The Patriots took early control of the AFC East with a spirited 40-32 victory on the road in Buffalo. The Bills made a late rally to make it interesting, but New England's offense was too much all afternoon. Here are some random thoughts from the Buffalo game.
Adjustment bureau (Defense) -The Patriots coaching staff was busy early in the game as Bill Belichick made wholesale changes on both sides of the ball after the opening possessions for both teams. The Bills opened by running the ball right at New England's 4-3 front, which included a heavier look with Sealver Siliga and Alan Branch at tackles and Jerod Mayo at middle linebacker and Patrick Chung at strong safety. After Buffalo went 80 yards Belichick inserted Jabaal Sheard and used Jamie Collins more aggressively near the line of scrimmage and the Bills went three-and-out twice beforeTyrod Taylor ended the next series with a pick.
Adjustment bureau (Offense) -The same was true on offense. Tom Brady completed his first two passes but they netted just 2 yards and the Patriots went three-and-out. On their next series Josh McDaniels opened things up and used some downfield routes. The drive started with an Aaron Dobson catch for 16 yards followed by a 36-yarder to Rob Gronkowski. With the ball in the red zone Brady finished it with a touchdown pass to Edelman where the wideout was doubled by a linebacker and safety while Gronkowski was matched up with corners. The scheme adjustments worked to perfection as the Patriots also found the end zone on their next two possessions.
2007 redux -Running up the score always seems to be a topic of conversation in New England and it will no doubt be one again after the Patriots victory in Buffalo. Back in 2007 the Patriots ran roughshod over the league and often kept the pedal down even after the outcome had long since been decided. That seemed to be the mindset in the fourth quarter with the Patriots in control with a 37-13 lead. The Bills continued to fight and put what looked like a meaningless touchdown on the board to make it 33-19, and that's when things got uncomfortable. Rather than being content to run out the clock, Belichick and McDaniels kept it in the air exclusively and even on fourth-and-one had Brady try to deep all to Edelman. It fell incomplete and soon the Bills were back in the end zone, making it 37-25. Again Brady stayed with the passing game, and curiously he continued chucking it deep. He took a deep drop and was strip sacked byJerry Hughes, setting up another Buffalo touchdown and suddenly with a 37-32 with more than four minutes to go. Understanding how the offseason was received in Foxborough and the desire to take out some frustration on overmatched opponents, the Patriots decision to keep passing rather than trying to run out the clock created some unnecessary drama.
Rex effect -One of negatives associated with Rex Ryan as a coach is his emotional approach can often put his teams on the edge. It was one of the big story lines heading into the game and it manifested itself negatively for the home team early and often. The Bills had five special teams penalties in the first half, and Aaron Williams came up with a personal foul after Corey Graham's long fumble return had the Bills in business at the Patriots 29. Instead they moved back 15 yards and failed to capitalize. Buffalo finished the first half with eight penalties and two turnovers. Emotions ran high for Buffalo all day, and most of the time it didn't serve the Bills well.
Down PAT -The new extra point rule where kickers now have to convert from 33 yards out has been one of the early-season storylines generating plenty of attention. The Patriots were impacted by it for the first time as Dan Carpenter pushed his second attempt wide to the right to keep the Patriots lead at 8 at the time. Interestingly, Carpenter opts to kicks his PATs from the left hash mark while Stephen Gostkowski, who is perfect thus far, keeps his in the middle. Teams have always had the option of placing the ball in the middle or on either hash on PATs.
Hand it to him - Malcolm Butler may never be able to fill the shoes of Darrelle Revis but one area he may be on par with the future Hall of Famer is his hands. Butler's second-quarter pick of Taylor was a thing of beauty as the corner was able to get his hands off a deflected pass near the ground and hauled it in. The pass was inches from the ground but Butler managed to get his hands under it and made a spectacular interception to set up the Patriots third touchdown. Butler has shown tremendous ball skills throughout his year-plus in New England and his first-career regular-season interception was a thing of beauty.
Good and bad -Belichick has taken an interesting path when dealing with Dion Lewis early in the season. The dynamic third-down back has made several plays during the first two weeks but he also put the ball of the ground twice as well. Rather than ignoring Lewis after the miscues, however, Belichick has stuck with him and in Buffalo he was rewarded for that faith. After Buffalo's touchdown made it a one-score game in the second quarter, Lewis got behind a Bills linebacker for a huge 40-yard gain on a drive that ended with a 46-yard Gostkowski field goal. Had Belichick put Lewis on the shelf perhaps the big play that followed wouldn't have developed at a point in the game when the Patriots needed a boost.
Dobson steps up - With Brandon LaFell out for at least the first six weeks the offense is lacking a complementary piece on the outside. Against the Bills Aaron Dobson stepped into the role admirably and came away with his best game since midway through his rookie season. Dobson caught seven passes for 87 yards, and even though he did have a bad drop on a short throw in the third quarter his contributions gave the offense a lift. He was a presence stretching the field both on outs and seam routes that hurt the Bills secondary, especially after Buffalo showed some toughness on shorter routes early on.
Extra points -The Patriots improved to 79-42 (.653) on the road under Belichick, best in the league, and they also improved to 24-3 against Buffalo with Brady. ... New England registered 8 sacks, the most for the Patriots in a game since Sept. 14, 2003, at Oakland where they recorded 11. ... Brady's three touchdown passes leave him just one shy of 400 for his career. Also, his 466 yards passing was the second-highest total of his career, trailing only the 517 he piled up against Miami in 2011. ... Gronkowski notched his fourth touchdown of the season and now has at least one TD catch in five straight regular-season games. ... Lewis scored his first touchdown as a Patriot and piled up a career-best 98 receiving yards while emerging as the team's lead back through two games. ... Michael Williams recorded his first NFL reception, a 15-yarder in the second quarter. ... Chandler Jones had a career-best three sacks while Jamie Collins' 2.5 sacks also were a career high.