New England has yet to play a complete football game in its first three wins and that fact hasn't been lost on the players or head coach Bill Belichick. Part of the reason might be the quirky schedule that has prevented the team from working within its regular weekly routine. But whatever the reason, the Patriots understand that they cannot continue to make the mistakes they made in Buffalo Sunday and expect to reach their goals.
Their goal, incidentally, has nothing to do with breaking any winning streak
records, but winning the next game, which has been their philosophy for all
of the last 18 NFL game weeks.
"I'm just looking for four in a row," linebacker Ted Johnson said
after the club's latest win. "You don't have time to worry about that stuff
(winning streaks). We just have to prepare for Miami."
"This team focuses week to week," added quarterback Tom Brady. "We're
3-0 and looking forward, not back. We need to get better, and Miami has as tough
a defense as we'll play all year."
Sunday's first half featured enough mistakes for Belichick to fill a team video
session. From special teams breakdowns to big plays allowed to a fumble on the
1-yard line to a myriad of penalties, the Patriots didn't play with the focus
that has become their staple since last October when the winning streak started.
"We made a lot of mistakes," Belichick said. "We had a bad day
on special teams and we're glad to come away with a win. The players did a good
job focusing in the second half, but the Bills had a good game plan that kept
us off balance.
"We've won three games. That's it. There is a lot of football left to
play and we need to play a lot better than we did (Sunday). When you give up
a 100-yard kickoff return, a 50-yard fake punt, a 50-yard touchdown pass and
fumble the ball at the 1, I don't think that's playing with a great field presence
or great coaching. A lot of high school teams could do better than that."
So while the Patriots are undefeated and it's popular to say that good teams
can win when they don't play their best, the Patriots will not keep winning
for much longer unless they clean up their act.
"We made a lot of mental mistakes," safety Rodney Harrison said in
reference to the Bills game. "We were fortunate to win."
If the mistakes continue, the Patriots won't remain so fortunate.
--It was turn back the clock day for Ted Johnson Sunday in Buffalo. The oft-injured
linebacker has progressively earned more playing time this season in the team's
3-4 front and has made a major impact in a run defense that clearly missed big
nose tackle Ted Washington.
Johnson finished with a modest five tackles against the Bills, but was a visible factor in slowing Buffalo running back Travis Henry, who finished the afternoon with a solid 24 runs for 98 yards. But many of his yards came when the Patriots switched to a 4-3 look and replaced Johnson with defensive lineman Jarvis Green.
"I feel like I have nine lives with this team," Johnson said. "I
never doubt my ability. I just don't. If they give me an opportunity, I feel
I'll get done whatever they're asking of me. I constantly have to prove myself.
I missed so much time with injuries that it's a constant, 'where is Ted now?'
For me, there is no time to relax. I have to be ready to go when I get my chance."
--New England's wide receiving corps looks like a MASH unit. Deion Branch is
out for what looks like an extended period. Troy Brown's arm was in a sling
after the Bills game. Bethel Johnson was hurt in the fourth quarter of Sunday's
win and didn't return because of the undisclosed injury. Add tight end Benjamin
Watson's season-ending knee injury to the list and the Patriots are suddenly
thin at what may have been their deepest position.
David Patten, David Givens and rookie fifth-round pick P.K. Sam are the only
healthy wide receivers, and tight end Daniel Graham, for all his big plays,
still drops passes. With so few weapons in the passing game, the Patriots may
become easier to defend in the coming weeks since the strength of their passing
game is Tom Brady's ability to exploit coverages and throw to whichever receiver
might be open. His options have suddenly been limited. Givens and Patten did
combine to catch nine passes for 199 yards against the Bills.
--The Patriots allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown for the first time
since Oct. 1, 2000 when Denver's Deltha O'Neal returned one 87 yards for a score.
O'Neal's touchdown came following a free kick after the Patriots had taken an
intentional safety. Terrence McGee did the damage this time when he raced 98
yards for the game-tying touchdown. It was the second longest return against
the Patriots in history. The first also came against the Bills when Charlie
Warner ran 102 yards for a touchdown against the Boston Patriots at Fenway Park
on Nov. 7, 1965.
