After writing on the defense Sunday, and with colleague Field Yates covering observations from the first half and second half earlier today, here are a few additional thoughts after film review as we close the book on the Patriots' 37-31 win over the Bills:
1. Chandler Jones and run defense. The first-round draft choice had his standard disruptive plays (e.g. drawing a holding penalty, covering in the flat to take away Ryan Fitzpatrick's first read to help produce a strip sack), but his struggles to set the edge in the running game stood out as well, particularly in the second quarter. Jones has been lauded for his work against the run this season, but it looked like he was guessing a bit too much Sunday, taking himself out of gaps before the play came to him (specific examples: 12-yard run by C.J. Spiller in second quarter, then the 14-yard touchdown run by Fred Jackson). While that wasn't a problem restricted solely to Jones -- the overall run fits were sloppy for pretty much the entire defense -- it was the first time we can remember it showed up as much as it did with Jones.
2. Opening kickoff confusion. It wasn't picked up on the television broadcast, but the Patriots won the opening toss and elected to defer the choice to the second half, as they often do. When referee Bill Leavy announced that the Bills had chosen to defend one side of the field, it appeared as if Buffalo made a mistake and chose a side to defend instead of taking the ball to open the game. That would have set up a scenario where the Patriots could have received the kickoff to open both halves. Belichick approached an official to confirm, which ultimately led Leavy to straighten things out with both sidelines and declare to Belichick that he had miscommunicated and/or mis-signaled things initially. The Bills ended up taking the ball in the first half. "It was kind of confusing," Belichick said.
3. If these were replacement officials. ... There would have been a louder uproar. Not a great game from the third team on the field, and the Patriots were the beneficiary on the whole.
4. Vollmer deserving of recognition. Patriots right tackle Sebastian Vollmer was recognized by one writer last week as one of the NFL's bigger bargains (link here), and this game only strengthened that line of thinking. Another strong effort from him against Mario Williams, who wasn't heard from often, if at all. For the most part, the edges were well accounted for, while the interior looked a little more vulnerable in pass protection at times.
5. Goal-line running a disappointment. One of the bigger offensive disappointments was when the Patriots went with their big package near the goal line and couldn't run it in. They tried twice and the results were rushes of minus-2 and minus-1 yards.
6. Pass rush started fast, then faded. The Patriots rushed three or four defenders for most of the game, as there weren't many blitzes. While the rush tailed off considerably as the game progressed, it was actually quite impressive early in the game. Chandler Jones drew a holding penalty on the first series, Vince Wilfork had the strip sack recovered by Jermaine Cunningham on the second drive, Justin Francis applied heat off the right edge early on the third drive, and Rob Ninkovich registered a sack to close that drive, cleaning up some solid work by Jones on the other side. So there were flashes. Just not enough of them over the final three quarters.
7. Following up on Welker. Wes Welker had two big drops, which had him on the cusp of the "down" category in the at-an-initial-glance "3 up, 3 down" entry after the game, but his 23-yard catch-and-run on the Patriots' final drive -- coupled with finishing as the team's leading receiver -- ultimately spared him. One could make the case that's letting him off the hook. After watching the game again, still felt like that one could have gone either way. Welker still made some big catches in the game, it just wasn't as consistent of a performance as we're used to seeing from him.
8. Situational football and the quick snap. The Patriots' game management at the end of the fourth quarter was debatable. After a Stevan Ridley 10-yard run advanced the ball to the Bills' 2 with 3:14 remaining, the Patriots quick-snapped on first down with 2:54 remaining, and Ridley was dropped for a 2-yard loss. In retrospect, given the result, the smarter play would have been to work the clock down more. Then again, the Patriots quick-snapped earlier in the game and the result was a Ridley 1-yard touchdown run. Belichick talked Monday about balancing those types of situations late in the game -- how much do you stay aggressive with what worked vs. managing/over-managing the clock. He didn't seem to think it was bad situational football. "Bottom line is you have to execute the situation," he said. "If you do that, then that's good and if you don't, then there will be plenty of 'what ifs?'" It's a good football debate.