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Notes and Observations Week 1: Patriots Squeak by Buffalo 23-21

Brady and Edelman connected on 2 touchdowns today in the Patriots' 23-21 victory over the Bills. (AP Photo/Bill Wippert)

To start off, it sure is great to have football season back. As great as the Boston Red Sox have been, there is still nothing as satisfying as the start of a new football season. This year there are certainly a lot of questions, especially on the offensive side of things after a loss in the AFC Championship to the defending Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens. The offense is basically a brand new cast of characters, while the defense finds themselves as the strength of the team. Things certainly have changed over the past couple years.

First Half

– The first offensive drive set the tone for the day. There was the 24-yard pass to Danny Amendola, which showed everyone that the offense has the ability to stretch the field. However, they also showed, with the overthrown pass to rookie receiver Kenbrell Thompkins and underthrown pass to Amendola, that this offense is going to deal with some growing pains. The most veteran starting offensive player other than Tom Brady was Julian Edelman, and he has never played a full NFL season. That tells you all you need to know about how new this year’s offense is. 

– The fumble recovery by Tommy Kelly showed a strength in the defense that is going to be needed if this Patriots team is going to succeed this season. Kyle Arrington poked an uncovered ball out of CJ Spiller and Tommy Kelly happened to fall on it. The defense was at the right place at the right time, and it set the offense up in terrific poistion.

– Brady wasted no time after the turnover and found Julian Edelman for the touchdown to give them the early 7-0 lead. I mentioned Edelman is the most veteran player on this offense next to Brady, and his health is going to be a key to this offense’s success. Edelman has shown the ability to be a big player in the offense when he is on the field, even if he hasn’t shown a great ability of staying on the field…

– The Patriots were able to land a field goal to give themselves a 10-0 lead, but they showed some serious signs of rust as well. Stevan Ridley, who has shown problems with fumbling before, lost a fumble after losing his footing that resulted in a Buffalo defensive touchdown. It bears mentioning that Ridley had fumbled the ball earlier in the game and that play was challenged by Buffalo. The fumble was recovered by the Patriots, and referee Walt Anderson stated there was no fumble on the play. The replay clearly showed Ridley losing the ball before being down, so the fumble he lost for the touchdown was technically his second of the day.

– Also worth pointing out: Ridley didn’t play the rest of the game after that fumble for a touchdown. The rest of the running duties relied on Shane Vereen and LeGarette Blount. Vereen showed everyone that he wasn’t just a receiving back when he finished the game with 14 carries for 101 yards. Safe to say that Belichick is showing the rest of the team that if you don’t hold onto the ball, your position in the offense is not safe.

– The Patriots would get another touchdown from the Brady-Edelman connection in the first half but the offense certainly didn’t make anything look easy.

– The defense, for the most part, looked good in the first half. They did give up a touchdown late on a EJ Manuel pass to rookie WR Robert Woods. The touchdown was set up after an interception that rookie tight end Zach Sudfeld basically handed to the Buffalo defense. Aside from the 7 points on the shortened field, the defense was showing some strong flashes of life. Both Alfonzo Dennard and Kyle Arrington had great pass defenses that were close to being interceptions. Aside from the miscommunication between Aqib Talib and Steve Gregory on the touchdown to Woods, the defense did exactly what you’d hope they would in the first half.

Second Half

– As good as the defense played in the first half, was as flat as they played at the start of the second. The running game of the Bills took over between the three of CJ Spiller, Fred Jackson, and quarterback EJ Manuel. After the strong running performance, the drive was capped off with a perfectly thrown ball from Manuel to Stevie Johnson. Johnson ran his mouth that the Patriots’ defense couldn’t stop him earlier in the week, and on that play he showed it. However, in the end he was held to only 39 yards on 3 receptions with that touchdown.

– The key thing that I took away in this game is that the defense stepped up to control the game. The offense is clearly going to be a work in progress. They have three rookie wide receivers and a new member in Amendola. Gronk is still a couple of weeks away from being game ready, so aside from Brady, Ridley, Vereen, and Edelman, this is a brand new offense. I know everyone complains about the preseason for the fear of injuries to your starters, but maybe it wouldn’t have been such a bad idea to get this first offense a few more reps during the 4-game preseason.

– For those who love offensive showcases, you may be in for a long season. This year is shaping up to be a defensive year. The front seven has the ability to put pressure on quarterbacks while stopping the run. The secondary is going to be vastly improved from last year. Instead of having Talib come in mid-year, they have him for the full year; judging by Alfonzo Dennard’s play today, he hasn’t missed a beat despite missing all four preseason games. The key to this year’s defense is the front seven. If they can pressure opposing quarterbacks while, for the most part, stopping the run, they can force some errant passes which makes the secondary look and play better.

– After the first touchdown in the second half, the Patriots shut the Bills out. They did exactly what they had to do to consistently get the ball back for the offense. It turned out that the offense just couldn’t capitalize on all the opportunities that they were presented with.

– On the final drive, the Patriots did what they had to do. Brady got the ball to Amendola on short routes (which all looked exactly like the routes Wes Welker ran the past 6 years, but I digress) and they ran the clock out to kick the game winning field goal. I understand they may have been wary that Welker was getting older, but I still don’t understand why they didn’t do what they had to do to ensure he came back as a Patriot.

– The bright spot of all the first week was undoubtedly the defense. They only allowed 14 points and showed that they can stop the run and force the other team to beat them through the air. This year’s offense will be a work in progress, as evidenced by the fact that Brady is not on the same page with his young receivers and tight ends. As time goes on, and Gronk comes back to the lineup, Brady will make sure the offense finds its way. However, as I’ve mentioned, the key to this year’s team will be its defense. They need to control the game and continue to get the ball back for their offense exactly like they did today.

About Steve Bastek - @sbastek12

Graduate of Bridgewater State University with a BA in Communication studies. I've been a Boston sports fan all my life and enjoy having the opportunity to write about it.

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