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Sunday, November 11, 2012
Rapid Reaction: Patriots 37, Bills 31

By Mike Reiss

 

FOXOROUGH, Mass. -- Rapid Reaction from the Patriots' 37-31 win over the Bills at Gillette Stadium:

PatriotsBillsWhat it means. The Patriots improve to 6-3 with a 3-0 mark in the AFC East. This wasn’t as decisive a performance as the team’s fans hoped for, as the defense was sliced up for most of the final three quarters and the Bills drove late with a chance to win. There was a large disparity in accepted penalties -- 14 for the Bills (148 yards), seven for the Patriots (73 yards) -- which defined the choppy nature of the game. The Bills fall to 3-6, 0-3 in the AFC East.

Concerns for the defense. The Patriots came up with three important turnovers but otherwise offered little resistance against the Bills. The tackling was poor. The Bills racked up yardage on the ground and through the air. In this particular game, the Patriots didn’t look like a championship defense. They were solid against the Rams before the bye, but some of the prior concerns have resurfaced. One question to consider: Can cornerback Aqib Talib, acquired at the trade deadline, make a big enough difference?

Offense can’t close it decisively. Because of the struggles on defense, the Patriots needed the offense to win them the game. Quarterback Tom Brady & Co. were solid but couldn’t deliver the final knockout punch despite a first-and-goal at the 2 with 2:54 remaining. A run for minus-2 yards, then a false-start penalty on running back Stevan Ridley set the Patriots back and they had to settle for a field goal to go up 37-31. That put the pressure on the much-maligned defense, which delivered in the end. (Or did the Bills gift-wrap it for the Patriots with an ill-advised Ryan Fitzpatrick interception -- by Devin McCourty -- with 23 seconds left?)

Injuries to monitor. Starting right guard Dan Connolly (back injury, second quarter) and starting left guard Logan Mankins (ankle injury, third quarter) left the game and did not return. Thus, the Patriots finished the game with backups at both guard spots -- Donald Thomas on the right side and Nick McDonald on the left side. This is naturally an area of concern for them.

Penalty-filled performance for Bills. The Bills were flagged for 10 accepted penalties in the first half for 119 yards. They appeared to have a legitimate complaint with one of them -- a pass-interference call in the end zone in the second quarter that set up a touchdown for the Patriots to go up 24-10 -- but overall they were uncharacteristically sloppy as the Patriots opened up an early lead. That was a big factor in the game. On a related note, Bill Leavy’s crew worked the final quarter and a half down one official because of an injury to the head linesman.

What’s next. The Patriots host rookie quarterback Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, Nov. 18. The game will kick off at 4:25 p.m. ET after being flexed from its original 1 p.m. slot. The Bills return home to host Miami on Thursday.