There was not a single person that believed the Patriots had any shot in winning this game against the Bills on Sunday. And even though they ended up being right, New England had their chance to win.
It is quite clear that most people do not like to take moral victories, even Damien Harris said so in his post-game interview, saying that is “not what we’re here for. That’s not what we want to do.” However, even though this game was literally fumbled away, it was by far the best performance this offense has had since Cam Newton’s return from the COVID-19 list.
The Buffalo Bills have been a highly discussed team this season, especially becoming the leaders in the AFC East so far. As the Bills have been slowly creeping up in success the last few seasons, this game became even more anticipated than usual. Regardless of the recent struggles in New England, there was a little optimism the team would improve and (hopefully) hang with the Bills.
It’s difficult to not recognize Jakobi Meyers’ emergence as the top receiver for the Patriots this season. Over the last two weeks, he has been Newton’s favorite target; totaling 10 catches for 118 yards. With N’Keal Harry out of this game with a concussion and Julian Edelman put on injured reserve (IR), it appears we will be seeing more playing time for Meyers.
With the amount of success that Meyers has had this season, it raises the question, “why was he on the bench all these weeks?” As the Patriots receivers continue to struggle, it is difficult to imagine why Meyers hasn’t been integrated into the game planning sooner. It appears he has great chemistry and trust with Newton and has been better at gaining separation than others on the team. So what took them so long to use him?
As the season continues it would seem as though Meyers will remain the top target for Cam. Having the most success over the last two weeks, against two great defenses, certainly solidifies that. With Julian Edelman on IR for at least 2 more games and N’Keal Harry out until clearing concussion protocol, it is great to see a reliable receiver ready to go.
It was finally the debut for linebacker Josh Uche in Buffalo as the list of injuries for the team start to pile up. Statistically, it wasn’t the best introduction for Uche. But there were a couple of plays that made a difference in this game.
Although he has been mysteriously absent on most defensive snaps this year, Chase Winovich paired up with Uche in the first quarter, bringing pressure to Josh Allen. This forced the quarterback to panic throw on 3rd and 17, keeping the Bills on their own side of the field.
Uche brought the pressure to Allen once again in the third quarter, forcing him to scramble on 3rd and 8. Especially because of the opt-outs this season, and the decreased use of Winovich, the defense has struggled with the pass rush. With Uche bringing the pressure, it helped keep the Patriots in the game.
Hopefully we will be seeing continued playing time for Uche after a great debut for the rookie. As the rest of the team’s schedule continues to be difficult, Uche will play an important role for this defense going forward.
With Sony Michel still on IR this week, Damien Harris is continuing his campaign in becoming the Patriots’ RB1.
In this game against Buffalo, Harris added a second game of over 100 yards to his season, with 16 carries for 102 yards and a touchdown. As most of the rushing yards came from Harris’ carries, he helped bring the running game back to life after a slow few weeks in the backfield. Averaging 5.5 yards per carry in this game, it is the best average since week 3 against the Raiders and most yardage (with 188) since that game as well.
Through the first 7 games, the Patriots lead the league in rush offense, which may be surprising with their seemingly starting running back not playing much this season so far. Harris has been the biggest contributing factor to the success of the run game, especially with yards after contact.
It should also be noted the success of Harris has greatly improved with key players on the offensive line returning from injury. They created many holes for the run game yesterday, with Harris having a long run of 22 yards and Cam for 19 yards.
It may not be a popular opinion to say that Cam Newton improved in this game, as most of his success this week will be clouded from the game losing fumble. But since returning from his COVID-19 diagnosis, this was his best performance.
The first half wasn’t pretty for the team and certainly not for Cam. But in usual Patriots fashion, the second half was a different story.
The play-calling for the first 30 minutes of the game was far too conservative playing against a tough Bills team; understandably so to an extent as the weather was sure to dictate much of the game plan. However, as the game went on, we saw more of the Cam Newton from the first few weeks of the season; more precise passes, less hesitation, more running plays for himself. It gives a glimmer of hope as the season goes on.
Ending the game 15 for 25 for 175 yards and a rushing touchdown was a vast improvement from last week against the Broncos. The biggest improvement was no interceptions. As ball security continues to be an issue for this team, it was good to see Cam not make questionable passes ending as an INT.
Yes, the game ended due to a fumble while Cam was running the ball. Yes, they had time to tie the game and/or score a touchdown to win. And yes, it is not an enjoyable way to lose whatsoever. But let’s not forget who got them into a winning position. Cam was able to improve in the second half, helping to tie the game twice and setting the team up for a possible game winning drive.
Arguments about the success of this year’s team and who’s to blame has been the hot topic all season long, and Newton is getting the brunt of it. He is certainly not free of criticism, watching any game this year makes that obvious. But as it has been said before, disregarding all the circumstances of this season is irresponsible and unrealistic.
It’s easy to blame the quarterback. That is what most media outlets and fans do. It’s also just as easy to ignore the circumstances in which make direct impact to a team and/or a player. However, that doesn’t make it fair to do so.