--DL Richard Seymour's 68-yard touchdown return in Buffalo was the first score
of his career. He scooped up a Drew Bledsoe fumble forced by Tedy Bruschi and
thundered untouched to the end zone. "Everybody just get out of my way
and let me get on to the house," is what Seymour said he was thinking about
as he rumbled to the end zone. It was the Patriots' first defensive touchdown
of the season and first since Matt Chatham returned a fumble 38 yards for a
score against the Giants on Oct. 12, 2003.
--TE Daniel Graham's fourth quarter touchdown reception marked the fourth straight
game in which he has found the end zone dating back to last year's season finale
vs. the Bills. With a touchdown catch against the Dolphins this week, Graham
would tie the franchise record for consecutive games with a touchdown reception.
The mark is held by Michael Timpson (12/26/93-9/18/94) and Jim Colclough (11/11/62-12/9/62).
--LB Tedy Bruschi recorded two sacks against the Bills for his third career
multi-sack game and first since he had 1.5 sacks against the Vikings on Nov.
24, 2002. His second sack resulted in the fumble that Seymour returned for a
--RB Corey Dillon scored his first touchdown as a Patriot when he scored on
a 15-yard run, but he also lost a fumble on the 1-yard line, his first official
fumble in 229 touches dating back to Dec. 22, 2002. Two weeks ago in Arizona,
he dropped a pitch that Arizona recovered, but because of the rules regarding
such a play, the fumble was charged to quarterback Tom Brady. Dillon also lost
a fumble in the preseason.
--CB Tyrone Poole returned punts in place of the injured Brown and Kevin Faulk. Without Brown and Faulk, punt returning has become an adventure for New England. Deion Branch muffed one against the Colts that resulted in a turnover and Sunday in Buffalo, Poole misplayed one that ended up rolling out of bounds at New England's 3-yard line.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
REPORT CARD VS. BILLS
PASSING OFFENSE: A
-- The Patriots were excellent making plays in the passing game when they needed
to against an aggressive Bills defense that blitzed quarterback Tom Brady on
nearly every play. "It seemed like they were bringing everybody,"
Brady said afterward. Despite the blitzing and the resulting pressure, the Patriots
front did a marvelous job giving the quarterback time to get the ball out against
man-to-man coverage and the result was some critical throws and catches. Brady
completed 17-of-30 passes for 298 yards with two touchdowns, no interceptions
and he wasn't sacked while compiling a 112.9 passer rating. Wideouts David Patten
and David Givens stepped up to the tune of nine catches for 199 yards while
Patten scored on a 30-yard pass. Brady completed eight passes of 17 or more
yards, four for more than 30 yards and two longer than 40 yards.
RUSHING OFFENSE: B-minus
-- the Patriots had efficient runs (4 yards, a first down or a touchdown) on
13 of 26 runs - a decent ratio. Corey Dillon finished with 19 carries for 79
tough yards against an aggressive front and scored on a 15-yard touchdown run.
But he also lost a fumble at the 1-yard line with the Patriots looking to take
a 17-10 second quarter lead. This was by far the toughest challenge of the season
for the Patriots front five, and Bill Belichick scrapped the seven-man rotation
system he used through two games and stuck with his five starters throughout.
They certainly didn't win the battle against the Bills front in terms of creating
running room, but they held their own and Dillon used his ability to find some
room and got outside on the ends for some nice gains in the second half with
the Bills crashing inside and blitzing Brady up the middle.
