Gresh's Grades: Make it two in a row for Pats
With all the turnovers forced by the defense, especially in the second quarter, the Patriots could have put this one away early. But the offense couldn't cash in, and they had to settle for field goals. That, however, changed in the second half. Now we know that TB12 will stand in the pocket and deliver, even in the face of pressure, because he's starting to trust his guys. There were some issues with alignment and false starts, but they overcame their mistakes and personnel losses for a solid performance.
When protected, he delivers. I think we can safely say that the issues early on this season were more on the offensive line than the QB. TB12 spread the ball around willingly, including taking some chances (I.e., the Brian Tyms TD), and the guys made plays for him. Of 37 targets, only 21 went to Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman, and that's a BIG plus moving forward. I thought Brady slid around well in the pocket and his accuracy was good as he put the ball in spots for guys to make plays after the catch. Biggest development: He's trusting the guys around him.
RUNNING BACKS: B-
To be fair, I don't think that Pats went into this game with the intent to run the ball that much. They tried to get Stevan Ridley going before he got hurt, but there wasn't a lot of movement up front and that forced them to bounce it outside. I will give this group credit, though: I thought they were damn good in pass protection. If Ridley's done for the season, get ready for James White. I like him. He can run inside and has some of the bounce of Shane Vereen. Move over, Brandon Bolden.
WIDE RECEIVERS: B+
The grade got lowered because of the false starts. And I don't care that it's loud in Buffalo: That is IN-EX-CUSE-A-BLE. Edelman has developed into one of the most consistent receivers in the league. He does so many little things, like understanding where the tackle could be coming from and either spinning away or avoiding contact from a defender. Brandon LaFell is coming along nicely and his ability to run after the catch, combined with his size, is impressive. Tyms did a great job of fighting for a ball thrown into double coverage, but didn't do much else. I need to see if he can read coverage and run precise routes before I jump on the bandwagon. Aaron Dobson had a nice catch, then jumped offsides and was benched. And if Danny Amendola isn't in the Edelman role, I don't think he'll ever be productive.
TIGHT ENDS: A
Gronk is back in a big way, and it's not just the catch-and-contact plays. When he dove late in the third quarter and got dinged up a bit, it was the fact that he "laid out" for a ball that showed me he's regained confidence in his body and its ability to respond. His third-and-16 catch late in the fourth quarter was just beautiful. Great route. And with his effectiveness, it's opened up opportunities for guys like Tim Wright around the goal line. Michael Hoomanawanui does nothing for me other than blocking, but he wasn't a problem so the grade isn't affected.
OFFENSIVE LINE: B+
The grade is up because they had to overcome the injuries to Dan Connolly and Bryan Stork. The Connolly one is massive because it means playing time for Jordan Devey, but -- on this week, at least -- he survived, which is a plus given how he's played this season. Nate Solder still had some issues adjusting to working without Connolly, but fixed it enough for the Pats to win. Too many QB hits, but I expect that to be cleaned up when Stork is back. They never set the pads in the running game, but that to me is an issue of play calling and intent of wanting to run the ball. Improvement is still needed, but they showed some guts and that goes a long way in the trenches.
I didn't like that right after the Pats extended the lead to 30-14, the defense gave up an 80-yard drive and a two-point conversion. But I'm taking into account how they had to adjust with playing Tavon Wilson more because Mayo went down. Mayo's out for the season, which is huge, because -- as we found out last year -- he's irreplaceable. The Buffalo receivers didn't impact the game in a major way, and I'm okay with letting tight end Scott Chandler catch all he wants because it NEVER comes back to bite them. Good job of bottling up the running game, but they need some third-down improvement. Bottom line is, they overcame a major loss (Mayo) and produced.
DEFENSIVE LINE: A
Vince Wilfork was a beast in this one. They moved him all across the front while Mayo was in there; after Jerod got hurt, he was primarily a NT to protect the middle of the defense. He stood out with his push and leverage. Casey Walker and Chris jones do yeoman’s work out and are solid, the kind of guys you need on your team: Grunts, and proud of it. I like the way Chandler Jones attacks the QB in rush situations; when he smells the ball, he goes and gets it. He may never be a ‘great’ run defender, but with his rush ability all he has to do is be good. And he is that.
The dynamic of the group changed when Mayo went out. Jaime Collins isn’t the prototypical MLB but had to step in there once Mayo was injured. I think Collins is better matching up with someone than playing in space and guarding an area. Deonte Skinner was respectable in the role they asked him to play. This group needs Dont'a Hightower back, and fast.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: A-
I thought this group completely shut down Sammy Watkins with a lot of Darrelle Revis, and a little zone to change it up. Robert Woods isn’t a dynamic enough a player to win the game by himself and I do believe the Pats chose to let Woods and Chandler bleed them slowly, knowing it wouldn’t be enough to win the game. Chandler won battles again almost everyone, including Wilson, who will be needed with Mayo out. Paging Mr. Browner . . . Mr. Brandon Browner . . .
SPECIAL TEAMS: C
Not super clean. When 1) you have a missed field goal in part from a bad snap, 2) the snapper gets a false start, and 3) you give up some return yardage, you’ve had an average night. Ryan Allen had the opportunity to pin the Bills deep and wasn’t as good as he’s been inside the 20. They did clean up the operation and contributed points, but too many self-inflicted wounds to earn a higher grade.
'IT AIN'T BROKE
1) TB12. He’s been great when protected.
2) GUTS. This team has some with what they overcame.
3) Winning the turnover battle. Brady protects the ball while the 'D' steals it.
'BUT IT NEEDS FIXING'
1) Clean up the special teams.
2) Penalties of procedure. Especially from the outside skill players.
3) Need more points off turnovers.
Andy Gresh is a talkshow host on 98.5 The Sports Hub and for 10 years has worked pre and post game analysis on the Patriots Radio Network. He is also co-author of the book “The Great Book of Boston Sports Lists.” Follow him on twitter @greshandzo.