Report Cards Week 1: Bills - Patriots

The Buffalo Bills played a close game to the New England Patriots in week one. The Bills appeared poised for the upset were it not for a few key plays that allowed New England to steal the victory. The Patriots have been known as the type of team that does the little things to win close games, and Sunday was no exception. Week 1 report cards for both teams.

BILLS REPORT CARD VS. PATRIOTS

PASSING OFFENSE: C-minus
QB J.P. Losman was effective through the air early against a vulnerable Patriots' secondary. He hit WR Josh Reed for gains of 20 and 14 yards during an opening drive to a field goal, then used running backs Willis McGahee and Anthony Thomas effectively on screen passes during a 73-yard TD drive on the Bills' second series. But after Buffalo took a 17-7 lead, things shut down. Buffalo's line struggled protecting Losman in the second half when he went 5 of 8 for 60 yards with no TDs and two sacks. The killer play was giving up the game-winning safety when Losman was sacked in the end zone by Patriots DE Ty Warren. Losman was also sacked near midfield on third down with 6:28 left, snuffing out a golden opportunity after an interception by the defense. WR Lee Evans (two catches, 25 yards) struggled against constant double teams. The Bills didn't use their speed to attack deep, and averaged just 10.9 yards on Losman's 15 completions.

Buffalo Bill defensive tackle Kyle Williams (95) loses his helmet as he scrambles for a loose ball with New England Patriots center Dan Copen (67) and guard Logan Mankins (70) during first quarter action of their AFC East NFL football game in Foxborough, Mass., Sunday afternoon Sept. 10, 2006. The Patriots recovered the ball and went on to defeat the Bills 19-17. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

RUSHING OFFENSE: C-plus
McGahee and Thomas set a nice tone in the first half, combining for 71 yards on 13 carries including an 18-yard TD blast by Thomas. But Thomas didn't get a carry in the second half and McGahee gained just 29 yards on 10 trips after halftime. McGahee (20 carries, 70 yards, 3.5 average) failed to pick up a critical fourth-and-one at the Patriots' 7-yard line to open the second half; he headed to his right and was met by LB Don Davis, who latched onto his leg and held him up a foot short of the first down as the bodies piled up. It was a simple dive-to-the-right play where the Bills failed to muscle up and get the job done.

PASS DEFENSE: B-plus
The Bills held Super Bowl MVP quarterback Tom Brady to 163 yards passing and sacked him three times, one that resulted in a fumble recovery for a touchdown by LB London Fletcher-Baker just 12 seconds into the game. That was the good news. Brady, who had three net yards passing in the first half, found his rhythm in the second, going 8 of 12 for 133 yards, one TD and one interception, leading the Patriots to scoring drives of 93 and 63 yards. The Bills were missing LB Takeo Spikes and FS Troy Vincent, each lost early in the first quarter with hamstring injuries, forcing them to play rookies Keith Ellison and Ko Simpson. Top pick Donte Whitner gave up a 34-yard catch to TE Ben Watson that set up a TD, but came back with a nice interception with 8:14 to play that the offense failed to capitalize on. LBs Mario Haggan and Angelo Crowell were beaten for TDs. DE Aaron Schobel led the pass rush with a sack and two tipped passes.

RUSH DEFENSE: D
The NFL's 31st-ranked run defense of a year ago got off to a rough start, allowing New England to gain 183 yards on 41 rushes for a 4.5 average. The Bills gave up the cutback lane to rookie Laurence Maroney (17 carries, 86 yards) and Corey Dillon (16-73) far too often and paid dearly. In the fourth quarter, the Patriots controlled the ball for 12:01 thanks to 16 rushes and two fourth-down conversions. A 6-yard gain by Dillon off left tackle on fourth-and-two at the Buffalo 26-yard line with 2:00 left allowed the Patriots to run out the clock.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B
PK Rian Lindell converted a 53-yard field goal and KR Terrence McGee had a 42-yard kickoff return. Other than that, it wasn't the best of days for the NFL's top-rated unit of the past two years. P Brian Moorman had an off day, PR Roscoe Parrish had his only return attempt bounce off his head (a fumble the Bills were lucky to recover), and a clipping penalty on a unidentified Bill during a kickoff return pinned the team back to its 9-yard line, leading to Losman's safety.

COACHING: B
Coach Dick Jauron and his staff had a solid game plan for Bill Belichick, who has embarrassed and intimidated past Buffalo coaching staffs. Offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild called a balanced game (24 runs, 23 passes) while defensive coordinator Perry Fewell came out attacking with the blitz, leading to a turnover and 7-0 lead. Jauron's gamble on fourth down didn't work out but players appreciated the confidence he showed in them, which should help their confidence down the road.