PASS DEFENSE: C
-- New England allowed a 55-yard pass completion on the Bills first play from
scrimmage and allowed a 41-yard touchdown pass despite knowing full well that
the only thing it couldn't do against the Bills was allow big plays. Tyrone
Poole and Eugene Wilson were victimized on the plays. Bledsoe was well protected
for nearly the entire game despite what the statistics say. The Patriots actually
had seven sacks in the game, but three of the sacks game on a meaningless last-minute
possession just after Richard Seymour's game-clinching touchdown. That play,
however, was the result of a Tedy Bruschi sack and forced fumble on a fourth-and-three
play that actually called for Bledsoe to run a bootleg. One of the other sacks
came when Bledsoe tripped on the guard as he dropped back. Poole intercepted
Bledsoe on a play in which the quarterback and receiver, Eric Moulds, weren't
on the same page. Bledsoe threw to the outside while Moulds cut in. The defense
allowed Bledsoe to complete 18-of-30 passes for 247 yards with a touchdown and
a pick. Moulds led the way with 10 receptions for 126 yards and a score.
RUSH DEFENSE: C
-- The Patriots were shifting between a 4-3 and 3-4 and were clearly more vulnerable
against the run in their 4-3 front. Ted Johnson had nice afternoon slowing down
Travis Henry, who had a solid day with 98 yards on 24 runs. But Henry fell down
for a 1-yard loss on a third-and-two play with 3:24 to go in the game and the
Bills trailing by 7. That led to the fourth-and-three on which Seymour scored.
The Bills had 13 efficient runs in 26 attempts, but 34 of Buffalo's 138 rushing
yards came from punter Brian Moorman after he dropped a snap and ran 34 yards
untouched for a first down. The Patriots didn't get torched on the ground, but
they clearly have some work to do.
SPECIAL TEAMS: F-minus
-- This was the worst special teams day in the Bill Belichick era and has to
rank among the worst ever. The lone bright spot was Bethel Johnson's 40-yard
kickoff return that was close to going all the way. The Patriots allowed a 98-yard
kickoff return for a touchdown. In the second quarter, punt returner Tyrone
Poole chose not to block Bills coverage man Kevin Thomas as he raced to down
a punt and did so at the Patriots 2. Since Poole didn't call for a fair catch
on the play, he could have blocked Thomas and the ball would have bounced into
the end zone. Instead, Thomas made a terrific play to catch the ball in the
air and drop it back as his momentum carried him into the end zone. At the end
of the half, the Patriots would have had the ball at their 43 with 56 seconds
left and two timeouts remaining, but Dexter Reid was called for a facemask that
resulted in a re-kick. On the re-kick, which bounced out of bounds at the Patriots
22, Tully Banta-Cain was called for a personal foul penalty and the Patriots
took over at the 11. The stats say that is 20 yards in penalties, but it actually
cost New England 32 yards and a chance at a last-minute field goal drive. That's
not all. The Patriots were caught racing upfield to set up a punt return when
Bills punter Brian Moorman dropped a snap. When Moorman picked up the ball,
there wasn't a Patriot around, and the speedy punter sprinted 34 yards for a
first down that set up a 41-yard touchdown pass on the next play. Poole later
muffed a punt that eventually bounced out of bounds at the Patriots 3-yard line.
It was a long day in this phase of the game.
-- The Patriots defensive game plan was to prevent big plays and when they did that, Buffalo could not move the ball consistently. The Bills scored 10 offensive points in the game. Seven came on a 41-yard touchdown pass and the other three were set up by a 55-yard pass. So when the plan was executed, it worked to perfection. Offensively, the Patriots were prepared for the Bills blitzes and handled them well. New England made excellent halftime adjustments in the running game and started working the ball outside the tackles on the ends for some nice gains. The Patriots had a nice play called on the fourth-and-three play late in the fourth quarter that resulted in Richard Seymour's touchdown. Tedy Bruschi came untouched up the middle and forced the fumble that essentially ended the game. New England took a chance with a challenge on Eric Mould's 41-yard touchdown catch because the ball popped out when Moulds hit the ground. New England didn't get a look at good replay and challenged it based on what Belichick saw live across the field. Moulds had established possession in the end zone and the play cost New England a timeout and a challenge, which they almost needed in the fourth quarter, but did not have had. The Patriots made too many mistakes early and didn't seem to maintain focus, but rallied in the second half, kept their poise and made the plays to win the game.