The days of New England laying waste to opponents on a weekly basis are gone. That’s what was apparent Monday night in the Patriots’ “Are you kidding me?!” comeback win over the bad luck Buffalo Bills.
The Patriots appear to have come back to the pack. Their defense is not good. Their offensive line is going to be under siege all season. Their running game is generally ineffective.
It took the best quarterback of this — or maybe any — generation to intervene and put a smiley face at the bottom of a sloppy first exam.
But regardless of the final score, the Patriots were down by 11 points with 5:32 remaining. At home. To Buffalo. The Bills’ offense — playing without Marshawn Lynch, not utilizing Terrell Owens and working under an offensive coordinator it elevated to the position just two weeks ago — had just executed a six-minute, 14-play, 62-yard touchdown drive that left New England looking very, very average.
If it wasn’t for Tom Brady … that’s something Patriots fans may be saying even more this season than they have been for the past eight.
Against all odds, Brady is just as good as he was pre-knee injury. He went 39 for 53 for 378 yards with two touchdowns and a pick after missing virtually an entire season. Any questions? No. Definitely not. Not when he went 12 for 14 for 114 yards and two touchdowns in the final five minutes.
It’s all correctable. Bill Belichick is terrific at diagnosing and shoring up defensive weak spots. And players are maturing as New England hoped, such as safety Brandon Meriweather and linebacker Gary Guyton. But they are starting from further back than they normally do. They are not good, trying to get great. They are average, trying to get good.
Pity the Bills. They had this one. The tears rolling down the face of safety Donte Whitner in the Bills locker room after the game were proof of that.
“I wanted to shut everybody up who doesn't think we're a good football team,” said Whitner, who finished with 10 tackles. “We had our opportunity. We wanted to win, we needed a win, we had a win. We let it go and it’s tough. It’s only the first game but we can’t lose like this, we can’t lose these games. Eleven-point lead, four minutes to go in the game and we lost it. ... We did exactly what we expected to do in the first three-and-a-half quarters. We didn’t care who their quarterback was.
Asked if he’d ever experienced a more difficult loss, Whitner said, “No. We had them.”
That they did. And that’s because the Patriots can be had.
“We had a chance to really sit down and look at football this whole weekend beginning with Pittsburgh (and the Titans on Thursday night) and there was a lot of bad football this weekend. I think it had to do with Week 1 jitters. Now, I’m not making an excuse but it is what it is. I think we really just had to settle down and get to playing the football we know how to play.”
Offensively, if the Patriots can keep Brady from getting squished (and next week’s game with the Jets will be a real test of that), they will be fine.
But defensively, they have no real identity. Even though the best days were behind Mike Vrabel, Tedy Bruschi, Rodney Harrison and, perhaps, Richard Seymour, there’s a lot of intuitive knowledge that’s gone out the door at Gillette Stadium this offseason.
The Patriots may not exactly be vulnerable. But they aren’t unstoppable now either.
PFT: Jets RB Mike Goodson was charged with five gun and drug counts Friday morning, after New Jersey State Police found the car he was riding in parked in the middle of Route 80 in Denville, N.J.
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