Two weeks ago the Patriots appeared to be at a crossroads and ready to go down the .500 and below path. The blocking was bad, the skill position players were struggling and the defense was playing an unaggressive style that simply doesn't work in todays NFL. Last week things changed as the Patriots throttled the Bengals at home, but that was just one week. Fans and experts alike were wary of saying the Patriots were back to their winning ways, which was fair considering the debacle in Kansas City and also how poorly the offense played vs. Kansas City and Minnesota. Winning a second game in a row, on the road against a division opponent would show us that the Patriots are back to being the Patriots we have all known for the last 13 years.
The Patriots and Bills had a feeling out process in the first quarter, and we got our first glimpse of the plan to cover Sammy Watkins. The rookie wide receiver from Clemson was paid the ultimate respect as Belichick and Patricia assigned their Hall of Fame cornerback, Darrelle Revis, to stay with Watkins all afternoon.
The defense came out playing well from the start, forcing turnovers and giving the offense a chance to get on the board. Jamie Collins made an interception to put the offense in scoring position, but they missed the field goal due to a bad snap and hold, The offense regrouped and Julian Edelman was able to shake free and draw the pass interference penalty in the end zone which moved the ball to the Buffalo one. On the ensuing play, Tom Brady found Tim Wright in the corner of the end zone on a perfectly executed play action pass to make the score 7-0, Patriots.
The ugly side of football is injuries, and yesterday they came in bunches. Jerod Mayo was the first major starter to go down, appearing to injure his knee while making a tackle. After Mayo went down, the Bills took advantage and drove down the field and tied the game on a Robert Woods touchdown catch. The Bills got the stop they wanted on the next drive, but Chandler Jones was able to get the strip sack for the Patriots and get the ball back to Brady and his offense. Brandon LaFell made a big catch and got the ball down to the four, but the play was called back on a Marcus Cannon hold. Once again the Patriots settled for a Stephen Gostkowski field goal and took a 10-7 lead.
The Bills appeared to be running out the first half clock as they handed the ball to C.J. Spiller, but the Patriots had other ideas as they forced a fumble and recovered to give the ball back to the offense with :06 seconds to go. After a quick five yard pickup to the sideline, Stephen Gostkowski was able to come in an nail a 53 yard field goal to make it 13-7, Patriots. It may have only been a field goal, but this was a huge momentum swing going into halftime.
New England had the ball to open the second half, and Tom Brady began his quarterback clinic. Brady spread the wealth- Dobson for nine, Edelman for five after a ten yard Ridley run, LaFell for 17 yards, and the dagger, a 43 yard touchdown pass to Bryan Tyms. The drive reminded fans of the good old days of unstoppable offense, and that was also a sign of things to come in the second half. Unfortunately, the defense was nowhere to be found when Buffalo took over on offense and marched down the field to cut the lead to 20-14 on a Fred Jackson touchdown plunge. It was the type of drive the Chiefs had two weeks ago.
In the first half, the Patriots lost Dan Connelly to an undisclosed injury, and that was a hit to the offense; that was just the beginning. Still reeling from the apparent major injury to linebacker Jerod Mayo, the Patriots and their fans saw Rob Gronkowski reaching for his leg (he turned out to be fine) and Stevan Ridley, on the next play, was hit awkwardly and appeared very hurt. Ridley tore his ACL and MCL, which puts him on IR for the season. Ridley is a free agent in 2015, so there is a good chance that was his last carry in a Patriots uniform. For an offense beginning to establish an identity, this is a huge blow. Some think running backs are a dime-a-dozen, but it simply isn't true.
When the stunned Patriots finally got back to play after Ridley was attended to, they were able to move the ball far enough to give Stephen Gostkowski a 40 yard field goal attempt, which he made to make the score 23-14. The Bills looked like they had confidence on offense, but on the ensuing drive, Robert Woods was called for a costly pass interference and the Patriots defense was able to get the ball back. Tom Brady came out and executed the best drive of the season, mainly due to how off balance the defense was because of terrific play calling. Tom Brady finished the drive with a 1-yard touchdown pass on play action to Tim Wright to make the score Patriots 30, Bills 14.
The awful defense that has shown up at times for New England reappeared and the Bills went down the field with barely any resistance. Robert Woods burnt Alfonzo Dennard on fourth and two to keep the drive alive, and Chris "7-11" Hogan caught a touchdown to pull the Bills within eight. Once again, Tom Brady was not going to be outdone. The Patriots quick strike offense returned and Brandon LaFelll delivered the dagger on a 56 yard touchdown catch. The Patriots went ahead, 37-22, and essentially ended the game.
In Week Seven, the 4-2 Patriots return home to face 1-5 New York Jets, a division foe that has always given the Patriots fits, especially during the Rex Ryan era. Throw the records out the window because anytime you have a short week of preparation and a division opponent that's starving for a win, anything can happen. After Thursday night we'll know if the Patriots are going to walk away with the division or if someone is going to step up and challenge them. Expect the former.
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