ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – There’s sometimes a dispassion about the Patriots as they clinically go about their business. They don’t merely play against their opponents each week, scuffling to put up more points than the other guys over 60 minutes. They play against a performance standard that the coaches and players set for themselves.
Which is why – despite wins of 20, 18, 11 and 16 over AFC opponents since Tom Brady returned – there’s still that niggling “good but not good enough” air afterwards. It’s as if the opponent is incidental.
Well, the Bills got the Patriots to put down their briefcases this week, crack their knuckles and decide that, since the Bills wanted to make it personal a few weeks back, the Patriots would make it personal at New Era Field.
The Bills squeezed a little old school, circa 2003-07 Patriots emotion from the normally stoic team.
PATRIOTS 41, BILLS 25:
- Belichick on Gronkowski's record-setting 69th TD: 'Love to see those touchdowns'
- McCourty: Pretty sad if pre-game scuffle with Patriots is highlight of Bills’ season
- Bills Mafia outdoes itself: Fans throw a 'marital aid' on the field
- Curran's Patriots-Bills preview review
- Troy Brown: Max Kellerman is the biggest Tom Brady hater in the world
The 16-0 whitewashing in Foxboro without Brady and with a pregame bum’s rush for Jacoby Brissett? "That definitely stood on our minds,"said safety Devin McCourty. "We didn’t forget about that."
The Patriots have played crisper games on defense. And they could have scored more than the 41. But they rattled organs on Sunday. From Dont'a Hightower’s violent enveloping of Mike Gillislee on the Bills’ first possession to an array of takedowns by Malcolm Butler and through the organ-rattling hit by McCourty which chased Brandon Tate from the game, the Patriots delivered their messages to Rex Ryan’s team.
And afterward, McCourty delivered the message verbally as well. Asked about the dustup between the Bills DBs, Brissett, Malcolm Mitchell and a few Patriots assistants, McCourty said derisively, “What was that . . . Like, that wasn’t even a play. Was that the thing of the year that they got in a little scuffle? I mean, maybe it’s the highlight of their season. But that’s pretty sad if that’s your highlight.
"We know what it was about coming up here today. Coming up here today and getting a win in the division. Every win you get in the division it puts another team behind us even more so. That’s what our focus was. I didn’t think anything was gonna happen. They were probably more worried about having to come play us again more than anything.”
It was good to see somebody channel their inner Rodney Harrison. Or Tedy Bruschi, Willie McGinest or Mike Vrabel and show that – despite the methodical detachment we usually bear witness to – they get pissed off when somebody tries to dump their books in the hallway. And they remember it.
More good news? Another round of lippiness from the Bills after the game ensures that there will be more for the Patriots to file away when they see the Bills in 2017. Or in the playoffs. But probably in 2017.
Bills linebacker Zach Brown lamented the Bills injuries: “They are at full strength and we aren’t at full strength. I mean we don’t got our running back, we don’t got Sammy (Watkins), I mean Zo (Lorenzo Alexander) is hurt, myself playing with an injury, Jerry (Hughes) ended up leaving the game with an injury. So we are not at full strength ourselves. So (Tom Brady) took advantage of us not being at full strength. Taking advantage of people coming in, backing up.”
Bills corner Stephon Gilmore lamented penalties: “Penalties gave them everything, just gave them everything really . . . They didn’t ever beat us one-on-one really. We just gave them everything. He seen it, easy throws, just gave them everything.”
And Brown – who signed a one-year deal with the Bills back in April – intimated that without Brady, the Patriots are just a collection of guys.
“Yeah, some people they gain confidence when they have (Tom) Brady,” he said. “When Brady wasn’t here they were not heard of. So it is like who are you when you are not with that guy. You are not the same player. So for me it’s more of you are just a guy when you are not with him. When you are with him you think you are somebody. But for me he is just a great player. Tom, he is good, give him his respect.”
Brown ambled around saying it specifically, but it’s clear his target was Rob Gronkowski as Brown also told the Boston Globe, “I’m more impressed with [Martellus] Bennett than Gronk. When Tom Brady wasn’t here, you didn’t hear [Gronkowski]. But when Tom Brady comes back he knows where to place it, how to place it, and he uses Gronk’s size to his advantage.”
“As far as blocking, no, I do not think he’s one of the best. Bennett is probably a better blocker.”
The game? The game hinged on an exchange in the first quarter.
After the Patriots made it 7-3, the Bills held on the kickoff return and started at their 7. Charles Clay then had a Tyrod Taylor pass go through his hands, Tate cement-fisted a well-thrown ball by Taylor, the Bills uncorked a 33-yard punt and the Patriots were in the end zone two minutes later with a 14-3 lead.
That was pretty much it. The same script we saw against Pittsburgh showed up on the next two Patriots drives – a couple of three-and-outs and then a Bills touchdown. Then the Bills made the same coverage mistake the Steelers did and let JAG Gronkowski run down the seam with an overmatched corner on him and there was your separation again.
The Bills missed a 49-yarder late in the half, the Patriots motored downfield and Stephen Gostkowski got off the schnied with a 51-yarder through the wind off the post and in and then Danny Amendola took the second half kickoff back 73 yards to set up the score that made it 31-10.
The remaining focus for the day was on a flying sex toy.
The gap between the Patriots and teams like the Bills isn’t going away. And with a week to get under the hood and figure out why a defense chock-full-o’-talent is too often pedestrian the Patriots will widen the gap between themselves and the rest of the proletariat even further.
But at least this week I got 900 words on something other than, “Wow, aren’t the Patriots a pain to defend…?” It was a little bit like the old days.