BOSTON (CBS) — That just did not feel like a Patriots win.
Maybe it was the fact that they were plus-3 on turnovers but only won by six points. Maybe it was because the Bills were whistled for 14 penalties for 148 yards but the Patriots needed an end zone interception with 23 seconds on the clock to secure a victory. Maybe it was because the Bills averaged 6.8 yards per play, gained 481 yards overall, converted their only fourth down attempt as well as seven of 11 third downs and really should have won the game.
Of course, this is the NFL, so “should haves” don’t mean much on Sundays. And after the game, the common refrain from all the Patriots was that “the important thing was that we got the W.”
That may be true when it comes to Sunday, but people in New England don’t get excited for narrow November wins over the Bills; they get excited for Super Bowls. And there’s not a person on the planet who could have watched that Patriots game and thought this year’s team is capable of getting there.
So leave it to Deion Branch, one of the few Patriots left from those teams that actually won those Super Bowls, to properly sum things up in the locker room after the win.
“It’s not a good feeling,” Branch said, “because I know that we’re a lot better than what we put out on the football field today. We know that.”
Credit to Deion for simply telling it how it is. That’s the attitude that will need to spread throughout the whole locker room if this team is going to improve to the point where even winning a playoff game becomes a real possibility.
It’s not all bad news, though, so let’s get into the leftover thoughts from the Patriots’ 37-31 win over the Bills.
–There are many, many plays that go into winning an NFL game, but for me, if Tom Brady doesn’t complete a third-and-5 pass to Brandon Lloyd with 6:34 left in the game, I think the Patriots lose. An incompletion there, and the Patriots go three-and-out for the second consecutive drive, and the Bills would have needed to only drive down the field and kick a field goal to tie or score a touchdown to take a lead.
Instead, Brady took the shotgun snap standing at his own 32-yard line. He looked right to Danny Woodhead, whose route was two yards shy of the sticks, and he then looked left at Wes Welker, who was covered. Brady never panicked and instead found Lloyd wide open in the middle of the field. The play was remarkable in that it was so unspectacular, yet it moved the chains, and the Patriots drove for 11 more plays, chewed up 4:28 off the clock and tacked on a crucial field goal that forced the Bills to play for a touchdown.
–One more notable play on that same drive was the screen to Wes Welker, on which he cut all the way back across the field and turned a 3-yard loss into a 23-yard gain. That play was 90 percent Welker, but a great downfield block from Deion Branch on the left side of the field turned it from a seven-yard gain into a 23-yard pickup.
Branch may not be a great receiver at this point in his career, but the list of guys who would even be paying attention on a screen to the opposite side of the field is not a long one. That’s why Branch is on the roster.
–Hey, Buffalo Bills. Click this link. You’re welcome.
–Ryan Fitzpatrick offered the harshest trash talk from a Harvard kid since that nerd tried to embarrass Ben Affleck in that Hahhvihd Bahh back in ’97 . The QB called Brandon Spikes “a punk,” which came after Fitzpatrick clearly said “[Super Expletive] you, man!” to Spikes after taking a helmet to the facemask. That’s not language befitting a Harvard man.
–The Bills eventually got things together offensively, but their opening drive was just typical Bills football. On third-and-1, Lee Smith jumped early for no reason, which forced a third-and-6. They converted that third down but it got called back for a needless holding penalty. They lined back up and got called for another false start, bringing up a third-and-21. Surprise of all surprises, they didn’t convert that third down.
The typical Bills parade continued on the ensuing Patriots drive, when a Tom Brady pass was tipped 10 feet in the air and softly fell into the hands of Bryan Scott. Both hands. Scott dropped it. The Patriots would drive down the field on that drive, kick a field goal, and a take a lead which they would keep for the remainder of the game.
–On the flipside, the Patriots might have had themselves a blowout victory if not for drops. Wes Welker dropped what would have been the easiest touchdown of his life on the Patriots’ opening drive, turning seven points into three. Branch’s drop came on a third down on that drive, and Welker dropped another easy pass that would have moved the chains when the Patriots were backed up to their goal line.
–And I covered this in the Four Ups, Four Downs from the game, but the mental mistakes made by the Patriots were almost too many to count. These guys aren’t nearly talented enough to have as many brain farts as they did on Sunday. From Alfonzo Dennard diving at a quarterback’s legs out of bounds, to Spikes putting his helmet on a quarterback’s face, to Jerod Mayo hitting C.J. Spiller well out of bounds, to the seven penalties for 73 yards, it’s actually hard to believe the Patriots came away with a win.
