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Game Observations: Takeaways save Patriots from Bills

20190929-GameObservations-PDC

The Patriots grabbed four interceptions and returned a blocked punt for a touchdown to lead them to their fourth win of the season, downing their divisional rivals the Buffalo Bills 16-10. The offense put up just nine points and looked out of sync all game, as Tom Brady struggled to find any kind of rhythm, but the big plays by the defense and special teams were enough to get the win.

The offense’s ineptitude led to the game coming down the very final drive, as Matt Barkley led the Bills down the field into Patriots territory, but Kyle Van Noy forced an errant throw by Barkley and Jamie Collins grabbed his third interception of the season to seal the game.

Here are the game observations from what was another grind-it-out win.

- After their first drive stalled to open the game, Devin McCourty grabbed an interception in his fourth-straight game and the Patriots were off to a good start, once again sparked by the defense. The offense returned the favor by grinding out a touchdown-scoring drive that required two key third-down conversions from James White. It would be the offense’s only touchdown of the game.

- Stephen Gostkowski missed the opening extra point for the second week in a row and now leads the league with four missed point-afters. Later in the game the team decided to go for it on 4th-and-8 from the 35, which they converted on a pass interference call. Gostkowski’s inconsistent season continues to be troubling.

- J.C. Jackson’s blocked punt was taken into the end zone by Matthew Slater, Slater’s first career touchdown, coming in his 12th season. For one of the best people to ever don a Patriots uniform it was a well-deserved and long-awaited career moment and one that will headline his induction into the Pats Hall of Fame. It was one of the few non-defensive highlights of the day.

- Jamie Collins’ athleticism was on full display on his third-down sack near the end of the first quarter that kept the Bills out of field goal range. Collins stayed in front of Allen, preventing the quarterback from tucking and running, and then quickly closed and made a strong tackle. Collins is the perfect linebacker to have against modern offenses with mobile quarterbacks and his value to the defense can’t be overstated. To have a second like Kyle Van Noy, who was outstanding as well, makes the Patriots defense even more spoiled.

- The Patriots defense continues to run Cover-0 a ton, an aggressive defensive play call where it’s cornerbacks on receivers with no safety help. They have yet to get burned on it, as all of Allen’s passes were too short and two were picked off. A competent deep-throwing offense could take advantage of it someday, but who knows if that offenses even exists outside of Kansas City.

- J.C. Jackson’s blocked punt and two interceptions were three highlight plays as the top-four corners continue to all be outstanding. Jackson would jump early on a second-half blitz that allowed Josh Allen to escape, but overall the secondary was once again excellent while playing a ton of man coverage. Jackson continues to build on his solid 2018 rookie season.

Despite jumping out to 13-0 lead in the first half, the offense struggled to move the ball all game long. Edelman was mostly a decoy and those he did catch were short underneath passes, while Gordon and Dorsett had five catches between them. After James White the offense was dead in the water, which is a credit to the Bills defense but also a sign of a Patriots offense still searching for who they are outside of White and (a healthy) Edelman.

- Frank Gore busted off some impressive runs, highlighted by a 41-yarder. Is it a troubling sign that their run defense could be exploited somewhere down the line? Dont’a Hightower is a big part of shutting that kind of thing down so don’t get too worried yet.

- With Jacob Johnson inserted at fullback and Jermaine Eluemanor playing as a third tackle at times, the Pats’ attempt to get their run going still fell woefully short. On the day they finished with 3.2 yards-per-carry. There were still no explosive plays and they had just 74 yards on the ground.

- James White finished with eight catches for 57 yards to lead the team and was the only somewhat potent offensive piece for the Patriots.

- Jake Bailey continues to be a weapon with his explosive punts that make the ball seem like it’s inflated with helium. On the day, Bailey had nine punts with a 48.1 yards-per-punt average and a long of 61. He was a critical part of the win because the offense failed to move the ball and spent much of the day playing from deep from their end of the field.

- Tom Brady’s end zone interception after a long second-quarter drive was a bad decision and it lowlighted a day where the passing offensive was ineffective. Brady finished 18-for-39 for 150 yards in his poorest performance of the season.

- The Bills opened the second half with a quick drive that was inside the 10-yard-line in five plays with a focus on underneath passes that were very effective and absent from their first-half game plan. A strong stop on third-and-1 by the goal-line defense was followed by a Josh Allen jump-over-the-top for the first touchdown allowed by the Patriots defense this season. It was a surprisingly easy drive by the Bills.

- Josh Gordon’s 31-yard reception late in the third quarter was challenged but upheld in a critical moment of the game. But once again the Pats offense flamed out and had to settle for a field goal. Red zone struggles continue to be an issue, especially later in the game.

- Jonathan Jones had a helmet-to-helmet hit on Josh Allen which was unquestionably a penalty, yet the Bills were also called for a penalty that offset it. You hate to see a quarterback go down like that but if you’re going to run your QB that much you put him at risk. Matt Barkley still converted the following third-down play and got the Bills all the way down to the one-yard-line. But the Pats defense held on fourth-down with what was a game-saving pass defended. It was a fascinating sequence with the game in the balance.

- The offense had seven three-and-outs and one four-and-out, illustrating just how little they had going on in this game.

The Patriots defense was challenged more than they have been this season, but they came through with multiple interceptions that were the biggest deciding factor of the game. They might not be quite as impenetrable as we might’ve dreamt they could be, but they carried the day in game where the offensive struggled as much as we’ve seen in a long time. Buffalo’s mistakes and miscues were a huge factor as well, especially early when they seemed jittery out of the gate and dropped a number of passes.

As for the offense, they were terrible. There’s no other way to put it. With Edelman limited, no one else stepped up and the entire squad looked completely out of sync for the great majority of the game. The search for an identity, for what they can hang their hat on, continues. It’s still only Week 4 and plenty of time to find some answers but they have a long way to go and a lot to figure out.

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