Buffalo Shuts Down New England: Three Things We Learned
If it had been any other situation, the Buffalo Bills would have had a fight on their hands. The New England Patriots had been on a tear since week four, winning all but one game coming into week 17.
They have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and a bye coming up to rest and recuperate. I think they started early.
Did we learn anything from this game?
1. The Patriots need a good reset for the playoffs.
Sure, they've already got one extra week to rest and prepare. A first-round bye goes a long way in getting healthy and prepared for whomever emerges from the first round to visit Foxboro. Week 17 looked bad on paper (and on TV), but was almost inevitable given the situation.
Many players have minor dings and need more time to get back closer to 100%. It is never fun to lose, but with the big picture in mind, this was a good thing. It is also motivation to prepare and play tougher football.
2. The Patriots have front-line issues that came back to bite them.
Everybody hates to see sacks, and the Patriots yielded four of them today. But considering it was Buffalo (NFL leader in sacks), that's not so bad. Two of those were on Jimmy Garoppolo.
They also need to work on keeping defenders out of the backfield. It was bad enough that Patriot RBs only accumulated 116 yards, led by LeGarrette Blount with 62. Opening holes in the running game is as important as protecting Tom Brady.
3. The Patriot's D kept them in this game.
This unit has been doing it all year; they kept the Bills to 17 points and made key plays to slow their offense down. A strip-sack of Kyle Orton and the inspired play of Akeem Ayers, Jamie Collins, and Darrelle Revis is leading the Patriots into the post-season.
The defense gave the offense more chances than they deserved to get back into this game. You can't ask for much more than that. But the offense can't settle for field goals (thank you, Stephen Gostkowski for your consistency) and expect to win playoff games.
It is critical that the team patches things on the front line and gets their attitude back. Hopefully, today was not indicative of the spirit of this team. We saw great things this year, and the Patriots have decisively beaten two of the four teams they could host in the second round of the playoffs.
They have also beaten the Broncos, the team most likely to exit the second round and come to Gillette Stadium for the COnference Championship. Anything can happen. Good Luck Patriots!