Print and Go Back ESPN.com: New England Patriots [Print without images]

Monday, August 12, 2013
Early look at season-opening foe

By Field Yates

Patriots players had Sunday off and there was no media availability, opening a window for us to catch up on some other action around the league.

There was one game played, and it turned out to be a worthwhile watch, as it featured the Patriots' first opponent of the upcoming season, the Bills, traveling to take on the Colts, a team many consider a playoff contender in the AFC.

Focusing on the Bills, there were a few items that stood out upon first viewing.

1. Rookie E.J. Manuel earned the start under center for Buffalo, and though imperfect, he made a strong impression. He missed on just five of 21 attempts, and though he was given a fumble for a botched quarterback-running back exchange, it was a good first step. The yards per attempt/yards per completion was low, but building Manuel's confidence early with manageable throws is key for the Bills. While Kevin Kolb remains on the mend from a minor knee injury, Manuel seems to be tightening his grip on the starting job.

2. Manuel wasn't the only rookie to stand out, as the Bills had 32 of their 44 points scored by rookies. Perhaps no play was more impressive than a 107-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Marquise Goodwin, the speedy receiver the Bills selected in the third round. The former Olympian will be tough for anyone to catch in the open field.

3. Second-round wideout Robert Woods had a fumble on a punt return attempt, but also caught four passes. Meanwhile, undrafted receiver Da'Rick Rogers -- a big time talent -- caught a short touchdown. Much like in New England, there's buzz about rookie receivers in Buffalo.

4. Defensively, we didn't see the best of what the team has to offer because free safety Jairus Byrd has yet to sign his franchise tender. Up front, however, we saw Mario Williams record a sack, a positive sign as the Bills shift to a new defense under Mike Pettine, formerly the Jets defensive boss.

5. Preseason and small sample size or not, it's also impressive to read a box score line of four carries for 36 yards. C.J. Spiller, the uber-talented runner for Buffalo, accomplished that on Sunday.

6. One area to tighten up quickly for the Bills will be penalties, as they were flagged for four in the first quarter alone (nine in total). That's something that any team can ill afford.

As a reminder, you can keep up with all the Bills via former ESPNBoston.com colleague Mike Rodak. Follow him on Twitter here.