PATRIOTS REPORT CARD VS. BILLS

PASSING OFFENSE: D
Tom Brady had an abysmal day, especially in the first half when he was sacked three times and managed just 30 yards passing. He did step it up after halftime to finish 11-out-of-23 for 163 yards and two touchdowns, but his fourth quarter interception could have cost New England the game. Brady was under fire for most of the game and never seemed to be on the same page with his receivers. Ben Watson led the team in receptions with three, while the receiver position totaled four catches for 51 yards. The Patriots only dressed three receivers -- Troy Brown, Reche Caldwell and Bam Childress. Those three, along with Doug Gabriel and Chad Jackson, who were both inactive on Sunday, are going to need to step up their game in the coming weeks. Kevin Faulk's diving touchdown reception in the third quarter to cut the Bills lead to 17-14 was a thing of beauty.

RUSHING OFFENSE: A
Facing a Bills defense that finished dead last in rush defense last season, the Patriots were expected to have success on the ground and they didn't disappoint. Led by the 1-2 punch of Corey Dillon and Laurence Maroney, the Patriots rushed for 183 yards on 41 carries. The rookie actually touched the ball more than Dillon did, carrying 17 times to Dillon's 16. The veteran showed he can still get the tough yards between the tackles but Maroney displayed flashes of greatness that could make him one of the NFL's best backs in the near future. Maroney totaled 49 yards on his first two NFL carries, while Dillon put the game away by converting on a fourth-and-one late in the game. The offensive line pushed the Bills defensive front back all day, opening huge holes for the New England backs to run through. Overall, a dominant performance by the Patriots ground game.

New England Patriots Ty Warren (94) celebrates sacking Buffalo Bills quarterback JP Losman for a safety during the fourth quarter of New England's 19-17 win in NFL football at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., Sunday, Sept. 10, 2006. The safety broke a 17-17 tie. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

PASS DEFENSE: B-plus
J.P. Losman didn't have a terrible game, going 15-out-of-23 for 164 yards. The problem with the young quarterback is he didn't make enough plays when the game was on the line. He was sacked three times, including once by Ty Warren for a safety that ended up being the difference in the final score. Ellis Hobbs and Asante Samuel did a great job on the Bills receivers. Lee Evans was a non-factor, only recording two receptions for 25 yards. Losman kept some plays alive with his feet and got the ball to open receivers early in the game but his lack of pocket presence and experience proved to be his downfall. The Patriots secondary passed their first test of the season and the defensive front controlled the line of scrimmage in the second half after a slow start.

RUSH DEFENSE: B-minus
The Bills were running the ball pretty well until a fourth-and-one in the third quarter that changed the entire complexion of the game. Buffalo rushed for 99 yards on 24 carries but they needed at least one more yard. When Willis McGahee was stuffed on fourth-and-one from the 7-yard line by linebacker Don Davis, it gave the Patriots the swing in momentum they desperately needed. Anthony Thomas scored on an 18-yard run and McGahee did a good job in the first half of churning out yardage. However, the Patriots defense stiffened in the second half and made plays when they needed to. Not a dominating performance by the Patriots but considering they were playing without Tedy Bruschi at inside linebacker, it was good enough to get the job done.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B
The Patriots coverage units did a decent job of containing the dangerous Bills return men. Terrence McGee averaged 27.5 per kickoff return and ripped off a 44-yarder. Normally that wouldn't qualify as a good job but when you consider Belichick called McGee the best kick returner in the NFL, the Patriots will take those numbers. Josh Miller had another stellar day punting the football, averaging 45.8 yards per punt. Kevin Faulk and Laurence Maroney did nothing in the return game, so that's a concern for the Patriots. New England struggled in that area last year and was hoping to improve this season. After one game, they're still hoping. Rookie kicker Stephen Gostkowski made his only field goal attempt, a 32-yarder in the fourth quarter to tie the game.

COACHING: B-minus
Bill Belichick would probably admit that this wasn't the best-coached game during his tenure. With two coordinators -- Josh McDaniels on offense and Dean Pees on defense -- it took the Patriots a half of football to make some adjustments. Offensively in the first half, the team could have benefited from more screen passes and draws. The Bills defensive line was rushing upfield with the sole purpose of getting to Brady and every time the Patriots called a screen or draw, they got a good chunk of yardage. It would have been nice to see more of that early on to control the Bills pass rush. McDaniels did make some adjustments at halftime, changing protections to give Brady more time and it paid off, as the offense was more productive in the second half. A lot of credit needs to go to Belichick and Pees for a successful defensive game plan. They knew their defensive line could pressure Losman, so the Patriots didn't need to blitz very often. However, with the Bills backed up late in the game, New England sent both Rosevelt. Colvin and Tully Banta-Cain off the edge. The pressure forced Losman to step up in the pocket, right into the waiting arms of Ty Warren for the game-deciding safety. It was a great call at a crucial point in the game. Belichick's decision to go for it on fourth-and-one late in the game was the right one. Dillon's run put the game away and secured the Patriots first win of the season. There were some problems early but the coaching staff started to gel as the game went on and that should continue as the season moves forward.

 

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