman is out there throwing cutoff blocks and leading with his face.
  • It would appear that Phillip Dorsett saved all of his missed targets for this game.
  • I don’t know exactly what Buffalo did on their lone TD drive that was so effective; it was little more than some easy throws, high percentage plays, some no-huddle offense, and a simplified playbook. But it worked.
  • Maybe the Patriots defense looked at the calendar coming out of the locker room and saw 2009 instead of 2019, which is why they looked so horrible to start the 3rd quarter.
  • 4 minutes in the third quarter of the fourth game of the season. That’s how long my dream of the Pats defense not giving up a single touchdown all season lasted. Not too shabby. And even then, they needed four downs to do it and they barely got into the end zone.
  • Now is as good a time as any to talk about the Jonathan Jones hit. I’ve seen some Bills fans screaming about what a disgraceful, dirty hit it was, and that Jones didn’t get ejected is embarrassing for the league. I understand that passion when it’s your guy, and in the moment I’m not going to begrudge fans for having that reaction. But if any of those fans are reading this, take a look at the hit again. There was absolutely nothing malicious there. Allen was dragging Duron Harmon forward like a rag doll, and Jones planted his feet to lead with his shoulder. Allen lowered his helmet a bit as he was simultaneously being brought to the ground, and they collided.
  • Should that have been a flag? 100% Given what we now know about the kind of contact and the long-term effects that it has, we for sure need to do away with those hits and take whatever steps necessary to ensure that these guys are able to have normal lives after football. But the league also needs to start penalizing or flagging offensive players who lead with the helmet into the tackle. Julian Edelman does that all the time, as do most running backs. What are defenders supposed to do when literally the only thing available to hit is a helmet? There’s maybe eight inches between your shoulder and your head - how can you expect to get it right every time if the guy with the ball isn’t held accountable as well?
  • When that cryon came up highlighting that every single Bills win this season was a come from behind, who else gt really nervous?
  • I still think that the Patriots win the game if Josh Allen was able to come back, despite what Bills fans are saying right now; there was some poor clock management and ill-advised challenges that cost Buffalo their timeouts. But I also think that the Bills are a playoff team, especially since the AFC straight up STINKS outside of a small number of teams. I’m not sure what Buffalo’s ceiling is offensively, but if they can string together a series of wins and the defense can stay healthy, I’m curious to see how far they can go.

Next up is a fairly awful Redskins team, and a then a Giants team I can’t get a read on to save my life. The next several games are very winnable, so hopefully everyone can stay healthy.