Cam Newton didn’t come into a team that set him up for success. It was just one season ago that Tom Brady struggled with almost the same offense. There was virtually no OTAs this year. There was no preseason. Practices have been altered due to the protocols put into place for the pandemic. Newton tested positive for COVID-19 and missed a game, which also then moved up their already early bye to a week sooner.
And although much of this has impacted the 31 other teams in the league as well, other parts have not.
This team is struggling, and it is not a familiar sight for many Patriots fans. It is not fun to lose, anyone can tell you that. But this team is struggling in many different aspects, not just at the quarterback position. Keep in mind everything that has happened this season, or didn’t happen, and how that has greatly impacted the potential success for this team.
It’s not an excuse. It’s reality. The post Tom Brady era wasn’t going to be easy. It was bound to not be pretty. But putting the blame solely on Cam Newton is not only unfair, it’s ignorant.
Not all was lost in this game, as there were plenty of improvements made from weeks prior. The game did end in gut-wrenching fashion, however, which has summarized the feeling of this season for many people.
Along with the improvements made in this game, there are still many sore spots on this team. Most of the issues are continuing from week to week, but the penalties in this game against Buffalo is not one that has been a problem thus far.
It’s also never fun to question the play calling, but it’s definitely been a noticeable point of discussion this season. With the adjustments that come from having a new quarterback, there will be a learning curve of course. But there were a few moments in this game that left you scratching your head, and not much clarity was given from Bill Belichick in his post-game presser.
The Run Defense
It is another week and another game where the Patriots defense cannot stop the run game. On Sunday, the team allowed Buffalo to run all over them, ending the game with 38 carries for 190 yards and 3 touchdowns. On one drive in the game, the Bills took advantage of the lack of run defense and literally ran the ball the entire drive, scoring a touchdown on 9 plays.
Combined with the struggling run defense, the team has also been continuing to miss tackles and allowing far too much yardage after contact. Missing 8 tackles in this game, it allowed for Buffalo to gain 3.4 yards after contact per carry and 8.7 yards after contact per reception. This is not how you win football games.
Where is Chase Winovich?
It is not fair to say that Chase Winovich has not been performing well because that would not exactly be the truth. You cannot perform well if you’re not put into the game.
For the last few weeks, it’s been quite noticeable the absence of Winovich on the field. In this game against Buffalo, he played in only 5 defensive snaps, a new season low for the linebacker. It is unclear the reasoning for this, especially since he was so involved at the start of this season. In the first four weeks, Winovich played in an average of 66% of all defensive snaps, totaling 2.5 sacks and 6 QB hits. Since then, he has played in an average of only 21% and the team has only tallied 4 total sacks.
As the team’s leader in sacks, and appearing to be the best pass rusher, it’s unusual for his playing time to be cut so drastically. Without an explanation, it’s difficult to say what the reasoning is. Hopefully we will see more snaps for Winovich the rest of the season, as he could be a huge asset for an underperforming defense as of late.
The Patriots have been one of the least penalized teams in the NFL this year, but they made up for some of it in this game.
The killer of the day was the handful of pre-snap flags, as it negated a few great plays and sent the team back either out of field goal range or making a down and long situation.
What was that onside kick? It is understandable to try and incorporate a trick play when momentum is on your side and you would like to take advantage of the moment, but was that call necessary? This took all the energy out of New England and gave the Bills great starting field position that then led to a quick touchdown.
Or how about deciding to go for a field goal on 3rd and 1, on Buffalo’s 15-yard line, with 12 seconds left until the half? It is important to try and go for points whenever you can, especially when you’re losing. But does Josh McDaniels and Bill Belichick not believe in this offense? Did they really think that Cam Newton, or maybe Damien Harris, wouldn’t be able to run 1 yard (and out of bounds due to no timeouts remaining) for a first down?
After suffering 4 straight losses in a row for the first time since 2002, the Patriots can look forward to playing the 0-8 New York Jets next week. Assuming they can win that game, it’s possible that’ll be a helpful restart for this team to get back on track.
Although admitting to your faults doesn’t help win football games, it is good to see this team is aware of their issues and are not content with their performances in these games. As the season continues, the team is hopeful to get things turned around and the fans should be too. It’s not easy to lose for anyone, nor is it ever fun. But this is the time when the team needs their fans support. Fair weather fans can exit. The Patriots spoiled their fans for two decades, we should be able to handle an unperfect season.
Don’t give up on this team yet. That’s been said many times this season, but it’s true. This team isn’t done. Cam Newton isn’t done. As Julian Edelman has said, “you gotta believe!”
(Photo credit: Photos of Chase Winovich/Josh Uche, Cam Newton – Rich Barnes of USA TODAY Sports and of Jakobi Meyers – Adrian Kraus of AP Photo)
–Sara Marshall is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage Sports Media and covers the New England Patriots. Follow her on Twitter @sarmarxo