–The Bills’ final penalty tally was ungodly, but it wasn’t all their fault. The pass interference call on George Wilson in the end zone was as weak as those calls get, and it set up the Patriots on the 1-yard line. The pass interference call on Stephon Gilmore was awful as well, considering Brady’s pass to Lloyd landed closer to the fans in the front row than it did his receiver in the end zone. (I’ve been on this for years, but the word “uncatchable” is no longer in officials’ lexicon.) That, too, set up the Patriots on the 1-yard line, giving them 37 free yards. Both of those drives ended in touchdowns, and if I’m on the Bills, I can’t help but feel the game would have ended differently if not for those calls.
–Mario Williams signed a $100 million contract with the Bills and made it immediately clear his goal was to help the Bills beat the Patriots and Brady. Williams’ final stats against the Patriots in two games this year: five total tackles, zero sacks, roughly three total mentions by television announcers. Money well spent.
–In the weekly Stats Are For Losers Department, let’s point out Rob Ninkovich’s sack early in the second quarter. It was a fine play by Ninkovich, but that sack belonged wholly to Chandler Jones, who just dominated Cordy Glenn and forced Fitzpatrick to slide into his collapsing pocket.
–Brady took his high-arching loft pass out of his arsenal early in the second quarter on a 24-yard connection with Rob Gronkowski. You don’t see that one too often.
–The first time Zoltan Mesko stepped onto the field to punt came 19 minutes into the game, yet the Patriots only led by seven at the time. That seems nearly impossible.
–I appreciate Brady’s willingness to get in a receiver’s face if that receiver makes a costly mistake. But it can’t just be Julian Edelman this year or Tiquan Underwood last year. Massaging the ego of Chad Ochocinco for the entirety of 2011 but chewing out the low guys on the totem pole is not a good look.
–I understand that gunners can’t run out of bounds when covering punts, but why is it unsportsmanlike conduct? Would a true sportsman try his darndest to stay inbounds? Is that part of a sportsman’s code?
–Nick Barnett being the guy who has to try cover Woodhead goes to show you the types of problems that Gronkowski and Welker present to defenses and the headaches the New England offense give opposing defensive coordinators. Double that when Aaron Hernandez replaces Woodhead.
–Everyone wanted to talk about the Patriots’ tackling issues, but I disagree. I thought Steve Gregory showed perfect form when he tackled Brandon Spikes on the 25-yard screen to C.J. Spiller early in the fourth quarter. That type of tackling should be shown in high school film rooms across the country. Textbook.
–It’s easy and occasionally fun to make fun of the Bills for being the Bills, but you have to really respect the way they drove from their own 6 all the way to the New England 1-yard line before fumbling, but didn’t let that break their backs. They forced a three-and-out and then scored a touchdown on their next possession. We’ve seen many teams make similar mistakes against the Patriots and just fold, but the Bills nearly pulled off the comeback.
–At the same time, Chan Gailey calling a timeout with 8:24 left in the game was just so magnificently Buffalo Billian that the mockery won’t cease any time soon.
Did anything more perfectly display the feeling of all Patriots fans than the CBS shot of Brady “watching” the defense try to close out the game?
Brady said after the game that “the defense really saved the day.” He wasn’t being sarcastic, but it would have been much funnier if he was.
–One thing I found interesting was Stevan Ridley’s comment after the game about Woodhead: “That’s the leader in our room and Woody does it all. … My hat’s off to Woody for leading our room and doing it strong.”
It’s just kind of crazy that the 27-year-old out of Chadron State is the veteran leader of the running backs of a first-place NFL team, and yet, it kind of works.
–Bill Belichick is a Hall of Fame coach, but man, he really needs to work on his challenge flag throw. The crow hop left me breathless in anticipation; the delayed 7-yard throw straight into the turf left me utterly disappointed.
–Kidding aside, Belichick stepped to the podium after the game and before talking about football, made sure to send a sincere thank you to all our troops and veterans.
“I’ll just start by saying for myself and on behalf of the team, how much appreciation we have today [and on] Veterans Day, how we honored those veterans before the game and how appreciative we are for all that our servicemen and all the armed forces do for us and give us the opportunity to go out there and do what we did today,” Belichick said. “Without them, we all know that that really – it’s a part of our way of life and they protect it for us, and we appreciate that.”
As someone who is lucky enough to enjoy something as meaningless to the world as sports, I’d like to echo those sentiments and say the only thing that insignificant folks like me really can say: Thank you.
Screen shots courtesy of NFL.com/GameRewind.