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It wasn’t pretty but, boy, was it sure exciting. Tom Brady’s magic worked once again as the Patriots came back from 11 points down with five minutes left to beat the Buffalo Bills on Monday night. Throughout the game, we saw a flash of what may be to come with both Ben Watson and Laurence Maroney, two players who have failed to live up to expectations. We also saw starting linebacker Jerod Mayo leave the game with an injury, and he’s now believed to be out 6-8 weeks.
So how did each position fare against the pesky Bills? Lets take out the red pen.
Blame it on first half jitters, but Brady looked bad in the first half. The Patriots only had 10 points to show for their efforts in a half that featured a happy foot Brady in the pocket. The offensive line didn’t help his cause, however, as Matt Light got abused by Bills defensive end Aaron Schobel, who scored on a terrific one-handed catch interception in the second quarter.
But, like great quarterbacks do so often, Brady came back in the second half and played like the Brady of old. As a whole, Brady completed 39 of his 53 pass attempts for 378 yards, two touchdowns, and that lone pick-six. Most of Brady’s damage came in the final five minutes. With the Patriots down by 11, the franchise quarterback went 12-for-14 as he connected with Ben Watson twice in the end-zone.
So, lets recap. The first half was blah for Brady, the second was better, but that final two drives were magicial. For that, we give him…
Here’s my problem. How long have fans waited for 2006 first round pick, Laurence Maroney, to play at a high level? Yes, a long time. In a rare term of events, Maroney played very well on Monday. The problem? He was seldemly used. On the first couple of drives, Maroney had success running out of the shotgun, between the tackles. But, the coaching staff turned away from Maroney, and the RB finished the contest with 32 yards on 10 carries.
Newly acquired back Fred Taylor scored his first touchdown of his Patriots career, from one yard out in the first quarter. But, as a whole, the running game really wasn’t as effective as it could have been. Maroney, Taylor, and Kevin Faulk gained just 64 total yards on the ground. Faulk did have six receptions for 51 yards and a huge third and three conversion which led to a Stephen Gostkowski field goal. After Brady’s interception, the Patriots fell behind and came out in the second half with the mindset that they were going to come back with the pass, so because of that, the run was abadoned.
Early on, both Moss and Welker struggled with drops attributed to the struggle of Brady. However, both had great games. Notice how I’m only talking about Moss and Welker. Joey Galloway was figuratively invisible and Sam Aiken saw about three reps at wideout. Luckily, Moss and Welker picked up Galloway’s slack. Moss had 12 catches for 141 yards, Welker also caught 12 balls, but for only 93 yards.
For Welker, this was the first game action he had seen since Week 17 of last season and although he had a good game, you could see that he was little out of sync. On one instance in the first half, Brady and Welker missed on a quick screen. Welker failed to head toward Brady and catch the ball, instead he stood pat and failed to convert. Moss, on the other hand was specatcular. Aside from those two early drops, he played a prominent role in the Patriots comeback.
Moving forward, the Patriots need to get something out of that third receiver. Whether it’s Galloway, Aiken, or eventually a Julian Edelman or Brandon Tate.
Finally! Finally! Those are really the only two words that I can use to describe this particular grading assessment. The enigma known as Ben Watson showed Patriots fans world-wide exactly what they’ve been waiting for. The oft-injured Georgia product had two touchdown receptions in 74 seconds as he along with Brady pushed the Patriots ahead of the Bills. Although he did drop a ball, we’ll give him a break this time around. For a change he displayed incredibly soft hands, especially on the second touchdown reception. Brady placed the ball perfectly toward the outside of the defender and Watson expend and caught the ball. We can only hope that Watson will continue to perform like this all season.
Meanwhile, Chris Baker was quiet. After his good showing in the preseason that led to him being named the starter, expectations were high for Baker. Surely, no one is dissapointed because production was still there overall as a unit at the tight end position. But as the season progress, Baker needs to assert himself more. To his credit, however, Brady only targeted the former Jet twice the entire game.
The offense line played poorly in the first half. On the first two drives alone Brady seemed to face pressure on every pass attempt. The first half also featured two holding penalties on center Dan Koppen and just horrid blocking from left tackle Matt Light. Although Brady should have never threw that screen pass that Schobal intercepted, it was set up by the poor blocking of Light. In the first half, Light continuously got beaten off the ball by Schobal. Oddly enough the Patriots didn’t shade any help over to Light’s side with Sebastian Volmer.
The unit played better in the second half. But still, the performance in the first half was gross.
With Richard Seymour now in Oakland, the Patriots are employing more of a 4-3 defense. Monday night they had the four guys listed above (Warren, Wilfork, Wright, and Green) who saw the brunt of the action on the defensive front. The outcome? Not great. Bills runningback Fred Jackson, who is quietly becoming a Patriot killer, had 57 rushing yards on 15 attempts and five receptions for 83 yards and a touchdown. The Patriots struggled containing Jackson and generating any type of pass rush on quarterback Trent Edwards. Play drastically worsened when Jerod Mayo left the game.
The lone bright spot for the defensive line, however, came courtesy of Tully Banta-Cain. Banta-Cain had two sacks and looked quick off the edge. It was this style of play from Banta-Cain that got him that big contract with the San Fransisco 49ers a couple of seasons ago.
In the coming weeks it’s imperative that the front four generate a consistent pass rush to take pressure of an inexperienced secondary. It’d be nice to see some contribution from Derrick Burgess, too.
Looking back on Monday night’s game, the one thing that sticks out, even more than the comeback victory, is the fact that Mayo will be out 6-8 weeks. With the Patriots already being thin at the linebacker position, this injury could cause an array of problems for the New England defensive unit.
Mayo’s replacement against Buffalo was second-year man Gary Guyton. Guyton struggled shedding blockers in the 4-3 defense and really made a couple of poor decisions. Coming out of Georgia Tech, Guyton’s biggest weakness was his lack of strength, and being that mike linebacker in a 4-3 having the ability to shed blocks is important. It will be interesting to watch how Guyton plays in that role, assuming that the Patriots don’t sign Derrick Brooks. Adalius Thomas could also find himself playing on the inside because of his size with Guyton and Pierre Woods on the outside.
Did Terrell Owens or Lee Evans even play? Really? Leigh Bodden did a masterful job in shutting down Owens all game long. On the opposite side, Jonathan Wilhite struggled a little bit early on, but was replaced by Darius Butler in the second half. The rookie from Connecticut was terrific, not allowing one reception by Lee Evans. If this corp of players can continue to play as well as they did Monday night throughout the whole season, the Patriots will be making another trip to the Super Bowl.
Hello Brandon Meriweather. The former Miami safety had eight tackles and the biggest play of the game when he hit Bills Leodis McKelvin on the ensuing kickoff after a Brady-to-Watson touchdown. Meriweather also looked good in the open field, especially when he played center field on a couple of instances.
James Sanders, who had five tackles, was his usually stellar self. He doesn’t do anything flashy but he is a sure tackler and more times than not he gets the job done. Newly acquired safety Brandon McGown made a couple of minor mistakes but he was active and didn’t look particuarly bad.
Maroney’s kickoff return in the first quarter was terrific. Kevin Faulk also himself a couple of solid returns. We won’t fault Stephen Gostkowski for his missed field goal attempt on the first drive of the contest. Why? Because the kicker was the one who recovered the fumble from McKelvin. That’s right. Thank Gostkowski.
Week 1 is in the books, folks. Nobody failed, but there weren’t a lot of “A’s” either. Let’s hope for a better performance Sunday against the J-E-T-S, JETS, JETS, JETS.