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Patriots Escape Buffalo With Stephen Gostkowski Game-Winning Field Goal, 23-21

Orchard Park, N.Y.-September 8: Julian Edelman #11 celebrates in the end zone after catching a touchdown from quarterback Tom Brady. (AP photo/Bill Wippert)

The New England Patriots escaped by the skin of their teeth in their Week 1 opener against the Buffalo Bills on the road. The Patriots, led by Tom Brady, rallied in the fourth quarter to overcome a 21-20 deficit to win on a Stephen Gostkowski 35-yard field goal with five seconds left in the game. The field goal led the Patriots to their 10th straight opening day victory.

The Patriots won the game as much as the Bills gave it away. With a 21-20 lead starting the fourth quarter, the Bills decided to play up-tempo offense instead of running the clock out to close out the game. This set up a Brady-led 12-play, 49-yard drive late in the fourth quarter to set up Gostkowski, and also led to Brady’s 36th career come from behind victory.

Gostkowski’s field goal spoiled Bills rookie quarterback EJ Manuel’s encouraging debut, as he finished the game 18-of-27 for 150 yards and two touchdowns. It looked for a while the Bills would pull off an upset against the heavily favored Patriots, but instead they lost their 19th game against the Patriots in their last 20 meetings.

The Patriots went into halftime with a 17-14 lead, but Manuel put the Bills ahead 21-17  with an impressive 80-yard drive on their opening possession of the second half. However, their offense stalled as they would finish the rest of the game with just three first downs and 73 yards. Despite winning the turnover battle, the Bills just could not close the game out.

The Patriot offense seemed very out of sync and got off to a slow start. The rookie receivers at times did not seem to be aware of where they were supposed to be, leading to untimely throws by Brady and missed opportunities. It was painfully apparent Brady was without any of his top five receivers from last season.

Rookie receiver Kenbrell Thompkins was targeted 14 times but only caught four passes for 42 yards, proving the need for the receivers to find their chemistry with Brady sooner rather than later.

Brady did find himself two reliable targets in Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman. Brady also targeted Amendola 14 times; Amendola finished the game as the leading receiver with 10 catches for 104 yards, despite leaving the field for a couple of plays with a nagging groin injury. Only in his fifth year with the Patriots, Edelman still finds himself as the longest tenured receiver and took advantage of his relationship with Brady. Edelman had 7 catches for 79 yards and caught the only two Patriots touchdowns of the game.

Despite a sloppy beginning, Brady finished the game 29-of-52 for 288 yards and two touchdowns and an interception. He also became the 9th player with over 45,000 yards passing in his career. However, not all was hunky dory on offense as running back Stevan Ridley put the ball on the ground twice in the first quarter.

Ridley started the game but found himself on the bench after his two first quarter fumbles, one of which was ran back 74 yards by Bills safety Da’Norris Searcy. Ridley needs to get it together and learn to take care of the ball. His future with the team is in his hands, literally. It will be interesting to see if he gets the start against the Jets on Thursday night.

Ridley was replaced by Shane Vereen who had himself a nice game with 14 carries for 101 yards, leading both teams in rushing to demonstrate he can assume the starting role if needed.

The Patriot’s defense was very similar to what we saw last year: they gave up big plays but definitely kept the team in the game by forcing two turnovers. Cornerback Kyle Arrington forced two fumbles that set up Brady-to-Edelman touchdowns, the only Patriots touchdowns of the game. The defense only allowed two touchdowns of its own despite the offense turning the ball over three times.

On a side note, Stevie Johnson had only three catches and a touchdown, which seems to me the Patriot’s defense was able to stop him!

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